Confessions of a Million Dollar Reining Trainer – is this an admission of abuse in the sport?

Million dollar reining trainer, 14 times world champion, two times NRHA futurity champion and one of the most respected people in the reining sport, with an international reputation, Craig Johnson has posted to his Facebook Page on May 29th, 2017 a confession regarding the reining horse sport. Craig writes – “I was asked the other day at an NRHA event by one of the other million dollar riders if I had retired. Umm.”

Craig responds:

“Maybe it’s because I’m no longer willing to do the things I use to, and things I’ve seen, in order to make a horse do what it takes.”

“Maybe I’m not interested until I find a better way. Maybe I’m home experimenting with a better way. Maybe I think we should take longer, wait on horses, and create something that is broke, sound, and happy for years.”

“Maybe I’m not as selfish as I use to be. Maybe I’ve decided it’s more about the horse and what it wants to be rather than what I need it to be.”

“No I haven’t retired, I have evolved.”

There are many other similar statements throughout his confession. A confession of major significance and confronts all those people that say that horses are not started too early, broken down, forced to fulfill giant egos. You only need to read our other posts and people’s stories on our website and Facebook page comments on the atrocities that these horses endure to fulfill the dreams of desperate trainers and their limelight hunting owners wanting instance results and futurity glory. An association driven by making money from horses and lauding their positions over the small membership of just 11,000 odd people globally.

His intent may have been to promote himself to other equine disciplines like ranch riding, or maybe to distance himself from the now epidemic of abuse in the international reining sport. Only he knows the intent of his confession, but the statements made are loud and clear.

Yes, you may be evolving Craig Johnson, but the proof of how far you have evolved is when you use your status to change the rules of the NRHA and influence trainers to back off and put the horses before themselves and selfish limelight hunting owners. Maybe some others will follow in your enlightened example, and the abuse of these beautiful horses will no longer be acceptable at shows and home at their barns. It will be interesting to see what other reining trainers will stand at your shoulder and what you do from here on.

One thing is for sure, the denial that exists from within the industry is now out in the open; exposed by one of their own. Those ego driven and unenlightened people, living in the reining bubble now shown up for their ignorance and/or denial as the horses are made to perform at the cost of their welfare and wellbeing.

His confession speaks volumes to the reining horse sport, the NRHA that defines it and those trainers that endorse what the horses now endure.

We have been asking for change, and the million dollar rider is confirming why we are right!

Please vote for Change on our Poll – click on the link.

 

 

 

 

60 replies
  1. Marcus B
    Marcus B says:

    Went to a clinic with this guy and was less than impressed. What an ego. He may have won heapsbut when he said – I rode thousands of no-names to get where I am – I knew he was all show in the public and just another bastard behind the barn. Sure hope he remembers all those no names put food on his familys table.

    Reply
    • Mary-anne
      Mary-anne says:

      Amen. I owned one of the no names he sent home buggered. My check book was many thousands of dollars lighter for the experience and the horse just eats grass now. Wish his great confession had happened before my horse met him.

      Reply
    • Kerry-Ann
      Kerry-Ann says:

      At the clinic recently I went to all I kept hearing was ‘buy the DVD’. I like Peter’s comment – the Bank of Johnson. Sorry not a Kool-Aid drinker.

      Reply
    • pappamike
      pappamike says:

      He meant no name horses not people.. Read the english. Tell me the trainer that has not ridden 1000’s of no name horses to get to there once in a life time horses !

      Reply
      • Caroline S
        Caroline S says:

        Pappamike, I have heard him say the same thing and its not just what he said, but how he said it. Its probably part of his standard script at clinics. He had 16 once in a lifetime horses that he was paid to ride plus many others. Respectful people would have acknowledged those other horses and not just toss them. He showed that day it was all about him and who his friends were.

        Reply
  2. Peter Middleton
    Peter Middleton says:

    This fool must be a good friend of Clinton Andersons famously known for saying its fine to belt your children. Both ego maniacs that show pure honesty that comes with stuipdity. Pure gold confession.

    Reply
    • DeeDee Blackburn
      DeeDee Blackburn says:

      A old horsemen friend of mine knew the techniques 60 years ago, that Clinton Anderson thinks he he created. Joke

      Reply
      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        I can’t STAND CA. On one RFD-tv show, he had an 8 yo girl ”working” a big old QH, and when they finished, he said “let him take a break, eh? and smoke a cigarette” W.T.H.??????? I wrote him AND RFD-tv and complained, and would never watch him again, until he spouted off about fat cow horsewomen who pamper their horses. He is simply trash.

        Reply
  3. Annalisa
    Annalisa says:

    Anyone else detecting a whiff of irony here? Don’t complain about a man who has admitted change, who is thinking about his horses first and people second. There is currently a massive, global shift from old practises to new ones that understand more about the horse itself. Don’t bring him down, then tell him to change the industry by himself using just his influence. Honour the fact a man who won so much has chosen to change. And if any of you think someone is arrogant – well, give me the greatest sportsmen, artists and professionals of any industry in the world, see what they see and can do, standing on their heads, and ask yourselves why he didn’t maybe cosy up to be your best friend. I come from an industry where compliments are so rare even insults feel like compliments – toughen up and deal with it or find a trainer who will cater to your own ego if that’s what makes you happy. I’d rather follow and be criticised by a man that knows as much as him than complimented by a man that takes my money and doesn’t tell me if I’m no good. So come on. You’re either for change, or you’re not. He is.

    Reply
    • Peter Middleton
      Peter Middleton says:

      Your a speical type of stupid Annalisa putting this post on a site that is all about change for reining horses. A site that shows how much people try to hide and deceive the abuse at the cost of the horse. It’s not about him people want to see all the trainers step up. His posts on this FB site sure seem in wiggling out of it and trying to deflect. Still sticking up for all his cohorts that are abusers. He must have blisters on his backside wiggling on that fence.

      Reply
      • Stephanie Robinson
        Stephanie Robinson says:

        Well said!! And I agree he doesn’t feel bad for what he’s done to those animals, and he’ll probably continue to do so out of the public light…”wiggling” was a great way to describe it! All he is doing is worming his away around the public taking him And his reputation down. I don’t care how much money you have or titles not you, but those horses have won for you. I have no respect for anyone that can abuse an animal. All that shows is how weak and heartless that person is. How someone treats an animal speaks volumes about them…

        Reply
      • Lemon
        Lemon says:

        Wow. I just happened upon this post – but it is a new level of hateful ignorance to have a (what I’m willing to bet is an intellect revealing) typo in the very first word of your attack on someone else’s opinion, let alone intelligence!!

        Reply
        • Peter Middleton
          Peter Middleton says:

          Lemon – it is a slant on someone when we write that word in that way in our country. I for one don’t worry about spelling or softening to not offend as much as I do campaigning to help horses but your welcome to your priorities. You are looking in a mirror lovely lady.

          Reply
    • Sarah Waters
      Sarah Waters says:

      Good point Annalisa. People change and mature. Takes a big person to step forward and start to admit the error in their ways. Good on him.

      Reply
    • Melanie
      Melanie says:

      I am with you Annalisa! Well said. Who has not made mistakes in their life? I respect Craig for owning up to his past mistakes and working towards a better way. I also agree that most disciplines or horse sports of all kinds need to find a better way to train, a way that puts the horse first. We are throwing away horses right and left, because we have failed them. Too many are used as a tool rather than a living breathing being with feelings. They will work much harder for you if they understand what you are asking, and are treated with respect and dignity, just like any person would.

      Reply
      • Animal Welfare
        Animal Welfare says:

        Melannie – this goes the whole point. You are focused on him not the fact that he has alerted the point that there are issues in the sport which you write as “We are throwing away horses right and left, because we have failed them. Too many are used as a tool rather than a living breathing being with feelings. ” If we put up Billy Bob wrote the confession everyone would be all about the sport – instead people are only seeing the shiny thing from within his following – the people outside his following see the bigger picture and the issues in the sport.

        Very sad that people want to protect a man not the horses and the sport.

        Reply
    • Holly (not related) Johnson
      Holly (not related) Johnson says:

      You are just a parrot of his and I don’t read where they are complaining about him. The point is ABUSE not finding a trainer. Trainers are the problem that cause the abuse …see my comment on Trisha Schuh post on same page No amount of training and education will ever change an abuser. Read the entire site they are working hard to block abusers and make the trainers accountable. I am all for what they are doing even if people are squirming and bagging them. They are probably closet abusers that;s why they hate it. They have hit the raw nerve and this could end up another great TWH victory.

      Reply
  4. Kay
    Kay says:

    I believe there should be some improvements in all of the disciplines, they all ask for unnatural movements at way to young of any age. So many nice horses are either physically wrecked or have their minds are fried for what some so lightly call sport. I don’t think so. Seen the end results myself, not pretty.

    Reply
  5. Janis
    Janis says:

    Well let’s see him put those words into action . Would be very pleased to see such changes in all then people can actually enjoy & respect their horses because without them you are nothing . They do the work .

    Reply
  6. Charlotte Cannon
    Charlotte Cannon says:

    I’ve known Craig for more than 10 years as a client and friend. The man I know always puts the horse first. I’ve walked a horse out as an owner blasted him for not pushing his colt harder, while Craig did his best to explain any more push and the colt would break. He is the least ego-driven big time trainer I’ve ever been around, and I’ve sat on colts in the middle of the night in Reno waiting for their school.

    Craig may not be perfect, he is human. He may have pushed horses too far in the past, I think anyone that really wants to win has had to find that middle ground. I am sorry for the horses that may have come in this process. But to kick him while he is trying to lead people in a positive direction is not encouraging what you claim to want, a better environment for the horses.

    Craig isn’t looking to fill his ego with the post. He has humbled himself before you hoping it will cause a few people/owners/trainers to rethink their version of success.

    Reply
    • Peter Middleton
      Peter Middleton says:

      Its not about him Charlotte – the article is clear and picks on the point … I’m no longer willing to do the things I use to, and things I’ve seen, in order TO MAKE A HORSE DO WHAT IT TAKES. Read that carefully and that is the point from what I see. I read his posts on RTE FB and his own site – he is not leading the other trainers – he is leading everyone to the Bank of Johnson on his new ranch riding mission. He got caught and the beleivers will continue to believe him and the rest of us will see it for what it is.

      Reply
    • Janet
      Janet says:

      I so agree I have yet to ride with him but I intend to I guess I will form my own oppion then but the feed back I get from his clinics is nothing but great so I believe he has found a better way to train his horses and students

      Reply
    • Julie
      Julie says:

      Charlotte is correct, Craig is an outstanding horseman who puts his horses first. To try and twist his words into an “admission of abuse” is ignorance.

      Reply
      • Animal Welfare
        Animal Welfare says:

        The article is not about him abusing – it is about the sport – hence the title “is this an adminision of abuse in the sport?” Please read it carefully and look at the big picture of the sport.

        Reply
  7. Dawn Walker
    Dawn Walker says:

    My sister sent one of her horses to another reining trainer. A well known trainer with videos and everything. She didn’t get the results she wanted and suggested he be sent to a roping trainer right down the road. Arrangements were made and the horse was moved to his place. My sister got a call immediately from him that she needed to come see the horse. His tongue had been nearly cut in half. All his blankets and equipment were supposed to go with him. That didn’t happen either. We had to go get them and were told that they didn’t know which ones were his. Not a good experience at all.

    Reply
    • Animal Welfare
      Animal Welfare says:

      Sorry to hear about your sisters horse and that is what we are trying to change. Making these trainers accountable and people being able to file complaints without intimidation of trainers or their cults. There are some good trainers out there but once those dollars get on their radar – its about the money not the horse – no matter who they are.

      Reply
  8. candy
    candy says:

    change has to begin somewhere, change comes from within when we are enlightened to the fact that what was in is no longer popular even though it worked. I am glad he is changing for the better of the horse, as this is what we should all strive for. Yes, just like many horsemen that gets result from the quick methods, and take your money with no good effects on your horse, when a professional decides he’s had enough of the quick methods, it can only end to be better for the horse and people who want a solid champion in mind and body.

    Reply
    • Sue j
      Sue j says:

      Don’t you question the morals of a person who can inflict pain on any animal ever ? People who can abuse animals in this way absolutely know what they are doing, they couldn’t not. How many of us could hurt animals even for money and ego ? Can people who for years have not cared anything about the damage to the horses they “trained” really deep down change the way they are ? Is it possible to change personality ? Or is it about evolving so as to keep the income ? Moving on because you can see the end of the money source coming

      Reply
  9. Tamara Yates
    Tamara Yates says:

    Lots of beating up of Craig in the comments… Too bad
    You don’t beat up folks who are helping you make your case. People evolve.
    He grew up in a culture where there were norms and he had to THINK AND FEEL his way out…good on him!
    Others who would not have, will listen BECAUSE of his “achievements” in their world.

    Reply
    • Animal Welfare
      Animal Welfare says:

      It has nothing to do with beating anyone up and its his cult following that are making it about him – not the point of the article or the bigger picture. One man is not a sport the group makes the sport and at the moment there is many abusive practices and trainers not accountable. His ponderings come from experience in a sport equally to his own and his obversations are from the sport not just himself. If he stands up and makes a difference that is great but certainly he will not change the world, nor influence everyone as all the world does not want change not believe he is the messiah. As one person comments on a share – It took him 14 world titles to get to his thinking – that is a lot of horses and time to work out something that many greater horseman have been preaching for years.

      Typically abusive reining people (trainers & non-pros) are those that are obsessed by money, ego and status and the horse becomes a passing tool on a journey to achieve that. They defy rules and disguise their ways. Those that don’t believe tighter rules make a difference and accountability will assist, hold a dangerous opinion and one that is not about the horses.

      Reply
    • Tricia Schuh
      Tricia Schuh says:

      I completely agree! Craig has cross trained with other natural horsemanship coaches and see horsesfundamentally different! Good for Craig speaking out and trying to improve the sport. It take a leader to make changes and represent what’s best for the horse. And that is training the horse from where he is at.

      Reply
      • Animal Welfare
        Animal Welfare says:

        It takes more to improve a sport than training. People don’t have to listen to training and can ignore it and many do. Some attend and use it to find shortcuts to their already skewed thinking and treatment of horses. The SPCA and similar associations around the world focus on education of the abusers rather than taking the animals away. Most animals that end up removed, the people have had numerous chances to improve and learn and are not motivated to do so. That is the reality. Change comes from rules and enforcement of rules; just ask the TWH and other disciplines that have gained traction and improved. People are voting strongly on our Poll for change in the NRHA and screams volumes.

        Reply
        • Holly (not related) Johnson
          Holly (not related) Johnson says:

          Could not agree more. The campaign for TWH took years of hard work and the change only happened after the media exposure (thank god for social media) and people dedicated to rule changes. The previoius government approved the banning of soring & stacks but that has been put on hold in January. Hopefully it will come back very soon. Abusers don;t change – you have to push them out of the sport by RULES> Keep up the good work – i and my friends are voting.

          Reply
  10. Marleen Bradford
    Marleen Bradford says:

    There is usually a huge difference between a trainer and a horseman. A horseman is a teacher in the best sense of the word. It’s not about coercion and force. It’s about allowing a horse to learn to make decisions and think.

    Reply
  11. Pamela Kettle
    Pamela Kettle says:

    I’m a middle aged (55 yrs old), not in perfect shape, beginner reining rider. NOT a beginner rider, but new to the reining discipline. I grew up showing H/J’s and have ridden horses my entire life. I’m an empty nester now, still running my own company of 26 years and now have the time and $$ to start training and showing again for myself, not my children. I called 5-6 reining trainers in the Aubrey/Pilot Point area and attended numerous reining clinics to try and select a trainer. I called and met with trainers — NOT ONE of them would take someone like me -“too busy with futurity horses, don’t take inexperienced riders, your horse is too old, too busy with owners who have “REAL MONEY”, don’t do beginners, don’t do beginners who don’t board horse at our facility, etc….etc…etc…. I was really disheartened and decided to quit. My husband suggested I call Craig Johnson, as I had taken a western dressage clinic with him the previous spring and really enjoyed it. CRAIG JOHNSON was the only NRHA reining trainer who took me seriously. He said, “Sure, I love teaching, come on!” Craig Johnson is a wonderful trainer, thoughtful, patient and willing to work with you as long as it takes for you and your horse to master a skill. God bless him for NOT pushing young horses beyond their capabilities, for not practicing the politics necessary to be “noticed” in this sport and win. Did he do it at one time – yes, probably, but he has a different mind set now. He is a joy to ride with and I have learned so much – As I said, I grew up showing Hunter /Jumpers in Texas and was #2 in the state of Texas in Small Jr Hunter with my little ole quarter Horse BE ETERNAL. I know how to ride a freakin horse. I haven’t stepped in the show ring for 35 years while building a company and raising a family. Last weekend, I showed in reining, ranch riding, trail and horsemanship and won 2 firsts, 1 2nd and a 4th. Thank you Craig for giving me the chance to live my dreams again with my 15 yr old reiner Tanner Roos Wrangler. I wish more NRHA professionals believed in “paying it forward”! Please read the whole post Craig wrote – you have him all wrong!

    Reply
    • Animal Welfare
      Animal Welfare says:

      Pamela you have just enforced our point. This post is not about Craig Johnson nor his skill or his cult following – he is just the person who happened to make the statements that shed the light on all the other practices going. The other trainers would not assist you and showed you the attitude of the sport. One man is not a sport the group makes the sport and at the moment there is many abusive practices and trainers not accountable. They can burn horses and just say ‘next please’ – its all about them not the horse. The horse fits the program or its on the scrap heap. Thank you for making the point of how you were treated. May you enjoy your riding and horse/s.

      Reply
  12. Magen
    Magen says:

    There isn’t an equine discipline that does not have this same exact problem. It’s everyone involved that’s at fault. Not just the trainers. Not just the judges. Not just the limelight hunters. It’s the integrity of the people making and enforcing the rules. These sports could be great if the rules were enforced.

    Reply
  13. Carol
    Carol says:

    A friend of mine wanted to send her horse to a reining trainer. We walked through the barn looking for someone to talk to. As we walked by every stall the horses would run to the back of the stall one going too far as to smash his body against the back wall. When we got outside all the mares and foals were happy to see us and came to the fence. My friend was still talking about sending her horse to the trainer. In the car on the way home, she told me she thought she would send her horse there. I said are you nuts did you not see how all the horses in the stalls reacted to us? She hadn’t noticed it, once I told her she wasn’t willing to send her horse to that trainer either. I don’t know if it was the trainer or someone they had working in the barn. If you are thinking of sending a horse to a trainer check the barn check the tack room and check with people that have sent horses to them.

    Reply
  14. John
    John says:

    My hats off to Craig Johnson! He’s a great horsemen ! The problem isn’t the horse industry , it’s the general attitude , of society ! It’s easy to see the problems, and condemn the people that are trying to make a difference! Everybody sees the problem , but nobody provides a solution! Just bash bash bash!!! If any of you think you are better then Craig, then show us!! Pro athletes break down , because of the vigorous training , foot ball players, hockey players, soccer players , ect why would it be any different for horses! Ok you don’t want your horse trained to that level , then don’t take him to a trainer ! Let him founder, or starve to death in some remote pasture , so at least the coyotes and cougers have something to eat !

    Reply
    • Animal Welfare
      Animal Welfare says:

      John – the post is about the sport and nothing to do with the level of training; its about training in general. Saying if you think you are better than Craig shows a very narrow thinking where you are still focused on the man not the horses – even though your on a site that is a horse welfare site. Yes its easy to see the problems and very few do anything about it. They sit back and talk around the barn, turn their backs on the abuse at the shows and allow trainers unquestioned use of behaviors that defy logic. The coaching of people fails the horses as coaching has been going on for decades and good horsemen were spruiking 50 years ago what today is considered new information. The change will come from exposure and people seeing the truth behind what is happening in the NRHA and trainers treatment of horses. That is what has been the savior of the TWH and brought about all the improvements in racing. Have they been fixed completely, no, but they are a long way ahead and horses suffering has been reduced significantly. Hope you voted and stand up publicaly at events & training barns to stop abuse.

      Reply
  15. Jim Masterton
    Jim Masterton says:

    This guy is the best salesman I have seen with a following that is bank rolling is lifestyle. He wrote (no actually his media people wrote) the article to get more people to ranch clinics. He needs more Johnsonites. Look how many clinics he has added to his calendar since. I really love the comments where people read the piece and then purchased his DVD. Please share your media contacts name – I want a bit of your Kool–Aid coming my way

    Reply
    • Andrea Sestan
      Andrea Sestan says:

      Too Shay – thought the same thing myself and I was right when I look back on his page now. Well busted Reining Trainers Engima.

      Reply
  16. Melinda
    Melinda says:

    Whoever wrote this article took what Craig wrote. Yes what Craig wrote… he is an amazing writer and highly intelligent individual and skewed it. I actually edited it for him. Now I am a counselor and I work in inner city and I believe change is necessary in our sport. I agree that there should be higher standards and reprimands for trainers that abuse their horses, but this isn’t done by bashing someone trying to change these thought processes. This is completely illogical and takes away from the point that the person that wrote this was after. If I were this person I would consider twice before bashing someone that wants to change things just like this person does. I feel this individual is a coward that cannot even admit who he is that has an agenda against big named reining trainers instead of just abuse. If the problem is a abuse than be happy someone else is telling people there are other ways. Since I know Craig; I know that he thought people would be against him doing this not for it and it definitely wasn’t to get clients. Whoever wrote this please look at your goals logically. Craig actually was on your side.

    Reply
    • Animal Welfare
      Animal Welfare says:

      We did not say he was not on our side – we raised the point he acknowledged the problem that we all see too. You may not like our methods but we have the conversation now going globally, we have people concerned every time a camera is lifted so they are consciously doing less abuse – we have people voting and talking about change – we would say our approach is working fine. There is not one solution it takes many different appproaches to gain a win and as long as every one has the horses as a priority that is all that matters.

      Reply

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