The Horse

APR 2019

The Horse:Your Guide To Equine Health Care provides monthly equine health care information to horse owners, breeders, veterinarians, barn/farm managers, trainer/riding instructors, and others involved in the hands-on care of the horse.

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32 April 2019 The Horse | What Is Abuse? How people define abuse depends on their perceptions and contexts, including historical and cultural backgrounds that vary worldwide, says Debbie Busby, MSc, MBPsS, representing the British orga- nization Human Behavior Change for Animals (HBCA) CIC. In fact, our individual definitions of abuse have likely changed over the years, she says. Realistically speaking, many of us have perhaps tried or encountered horse training tactics in decades past that are no longer used today. But were those methods abusive? "Some older practices have changed or fallen out of favor, while others are frowned upon in public but still carried out in private," says Busby. "And mean- while, some modern techniques, like rollkur (forced neck hyperflexion), are more abusive than the older ones." So where do you draw the line? Busby doesn't think you can. "The line can only be drawn when those drawing it have an understanding of the horse's ability to cope physiologically and emotionally with the demands placed on them and the emotional effect of the application of the training stimuli," she says. Undoing What's Been Done Abuse demarcation discussions aside, experts know that when horses come home from a trainer spooky, aggressive, dangerous to ride, or apathetic, they often get sent away for someone else to "fix" them. "A common case I get is the horse that's been whipped for getting scared," says science-based horse trainer Andy Booth, an Australian who teaches learning the- ory in practice in Southwest France. "A professional has beaten the horse for re- acting with a flight response to something scary. But all that does is make it scared of being scared. It doesn't take away the scared. So then it gets sent to me." Booth says he's worked with everything from horses that buck off their riders before they can get punished for bucking to those terrified of horse show photog- raphers because a person beside a jump means the top pole might rise suddenly. "Even the inhibition of flight response is cruel, like locking them in the stall the first time you get on them," Booth says. "These horses get some pretty horrible associations with having a rider on their backs." Some horses need "fixing" due to abusive management. "I got sent a young mare who was terrified of everything, including other horses, and was just so unwilling to work," says Australian dres- sage trainer Rebecca Rooke, who's based in Central France. "She'd been shut up in isolated stalls with solid walls her whole short career—apparently a method for getting her to 'concentrate' on her work. It took a while, but now that she can socialize and feel like a horse again, she's more enthusiastic about working under saddle." Unnatural feeding practices can also border on abusive, Rooke adds. "You're asking a lot of physical effort of these horses, yet there's this running idea still that they need mostly concentrated feeds and only a little bit of hay a day," she says. "A client sent me a big gelding who was sent away from his last trainer as being impossible, aggressive, and high-strung (on such a diet). … Then the trainer would make things worse by punishing him, locking him up without food or wa- ter at all so he'd be 'manageable'—essen- tially, exhausted—during workouts. When I got him, I put him on free-access hay and helped him have positive associations with training. Now he's a cuddly teddy bear and a great dressage mount, too." Unfortunately, it's not always possible to reverse the effects of training abuse, says Booth. And they don't forget those negative experiences. "Associations are lifelong, and sometimes the reactions will just pop back up," he says. "We just have to try to fix them again." When Things Go Too Far Veterinarians know trainer abuse as soon as they see it, says Amy Rucker, DVM, a podiatry-focused veterinarian at MidWest Equine, in Columbia, Missouri. She recalls a case where she came along- side a treating veterinary team to examine a laminitic horse—an exam that revealed an even more tragic tale. The horse had cuts in the corners of his mouth as well as a large wound on each side, consistent with spur marks. "I had never seen anything like it —they were full-thickness skin wounds, and when I put the horse down two-and-a-half TRAUMATIC TRAINING Horses that have suffered training abuse might build lifelong associations with those negative experiences. AMY K. DRAGOO Trainer Abuse: The Exception, Not the Rule Most trainers practice humane horsemanship and are valuable assets to horse owners. To learn how to find the right trainer for you and your horse, visit

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