Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Showing a Tired Horse

Marilyn recently asked my opinion about the following scenario. I later found out that she was talking about her horse and her trainer,

"A Reining horse is hauled 13 hours to a big Reining show.  Once he is unloaded and put in his stall, the rider and trainer ties him in his stall so he can't lay down.  When questioned about his reasons for this, he replies he wants the horse to be tired so he will be more relaxed and listen to him as he runs the reining pattern. This seems to border on the side of cruelty to me.  Wouldn't you think after 13 hours in a trailer you would want the horse to relax before he is scheduled to show?  And isn't it true that horses are more likely to get injured when they are tired?”

Thanks for the question, Marilyn. First, remember that you are not only the customer, but also your horse’s number one advocate and last line of defense in a world where his natural self-preservation tools are largely denied him. You need to be ready to jump in and take charge if you see something happening that doesn’t seem right to you. That could mean changing barns or even pulling him out of a show at the last minute.

Second, let's be fair to the trainer. Trainers aren’t mind readers. When you hire a trainer, you need to be clear about the goal of the training and what is acceptable to you in reaching that goal. Don't assume anything. A frank conversation might still preserve this relationship. If not, pay the trainer’s bill, wish him well, and move on.

Third, horses adapt to unnatural conditions and treatment remarkably well. On the scale of unsavory training practices, showing a horse in a tired state ranks relatively low and your horse will probably be just fine. But again, this is your horse and you need to be comfortable with how he is being treated. Making sure your trainer’s values align with your own will go a long way toward avoiding this problem in the future.