Today I'm going to get into topic we all see happening on a daily basis, yet we are sadly becoming pretty much immune to. Abused transcends all breeds and all disciplines. It happens everywhere across the country, in show rings and fancy barns, on the trail and in the paddock of a single horse owner who keeps their horse at home. No horse is immune, no breed is immune, no discipline is immune.
From the "Big Lick" Tennessee Walkers, to the "rollkur" method of warming up a Dressage horse, to trainers "fencing" Reining horses, to the plain old ignorance of the backyard horse owner, there is abuse everywhere in the horse world. I've heard those excuses for poor training techniques like, "But everyone does it!" That doesn't make it okay, folks. Not even close. Isn't that like saying, other people beat their children, so that's ok too? Neither animals or people learn from abusive treatment or techniques, other than undesirable behaviors.
Horses gain knowledge through repetition, and some are slower learners than others. Oftentimes, when you push a horse too far, too fast, the result will be a sullen and irritable horse who at best doesn't know what is expected. This is frequently the beginning of that cycle of abuse. Unfortunately, too many trainers also have too short of a temper, and we all know that's never a good thing when dealing with any animal, let alone a sensitive horse. I'd like to believe that most of the time, poor training practices in the ill treatment of horses is the result of ignorance, as opposed to being deliberate brutality, however I tragically know better. But even ignorance isn't an excuse.
Abusive training is thought necessary by some in order to excel in the show ring, and we can certainly see a clear path leading to abuse because of horse show trends. Trainers want their mounts to stand out, which has led to extremes being rewarded over good, solid performances which follow division rules. It seems like the flashier the Dressage horse, or the slower the Western Pleasure horse or the higher stepping the Saddleseat English horse, or the more low headed the Reining Horse, they are more apt to win. Therefore, trainers see those flashy Dressage horses, those ultra-slow Western Pleasure horses and so forth, which leads them to try emulating those winning animals.
Then we have the backyard horse owners, weekend trail riders, and even the local trainer who's just trying to make a buck instead of trying to compete at a show ring level. Those are frequently the trainers who get the problem horses, mounts that didn't make it on the racetrack, at the horse shows or otherwise and for whatever reason haven't become good equine partners. It is under this scenario I most frequently see some of the worst examples of training, generally because there's a lack of knowledge on the trainer's part regarding why horses misbehave, and how to correct bad behavior.
We all know the difference between a frightened horse and a happy horse -- or at least we should if we pay attention to our horses attitudes and reactions. We should all know the difference between good treatment / training and abuse. There is no reason to resort to so many things I see, both in the show pen and on the trail. As a trainer and a horseman, I want my horses to be happy and enjoy their jobs. Strive to communicate with your horse. Work on understanding what it takes to get the performance you desire. If you need help, seek out a skilled trainer that can assist you. Ask questions, watch the trainer work with horses, and educate yourself, too. Your horse will thank you!