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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TheHorse.com | The Horse April 2019 33 months later (from laminitis secondary to conditions resulting from the abuse), they still hadn't completely healed," says Rucker. "In my experience the abuser doesn't directly kill the horse. The horse dies after falling while its head is 'tied around' or from stress-related secondary problems such as colic." Meanwhile, owners might be un- aware of what's transpired. "This owner was devastated by the ordeal her horse endured, not only at the trainer's but also the prolonged medical battle," Rucker adds. "They were heartbroken that their … horse could be a victim. Horses are nonverbal and completely dependent upon their person—a relationship similar to that between a parent and small child." Susi Cienciala, DVM, an equine veteri- narian at Deep Creek Veterinary Services, in Enderby, British Columbia, remembers treating a reining horse whose tongue had been split in half from bit abuse. "We also had a Morgan client who wanted us to cut the tail nerves to stop the swish- ing," she says. "Of course, we said no." But her most striking memory of abuse was when she had to remove an embed- ded noseband from a horse with pliers. "There was just no other way to free up that horse's nose," she says. Veterinarian-confirmed training abuse can lead to legal consequences. Rucker's client is currently involved in a lawsuit with her horse's trainer. In 2015 reining trainer Mark Arballo was sentenced to 180 days of home detention and three years of probation after leaving a 5-year- old Quarter Horse mare, Bella Gunnabe Gifted, bitted up with long shanks in a round pen in San Diego, California. She flipped over and suffered a basilar skull fracture, requiring euthanasia. According to the civil complaint, the trainer initially whipped the mare to try to get her to stand up again, unsuccessfully. The civil case ended in a settlement for $160,000. Arballo lost his association memberships and the right to train horses during his probation period, which ended in 2018. Why Does it Happen? If the point is to train horses to be great mounts, why would anyone abuse them? To achieve improved performance, mostly, say our sources. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unethical training tactics in use, says Booth, that give trainers an edge. "There's just not a level playing field for ethical training," he says. Rucker agrees. "A very small percent- age of horses will naturally perform at the elite level, but everyone wants to have the horse that does," she says. "That leads to forcing them, sometimes in very unnatu- ral ways." That's especially true, she adds, for young horses being trained in a very short period to get to futurities, "where the win- ner receives both fame and fortune. Own- ers may be motivated by prize money, but trainers also pursue name-recognition for winning large competitions." What's more, Rucker notes, there's high pressure in training barns to prepare a large number of horses for shows with a limited amount of time and staff. "It's not just a trainer problem," she says. "It's also an owner expectation problem. Some owners will not accept that their horse is not competing at a winning level. The trainer is pressured by the possibility of the owner moving the horse, which may have profound financial consequences after the loss of training, transport, and show fees. The horse may simply need more time to develop, or the lack of winning may be due to the owner/rider. At any rate, trainers are often pushed to come up with an immediate, low-cost solution if a horse isn't winning." A complex case of conflict of inter- est reinforces those expectations, says Rucker. "There are too many incestuous relationships between trainers, veterinar- ians, owners, and judges," she says, with roles overlapping to the extent it negative- ly impacts what's considered acceptable in competition and what isn't. As a result, you get training tricks that might be effective, but cross the line into abuse, she says. Excessive spurring, wear- ing a horse out, depriving him of food and water, tying his head up, tying his head down, tying his head sideways, tying up one leg, tightening his noseband, tighten- ing his leg boots, placing tacks or chemi- cals under boots, locking him in rollkur, poling with rails ... the list goes on. "A lot of people just prefer to take win- ning over ethical equitation," Booth says. Still, many people don't see these practices as abusive; it's just what they've always done when training horses, says Mette Uldahl, DVM, Cert. Equine Diseases, of Vejle Hestepraksis in Den- mark, Fédération Equestre Internationale National Head Veterinarian for Denmark, Some potentially effective training tactics can cross the line into abuse. For example, tying a horse to teach it patience can turn into an exercise in learned helplessness (TheHorse.com/110232). ISTOCK.COM We see a lot of unconscious incompe- tence, meaning people don't know that they don't know something." DEBBIE BUSBY

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