Animal welfare refers to the state of the animal; the treatment that an animal receives is covered by other terms such as animal care, animal husbandry, and humane treatment. Protecting an animal’s welfare means providing for its physical and mental needs.
The welfare of horses in breeding, competition and general riding and care is of the highest importance. It must be more than commentary or publicity; it must be upheld every day and enforced by those with both knowledgeable authority and a desire to care for the horse above all other political and cultural agendas.
Knowing the boundaries of equine welfare and abuse
The boundaries of equine welfare are often pushed under the guise of questionable professional knowledge and in the individuals haste to achieve results. At those times they sanction techniques that become welfare issues. In an enlightened world, many of the past practices are now deemed abuse, neglect and unfair treatment of animals, including the reining horse.
The good mindedness of equines and their desire to please is overly capitalized on by ego and the hunger of riders and trainers to win, to the equines detriment. As breeders, owners and trainers push for greater results and the expectation of time to deliver results shortens, the application of gimmicks, shortcuts, and human ego crack the boundaries of welfare; often to applying excessive and unnecessary pain to the horse. An animal that will suffer mental torment and torture silently. For those individuals that do refuse they are often met with increased pain and suffering as the dominate rider – trainer must win; often not even taking the time to understand why the horse or objecting.
The welfare of the horse is not just about the show pen. It is all encompassing of training, handling and anytime a person is in the company of a horse or responsible for its well-being. Feeding, health, mental state and safety are also at the forefront of welfare and abuse.
With no apprenticeship and a very low entry gate to becoming an owner or trainer, many learn by error and duplication of others and at the expense of the horse. The mentors they often select the ones that least challenge their thinking and provide the easiest path forward.
The first line in the description of a what a reining horse is ‘Willingly guided with little or no resistance !’ The modern reining horse trainer demands the horse submits 100% to their control at all times. The horses are purposefully bred to be horses that are most likely to be dominated.
Clinton Anderson, a well-known clinician and reining trainer-competitor, states in his video on reining training that “reining horses need to be dumb and lazy talented horses. A reining horse is one that has to be dictated to. He has to let you take control of him. Smart horses can use their intelligence against you, so an athletic horse intelligence horse can work against you. Reining horses cannot be hypersensitive.”
Seemingly smart and sensitive horses are not desirable traits which gives a view of the excessive jerking and spurring these horses endure as part of their ‘training‘ program.
Giving a voice to equines
Without sharing experiences, visual reminders and questioning of tactics and intent, welfare falls sadly to the wayside as our equine companions lack a voice and learn quickly; submission is their most tolerable path. Trainer abuse is quickly swept aside under the guise of knowledge, even in the presence of scientific evidence to the contrary. The most prominent trainers often being the people drawing the most spotlight for their tactics and methods as people see them at their best in the warm up pen at events.
The public look to the National Reining Horse Association to have in place checks and balances that protect the welfare of the reining horse and educates trainers and competitors on humane management of these horses. Not to give false piety but to demonstrate action in governing the reining horse industry members and public.
Right not, the public opinion outside of reining, of how they see reining horses ridden and trained, is often a greater measure than that of those within the industry itself.