The cost of first place


Grace Nichols

Many do not know or are not aware of the underlying abuse that goes on in the equestrian world, but by learning of the secrets that go unnoticed to the regular eye, people can help end the mistreatment of thousands of American show horses. Imagine this: you are a horse hobbyist and you buy your next up-and- coming show horse with the plan to go to great places and win great things. But throughout the training, there are behaviors that are undesirable; spooking, an unfocused mind, refusal of commands. 

 So you decide to send him off to a trainer; let them deal with him and fix the issues themselves; after all, they are professionals, right?

 You leave him at the trainer’s barn, agreeing to not visit unannounced as requested by the trainer. You come back in a month to see a completely different animal. He listens well, seems to focus, no bad behavior. 

 But upon bringing him home, you see small divots in his side, patches of hair missing from his belly, and sores in the corners of his mouth. What is this from? The answer: “professional training.” 

 The training barns that so many show horses end up at use many cruel and abusive tactics. By the end, the horse seems to listen, focus, and be respectful towards people, but this is only because he fears what will happen if he does not comply. Injecting fear and inflicting harm onto an animal is not training, it is torture. 

 The divets in his sides are from being spurred repetitively. The hair missing is from the spikes of spurs rubbing it off raw. The sores in his mouth are from aggressive bits and the abusive misuse of them. 

 But nevermind becausethat, for the horse is winning now. He gets first in the class, even wins some money, but underneath the decorated saddle pad and blue ribbon, he is scared beyond his wits. He is fearful, but he cannot show it because he knows he will be punished for being afraid, for that is what he has been taught to him. 

 This is just one type of scenario that occurs in the world of horse showing far too often. 

 A witness to these types of abuse is horse owner Christina Nichols. When asked if she had ever seen blatant mistreatment of horses at competitions, she replied, “Yes, you see trainers sawing back and forth on their horse’s mouth. The horse is trapped, there is nothing it can do.”

 She added, “You see this happening in public, and it makes you wonder what they do at home when no one is looking. The life of a show horse is not as glamorous as one may think.” 

 “There are good trainers who don’t do that, it’s not all bad. But you see so many bad trainers and hear so many horrible stories,” Nichols says. 

 Certain training tactics can even lead to death. By putting a horse in a stressful situation, they can colic, which is an abdominal pain that has numerous causes, one being stress or malnutrition. 

 Another painful effect of neglect done by people is gastric ulcers. Gastric ulcers form when the stomach lining begins to erode due to exposure to stomach acids. The main cause of this is when horses aren’t being fed enough. 

 When training, some trainers tie their horses to posts for prolonged periods, where the animal is not able to eat or drink for hours on end. Horses are grazing animals that require a constant supply of food, and when that is taken away, their bodies react accordingly. 

 The Horse wrote in an article discussing abuse, “There’s also the blind faith many owners have in professionals.” They made the argument that many horse owners believe that trainers are all-knowing, which causes the training done with the trainer to transfer back home to the owner. 

 OBut on the bright side, there are numerous ways abuse in competitions are being handled. Judges at competitions are acknowledging abuse, and purposefully disqualify or do not place competitors who practice abuse. There are multiple organizations that rescue abused horses and rehabilitate them. Associations such as AQHA ban former members from competitions and membership. 

 Although there are many cases of abuse occurring right in front of people, there are also many helpful institutions there to stop the abuse. There are also ways that individuals can help; by reporting or confronting those who abuse. Altogether, the community can help end it.