NRHA says Respect the Horse: What About This Distressed Reining Horse

The horse walks into the show pen visibly distressed, and suffering and not a sole at this NRHA event did anything to help him, even though they spread marketing everywhere about Respect the Horse.

Expected to show as a top athlete in a physically demanding performance, his distress is obvious at the event and recorded on video.

Not the gate marshal, the show manager, the stewards, the judges, the scribes, the owner, the trainer/rider, other competitors, or a single person in the crowd. They just watched as he suffered and then screamed in elation at him, being made to spin fast whilst pissing himself.

Adding to his suffering, the rider jab spurred the horse multiple times every stride to force it to keep walking. As a result, over 100 spurs hits are counted before he got to the center.

It truly is a Reining Trainers Enigma. Watch the video below of the distressed reining horse.

For years the spotlight has been on the animal welfare of show horses, and reining has recorded some of the worst treatment consistently since first busted back in the early 2010s at the FEI shows.

In an attempt to demonstrate welfare issues are being addressed, the NRHA made minor changes to their rules. Still, the content of the descriptions was vague, and repeated offences of abuse and drugging continued. It’s a culture in the sport that the horses are run on medications, and it’s the dark underbelly of the sport. There is no real penalty for those who cheat and harm the horses.

The NRHA can put out all the marketing in the world, with glossy advertisements, slogans and photoshoots made to look like being kind to horses, but it is all a farce when they let down the animals time after time, year after year. It’s not just a leadership issue – it’s a membership issue.

With the new focus on million-dollar events and horses competing in a Hollywood circus-like environment, the pressure to make these horses perform to win has escalated to the highest level in history. The association was unable to regulate welfare just five years ago, and now they are so far out of their depth that it is showing signs of being irresponsible to the one ingredient of their circus, the horse.

If the NRHA were serious about welfare these incidents would be used to demonstrate their management of potential animal abuse, instead of spending their time finding ways to get out of making judgments.

Reining was kicked to the curb by the FEI for the pressure they put on young horses, the drugging, and the general disdain audiences had for their horse management outside the show ring. So, of course, the NRHA polished the separation story to what would put them in good light to the membership and allowed them to be protected from action in their bubble. NRHA has even made it into the explosive book “I Can’t Watch Anymore”, reporting people had tears running down their faces watching what reining trainers put the horses through. The video of the abuse was watched over 150,000 times in the first months of its release.

Judges should not look for reasons in the rule book why they did not have to take action, but rather should apply commonsense and stand up for the horses when they enter the pen, clearly distressed, drugged, or so tired they can hardly walk. They should not be shy in blowing the whistle and getting horses immediately vet checked. Point penalties are just feel-good Band-Aids in flawed animal welfare rules. Large financial fines and barring competitors-trainers is the only method of control of horse abuse.

Finally, an equine vet from within the circus bubble has stood up for the horses calling for change after watching this distressed horse. A formal letter to the NRHA Board and Executive Committee dated February 10th 2022, documents what changes to the rules are required and the intervention of veterinarians. At the time of writing this article, our understanding is that the NRHA is yet to respond to the letter or raise it.

The public is more astute and the people outside the bubble no longer accept the canned responses and defences delivered by the NRHA membership. Inside the bubble, seems to be an acceptance that is just how it is, and as this young rider demonstrates, it’s generational now. It is time that this circus is brought into line with what the world now accepts in horses’ fair and kind treatment.

Without change from within, the trainers, competitors, judges and show management are risking the final closure of horse sports and showing. They are the custodians of the future and appear negligent in their stewardship of the sport as abuse continues.

You can disagree, but the evidence is growing. Circuses are gone. The pentathlon is cancelled from the Olympics following the outrageous abuse of Saint Boy. They are calling for equine sports to be removed from the Olympics and bring a strong case to the table, with reining used as evidence. Dressage is heavily under the spotlight too.

To the rider of the horse in the video, in our opinion, you are despicable for a clear lack of sensitivity and care for the animal you use to earn a living or own. If, at minimum, the horse wanted to pee as he entered the ring, you would have given him the minute he needed to be comfortable instead of demanding he shows in a high-performance class as a distressed reining horse.

Could it be a drug problem that NRHA Members and Enthusiasts openly talk about?

Read their conversations on drugging here.

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