Thursday, February 15, 2007

An Arabian Mare's Tragic Death Due to the Halter Divisions' Dirty Little Secret

I've been writing about the importance of being an advocate for your horse. Many of the things that happen to horses happen in public but some of things unscrupulous trainers know better than to do when owners are watching. That is the case here.

A couple of years ago I got a call about an Arabian mare that had foundered. Her owner wasn't in the position to put the money into trying to save her but was willing to sign her over to someone who would be willing to give the horse a chance. I had followed this mare since her birth. She was by one of the top stallions and out of a wonderful mare that had belonged to a friend of mine. A lovely mare who found herself in this position because of one of the Arabian horse industry's dirty little secrets.

There's lots of discussion both in our industry and throughout the rest of the horse industry about the way that Arabian horses are shown at halter. Some love it and think it fun. Some hate it and think it's an unnatural position for the horse. Some hate it because they believe that the horse is abused to get it to show in this manner. There's lots of talk about whip abuse and halter. But how many people actually know about the procedure of tying a horse off the wall?

This method is used to "teach" the horse to stay up high with it's head and neck while giving (relaxing) through the throatlatch. The goal is to get the horse coming as straight up out of the whithers as possible before it breaks over and comes forward resulting in the posture you see on the neck of the top halter horses.

The actual process involves placing a ring on the wall of the horse's stall high over the horse's head. The lead is pulled through the ring and the horse is pulled off it's front feet. The horse is then tied in that position. Eventually the horse will become tired and collapse, relaxing at the throatlatch - which is what they are trying to teach the horse to do.

Some horses will freak out from being tied like this and will flail around. That is what happened with the Arabian mare here. She was frightened and thrashed around, caved in one side of her face, injured her neck and her shoulder. The trainer sent the horse home on a van not telling the owner about the injury. The vet bill arrived before the mare actually arrived back in our state. This was the owner's first hint that anything was wrong with her horse.

Because I know this mare from the time she was a yearling, I knew that she had not been born with any sign of a clubfoot. When the mare did arrive she had the visible damage to the side of her face and the beginnings of a club foot. Over the following year, that foot became more and more club, ending up with the foot being straight up like a stovepipe. The most clubbed foot I have ever seen. From that and probably the discomfort of the rest of her injury, which was still undetected, the mare foundered. The owner did what she could but the mare just got worse and worse until finally reaching the stage that the owner signed her over to a friend of mine.

I picked up the mare and delivered her to my friend, Bev, who did everything she could to make the mare comfortable. Bev had the horse examined by a vet and equine chiropractor. The mare was diagnosed with the equivalent of a soft tissue broken neck and given regular treatments to ease her pain and discomfort and hopefully save her life. It was clear to those who worked on the horse that the only way she could have sustained this type of injury was through something like tying her off the wall. It was also accepted that the founder was most likely a direct result of the dramatic clubfoot, which in turn resulted from the injury. The mare was putting more weight on her heel to compensate for the pain she was in, thus causing abnormal growth in the heel resulting in the clubfoot.

After over a year of pouring her heart and soul into trying to save this mare, the mare finally got tired. From the beginning the plan to save the mare had been to do everything possible as long as the mare was still trying to stay alive. Once the mare had had enough, then it would be time to stop. Bev honored that plan and the mare was euthanized.

The Arabian breed lost a great mare who never had a single foal. All due to the greed of a trainer who values winning more than he values the safety and well being of the horses within his care. To think that there is only one trainer that conducts himself in this manner, would be naive. The technique is widely used and you can bet this horse is not the only horse that has suffered from its use. There are many instances of horses in training ending up with unexplained injuries to their head or broken cannon bones that have left owners puzzled.

Halter, itself, is not the blame for what happened to this mare or for the practice of tying horses off a wall. It is the ethics of the trainer. As owners, we need to know that such practices are out there so that we can be sure that our horses are not being subjected to them.

Note* the picture at the top is of a typical halter pose, but is not the mare in this post.

To be continued
Part 2


  1. It is so sad that in every discipline of horse training, be it TWH, Jumping, Halter, Western Pleasure or whatever you can think of, there is abuse, people who cant just let the horse do what comes naturally to it, but think that forcing it to behave in a certain way is the answer. I wish I could save every one of these poor animals from their dismal lives, but I can't and that is even more heartbreaking.


  2. Love, love, love your photos. Beautiful. And your love of horses.

  3. A truly unhappy story. Abuses such as this, in all disciplines, need to be discussed, even though it makes us sad to talk about it. A lot of the general public has no idea. Just like steroids in baseball, people need to question things. Many trainers get away with it because the average person has no clue. Make some noise, be heard. Thanks for posting this.

  4. Very tragic. I always thought horses who had a club foot were born with it. I didn't realize this is something that could develop. Thanks for the sad, but interesting post.

  5. How sad. I never knew that happened with Arabian Halter. Greed is a horrible monster, isn't it?

  6. I truly believe halter has fscked up a lot of breeds; look at the QHs with their prize steer bodies and itsy-bitsy feet. Some of those horses are never ridden! Don't get me started on the swan-necked, windmill-legged, tube-shaped "Morgans" which regularly take the championships in hand and bear little resemblance to the curvy, tough, smart, gentle and SOUND classic Morgan.

    Have you seen these posts at Suisan's blog? I don't really follow the Arab horse world so had no idea these sorts of things went on (surgery, tying up, etc.). Unfarkingbelievable! I guess the Magnum Psyche/Namusca stories are old hat to you Arab folks :) but they were very eye-opening for me. We should organize something, like a "Bring back the classics" blog meme...

    PS: this be Doe from Bridlepath. :)

  7. I used to work at an Arabian horse farm that has abused horses for showing halter. I have seen them beaten with the whip over and over until their bodies and legs are covered with welts and yanked with the chain so many times that the chain rubbed their skin raw. This farm has also done cosmetic surgeries, like cutting tails and throat latches, and removing their inner eyelids. They used tail set (ginger) at the shows. This abuse still continues today. I personally think that halter classes should be band from all shows for all breeds. I’m not saying that horses aren't abused in other ways, but halter has to be one of the most practiced.

  8. I had never heard of halter horses being tied to the wall like that. I have heard comments like "all those halter horses are abused" and I've never really known what tyhey meant. We were hoping for a halter prospect when we breed my daughters arab mare, doing halter mainly as something to do while waiting for the foal to grow up. But, there is no way we would ever subject a horse to abusive treatment. I admit we're one the beginning end of the learning curve here. We don't expect to compete at the national level, but just have fun learning in the process. I would be interested in resources how to train a halter horse with natural methods that is enjoyable for both the horse and trainer.

  9. What an eye opening post. The abuse ALL horses face on a continued basis to appease OUR standards of perfection is ridiculous.

  10. I had no idea about this training practice. How awful. I do not care for the halter look on Arabs or the steroid bodies of the QH.

    I prefer a horses natural movement, this is when they are most beautiful.

  11. This was such a sad and tragic story. I hate to hear of people who abuse animals like this for their own greedy, selfish ends. I'm here from the Equine blog carnival.

  12. I cannot believe it. That is TERRIBLE!!!!!

    I cannot even conceive of trying to do anything like that to win. Sometimes I think the horses in the world would be better off if we had less imagnination and creativity to get what we want.

  13. This is as much about greed as it is about laziness, laziness in that the trainer wanted the "easy way out" by tying the horse to the wall instead of even attempting to TRAIN the horse to stand in the desired stance... how awful that a mare had to lose her life.. and I'm sure this trainer still uses the same "techniques.."

    Just awful

  14. OMGosh!! That's terrible! What happened to good old elbow grease and hard work?!? Sheesh!

  15. I didnt understand all of the terms in this post but I did understand enough to know this was cruel practice. Poor horse.
    I hope the trainer was taken to task.

  16. I am speechless. There are more ways to abuse horses than I ever dreamed of.

    And the sad thing is that I always assumed people who had quality horses would be interested in their care and well-being if only from the point of view of their value. I clearly lack imagination.

    Man's inhumanity to horses in the pursuit of some false ideal has shocked me once again.

  17. I have shown at halter and showed my 3/4 Arab mare as a weanling. I have never heard of anyone using this treatment although I suppose there is always someone looking for a shortcut in anything. My horses are always taught to place their feet by me bumping their foot gently with my toe. Then they are taught to stand still in that pose. THEN they are taught to reach toward my fingers or whip end (depending on their height as I am short) without moving their feet. In my opinion you cannot get that flair and look-at-me attitude with cruelty.