Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Are You a Good Advocate for Your Horse? Part 2

Part 1

I have to admit that in the past, I have been guilty of being a client who allows the trainer to do whatever they want to my horse. Luckily for my Arabian horses most of the time I was dealing with trainers who were responsible horsemen. But that was not the case all of the time.

Regretfully, when my stallion, Scandalous Legacy, was a yearling, I really let him down. He was being trained to show halter for the Yearling Sweepstakes class at Regionals. The horse was not in the usual training situation where he was left with the trainer. I was doing the conditioning and then bringing the colt to the trainer a couple of times a week for training sessions.

One session a couple of nights before a horse show, my colt was gawking around and not really paying attention.. The trainer was responding by hitting the horse on the body and legs with his whip. My stomach was churning but I was immobilized by my own fear of making a mistake. The owner of the facility was standing next to me encouraging the trainer to continue the abuse stating how much better the young Arabian horse was doing because of it. I found myself thinking they must know more than I did. I allowed it to continue.

When the session was over I loaded my horse into the trailer and hurried home mortified with myself that I had not stood up for my horse. When I arrived home, I was even more ashamed. Getting the colt into the light in his stall, I could see that he had welts over his entire body, including his legs. There was not a spot on him, with the exception of his head, larger than a silver dollar that was not swollen.

I was appalled. I was furious at the trainer, furious at the facility owner and most of all, furious with myself. The trainer quite literally beat the daylights out of my horse with me standing there watching. How could that have happened?

Well, like all abuse it happened in degrees. The trainer didn’t just pick that one day and fly into a rage and beat my colt. The trainer was calm explaining each step he was taking in the process of “training” my horse. A procedure he had done each and every session.

In the first session, he didn’t ever strike my horse with the whip. He explained the whip was just an aid and not an instrument of abuse as “some other halter trainers made it.” Over the weeks and months he continued on convincing me that he was a kind and thoughtful trainer and how lucky I was to have him. He applied the whip to my horse only on infrequent occasions in the beginning, always explaining why it was necessary to do so (the horse’s fault, of course). By the time the actual abuse incident happened, I had been effectively brainwashed into accepting the trainer’s behavior at the expense of my horse.

I don’t use these words “brainwashed” loosely. I am well versed in its methods and effects. I can assure you, these words do apply here. Even with my knowledge of the technique, I still missed it at the time. What the trainer was doing seemed so benign it went right over my head. I was inexperienced with halter and I didn’t have confidence in my own abilities as a horsewoman and the trainer played on that. I was the perfect victim and my horse paid the price.

Did my horse show well after this session? Absolutely not, he was so confused he laid on the chain in such a manner that his long beautiful neck looked upside down and thick through the throat. He was so intimidated by the chain, the whip and the handler than he could not relax and be himself. His movement was tight and awkward instead of smooth and flowing.

Did I ever get up the nerve to confront the trainer? Yes, I did, the day of that horse show. The trainer insisted that he had done nothing wrong. He justified his behavior. The horse would never be a successful halter horse because he was too quiet. The only way to show him in that division was to beat him to get him jazzed up. Had he said those things to me the first day I arrived at his barn, I would have turned around and walked right out the door. If that’s what it took to show halter, I was not interested. I ceased my relationship with that trainer.

What were the long term effects on my horse? The first time another trainer stood in front of my horse to see what he knew about standing up, my quiet sweet colt stood on his hind legs and came after the handler. Remember me saying you can’t bully an Arabian horse in Are Arabian Horses Different from Other Horses? My colt had been pushed to his limit.

Luckily for my horse, the handler standing in front of him had been told of the awful beating the horse had received and he was prepared for some sort of outburst from the horse. So when the young colt confronted him standing on his hind legs, pawing the air and coming forward, the trainer threw his arms into the air, screamed at the colt and jumped into the horse’s space. The colt jumped back, dropped to the ground immediately and stood there quietly licking his lips. The trainer had reprimanded his bad behavior but had not hurt him. This was treatment the horse could respect. He didn’t want to be aggressive, he only wanted to be treated fairly.

The signs are clear. Had I not stepped forward and become an advocate for my horse, he would have been ruined. He would have eventually turned into a mean, aggressive horse. It would have developed in stages but with no one to protect him, the horse would have found ways to protect himself.

While most horses would not respond as aggressively as a stallion, if owners do not act as appropriate advocates for their horses, it is not just the horse that will pay. There are lots of ways that not being protected from unreasonable training techniques can affect horses. They can get injured. They can quit trying and not ever reach their full potential. They can get ring sour. They can lose their expression and go from being a dynamic show horse to just another horse plodding around the ring. The long and short of it is the horse will not be happy and it will affect the horse’s work ethic and behavior.


  1. MiKael unfortunately we all learn this lesson the hard way I believe, although some people never do. I have a very dear friend who is very heavy handed with her horses. I loaned her a 2 year old filly for a young girl who wanted to do 4H. She was quiet and well mannered, loved the company of other horses and people but just needed a job. A month later I got her back because she had run through a fence and caused chaos at my friends place and when I got her she had dozens of welt marks across her hindquarters like she had been whipped to get her to load into the trailer, between her hocks and tail base. These took months to go away. I love this friend dearly and never confronted her about it but I will never entrust one of my horses to her again. I have now found a very nice home for her, you might remember one of my very early posts about Cookie, it was her. The day after I got this filly back from the friend, I put a saddle on her and lunged her for 15 minutes, got on her for the first time ever and walked and trotted her round the arena in the barn with no incident, it was the second time she had ever had a saddle on and the first time she had ever had anyone on her back. Now how can you justify abusing a horse with such a great disposition?

    I am glad you found out as quickly as you did, so many horses are ruined with this behaviour, I see it a lot at the shows that I shoot and it sickens me, there is no love for the animal at all, it is just the winning that counts.

    I am so glad you got the prize. I wasnt sure if I had done it right or not LOL.

    We are surviving, hopefully it will get better soon. I dont mind the snow so much it is the wind and cold that takes its toll. I just need to find 10 more people like the people who bought Cookie to sell my other horses to then I will be happy again.

    Keep smiling and I promise I am staying warm.


    I am glad to say she has a wonderful home now, her new owner keeps in contact with me daily and although she is also a novice rider and she and Cookie will both need a lot of work before getting out on the trails together with her husband and his horse, I know she is safe and happy and that the owner is starting herself and the horse the right way. She sends me pictures every few days and that means such a lot to me.

  2. Excellant article. Thank you for sharing.

  3. We felt the same way when we thought that a vet was overly rough with one of our horses. After the vet left we all agreed to never call that vet again, but we all felt terrible that we hadn't stopped the vet while he was there. Our gut told us that what the vet was doing was unneccessary. We'll never let a vet treat a horse of ours that way again.

  4. Very good post. I have only had my horse for about 6 months now (Yay! My first horse!) but I have been involved with horses as much as possible for my whole life. (I want to breed Quarters & Paints someday.)

    My mare is an older Arab mare that I bought from a vet who rescued her from being starved. She is absolutely the perfect horse for me right now, and I have been learning so much. You are right on about their personalities being different from most breeds - Mira has let me know quite politely but decidedly that she does not like to be drilled on something she already knows. She also made it obvious that the more we trust her, the more she will do for us. She is turning into a fantastic babysitter because of this - I am extremely careful re: safety at all times, but the more I trust her with, the happier she gets. The Arab temperament is pretty amazing.