WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #125
FROM HORSE AND RIDER - AUGUST 2011
BY JENNIFER FORSBERG MEYER
DO YOU THINK FOR YOURself, or let others think for you? We all
want to believe we think for ourselves. But our thought process
is constantly being filtered by the preexisting beliefs and
prejudices that form our point of view. Those beliefs come in
large measure from our cohorts-the people we identify with. Our
clan, our tribe. Our friends and associates.
I believe that's why, in the horse world, one person can see
abuse where another sees a legitimate training method.
Abuse is a topic of growing concern. This is partly because the
demands of some sports-especially at the highest levels - are
putting pressure on trainers to go to extremes to be competitive.
Extremely slow movement, as in Western pleasure. Extremely
dropped heads, as at the end of a sliding stop in reining.
Extremely draped reins, requiring Stepford-mount submissiveness
on the part of the horse.
The other reason for growing concern about abuse is the fact that
the world is changing, aided and abetted by social media. Things
that happen at point A are instantly relayed to points X, Y, and
Twitter helps start a war in Egypt, for example.
And people whose sensibilities about animals may be different
from our own are observing our handling and training methods, and
sharing what they see. Videos posted on the Web and going viral
are the most obvious way this happens. And the frequency of this
tactic appears to be increasing.
The POV of people who take such actions will, of course, shape
their feelings about what they see. But so, too, does our own POV
shape how we "hear" their complaints.
Let's turn it around for a moment. Probably no one reading this
column would disagree that placing tacks into the soles of a
gaited show horse's feet to make it step higher is abusive. Yet
there clearly are trainers who feel they must do this sort of
thing in order to "be competitive."
It's easy for us to point a disapproving finger at such an act,
because it seems so clearly wrong, and because it's not part of
our own horse-world culture.
It's much harder to feel the same disapproval when the action in
question relates to something that is part of our own horse-world
That's how POV muddies the issue.
I wrote an article for the November 2004 issue titled "Training?
Or Abuse?" (available online at HorseandRider.com). In it, I
listed examples of measures that "most horsemen can agree are, by
definition, abusive." These included excessive jerking on the
reins or the lead shank. Excessive whipping or beating. Excessive
spurring, especially when it causes bleeding and/or "spur dents"
(indentations in the cartilage between ribs).
As I pointed out in the article, it's not that trainers who use
these methodsor the owners who pay their fees-consciously approve
of abusing horses. I truly believe they do not. It's that their
POV makes these methods "seem" not to be abusive to them.
Add in the pressure to win big-money purses, the natural
one-up-manship among trainers, and the willingness of judges to
allow standards to slip, and before long, extremes become the
norm. Then new extremes are needed.
Only now, there are more and more people who are willing to
object publicly, via YouTube and other social media, to these
A common response when they do is that these are "animal-rights
activists" who don't understand the sport in question and who put
animals' rights above our own rights as owners.
To me, that's a cop-out. It's not a question of rights per se -
ours or the horses'. It's a question of humanity. If we want to
think of ourselves as decent human beings, we should be concerned
about not causing a horse to suffer, physically or mentally.
But recognizing suffering can be a challenge, and "POV blindness"
can cause us to miss even obvious abuse - if it's something we're
accustomed to seeing. We've become desensitized to it.
Plus, our natural tribalism, or clannishness--a trait all humans
sharecreates another obstacle. It can make it hard to "hear" when
someone criticizes a member of our clan, even when the criticism
is something so obvious we should be able to see it ourselves.
We're hard-wired to automatically defend, to circle the wagons.
We don't stop first to wonder, "Is there something to it? Is this
horse in fact suffering?"
It's not a question of animal rights. It's a question of
And: "Is this method unavoidable?" Remember, just because
something has always been done a certain way doesn't mean it
should continue forever.
And, finally: "Is this the way a true horseman would do it?"
To that last point, I asked Bobby Ingersoll, National Reined Cow
Horse Association Hall of Fame member, founder of the NRCHA
Futurity, multiple American Quarter Horse Association champion
trainer, and multi-carded judge, for his thoughts.
"Horses can be intimidated through pressure and pain," he said.
"People who do that have no feelings for the horse's feelings.
You don't have to intimidate a horse to train it. That's the
difference between a horseman and a trainer. A horseman is
somebody who cares for the horse."
That seems like the exactly right POV to me.
Reach senior editor Jennifer Forsberg Meyer at
More insight! Read "Do Right by the Horse," by AQHA judge Jim
Heird, PhD, at HorseandRider.com.
Some thing should be out and out BANNED. And if that makes a
certain horse "sport" or "competition" defunk, so be it. decades
ago Britain (and the Western world if not all the world today)
banned the "docking" of a horse's tail.....the tail on a horse is
for brushing off flies etc.
Putting pins or tacks in the foot to make a horse bring its feet
up higher should be banned - just that simple! That is a no
Some things SHOULD BE BANNED and the horse sporting world should
take a long deep look at itself i.e. breeding to get thinner
boned Thoroughbreds to run faster to win more money is another
thing that horse people should not be doing - it should be
In the age to came many things done today in the horse world will
be banned - it's just plain stupid and greed and selfishness.