E. A. Buck

2012 ©

How we treat our horses defines us as individuals, are we humane or are we simply abusers with intent or without intent.  As an industry how we combat inhumane treatment and abuse of horses in competitions and in schooling practices defines us as a society.   Law enforcement has in place the tools to fight the criminal conduct of horse abuse, however, they can only do so when they are informed of such activity and they must be helped in their efforts by members of the equine community.   The governing equine associations have the means in place to punish offenders of horse abuse, however, they can only do so when they are informed of such activity.

The majority of States that have animal abuse laws include the word, ‘torture’.   From the Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide comes this definition of torture:

1. The infliction of severe bodily pain, esp. as a punishment or a means of persuasion.

2. Severe physical or mental suffering


NY AGRI & MKTS §§ 331 - 379

§ 350. Definitions

1. "Animal," as used in this article, includes every living creature except a human being;

2. "Torture" or "cruelty" includes every act, omission, or neglect, whereby unjustifiable physical pain, suffering or death is caused or permitted.



828.02. Definitions

In this chapter, and in every law of the state relating to or in any way affecting animals, the word "animal" shall be held to include every living dumb creature; the words "torture," "torment," and "cruelty" shall be held to include every act, omission, or neglect whereby unnecessary or unjustifiable pain or suffering is caused



14-360 Cruelty to animals; construction of section.

(c) As used in this section, the words "torture", "torment", and "cruelly" include or refer to any act, omission, or neglect causing or permitting unjustifiable pain, suffering, or death. As used in this section, the word "intentionally" refers to an act committed knowingly and without justifiable excuse, while the word "maliciously" means an act committed intentionally and with malice or bad motive. As used in this section, the term "animal" includes every living vertebrate in the classes Amphibia, Reptilia, Aves, and Mammalia except human beings


California PENAL CODE
§ 597. Cruelty to animals

599b. Words and phrases; imputation of knowledge to corporation

In this title the word "animal" includes every dumb creature; the words "torment," "torture," and "cruelty" include every act, omission, or neglect whereby unnecessary unjustifiable physical pain or suffering is caused or permitted; and the words "owner" and "person" include corporations as well as individuals; and the knowledge and acts of any agent of, or person employed by, a corporation in regard to animals transported, owned, or employed by, or in the custody of, such corporation, must be held to be the act and knowledge of such corporation as well as such agent or employee.

In 2004, the Washington State Supreme Court, [in State v. Zawistowski, 118 Wn. App. 730] held what constituted horse abuse when it stated that Webster's Third New International Dictionary 1621 (1969) definition of "pain" as "a state of physical or mental lack of well-being or physical or mental uneasiness that ranges from mild discomfort or dull distress to acute often unbearable agony"  does give a clear and concise definition to horse abuse.

In doing research, it appears that all equine associations whom have written rules and regulations for competitions seem to comply with some description of horse abuse.  Some are very clear and some are vague.   However, the National Governing Body for Equine Competitions is the United States Equestrian Federation {USEF].  It only as direct fiduciary responsibility to member associations and affiliations.  Other associations are stand alone units apart from the USEF.

USEF and its members must abide by the rules and regulations of the Federation Equestre Internationale [FEI].   FEI states in General Regulations Article 142 - Abuse of Horses:

1. No person may abuse a Horse during an Event or at any other time. “Abuse” means an action or omission which causes or is likely to cause pain or unnecessary discomfort to a Horse…

We must ask ourselves, if traditional schooling practices and methods we are using, do as a material fact, cause horses pain and/or discomfort.   Recently through the appearance of videos and images on the Internet, numerous ‘traditional’ schooling and competitive standards that have been acceptable are now raising dramatic questions regarding the negative and potentially abusive influence upon the horse that such methods incur.

One of the most curious things to come from researching this phenomenon of fog enshrouded abuse of horses, is the degree to which people will go to refuse to believe that a certain individual [professional rider, trainer, and/or clinician] would abuse a horse.  It does not matter whether the professional is just local, regional, national, or international.   In fact, these said star struck people will go to great lengths to defend the professional in question rather than examine the facts without prejudice.

The Three Monkey syndrome is dramatically entrenched within the horse industry.   See no evil [horse abuse], hear nothing about evil [horse abuse], then we do not have to speak about the evil [horse abuse].   Quietly people turn their back upon the unprotected, undefended horses rather than stand up with straight back and broad shoulders to speak up about what they are seeing.   How many reading this have ever seen the movie “A Few Good Men”?   There is a couple of lines spoken by Jack       that speak volumes about our personal integrity and the lack there of.   “You want the truth, You can’t handle the truth”.

Stop and thing about those word and just how truthful they are to our lives.  We, as horse people, do not want to hear the truth about a professional that will abuse a horse, simply because we do not want to believe such a thing is possible.   Ladies and gentlemen, in criminal profiling by all law enforcement agencies, animal abuse has been demonstrated to have a direct and proximate correlation to abusers of spouses and family members and what is more frightening, research has shown that serial killers were animal abusers.

Our society in its entirety clearly demonstrates daily our total disregard for the welfare of animals and humans.   We as horse owners are obligated by the fiduciary requirements of care, custody and control, as well as, by animal abuse laws; to make sure that no horse is abused by inhumane schooling and riding methods, whether in a training situation or in a competitive situation.

The previous paragraphs do not constitute an all inclusive blanket statement which covers all horse owners, rider, trainers and clinicians.   For there are so many good hearted people who do take such good care of the horses in their charge.  What the previous paragraphs do constitute are a declaration of the state of the horse industry in the United States.   Even the USEF does little about competitive horse abuse, much less the schooling abuse, which shows up in the competition arena.  There are some equine associations whom are now informing their members that they will not tolerate abuse of horses in schooling practices and methods nor in the competitive arena.

Are we really humane to our horses? I think overall we are, however, we must not be blinded by star dust and by tradition. We must seek to not allow ourselves to be guided by professionals whom justify what they do through their reputation. We must, as participants in the lives of the horses, be steadfast in the defense of the health and welfare of the horses, whether in a back yard, a small boarding facility, a big fancy boarding facility, or in any competition. We must do so by speaking up when we see abuse, by videoing abuse, by filing complaints with appropriate show management, or boarding facility owners, and /or the appropriate law enforcement agency.

On behalf of the horses, I thank you for taking the time to read this.  My hope is that it will raise in you the ability to question that which occurs before you regarding the care, custody and control of horses by professionals.

Thank you

‘Sympathetic Horsemanship’

“Empowered by the Spirit of Horses”

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Comment by wildehex on April 16, 2012 at 10:35pm

So, how do we become more humane in our horse treatment?  One way is EDUCATION, and developing standards so that not just anyone can hang out a shingle, declare themselves professional, and start 'teaching'. WHAT are they teaching?  Is there a basic methodology?  A theory to underlie WHY they teach as they do?

The governing equine associations ONLY have the means in place to punish offenders of horse abuse as competitions.  But EDUCATION (which I see as a strength of the internet) can help.   For instance, in the recently filed suits, the problems with the horse started with its basic education and was compounded by others with little idea of how to methodically start a horse (or someone who presumed the basic education was in order).

Those who are in the trenches, educating basic methodical HORSEMANSHIP (on the ground) as well as riding/timing aids when mounted know how problematic it all is.  And YOUNG horse starting is even more problematic since it not only takes a rider with excellent skills, but one who must understand they few horses today even grow up with other horses, let alone are handled with those who treat it as a youngster.

Those who 'see no evil' usually have no education, or are taken in by charlatans who play off their often lack of clarity, and rather than teach them (which is more difficult) they teach them to 'play games with the horse' rather than to have OBSERVATIONAL skills (which keeps them and the horse safer).  They can only 'do no evil' if they understand what IS correct, and what is problematic.  And everyone should 'speak up' about what is PROBLEMATIC (and here there is always blame enough to go around).  

Preciptious flexion (in ALL disciplines) IS problematic. This I have seen change in MY lifetime (and I have showed the top horses nationally (in for disciplines) and internationally as well). It has now become a way of letting the riders THINK they have control.  Rather than educating them a correct seat/timing of aids/and a system of HOW to put a horse correctly on the aids. And it is NOT as simple as poll the highest point.

That said in order to be part of the solution one has to be part of the various organizations, if you are not you really do NOT know what is going on within them.  Certainly the majority of the western world is NOT part of our national body, they split off partly FOR the reason that they can do what they want (esp with young horse classes). The arab world allows far more problematic issues than does the dressage world.  In eventing the horses suffer the worst possible consequences of problematic training, they die because of mistakes. 

Certainly a 'winning' rider is NO assurance of their quality of ability as a trainer.  The vast majority of internationally winning riders do NOT train/develop their horses up through the levels. They are good 'jockeys', but starting horses is a specific skill set.  But one has to be EDUCATED enough to KNOW the DIFFERENCE.

Horse abuse starts when people are lead by those without sufficient skills to train them or their horses.  And without theory they can be lead ANYWHERE.  They can be told to 'see' touchstones which are the ANTITHESIS of good training. They can believe in half truths.  And what they really need is only to develop an 'educated eye' so they cannot be BS-ed.  In times past everyone could tell you who was a horseman (not only good at handling and riding but knowledgeable about stable management/soundness/etc), it had NOTHING to do with 'winning' and everything to do with the horse's behavior and balance (across ALL disciplines it was the same).We all must seek to help each other, educate, not attack others imho.  That is what horsemen do!  The accept their own responsibility for what happens with their horses.

Comment by Jackie Cochran on April 16, 2012 at 5:33pm

Thank you for this blog Allan.

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