Abusive Horse Trainer
"When I grow up I want to be just like my trainer..."
Many young kids actually idolize their trainers. They want to be excellent riders just like them one day. Often having won big championships, kids are all the more anxious to follow their lead. This is one of the ways trainers like Jackie McConnell get their whole team of riders to go along with abusive practices.
Stop beating up my horse!!
I go to get my horse from his stall and find he’s not himself. He’s prancing in place, blowing air from his nose, and trying to break free from my grasp. A young trainer at the stables, one I trust and have known for years, comes running over, “I’ve got it.” She says, at eleven years old I am used to this routine, trainers come running over to help soon as any horse starts giving a kid trouble. But what happened next was not typical. This young woman chased my horse around an empty arena, yelling at him, and then backing him up so ferociously that he fell to his knees. We later discovered the reason for his erratic behavior was an overdose of the wrong grains, known to make horses extremely hyper.
The scariest part of this story? This woman is a champion, well-known and regarded in the horse industry. Yet how she gets her horses to behave is through violent and abrasive methods. If this were the only way to get a horse behaving, perhaps I’d just take myself out of the equestrian world. But it’s not.
Twelve years later, I am very careful who handles my horses and I know first-hand that working in gentle ways creates the most positive effects. Of course, dealing with any large animal there is a certain amount of discipline necessary for safety, but berating a horse too much is unnecessarily mean and can actually be dangerous.
Listen to your gut, if you don’t feel right about something your trainer or even entire barn partakes in, don’t stand by and let it happen to your horse friend.
The case of the horse-deaf trainer
Hello? Can you hear me?
Only three years into owning my first horse and he already had a torn suspensory ligament.
He often slammed stop at the base of a fence, yet I went through two trainers before one finally mentioned his build as the reason for his inability to enjoy jumping. With a long back, large body, and small hooves, Spot is gorgeous but not an ideal jumper. Although he enjoys small cross-rails, the constant strain of jumping was hurting his body- he was only trying to tell us this when he stopped short at every-other fence. Don’t forget horses are pleasers. If they are happy and respectful than their refusals should sound alarms.
Good trainers will take into account the health and soundness of an animal before resorting to cruel punishments. Trainers who constantly cite deviant behavior as the root cause might not be listening. Horses have a lot to tell us, we just have to find ways to hear them.
“Spurs and whips”
Wearing spurs and totting a whip is classic horseback gear and when used in moderation these tools can be very helpful. Unfortunately, many trainers use these aids in extreme manners.
“That little kid won’t hurt that big horse!” Many trainers say, shooing off the fact a lesson horse is getting pricked with a spur every other wobbly post. Horses can develop spur marks from heavy spur usage and it isn’t only kids who are causing damage. Famous horse trainers have been kicked out of shows for these marks in the past.
If a horse doesn’t respond to your leg, something is wrong! Oftentimes, people begin training horses with spurs and whips causing the horse to become desensitized to natural aids. For the lazy horses out there, it can oftentimes be a must but only in moderation and never to the point of causing actual pain or leaving a mark. Horses are like children, if a child has marks from a punishment, they are identified as being abused.
The Weight of a Saddle
If your trainer has yet to speak with you about proper saddle fitting- you might be in trouble. A horse uses its back to lengthen stride, round up their belly, leap over a fence, and even just trot down the long-side! Therefore it only makes sense that an ill-fitting saddle will constrict your horses natural movements, creating pain and future lameness. Too many horses are being unnecessarily injured because of the poor fitting saddles they are forced to exercise in everyday.
SeeSaw Your Reins
Europeans routinely beat Americans in the equestrian arena. We import our horses from abroad and suddenly they are worth more money, carry more prestige. Reason being the Europeans- as a majority- use a more complex system of training to receive the results most western trainers only duplicate in poor fashion. Proper training takes a long time but it creates a sounder, fit, and more agile horse.
The ideal frame for many English disciplines is a round back, pushing forward off the hind-end to produce a curved neck. In imitation of this look, many tell their students to simply “see-saw” their reigns- a practice where you wiggle both hands back and forth so the horse will tuck his head to escape the jerk on his face. If you can move your hand up the horses’ neck, releasing your complete hold on his mouth and he remains in frame, you are likely on the right track.
Seesawing only pushes a horse into an uncomfortable position, unable to utilize their body properly. Like a bad fake purse, you’re not fooling anyone who knows the real thing. Not to mention, years of riding in this style will create a hard-mouth, flat gait, and likely lame horse.
Winning is Everything
To some trainers, winning is simply everything. They will go the distance, and force their clients to come along with. To win in some show rings the standards are impossibly high and as in the modeling world, those that are being shown are the ones who pay the high cost.
Have you ever noticed in the fancy show rings, how all the horses hold their perfectly tied tails in a strange stiff manner- right between their butt checks? The reason for this is because In hopes of keeping a horse’s tail from moving side-to-side, or at all, a chemical is injected near the base of the tail, paralyzing all movement for a stretch of time.
The messy side? Horses can’t lift their tail to release their urine and feces, causing a mess all over their backside- one quickly swiped clean before anyone sees. Still, can you imagine being a horse in a strange new place, forced to perform and with your tail suddenly paralyzed!
If your barn practices any of the practices mentioned above and it makes you uncomfortable, say something or better yet switch stables! These practices are not utilized at every barn, there are trainers out there who respect horses. For the love of your horse- seek one out!