“What is it that leads to the violent treatment of horses in the training process?” – Per Waaler
I recently read a column on why violence enters into horse training. The whole column is very good (read it here), but the last part was so important that I had to share it. The author is a Dressage trainer, but these thoughts are discipline agnostic.
“Today, there is more and more focus on welfare in horse sport. However, whistle blowers are sometimes frowned upon as trying to ruin the sport instead of saving the horse. This is unfair, as all disciplines in horse sport are governed by the same rule: The welfare of the horse is paramount and not the welfare of the horse is paramount after I get it to do what I want.
I have seen extreme examples of trainers who have tried to made [sic] horses piaffe to the point where the horse finally stops and urinates. Can you imagine how much fear is required before you pee on yourself? Can the trainer not be addressed about the bad training and horse care standards he is applying? It is your moral duty to do so.
As a professional we all know that faults are rider-induced. Buck Brannaman said it perfectly in his film: “I don’t help people with horse problems, I help horses with people problems.” The problem is simply that few people want to be told they are doing it wrong. Trainers fear to loose [sic] a client and the money when they tell off the inexperienced rider not to vent their frustration on a horse. But the other way round also goes. Students/horse owners are afraid to present a mirror to their coach and show where they get too physically over-powering on a horse just to obtain quick training results.
Make it easy on your trainer by saying, ‘I know we have problems, but we have a common responsibility to our horse’s welfare. Don’t let short-sighted ambition distrot [sic] the goal. When we admit to our mistakes, it is often too late.'”
by Per Waaler, EuroDressage
It is often not popular to speak out against cruel or unfair treatment – and the line can be a very fine one to walk. But our horses cannot speak for themselves, so it’s up to us. I have missed some opportunities to do so, and deeply regretted it. Signs of distress (wringing tails, gnashing teeth, whirling about, etc.) are signs of a problem – a horse in distress is not learning anything. It may seem like overstepping to speak out against someone else, but you have the right and obligation to speak out on your own horse’s behalf.
Be good to your horses!