WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #148
THIS HORSE LIFE
From "Horse and Rider" - October 2011
BY SUE M. COPELAND
I'LL CALL HER STAR. SHE WAS a Quarter Horse mare euthanized
earlier this year at age 5. I believe had drug testing by the
National Cutting Horse Association been in place at the time
(it's being phased in for 2012), her death could've been
prevented. This is a tale of caution for those associations that
still lack it.
Star was bred by a friend I'll call Patty. Early on, it was clear
the filly had "cow," that instinctive ability to read cattle that
separates the great from the good. But, like many other
youngsters, Star was slow to physically mature. That, combined
with the lack of drug testing, proved deadly.
Patty's initial goal with her filly was the NCHA Futurity, the
huge-money event for 3-year-olds that's held in November/
December every year. To get a horse ready for it requires the
horse to be started in training at or before its 2-year-old year.
That means immature bodies being ridden by mature humans in heavy
Western saddles. And that means these growing youngsters can get
sore. (See "Size Matters," September '09.)
Trainers often would "stack" (give multiple) systemic
anti-inflammatory medications at NCHA competitions; the
association had drug rules in the past, but lacked testing to
enforce them. Sedatives, such as Sedivet, were also commonly used
to minimize prep time, and to help a young horse stay calm and
focused; the drug also provides pain relief. That means a
youngster ridden into the show pen could be on multiple
pain-masking meds, plus a sedative. That was the culture. Many
folks didn't raise an eyebrow.
I did, and it was a point of contention in Patty's and my
friendship. She was opposed to drug testing, accepting drug
use as the norm for her horse sport, and as being the right thing
for her horse if the meds were used judiciously. (Her mindset is
a common one in events or disciplines that lack drug testing.)
I'm a major advocate of testing, and so would counter that
showing a horse in pain could turn a minor injury into a major
one. We'd argue about it, then agree to disagree, as only good
Patty recalls that Star's drug cocktail at the Futurity didn't
include a sedative; the mare was rideable without it. That
changed the following summer at another major cutting, when the
then-4-yearold began to run through Patty's aids. Patty's a savvy
horsewoman, in tune with her horses physically, and invests in
the latest and greatest vet care for them. But neither she nor
her trainer sensed a physical problem in Star. They thought she'd
gotten so fit that she had excess energy.
A few weeks after that show, I went to a small local cutting to
watch the pair. The mare still looked immature. Even with a
sedative, she was trying to run through Patty's aids. I pulled my
friend aside and asked, "Do you think she's sore? She may be
trying to run from pain." Patty agreed.
She took Star in for a full lameness workup; the filly was sore
in both stifles, so was treated with stem-cell therapy. Patty
gave Star months to rest and mature physically, putting her back
into slow work only after her vet OK'd it.
Meanwhile, we continued our drugtesting debate. "You don't get
it," she'd say. "Our sport makes horses sore. It'd be cruel if we
couldn't show them on anti-inflammatory meds. And the sedatives
mean we can lope them down less, which means less stress on their
I'd respond, "If a horse can't feel pain, he can't protect
himself. That's why groups like the American Quarter Horse
Association, American Paint Horse Association, and United States
Equestrian Federation (under which I show) have drug testing.
With it, you can't mask serious pain, and you darn sure can't use
sedatives. It protects the horse." It took Star's death to change
ONE GOOD LEG
Once the mare was back in show shape, Patty took her to a major
cutting. There, her trainer recommended a sedative. Patty allowed
one to be added to Star's meds. The filly walked into the
cuttinghorse pen, no doubt feeling like King Kong. She cut her
heart out, because she Could; she was literally feeling no pain.
That is, until the drugs wore off.
Patty called later that day; "Star's lame in her hind end. The
sedative was a mistake." She hauled the crippled mare to her vet.
The grim news? Star's immature stifles were ruined. Her pain
masked, she'd damaged them beyond repair. Patty was devastated
and furious at herself for allowing drugs to be used. She was
also angry with her trainer for suggesting them.
Her vet suggested euthanasia. But Patty opted to try and save the
horse; she'd bred her, and she loved her.
The good news is she was able to make the mare pasture-sound, at
least for a while. The bad news is that Star hurt one of her
front feet while turned out. An otherwise sound horse would've
likely sailed through recovery, which required stitches and a
cast to immobilize the foot while it healed. But Star, at the
heart-wrenchingly young age of 5, was down to only one good leg.
After a while, the pain of trying to balance over her front foot
and her ruined hind end proved too much. She went down and
refused to get up. This time, when the vet suggested euthanasia,
She called me in tears. "I think the lack of drug testing killed
my mare. If she'd had to show under enforced drug rules, she'd
never have broken down like that. She's a poster girl for drug
That's why my hat's off to the NCHA for implementing testing next
year. The National Reining Horse Association earns kudos for
doing the same thing. It was an uphill battle for both
associations; they were fighting a culture in which drug use was
endemic. It's too late for Star, but I bet those rules will help
save other horses.
Sadly, Star's fate is still a risk in those associations that
lack widespread drug testing, which is the only way to enforce
drug rules. For example, the National Snaffle Bit Association
does not require testing at many of its events. The National
Reined Cow Horse Association tests only at a few shows (although
some states in which they hold events, such as California, have
testing). The National Barrel Horse Association has no drug
Sure, drug tests cost money. But they can save lives. How can an
association (and its members) afford not to do it? Please, think
of the horses. Think of Star.
You can reach H&R Contributing Editor Sue M. Copetand at
THIS JUST MAKES ME SICK, MAKES ME ANGRY, AND JUST MAKES
ME HAVE TO SAY THIS IS DISGUSTING HORSEMANSHIP!!! THERE
SHOULD BE LAWS TO PREVENT THIS KIND OF SPORTING
ACTIVITY, WHERE THE HORSE IS TOO YOUNG AND/OR TOO
IMMATURE. IT BLOWS ME AWAY THAT PEOPLE WILL IT SEEMS DO
ANYTHING TOO SOON WITH HORSES JUST FOR THE PERSONAL
THRILL OR COMPETITION AND/OR THE WINNING GAME, TO HAVE
THAT TROPHY OR MONEY IN THEIR POCKET. IF YOU TRULY LOVE
YOUR HORSE YOU WILL NOT ENTER IT IN COMPETITIONS BEFORE
THE PROPER TIME, WHEN YOUR HORSE IS MATURE ENOUGH TO
HANDLE THE PARTICULAR EVENT YOU ENTER.
WE HEAR YOU (From Horse and Rider - October 2011)
LETTER OF THE MONTH
CALLING OUT ABUSE
I just read the commentary in the August 2011 issue ("POV
Blindness"), and I couldn't agree more. I own a lovely
performance gelding with the ability to do well. For three years,
I was fortunate to have him with a talented trainer who loves
horses. The last show we took my horse to was nationally
sanctioned, and we were very excited. My trainer hauled Smokey
the night before, so the horse could have plenty of time to
That night, she called to tell me how abusive many of the
trainers were to their horses. She'd watched them work and said
she was happy when she finally saw one trainer pet the horse
after a good maneuver. But then she was appalled when a few
minutes later, the same trainer was spurring and whipping the
To make a long story short, we didn't win - or even place.
However, we walked away with a happy horse, and I've never been
so grateful for or impressed by a trainer as when mine looked the
in the eye and said, "I'm sorry we didn't do better for you. I
know your horse has it in him, and we could probably win some of
these things, but I'm not willing to do what it takes to beat
these other trainers. They're abusing their horses."
I've been around plenty of trainers and show horses, and over the
years the abuse has gotten worse and worse. The amount of money
involved is only going to continue that trend. My husband and I
now have three nice trail horses (including my former show
gelding) with wonderful attitudes. They're easy to catch, load
themselves on and off the trailer, respond nicely to our riding
cues, and are a joy to be around. I'll take that any day over
being handed a check and a trophy (which I also happen to have).
Thank you for the wonderful commentary. I wish more columnists
would talk about this subject.
ANNE WATMAN, WISCONSIN
WELL SAID ANNE - I AGREE FULLY WITH YOU - Keith Hunt
E-mail your letters to HorseandRider@aimmedia.com. Or, send them
to Horse&Rider, 2520 55th St., #210, Boulder, CO 80301. To be
considered for publication, your submission must include your
full name and your state. Published letters are"subject to
editing for brevity, clarity, and accuracy.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
Point-of-view blindness is a concept that very few people in the
industry get, primarily because they are ... well, point-ofview
Most of those standing on the outside looking in can clearly
identify training practices that employ excessive force or
intimidation, that repeatedly force the horse into an unnatural
frame, or that are simply unhealthy long term. But to those on
the inside, these practices are "the way it's done." Many of the
practitioners of the various "dark arts" of horse training are
otherwise respectable, principled people-they're just too
immersed in the training culture to take a step back and see
themselves with fresh eyes.
LISA STEVENSON, TEXAS
I GUESS IT MUST BE SO, SAD, VERY SAD TO SAY - Keith Hunt
To be continued with more educational articles for people in the