Professional Reining Horse tied very high to tire it out and make it submissive

Top 20 NRHA Reining Professional Busted for Horse Abuse at Show

Professional Reining Horse trainer takes action against the NRHA after being suspended for abuse.

This is a story that just keeps on giving. It starts as horse abuse protests and allegations, owners pulling horses and end up with the trainer saying he is unfairly treated and should be compensated. What about the horse Mr Reining Trainer should he be compensated for being in your barn?

It all starts with this:

Imagine seeing your horse in a stall at a reining show. At first, it may seem normal and then you realize, your horse breaks out in a sweat and becomes distressed after being hung high for punishment for hours. Is this unusual for reining training?

The world is abuzz with the story of a reining horse who suffered the torturous treatment of being hung, while at NRBC  (National Reining Breeders Classic) annual show in April 2017. One of the largest shows on the NRHA circuit.

To assist you to understand how it can all turn out for the horse, the image below is a recent snap taken at western trainer C. T. Bryant’s barn displaying what a horse can suffer when it gets hung and loses its footing after attempting to get free. Now back to the reining professional busted.

horse hanging from tie up with body on ground after collapsingThe sound of a thrashing horse could be heard across the facility. The thrashing noise was unbearable to listen to and many thought at first it was a cast horse. People talk about seeing others racing to where all the sound was coming from, ending up at a stall covered in curtains blocking any view inside. The curtains were pulled aside, and there is a horse that has been tied high now in deep distress and potentially could permanently harm or kill itself trying to get loose.

The allegations are the colt was hung by a Top 20 NRHA Professional trainer, but no one wants to speak of his name as he is one of the worshipped Top 20. It’s all hush hush unless you are in the inner circle, until now after his name has been finally published.

Questions are being asked “If this is what he does at a show, imagine what he does back home in the barn?”

Reining trainers, like some others, are renowned for tying horses with their head and neck up to an awkward level; leaving the horse to appear to be on its tiptoes. A mindless method used by many reining trainers to punish horses in an attempt to tame those that show any sign of resistance to their dominant training regimes that demand the control of every move the horse makes. Some horses are tied like this, away from food and water, all night. In severe cases, the horses will be left like this for 23+ hours. Some hang them on high walls, others from rafters in stalls and arenas. It is the secret that no-one in the inner circle talks about.

The suffering horses pull against the restraint, half-rearing and shuffling their feet, trying to ease their pain and suffering. The muscle cramps and tearing of muscles and ligaments are relentless on them. All the horse wants to do is drop its head down to relax the muscles. These horses are bred to have a low head carriage hung well outside their bearable comfort zone even for a few minutes.

Attempting to escape, the horse can lose its footing and then they are in serious trouble. Others just quit and submit to the helplessness in agony and silent distress. To move around can mean breaking their neck, others kill themselves with a severe hit to the poll while reefing on the tie-up. They can break legs, and hips and even smash teeth with the halter pulled through their mouth.

Some clandestine trainers and their bamboozled owners call it a necessary part of training. Most enlightened people call it abuse. The horse would call it hell.

Unlike the horse in the photo, not all horses reached the point of complete exhaustion and hang themselves, but many suffer severe muscle pain and muscle tearing and are expected to work as performance horses the next day. The trainer is believing they have dominated the horse sufficiently that it will do what is demanded of it instantly to avoid another tie-up session or further pain inflicted.

Most trainers using this technique also have a bag full of other torturous methods they apply to dominate the horse to the point of learned helplessness. Submissive and robotic fulfilling the trainers’ aim for a winning ride.

This clandestine trainer thinking occurs when the desire to win–or otherwise achieve training goals, overcomes the humane treatment of the horse. When they run out of intelligence and patience and their repressed anger takes over. The trainers in some cases resent the horse will not do as it is told and become aggressive toward the animal. As the futurity season is well underway, horses are exposed to bizarre and oppressive training practices to force the final performance in the hope of winning.

The horse’s owner has pulled all her horses from the Top 20 NRHA Professional barn and moved them to other locations. It is unknown if a protest has been filed as the NRHA lives in a world of secrecy when it comes to complaints and how they are handled.

What has the NRHA done about the incident and what standard did they set?  What did the stewards on the day do about this incident?

It has been a long wait. On a review of the disciplinary list for May 2017 through August 2017, the reining professional busted has not been mentioned. The September list was not published even though referenced in the index. However, the NRHA is renowned for not releasing all suspensions and revoked memberships. It often seems that just the occasional one makes it to the list; the ones that they cannot keep undercover.

Update: In the October 2017 disciplinary list, an alleged trainer, Arno Honstetter is finally published with just a minor three-month suspension. Did they charge him for hanging a horse or was this for another offense, as it has taken so long to appear on the list?

Well, the lawsuit that follows shows us that Honstetter is actually reported for another incident in January 2017 by Leading AQHA Horsewoman and NRHA Trainer, Karen McCuistion. A person who is competent in defining abuse of horses. It is alleged that he was caught bitting up/checking a horse in the barn at a show. The same practice that killed Bella Gunnabe Gifted at the hands of Mark Arballo – who was banned for life, only after the courts found him guilty of abuse. Read the full article here.

Honstetter denies the abuse and believes he did not get a fair process in how the NRHA handled the protest so he wants it overturned and a payment of $100,000 for his suffering. If only the reining horses could get as good a legal representation as trainers!

No longer is the matter about horse abuse – its all about the trainer being treated unfairly – the culture of reining shining through.

Arno Honstetter continues to market himself as a NRHA Professional which again questions the value of the NRHA Professional program. His lawyer has advised that Biting up horses is a standard practice in NRHA – so all reiners are being abused?

arno honsetter biting up horse


The National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) has a zero-tolerance policy on horse abuse, and recently immediately (within days) suspended a well-known high profile trainer for abuse of a horse at a show, even though the SPCA laid no charges. AQHA is reported to have a life ban on bitting up horses.

© 2017 All rights reserved.

55 replies
  1. Ray Gomez
    Ray Gomez says:

    Huh – all the trainers would be looking at each other – which one is it? They all do it that’s why they try and ban cameras out the back.

    • Carla B
      Carla B says:

      I was filming my friends horse at High Roller for him and was told to shut it down. Rude people. I think his horse is going ranching now.

    • Pam
      Pam says:

      There was a young girl here in Great Falls that put her shingle up as a trainer. She did the same thing. It’s sick. I had a trainer that abused my mare and therefore no one rides or stables any of my horses but me

    • Anya Getman
      Anya Getman says:

      Ray, if you are the Ray Gomez that knew Tim Keirnan from childhood, and made your mom take you to OTB, please find me on Facebook and I’ll get you two in touch!

  2. Peter Richardson
    Peter Richardson says:

    CT Bryant was on the NRHA committee that day to help the trainer get out of it !!!!! Old silk tongues in action nothing will stick.

    • Bob Millan
      Bob Millan says:

      The board is full of silk tongues that can bend around any story to fit their game plan. Have you heard about the non-pro sueing them for failing to follow due process when they suspened him?? Its a joke what goes on.

  3. Charlette B
    Charlette B says:

    Here come the warriors to defend the unthinkable. How about those trainers get the gonnads and ride the horses more instead of taking short cuts. Oh that’s right they can’t have as many in the barn if they have to spend more than 20 minutes on them.

    • Suzanna Clements
      Suzanna Clements says:

      What is it with you people and I bet your a trainer or wannabee one. Any time someone wants to look after an animal you think its PETA. How about just compassion for what gives you a reason for even having something to show off on. Ego driven maniacs.

    • Holly
      Holly says:

      Oh hell no. I hate PETA with all my heart. This is just a deplorable action to win. I don’t understand, I love reining but it’s just beyond messed up. If you have to do this to your horse to get him to listen to you, you are doing it wrong. I see eventers and their horses do things way more difficult than reining, and they don’t have to tie their horses heads up to get their horses to do it. Their horses want to because they trust their riders. Try a sport with more danger with a horse that’s just fearful of you, see how far you get.

      For anyone who thinks you HAVE to do things this way, you dont. There are a million better ways.

      • Cindy
        Cindy says:

        Yes, the time consuming building on a foundation, line upon line, precept upon precept, daily work ethic of actually “training” the horse. What a concept. Train them in a language that they can understand. These are not trainers, their end products are damaged throw away horses that cant make them any more money or fame. Putting the actual hard work in is not how they want to earn it.

    • Kasey
      Kasey says:

      No, maybe a trainer quilty of using tactics like this to win, should have a chair kicked out from under him! Winning or taking good care of your animals, is a no brainer!

    • Sandy Wallis
      Sandy Wallis says:

      I DETEST PETA, but this treatment of horses is over the line. The Big Lick people say it’s all PETA also, but in neither case is that true. If someone thinks winning at the expense of the horse, and using pain and exhaustion as a substitute for horsemanship is the way to go, then they shouldn’t be in the horse business.

    • Robert Croot
      Robert Croot says:

      Winning is not the only thing. Treatment of an animal is just as important I always look at things like this, what if it was you. How would you like it?? Cruelty to animals is unforgivable and you wouldn’t like me

    • Cathy
      Cathy says:

      What the hell are you talking about? This has nothing to do with PETA. It has to do with treating a living creature with some modicum of respect and decency. FFS. No animal deserves this kind of treatment…and for what? To win. No one has to right to treat an animal like this. In fact, you can go further and do far better by treating an animal properly and actually training them instead of abusing them to get results. Oh, but, hey, I suppose that might actually take a brain and some skill and patience on your part. Obviously none of which you have. Jacka**

    • rawn homer
      rawn homer says:

      Ralph Wales, it’s not only PETA people who dislike cruelty by assholes. Get your head out of your Netherland. Knowing how to win without torture is something to be proud of. Cruelty is quite low life.

  4. Marco De Sario
    Marco De Sario says:

    This site scares teh shit out of me. It is not just one thing here and there – bloddy hell – these people are just no stop horse abusers all to win money. Racing got it, bigger the money bigger the rules needed and they struggle. I never let any horse near these people. Worse the people who say its OK.

  5. Debra S.
    Debra S. says:

    I blame the industry for having the futurities with the age as a 3 yr old. These babies are started too early and industry expects way too much out of these babies. It’s heartbreaking. Shame on these trainers for the abuse they put these wonderful animals through all for a buckle, saddle and some money. It’s all about putting a feather in their cap and toot their horn. They ruin these babies all in the name of winning a futurity. Then people like me a non pro buys these broken babies and have to fix and maintain them for the rest of their lives. Makes me sick. Abuse has to stop and the organizations need to make changes to protect these beautiful, willing animals who can’t talk and only trust their human to do right by them.

    • Christine
      Christine says:

      Debra S. – My thoughts exactly! You couldn’t have said it better. Because of this very reason, I chose not to futurity my horse and decided to train her myself. My little mare just had the best show season ever at age 10. She’s sound, sane and for the most part, is happy to do her job. I love my horse and would never allow her or any other horse to be subject to such horrible abuse!!!

    • Bette
      Bette says:

      I totally agree with you about the industry but there is another party just a culpable: the owner. Most know about this abuse and have probably witnessed this abuse. I didn’t know about it when I first started but when I finally figured it and other stuff out, I moved my horses. Then other abuse happened. Moved them again. There is a lot of shit they do to the reiners that nearly everyone does and knows about. That is why no trainers spoke up when Mark Arballo “killed” the beautiful filly. They pretty much all do it. We have all heard owners say ” I know he/she is hard on the horses, but he/she wins!” They walk away, look away and leave their animals to suffer the abuse just to feed their ego and come home with a $2 ribbon or a resin trophy if anything at all. Some horses never live through it. But then that is what insurance is for, right?

    • Pa.
      Pa. says:

      I’m in total agreement. Trying to get an animal to accomplish with these animals accomplish by the age of 3 is the problem. It breaks my heart 🙁

  6. Bethany White
    Bethany White says:

    Any time winning comes before the good of the horse, said person needs to get a new profession or hobby.
    This isn’t just reining, but in any equine discipline.
    When methods like this are resorted to, it isn’t training. It’s a ‘quick fix’ that really isn’t a fix at all.
    No matter what level you ride or compete at, continue your education. A truly educated trainer wouldn’t resort to this type of madness, but progressful training. Training that understands the psychology and bio-mechanis of the horse.

    • Barb Sommerville
      Barb Sommerville says:

      I agree with you Bethany. I have seen this at AQHA local shows. I have also seen fully tacked horses with the head ties back to the saddle born on one side…Sickening

  7. Danielle McSpadden
    Danielle McSpadden says:

    ANY trainer that’s a TRUE HORSEMAN, will get to the mind of that animal without going overboard in an abusive situation. My father was a well renowned professional cutting horse trainer and was even on the TV show American Professionals in the early 80’s. There was NEVER one time where he tied ANY horses up like that. There’s absolutely no damn sense in that whatsoever to do that to a horse. If a person is a TRUE HORSEMAN, they will work the mind and get into that horse’s head. IF you and that horse have an issue that day, you work that horse until you have a good response and then you quit for the day. You don’t keep whamming and framming on one until you blow their mind…. When training horses, TIMING is EVERYTHING when correcting one. You can’t teach timing to ppl. It’s a feel and a God given gift to know when you have to correct that horse at that moment they screw up. You don’t make it an all day thing or an all night thing… A horse should never learn or be trained out of fear. If you do that to a horse and train using fear as your key to make something happen with them, then you are a POS and you know nothing…
    My Dad had several in the Top 10 NCHA during his time and he also had me in the Top 10 NCHA Youth, during our time in life. He was a TRUE HORSEMAN!!! He studied animal behavior… he listened when horses would respond in manners most ppl have no clue about. He corrected them without abuse… Because he had a heart full of compassion for that animal and ALWAYS quit on a good note and NEVER a bad one….
    These so called “trainers” these days, don’t have a damn clue. Most of them couldn’t throw a rope down a well.
    My rant is now over… Hope the guy gets what he deserves. I have sympathy for him. None. No point in keeping a horse tied up like that wh whatsoever… smh

  8. Susan Coulombe
    Susan Coulombe says:

    I had a trainer who would walk around to each horse before they were to show and give them an injection. I surprised the reigning trainer and asked him what he was doing, he replied he was just giving the horses vitamins. I learned many months later he was giving illegal drugs to some of the horses. He was also an extremely harsh trainer with the horse under his care. I was a rookie and didn’t know better. After one horse I owned was put down because of a terrible torn meniscus and another filly ended up with a broken pattern did I take my horses to a different trainer. When will the abuse stop. I loved reining and now I can’t believe people are not standing up and reporting these pathetic trainers.

  9. Concerned for Horses
    Concerned for Horses says:

    The owners of these horses are not blameless. Granted they may not be on site where the training is going on, but they need to be involved enough to speak to people who know what’s what. I for one had no idea this practice was going on, but I just got educated. Believe me, no trainer who did this to a horse of mine would ever see a horse of mine standing in his barn again, and I wouldn’t be silent about what happened. These people need to be removed from the business. Best of all would be a trainer’s association that policed this themselves. Other trainers are more apt to be aware of abuses than anyone else. And to the yahoo that suggested a poster above belonged to PETA, I am not a PETA member, don’t like PETA, but I sure don’t think “hanging” a horse is any substitute for good training. Let’s face it There is abuse in several horse breeds and it needs to be cleaned up. If we as horse owners send our horses to trainers who abuse them, whose fault is that? If the money dries up, so does the trainer.

  10. Judy C
    Judy C says:

    Ralph Wales you don’t have 2 brain cells to rub together with a statement like that. PETA be damned cause I despise those worthless pieces of human garbage with the highest kill rate anywhere in the world.

    What I’m finding very hard to wrap my brain around in all this is that NRHA now falls under the governance of USEF – United States Equestrian Federation because reining is now an accepted discipline of the World Equestrian Games.

    Are the USEF Stewards not doing their job? This guy and others like him need to be run out of Reining on a rail and barred for life, period.

  11. Lin Ellis
    Lin Ellis says:

    This just shows what idiots these “professional predators” really are! Animals live “in the moment.” Whatever that human does to a horse, if it’s more than 3 seconds after the implied infraction, the horse will have no stinkin’ CLUE what the ignorant human thought he/she was trying to tell it! I have seen them “punish” a horse when it was completely obvious the horse had NO IDEA what it had done wrong. Horses, as prey animals, look for a leader, and just want to get along. Years ago, I bought some videos from a rather well-known “trainer.” In the first 3 minutes, the man nearly jerked the colt’s head off because he “needed to be punished for doing the wrong thing.” That colt had no idea. I ejected the tape and returned the vids. The trainer actually contacted me, wondering why on Earth I didn’t like what he did, and why I didn’t watch the rest of it. Didn’t need to!

  12. Raquel Biggin
    Raquel Biggin says:

    Exactly Paul Caruso. The Top 20 would be the Top 20 abusers in my view. The only way they seem to be able to make these competition horses is through abuse. Just watch the non-pros (not trainer wife non-pros but that is another story) and see the big gap. The non-pro will stop before abuse and not break through the conscious barrier – the trainer gets on and slams the horse ‘pushing it’ to deliver. The pushing turns to excessive jerking and spurring and abuse. Once that fails it often to the prison cell for ‘thinking time’ to prove to the horse it must submit. Hours and hours of hell just so some bone headed fool can prove he won the fight. Why do we not hear of the abuse with the female trainers ??? Are there any female trainers at the top or does it take bone headed men only to train them beyond the point of compassion? ANYONE KNOW – are there Top 20 Female Trainers? (not wives)

  13. J masencup11
    J masencup11 says:

    I have always believed 3yr old futurities are the cause of most abuse…
    A horse is not mentally or physically prepared to complete at that level at that age… Yet that’s where the big money is…
    When you’re pushed for a well broke, finished horse by 3…. somethings wrong

  14. Krista
    Krista says:

    This is not new. This sort of thing has been going on for quite some time. The Weatern Pleasure world has been using this sort of nasty training/discipline for as long as I can remember. Reining trainers didn’t invent this, they are just the ones in the public eye for it at the moment.
    If the general public could see what some of the world’s best competitivevriders and trainers do to horse for them to win, they would be crushed. Some of the smoothest talking “darlings” of the horse industry are the most guilty of the worst kinds of training.

  15. Renee Balow
    Renee Balow says:

    Much of what is stated in this article is factually correct. The problem that I have is that almost all of you, and especially the author of this article, who once again will not post their name, use the term “Reining Trainers”, or “all trainers” and this is misguided and factually false. My husband, Ben Balow, who has trained reiners, cowhorses, rope horses for 28+ years, has never employed this method. I do not appreciate you lumping all trainers together as if they are all of one mindset. Should any of you who want to leave comments regarding something you have seen or are accusing you would be much more validated if you posted a specific name (including your own), date, and facility. The only way this type of abuse will stop is if the actual abusers (and yes, I consider it abuse) are named, not just put into a unverifiable group. There are actually quite a few great trainers in our community, most do not get the recognition they deserve, because they do it the old fashioned way, and generally do not show at the large Futurities and Derbies. The reason we do not show at these large shows is almost exclusively because of what is done to these horses to get them to mark 75+ and we just will not make that part of our program. So continue to expose that which is ugly about the horse world, but use specific trainers names, not general terms and fabrications. A trainer should not have to defend his career for something someone else has done, and when you lump all trainers together, that is exactly what occurs. And occasionally it would not hurt to write an article about some of the good guys, and have the authors post their names, all trainers deserve to know who their accusers are – so be brave and don’t hide behind your cyber created blog.

    • Animal Welfare
      Animal Welfare says:

      Thank you for your comment and visiting the site. The trainers name is written clearly in the post. As you write – The reason we do not show at these large shows is almost exclusively because of what is done to these horses to get them to mark 75+ and we just will not make that part of our program”. That is the cruelty we hope people get behind and have the rules changed – we hope you voted. We have professional trainers and high profile owners/breeders writing to us in the background about their experiences and they demand confidentiality due to the intimidation and vicious nature of the reining horse world. We do not stop and have invited people to stand up and state they do not use abusive methods publicly and we applaud those people – unfortunately no-one wants to. Congratulations to you for doing so. Rather than try to focus on who we are – focus on the issue of horse abuse and get behind having it stopped rather than leaving these horses suffer in those training programs.

    • Sharin
      Sharin says:

      If your husband does not use any of these tactics/abuse. But is truly a horseman, then I as an owner am interested in talking to him! I never knew this happened until I read this. Abusing an animal as beautiful as a horse is beyond disgusting!


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