There is a video of one of the most successful reiners Craig Schmersal, in the country going around right now. In it he is working a horse in the warm up at a show.
He is getting his horse ready to show by fencing her and aggressively backing her after each stop.
There is a huge outcry going up attacking him for his brutal methods.
I've been really thinking on this a lot and reading what the reactions have been. There has been tons of negative commentary from people who don't rein at all, and some who do but very clearly haven't been at the top of the food chain in major events.
Before I step in this any further, I want to make it clear I quit training because the higher I went the harder it was for me emotionally to train the way it took to keep climbing. I chose not to keep at it.
But....what Schmersal was doing is a very standard warm up. I can guarantee he is not trying to make the horse's mouth sore. If the mare bleeds or is raw when his run is over he will be disqualified. There are always stories of trainers getting away with bloody mouthed horses, but trust me, if you get caught, you will be DQ'd. I've been there and seen it happen.
Again, I don't like it, but I'm never going to be a $2 million dollar money earner either, unlike Schmersal.
It shouldn't be about the money, but it is. The owner wants to win, the trainer needs to win and the horse needs to win. the standard is set by AQHA and the judges and the trainers are paid to meet it.
Schmersal didn't make this stuff up. His horse is supposed to run on a draped rein with her head in that stupid position. She can't see anything and has to trust her rider to safely guide her through the pattern. So she can't be enraged or terrified or she won't be able to finish her run.
If you watch the video closely you will see she doesn't gape her mouth when he corrects her. It opens, but not far. She's also doing a lot of licking and chewing. This means she's thinking, not terrified or in pain. She keeps dropping her face, because that's what she's been taught to do to escape pressure, again, per required show standards, not because Schmersal decided to overflex his horse.
If he was using a cruel bit or if he was truly ripping at her as has been suggested, excuse me, screamed from the roof tops, then the mare would be reacting in some other way than backing, tucking her nose, and dropping her head. She is not sweating and foaming like a stressed out horse would be either.
Do I like the exaggerated head set and riding behind the vertical? No I do not. Would I like to see a more natural run? Yes I would. But do I think Schmersal is some kind of horrible abuser? No, hell no, as a matter of fact. At least not from what I saw in the video.
Do you like watching the NRHA finals and looking at all the pretty reiners? Than get over what it takes to get them there. the trainer has to feed his horses, pay his employees and make a living. He has to perform as the industry expects in order to be the best.
Again, I am not comfortable with the methods it takes to be the best in the show pen. I choose not to go there. But the mare was well cared for, had a healthy weight and coat and was responding to the schooling by trying to do what she was told. Her mouth wasn't tied shut, I didn't see blood streaming down her flanks and it doesn't look to me like she's evading him in any way.
She will have a good life as a top broodmare when she is done. She won't end up at a sale because she was kissed and hugged until she learned to run over the kids and kick at them when they came out to feed. She will ride like a dream because she has been taught to. Having been taught to perform like she does will go a long way to ensuring a safe and happy life for her.
Schmersal is not randomly tearing at her. There is rhythm and control behind every bump. When he goes into the pen the mare will go through her entire run with her head down, her nose in and a draped rein. Again, industry standard.
If we don't like the approach we can do many things. Not do it ourselves and try for success anyway. Not attending events which use practices we feel are abusive is another one. Writing organizations, starting campaigns with documented information from say, veterinarians, judges, trainers and amateur riders who back up your thinking is another idea. Running off at the mouth from the advice of people who no nothing about the actual sport they are condemning is a really BAD IDEA. It makes us all look like idiots.
My other problem is one that's been brewing in my addled brain for awhile. Schmersal is in business. He doesn't love these horses, although he's going to like any horse who is succeeding. He treats them like tools.
But he is going to take care of his investment. If the horse is going to win it needs top feed, top veterinary care and so on.
Is this worse than a backyard bred horse who spends his life in a crappy little pen eating low grade food and an odd assortment of random supplements? A horse kept either 100 pounds overweight or 50 pounds under because his owner hasn't learned what a healthy horse looks like? A horse that has an owner who buys some old horse whisperer tapes off eBay and proceeds to run the crap out of him in a forty foot round pen?
Is a blown tendon from being trained for the three-year-old futurities worse than a blown tendon from sticking a leg through a hog wire fence? Is it more abusive to bump down a show horse's head or to feed them a bag of lawn clippings?
Anyway, now I'm rambling, but this is all the stuff roaring through my head.
I don't bang my horses head down. I think it's wrong. I do understand why Craig Schmersal does though.It's one tiny part of what it takes to be the best. Does this make him a bad guy or a bad trainer? I don't think so.
So what will it take to change things? I don't know. My head hurts. Later.