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#myhorsetoo

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  • #myhorsetoo

    As a 30-year participant in the hunter/jumper industry, I frequently find myself reflecting on the good and the bad of our sport. And with each new headline announcing the downfall of yet another prominent figure in the entertainment industry amidst allegations of sexual misconduct (today it was Matt Lauer), I think to myself how much our sport could use a similar watershed upheaval. Fortunately, I have not personally experienced any untoward sexual behavior in an equestrian environment. But unfortunately, I have trusted the wrong professionals more than once.

    As a young teen, my parents selected a trainer who physically abused my junior hunter, ending his show career. Over the ensuing decades, I have had a leased horse abused in public at a major horse show – a kind professional called me to tell me what she had seen. The next day, I arrived unannounced at the show (a 5+ hour drive away) and observed the abusive behavior in the warm-up ring. I immediately terminated the lease and had my horse shipped back to me. I have had an imported horse arrive in the US with a career-ending injury, with no way to determine how it happened, and the well-known professional who arranged the deal refusing to make it right. I have had a leased horse come back to me starved and neglected (after I had to send a hauler to pick up the horse because the lessee kept making excuses for not returning the horse after terminating the lease). And most recently, I had to euthanize a young horse that I entrusted to someone who has received glowing accolades in our industry publications. Though my good experiences have outweighed the bad, I am glad to have stepped away from competing. It pains me to see known chronic offenders featured in our industry magazines. It pains me to see them sitting on committees and boards of directors. It pains me to see other pros continue to support the offenders’ businesses, either because they are worried about jeopardizing deals, worried about offending a judge, worried that not attending the offenders’ horse shows will result in missed points, or just don’t care about misconduct as long as there is money to be made. Let’s face it: we have all seen it play out on social media. While it is not a new state of affairs by any means, it is a sad one. And despite lip service from our governing bodies, I don’t believe they will effectively clean up our sport. Perhaps I am wrong. I hope so. But I don’t think so.

    What is truly a shame is more horses will suffer because their owners have no means of warning one another without retribution, and no meaningful avenue to investigate potential trainers. After all, if a pro leaves a trail of damaged or dead horses in his or her wake, but is not disciplined for it by our governing bodies, how would a prospective client know? And if the USE or USHJA won’t investigate abuse outside of a horse show in the absence of a court judgment, well, what discipline will there be? Unfortunately not enough of us pursue legal action because the cost of doing so would far exceed any recovery; you can’t get blood from a stone, but the attorneys still have to be paid.

    At the end of the day, I am not looking for advice or sympathy, but rather, would like to encourage clients to look out for one another. Where there is smoke, there is often fire. If you hear rumors about your trainer or a potential trainer, inquire further. Don’t simply accept explanations like, “everyone is jealous,” or “that ex-client is crazy.” Remember that con artists are very good at being convincing. Smoke and mirrors are their bread and butter. If something seems off, trust your gut. I no longer lease out my horses off site, but if you’re going to do so, require references from multiple sources and go to visit them. In short, protect your horses, because no one else cares about them the way you do, and no one is going to do it for you. And please feel free to share your own stories. It is cathartic to put “pen to paper,” so to speak. Thank you for reading.

  • #2
    There are a lot of dirty people in this industry and I have also found that there are a lot of those out there who have abusive pasts with horses in their care and when the can of worms is opened; they just move elsewhere and set up shop to start their business over. The newbies flock to them unknowingly. I have been physically and mentally abused as a kid, by a well known trainer who is now in the south. I had also watched this person abuse many animals in their care. I have watched a well-known breeder in the industry beat one so badly that the whip they were using broke in half. No excuses. Then there are the drug happy people which is a whole area of abuse in itself.

    I stopped competing many years ago and I have found that the majority of my joy comes from doing things at my own pace, just enjoying my horses. Too many dirt bags out there and it is very sad.

    Comment


    • #3
      My mare came to the barn I'm at 4 years ago angry at the world because she'd been so man-handled and over-faced by her previous connections. Fast forward to today, she's a real love muffin, willing to please and a hard worker. She's just a slow and thorough learner, and needed people who were willing to let her learn on her own timeline. I really wish she could talk, so I could know what happened to make her such an angry gutter-punk. She never has to worry about her treatment again, though, because she's found her fur-ever home with me.
      There's coffee in that nebula.

      Comment


      • #4
        My WB came to me through COTH Giveaways.
        Gal who found him at a sale barn - some 300# underweight - said he would not even look at people when she first saw him.
        This was an import from Australia to FL, showing 1.5m, so some Asshat had paid beaucoup $$ to get him here, then turned him to toast within a year or two. Most likely medicating so he could show through pain.
        She gave him such good care he was friendly & ShowShiny when I first looked at him.
        I was able to contact his breeder who was horrified to hear how he ended in the US as he had gone to a client who worked with a BNT.
        I messaged BNT on his FB page - no recrimination, just to let him know where horse had landed - no response.

        Not from the H/J world but:
        My current TWH was a gift from a friend who can no longer ride.
        She found him on the Michigan Coast to Coast Ride - a 200mi+ trek, ridden over several days,
        He was underweight & had saddle galls.
        His Asshat owner probably kept him thin so he could control him.
        Friend got him back to a good weight & rode him on horsecamping trips for 6yrs.

        Asshattery exists in all disciplines & advocating for the horses is done way too infrequently.
        *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
        Steppin' Out 1988-2004
        Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
        Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015

        Comment


        • #5
          As long as people treat horses like products or status symbols instead of beloved partners this will happen. If winning matters more than the health of your horse you shouldn’t own or train one and with AA horse shows becoming increasingly out of reach for many it just gets worse. More money more corruption. I have known and owned many previously abused horses. Some intentionally tortured to try and extract performance; others unintentionally abused by people that simply couldn’t ride them. Nothing makes me sadder than a kind, gentle creature who has been hurt.
          You don't scare me. I ride a MARE!

          Comment


          • #6
            Personally, I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about tons of issues that have to do with riding, showing, competing, other folks' horses, and my own. There are so many avenues that are at a crossroads with one another. At times, it's made me want to quit altogether... but ultimately, I know that horses are so much a part of my life, I'd be very sad and lost without them.

            It's a hideous, cyclical problem regardless of discipline. You've got folks who argue their personal POV without any real science or theory behind it, or science that they've taken out of context. There are so many extremes, and I imagine as the world itself becomes more expensive, more difficult, etc, so do a lot of other things. Horse sport, of course, being one of them. Some people are in it for business, some for status, and some because they genuinely love their horse or horses. In fact, I believe most people started out loving horses. I think a lot, though, have become jaded.

            I think that it's hard to determine abuse. There's obvious abuse, the type we can all agree on. But the gray area of abuse changes based on the barn, the owner, the person. Different people are going to have their opinions and ideas, and sometimes you simply have to agree to disagree.

            I've never had a horse of my own horribly abused. They have, though, experienced some things that I'd consider borderline. Some things that made me ill. When I consider it, though, I have to consider, too, whether I've been that borderline abusive person. Not that I purposefully set out to injure or abuse a horse, but that another person looking at me might think something of my handling or riding that makes them cringe. It's that line in the sand that moves from person to person. It's an uncomfortable juxtaposition to be in, to have to point the finger back at yourself sometimes. I think that may be part of the problem, too. People don't want to hold themselves accountable because it's uncomfortable, so the industry will never be better if those people aren't willing to do that.

            The money and business that's involved in horses influences a lot of how horses are treated. You have owners with certain expectations of trainers, trainers with certain expectations of themselves and of the people they teach, and a lot of amateur riders who think that their trainer must know what's best. No one singular person or part of the industry overall is to blame, everyone plays a role in how everything unfolds. Unfortunately, it's oftentimes the horses that suffer for it.

            Like I said above, I have a lot of conflicting thoughts. I had a lot of conflicting thoughts as a H/J rider, when I'd witness the doping, the excessive lunging, the poling, the limited turnout, the nonstop show circuits. The trainers that had a "you're with me or you're against me" approach to running a barn, and the railbirds who'd sit ring side and tear you apart within earshot before you've tackled your first fence. I switched disciplines after about 15 years. I had fallen out of love with the idea of jumping and all the politics that went with it. There's a lot of difference in some what I do now from H/J, but it's not vastly different in some respects. There's still the doping, drilling horses into the ground, some borderline medieval tack (honestly, what on earth is a brain chain?!).

            I think most riders, especially the riders that are in highly competitive training barns, witness some form of abuse regularly. It may not be the gruesome abuse that a lot of people classify as animal abuse, but is still an infraction against the horse. There have been times, sometimes, in lessons, or perhaps when I've been riding on my own and repeating what I've been told to do, that I've felt confused or somber. Internally, I'm questioning whether or not what I've been told to do is fair. I don't think there are many right answers, just a lot of opinions. I enjoy the discipline I do now, but it comes with many costs. Not all of them are financial; in fact, a lot of them are at the expense of you - as a horse person - and your horse. Or, well, I feel so. I don't think that's a necessarily discipline specific predicament, either. I do enjoy showing, as many people do. It can be very fun. However, the amount it costs to go out there, I'd also like to have a shot at doing well. That comes with all of the ups and downs of training. I've been told more than once before that maybe I should take up trail riding, if I couldn't be tougher on my horse. Sometimes I've thought, you know maybe I should, if I have to be that cruel.

            Sorry if I've rambled somewhat off topic. I do have the tendency to wander, with no real beginning, middle, end. It can be slightly cathartic to type out some of what you've witnessed, wondered about, or perhaps even been privy to. I'm someone who has been diagnosed with anxiety and a byproduct of that is that I'm always questioning what's going on around me, how people behave, how I'm being treated, etc. It is honestly exhausting. Horses, and more so my own horse, occupy a lot of space in my mind. They make up a lot of those thoughts. A BB like COTH gives me a place to get some of that out, even if I do wonder how truly useless I may sound, but it's a fraction of what I wonder about daily.

            Comment


            • #7
              Boo hoo. Name names, or get down off the cross honey, cause somebody needs the wood.

              Comment


              • #8

                Bitranchy, mad respect for your post. You said a lot of things that I agree with and have thought, as well.

                I'm a professional and it is a huge fear to someday become that type of trainer. I can see how it could happen; horses break your heart and your back and your bank account twice a day, and the work is oftentimes as thankless as it is frustrating. But I am still a horse crazy kid, really. No way I would rather spend my days and life, and it is for the pure love of the animal, and in wanting to simply be the best horseman and steward that I can be. And I figured the best way to do that would be to try to coach and improve the younger generations. I can't be abusive, I'm trying to show them how to behave and how to be fair and effective riders. I can only lead by example and by holding myself to the same standards I expect of my students.

                So, from my perspective, I can say that if I ever become abusive, jaded, and/or generally pissed at the horses for my own actions, or behave in a way that may affect how my students view me, I hope someone comes and kicks my ass for it. My advice is, if you see it, and have the balls, say something to the trainer.

                I hate that my general perception of the horse show world is one that the majority of trainers are not, really, in it for the pure and simple love oft the horse. How could they be when they promote programs in which rides don't even tack up their horses? Seriously? They just show up and ride? I really just don't get it so if anyone would like to enlighten me..

                So here is to hoping things change and we get back to the idea that we all just want to enjoy our horses and horse sports and to not drag anything else into it other an that. To prioritizing the health, fitness, and happiness of the horses so that they can be the best they can be. If things trend that way, abuse should go down or at least not be tolerated a much.

                Maybe.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Yeah, I'm not so sure naming names would go over that well.
                  Shut up, brain. I'm trying to sleep. (Courtesy AirsAboveNC)

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by m&m View Post
                    Yeah, I'm not so sure naming names would go over that well.
                    Would be a long list
                    You don't scare me. I ride a MARE!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Hear, hear, OP.

                      And I agree with tinah's post below, too.

                      Originally posted by tinah View Post
                      Boo hoo. Name names, or get down off the cross honey, cause somebody needs the wood.
                      The buck stops with the person writing the checks. I'm ultimately responsible for how my animals are treated, even when I'm hiring the experts to do that. So owners need to fire those who are wrong and share the names of those who abused their animals, their trust and the industry by giving horse trainers a bad name. It really does make it harder for the next pro when abusive or even unprofessional behavior is tolerate by paying customers.
                      The armchair saddler
                      Politically Pro-Cat

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by m&m View Post
                        Yeah, I'm not so sure naming names would go over that well.
                        With all due respect, that things "go over well" really shouldn't be a concern if someone is talking about animal abuse. I post that because a huge part of the problem-- here and in the current discussion of the sexual harassment stuff that inspired this topic-- is a whole bunch of people not wanting to take an emotional risk or get their hands dirty in saying "Stop it!" loud enough and hard enough to make it stop.

                        It's unethical to put your comfort ahead of an animal's deep suffering if that's the comparison involved, don't you think?
                        The armchair saddler
                        Politically Pro-Cat

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I specifically meant I didn't think it would be well received by the moderators. I never for a moment thought abusers should be protected.
                          Shut up, brain. I'm trying to sleep. (Courtesy AirsAboveNC)

                          Comment

                          • Original Poster

                            #14
                            Thank you for the thoughtful replies. Bitranchy, I agree that a big part of the problem is too few pros having clean hands themselves. And certainly most people who have ridden and trained long enough will have done things in that "grey area" that they regret. However, I hope for the average owner, that doesn't mean they are afraid to call out mistreatment when it comes to even a well-known pro's program. I have done everything in my power short of filing suit in the wake of my experiences, at significant personal financial and emotional cost. Sometimes the effort pays off, sometimes not. A big part of the problem is that the slick pros who are good at smoke and mirrors are good at lying to their current clients. It's not until that client is ripped off or winds up with a damaged horse that they begin to question the pro.

                            As to naming names on an Internet bulletin board? Absolutely not. It's not about emotional comfort, it's about not wanting to wind up litigating a defamation suit over a post on an Internet bulletin board.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by m&m View Post
                              I specifically meant I didn't think it would be well received by the moderators. I never for a moment thought abusers should be protected.
                              Ah, I see. Then the Moderators can consider my post. If it's verifiably true than it's not libel. And keeping instances of bona fide abuse secret because of uncertainty or decorum? That moment is over.
                              The armchair saddler
                              Politically Pro-Cat

                              Comment

                              • Original Poster

                                #16
                                “ If it's verifiably true than it's not libel.”

                                No, but that doesn’t stop people from initiating action, and lawyering up is costly. I’m sorry you disapprove, but I’m not setting myself up for dealing with that. Good grief.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by horselesswonder View Post
                                  “ If it's verifiably true than it's not libel.”

                                  No, but that doesn’t stop people from initiating action, and lawyering up is costly. I’m sorry you disapprove, but I’m not setting myself up for dealing with that. Good grief.
                                  Do what you gotta do.

                                  But someone, somewhere who has enough money to fight and win oughta do it. And you'd think that among the Horsey Set, there'e be some people who could afford to make the pros for them be... professional and treat animals ethically.

                                  Once again: It will stop happening when people with the money stop paying for it AND when they recognize that they can stop that bad behavior. With great power comes great responsibility.
                                  The armchair saddler
                                  Politically Pro-Cat

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    What amazes me is that trainers can leave one barn where they had a bad reputation and then move to another area, sometimes not even that far away and STILL get clients. It's as if no one bothers to check references. Or maybe they do but don't care.


                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by SnicklefritzG View Post
                                      What amazes me is that trainers can leave one barn where they had a bad reputation and then move to another area, sometimes not even that far away and STILL get clients. It's as if no one bothers to check references. Or maybe they do but don't care.

                                      Devin Ryan. Case in point. His suspension was public and he kept clients (%?) and I'm assuming he continues to get new clients.

                                      Money flows and on it goes.

                                      Comment

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