Customs Can be the Biggest Horse Abuser

The truth is that a person deemed as knowledgeable,

may well be the cruellest person that ever stepped into a horse pen.

Ask a reining trainer or clinician how they train their horses and they will have a mantra response that is palatable to most people’s ears. What they won’t talk about is the things they do behind barn doors; sometimes barbaric practices deemed tradition in the training of the reining horse.

They have learned skills passed on from generation to generation from people considered knowledgeable; the people that influence the sport today. Some of those people were good horsemen and many others were barbaric in their methods. Those people have immense influence over members and enthusiasts of the sport whether good or bad. They are the masters of the destiny of reining horses as they are provided with full access and authority across the globe.

Those same trainers and clinicians are conditioned to seeing and working with those barbaric methods and have no measure of the degree of abuse being applied. They justify everything with their longevity in the business and their prize winnings. A good prize winner or promoter seems to have a licence for unquestionable abuse, even when other horsemen stand back and shake their heads in disgust.

The twistedness of the trainers lack of skill and knowledge was captured in this US Patent for horse training equipment. The 1964 patent states:

Customary methods for training animals in general, and horses in particular, often are relatively very cruel. For example, in training horses to neck rein, one method involves beating the horse about the head with a wide leather paddle or bat several hundred times to train the horse to turn when the rider so orders. Horses trained in this manner to be cow horses usually are retrained after periods of two or three months, During each such training exercise the horse may again be batted about the head several hundred times. These training and retraining exercises often cause a horse to become extremely head shy.

Another training method used to train a cow horse to neck rein involves the use of sharp spurs as the rider wishes the horse to turn. This method often results in badly injured shoulders for the horse, often resulting in permanent injury. In addition, horses that otherwise were very good horses, though somewhat high-spirited, often were ruined for cow horse purposes because they could not be beaten into submission by either the hat or the spur.

Accordingly, it is an important object of this invention to provide a humane animal training device that is capable of more rapidly and more permanently training animals, such as the horse, than has been achieved by the use of prior art methods.

Another object of this invention is to provide an electric training rein for rapidly and efficiently training a horse, such as a cow horse, to neck rein without cutting, bruising, or otherwise injuring or undesirably shying the horse.

Wow. The electric rein was the improvement as it was a rapid solution and left no noticeable marks and the horse was not head shy.

I remember seeing a lovely Zan Parr Bar bred colt, in the late 70’s early 80’s, trained with electric reins. He shivered from head to toe in fear with his eyes rolling and his entire relationship with the trainer was reactionary to fear, and beatings for the wrong reaction. The trainer was deemed a champion and appeared on the front pages of magazines.

Move on to the 1980-90’s and watch some of the old educational videos; the videos actually published in that era and not the vetted versions available today. Some readers will remember attending clinics or spending time in training barns.

Those videos (and live demonstrations) demonstrate such barbarian treatment as:

  1. Barbed wire bits for hard mouth horses
  2. Reins tied from the bit to the hind legs snagging the horse every stride to soften its mouth.
  3. Metal cavessons to pull horses heads under – of course tied through the front legs
  4. Chains as nosebands and bits
  5. Shoulder spurring to the point of spur holes left in horses shoulders
  6. Wire bands over the poll being pulled taught in a war bridle
  7. Tying heads around tightly to the saddle for hours on end
  8. Tying heads high in the barn to weaken spirits and tire the horse
  9. Hobbling horses and beating them to teach them who is in charge
  10. Hitting horses relentlessly with poly pipe to spin faster

and the list goes on.

Several years ago, at a demonstration in front of hundreds of people, a prize-winning legendary reining trainer informed the crowd that when he had too many horses to ride each day, he would use hardened black plastic pipe and beat on the horses to get them to turnaround. Not much going on in that man’s head for sure.

And yes, these methods still exist to this day. They are like a mother’s milk to some trainers. Occasionally when it happens like with the death of Bella (Gunnabe Gifted) it comes out of the closet what has been happening in trainer barns. Or the horse in Calgary spurred beyond any reasonable purpose. Others have died and suffered, but did not get the media attention as the owners were fearful of the consequences to them.

How the NRHA defines abuse through the eyes of a reasonably hands-on person in training and showing horses. In other words a trainer. The full statement is subject to copyright but can be read in their handbook on page 11 of the 2017 edition.

If the people chosen were raised on these barbaric techniques, and many have been, then the toleration would be very different to someone who was a good horseman with a fair hand and heel.

In one event, we observed a gelding being harassed, severely spurred and jerked hard continually in front of the show manager and other riders. It escalated to such a point the horse was in such a state of fear, and it was unable to function. Every move it made was met with extreme punishment. The gelding urinated on itself and then collapsed to the ground. No one intervened, (except for us). Amidst a spray of language for intervening, the show manager, and riders responded ‘he knows what he is doing, and the horse can handle it, that horse just has a bad attitude.’ Justifying that level of abuse left us speechless. Customs can apparently outride brains.

The image in this article is a wire wrapped metal cavesson, with a sliding gag and twisted wire bit. The string is a cavesson hanger to set it to the softest part of the horse’s face. This barbaric training item is deemed a solution to a horse with a problem and what was required to train a reining horse.

A knowledgeable (?) person may well be the steward overseeing the horses at your next show. Hardened to the point of not being able to see abuse when it is right in front of them. As the frenzy builds to have the horse completely submit, ready to run for +1 ½ scores the level escalates.

Improvements in the NRHA rules are needed and the litmus test of ‘horse public opinion’ for the treatment of horses. You do not need to be a reining horse rider to see abuse; you do not need to be a top-level trainer to understand abuse. The two most common statements are made to support any action of a reining horse person where the lines have been crossed. A good horseman can see abuse no matter what discipline they show or ride in. In the NRHA member logic, Buck Brannaman or Ray Hunt may well have been sidelined as being not a good measure of welfare as he did not show top-level reining horses. I think not.

Let us know your thoughts and don’t forget to vote.

Always Remember:  You stick up for a horse abuser  –  it’s usually because your tribe is your vibe.


© 2016  All Rights Reserved.

4 replies
  1. Terrie
    Terrie says:

    Horrifying, and I already know about this shit! I am a successful All-Around trainer, and if I ever see such a thing happening, I will take drastic measures to make these abusive bastards sorry.

  2. Daralyn Davies
    Daralyn Davies says:

    It saddens me that this happened in the first place.. it angers me in 2016 so many have not learnt anything by past behaviour and have lost the understanding to be good horseman .. Teaching anything comes from repetition with an understanding of each individual’s learning ability.. Would one bash a child around the head or draw blood on their body to teach them.. I don’t think so !!! Then again human behaviour is extremely questionable these days

  3. Jacob Charleton
    Jacob Charleton says:

    Yes, seen it all, hidden and not to be spoken about. It’s 2016 and abuse in similar or other ways still goes on. Turn away and forget it they used to say. Why aren’t the good trainers and horseman standing tall on their mountains denegrating those that do abuse and getting them removed? Nor one declaration of their talents being non-abusive in public? Why? Just pondering that one???

    Why isn’t the NRHA all over abuse as they are the drugs? Why? Looks like the next Tennessee Walking Horse with people turning their heads away and being hypnotized into believing stacks/chains/soring are all good horsemanship skills like excessive jerking, spurring etc. Seems the AQHA worked it out its not right and are moving forward, but the others seem to be hanging on tight to the past. You got my vote for change.

  4. Robyn Davis
    Robyn Davis says:

    “The reality truck just collided with the Koolaid truck” as they say on FB. The FB posts on this article, and others, are quite disturbing. The viciousness shown toward people that state have personally witnessed the abuse is an issue all of its own. I think many of the people commenting did not actually understand the article and have read part way down only then hit the keyboard. From a pyschology point of view, people carry learned behaviors and those learnings stay with them for life. Some develop skills that over-ride the use of them and others draw back on them under pressure. Some just never let them go as seen with the dreadful case of the beautiful Bella last year. I would like to see some of these trainers take a public stand and state in writing on these posts they never have done these things as their silence is a concern. That would weigh heavily in their favor. It would also give people a chance to respond if one was not putting the truth cards on the table too.

    An interesting site to follow.


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