Saturday, May 28, 2011

Reining Torn Apart

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.


Wayfarer said...

I have to compliment you on your ability to put these difficult thoughts into words. And the willingness. I think you've managed to say what many others are struggling with themselves.

And with this development, competitive reining truly does become the "western dressage"... with all the same controversies and difficult questions as competitive dressage. And there haven't been any answers there, either.

Now That's A Trot! said...

I do agree there are horses worse off than that mare, but I still don't think that makes it okay. Not any more than scoring a 90% makes it okay for Edward Gal to use rollkur, or being a triple world champion makes it okay for a gaited horse to be sored... Or being in the middle of rural Iowa makes it okay for a backyard horse to be fed corncobs and all-stock.

I also agree that the "crusaders" who rant and rave till they foam at the mouths are not doing anyone any favors.

What to do, indeed? I dunno either. Just hope someday the welfare of the animals takes precedence over human ego and the mighty dollar?

joycemocha said...

Actually, there is a "Western Dressage" organization that I think is operating in reaction to competitive dressage.

That said, you've made me think. I did see a pissed off horse, and a fight going on. But then that's a tough-minded horse. I'd still like to see it done less intensely, because I think it's doable.

It's just going to take a lot longer. As I'm finding out. and it's not competitive.

Shirley said...

The horse show world has always seemed to me to be more about the ego of the rider/owner and the status and financial reward of winning than it ever was about the horse. I did have my stallion in reining training, and shown as a 3 yr. old, but only long enough to prove that he was good at it. No matter what the discipline, there are training methods that some people will abhor, and others will accept as the cost of improving performance to a winning level. There will always be people to whom winning is more important than the mental or physical well being of their horses, but there are those who put the horse first. The knows-enough-to-be-dangerous backyard horse owner is no better than the topnotch trainer; and who are we to judge?

Breathe said...

It's true, unless you have to conform to those standards it's tough to understand what it takes to train to them.

What I don't get is how the judges always seem to drift into having a desire for horses that look so unnnatural - peanut rollers, horses with chins to chest, horses that don't even look like horses, they look like cartoons when they move.

It would be as if we were only accepting double jointed ballerinas in swan lake.

Of course after hearing about Black Swan, I suppose that's not far from the truth.

jme said...

sorry, i saw this in my sidebar and just had to respond.

so, in your mind, the ends justify the means? 'it's not right, but if it's what wins and pays the bills, good for him?' wtf?

rather than change the standards for competition, we keep upping the ante so the rides and the methods have to get more and more extreme to be 'the best.' and the trainers who make it to the top, like this douchebag, are the ones who lack the ethics, the empathy and the honest skill to get it done otherwise. they lack the psychological and moral restraints that cause the rest of us to bow out of the completive world when it gets too creepy for a healthy psyche to bear, rather than take it to this level. i don't know about you, but i couldn't live with myself if i could only get ahead by traumatizing my involuntary partners in riding just to make a name for myself or get some $$$ in my pocket. there are other ways to make a living. this guy doesn't have to abuse horses to make a living. he chooses to. so why do people like that get to set the standards for the discipline? why do we have to take a backseat because we refuse to stoop to their level to get ahead?

is he a good guy (regardless of what he does to his horses to get to the top)? hell no. he's a sick, narcissistic parasite. just because he hasn't drawn blood (on this occasion) doesn't mean he hasn't harmed his horse, physically or psychologically. as someone who rehabs and retrains horses after morons like this get done with them, i know perfectly well what kind of scars they bear. this is far from harmless. i'm sorry, but he's indefensible, and arguing that 'everyone else does it, so he has to do it too, if he wants to be included in the club' just doesn't cut it.

you yourself have admitted it's wrong. so is it only wrong unless you can cash in on it, then that makes it ok? no, it's wrong, regardless of the circumstances or the environment in which its done, regardless of the rules or what's considered acceptable by his peers -- who happen to use the same tactics. allowing an industry or, in this case the top members of a riding discipline, to police themselves is like letting the inmates run the asylum. they aren't capable of being objective because they have a vested interest in the status quo. they're the least capable of being objective about the ethics and implications of their own practices. just like the dressage riders who use rollkur and the judges who reward it, or the uset coach who uses kicking chains to school passage and piaffe, just like jumper riders who use draw reins, offsets and false ground lines, etc..

the longer riders and trainers who see something wrong here keep defending and justifying the actions of people like this, the worse it's going to get for the horses - and for horsemanship in general.

mugwump said...

jme-good grief. If you want to accuse at least read what's written.

I chose to leave the higher levels of training because I didn't agree with the methods used at the top.

Obviously I don't think it's OK.

I am stating neither this trainer, nor any of the other top trainers seem to be able to meet industry standards without training in ways I don't agree with.

I also stated I don't think this trainer created this problem.
If this type of training is going to change then the expectations have to change.

Attacking one man and branding him an abuser only makes the accuser look hysterical and won't get him/her taken seriously.

Again. Just to be clear.As long as the industry standard demands horses be trained in severe ways to attain an unnatural way of going then that is how it will go.

How do you change the standard? I don't know.I do know you can watch the open warm-up at any major event and the winning horses will all have been trained like Schmersals.

Going after one man is not going to change things unless you can prove with actual evidence, not foot stomping and caterwauling, that abuse is being performed.

That video did not show anything but accepted and legal training practices.

It is NOT rollkur, sorry, because there was release and rest for the horse.

Again, don't put me in a position of defending this, because I don't like it, condone it or practice it.

An artificial look is desired by the judges and it takes tough training practices to get a horse to carry themselves curled up like an armadillo on the interstate during rush hour.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mugwump. I watched that video and thought the exact same thing. I saw rest and rewards when the mare correctly did what she was trained to do, and bumping her mouth to keep her light and responsive. I didn't see any tearing her face apart or unnecessary spurring or jerking. Anyone who has ridden reiners knows that a scared one wont come through for you when you need them too. In fact, they usually flip you the one fingered salute and make you look like a total fool.

On a note about headset, I have ridden a few reiners from green to finished and many of them had that low headset that the show ring requires naturally. I have also seen reiners without that natural low headset and their trainers didn't push for a level topline. As long as they could do their jobs and give to the bit when asked, they were left alone.

I guess thats my little rant. Your open minded honesty and funny stories is what keeps me coming back to your blog.

Anonymous said...

"Schmersal is not randomly tearing at her. There is rhythm and control behind every bump."

Thanks. I couldn't see that for myself, I thought he was yanking almost randomly and with no release. I'm also glad to hear that bloody mouths truly are not tolerated, so there's at least a limit on how harsh they can be. I still think it's a pretty rotten training method, and really don't understand why judges reward overbent horses in any sport. It's just not attractive in the least.

Anonymous said...

P.S. - There's another video of the same horse schooling with a different rider here:

To my (very!) untrained eye, it looks like this rider is doing much less bumping, and the mare doesn't go behind the vertical. What are your thoughts on this sample of riding?

mugwump said...

I'm not 100% but I think that's Craig riding her.
He's not bumping because she's doing what she's supposed to, riding on a loose rein and looking like she's being held in position.
Think of it as exreme self-carriage. How does this get taught?
By bumpin the horse forward into the bit...then bumping the bit to keep the head down and the nose in.
The horse is released when she keeps herself in that low-headed frame on her own, which is what's going on here.

Anonymous said...

Thank yo Mugwump for a balanced post on this incendiary topic!
As you say, horses can get a lot worse. It's not the best but the 100% best and nicest thing to with a horse is not to ride it at all - at least not with a saddle on.
The second best thing you can ever do for a horse is train it. Training is, as you say, what this guy is doing and whilst it's not perfect it's not actual abuse.

Di said...

Nothing justifies this kind of treatment and the fact that "everybody else does it" again just shows the abhorrent state that equine sport has come to. This 'one man' is up there taking all the money and the glory so he should expect to take the flak too.
Well said JME, you've summed up my thoughts exactly!

Anonymous said...

I am happy to see you blogged on this subject. I was waiting for you to chime in on Fugly, but I knew the holier-than-thou railbirds would have a pile on.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

mommyrides said...

It seems in our world today we want everything done faster, yesterday, quickly, instantly. No one wants to wait 10-15 years to realize the profit on an animal that they have to feed and vet and pour money into in the meantime. To me the reining world is really a microcosm of the world we live in. And let's face it dressage training would probably be very similar if the prize money was as lucrative for the younger horse who wins.
The change needs to come from the top down, unless of course the masses can walk away from the sport.

What I'd really like to know is who exactly says a reining horse should carry themselves curled up like an armadillo on the interstate during rush hour." Who are the people who make this the "norm". Shouldn't we be after them as opposed to the trainers that are trying to earn a living within the confines of the set ideals?

Anonymous said...

This is what is SO wrong in the show pen... Do whatever it takes to win. Who cares is the horse is even remotely happy.

mugwump said...

mommyrides- I think you have very clearly said what I was fumbling around trying to say.
Screaming at the trainer is too much like killing the messenger.

marknsvet said...

Thank you, Mugs for sharing with us a knowledgable post on this subject. You've given us a mini-forum to discuss this calmly, rationally, and without hysterical ranting. It could easily be a volatile subject, and calm discussion isn't always easy. Thanks for giving it a go.

TheHorseInTheGarage said...

"Do you like watching the NRHA finals and looking at all the pretty reiners? Than get over what it takes to get them there."

No, I won't "get over it". And no, I won't watch the pretty reiners. And no, I despise what the "trainer" is doing to that horse. STOP saying well, it could be worse. Yeah, no kidding. What WILL be worse, is the amateurs watching and emulating this "trainer".
No wonder QH's have been bred to look dead. They are.

So, another excuse for bad horsemanship, coming from you, Mugs, just disgusts me even more.
I'm with jme. You have said, many times, you don't agree with the methods required to get horses "to that level".
Unbelievable. Remember when you mentioned a "trainer" who took logging chains to his horse's head? WHY do you "less highly qualified" trainers defend this shit? Put pillows in your ears? Pretend it "has to be this way?"

I've tried to like the horse world again. No thanks. Shit like this makes you all look like idiots. NOT rollkur. yeah, uh, huh.
His timing was good. Yeah, uh, huh. When the mare was STOPPED, and he banged her again? GREAT TIMING! I really liked the part where he oh so carefully reeefed at JUST the right angle, AFTER she was stopped. A real professional horse trainer there.
Say bye-bye.

Keep it up, Mugs. Keep sticking your fingers in your ears. Why not actually make a stand?
Oh, right, if you aren't doing it, you are in the clear. Riiight.

IF you had been in the stands, would you have said anything?
Hell, no. The guy is a pro, and he won silver.
Pardon me while I puke.

billie said...

Brava, jme!

You're not hysterical, and you're also one of the most thoughtful, serious horsewomen I know.

I have a QH who was bred and trained as a vehicle to ribbons, trophies, and money - got him at TWO years old and have spent the subsequent SIX years undoing the crap that was done to him. He now knows he can use his body in a normal (and quite lovely) way, knows he can make a mistake w/o being punished, and is one of the most willing, personable horses I know.

Binding the feet of Chinese girls was considered a normal practice at one time, even though it was painful and resulted in deformity and worse.

I think most of us would agree that this practice was abuse and would be so if it were done today.

What is done to horses in the name of training for competition, in almost every equine sport there is, is no different. Abusive methods are justified by viewing the horses as livestock, means to an end, with no voice and no right to humane, respectful treatment.

joycemocha said...

You know, I think what really raised a lot of folks' hackles on this one was Schmersal's attempt to bully the videoer into not posting it. Clearly he knew it would raise issues but he handled it very poorly. Which meant it got spread wider than if he'd kept his mouth shut and not argued about it.

The other piece is that you are going to have this dichotomy between people who are riding high level movements for outside rewards and recognition, and people who are riding high level movements because they like the level of sensitivity and responsiveness they get from it. The outside rewards and recognition crowd is going to do it with varying degrees of sympathy and force, in a shorter period of time. The intrinsic reward rider is going to take the longer, more difficult path.

Problem is, some of the folks who are riding for their own inner rewards lack the tough-mindedness needed to face down some of those high-performing-type horses. I wouldn't handle a horse like that, but that's because a.) I'm an ammy rider, b.) intrinsic rewards are more important to me, c.) I want to get that level of performance without resorting to that intensiveness of reaction. Which means it takes longer.

I am also getting distressed by the number of commenters here and elsewhere who are getting very personal about their commentary. Calling other people names and making nasty statements about them personally and about their horsemanship isn't going to change things. It just makes people more defensive and makes their point of view less palatable.

Fugly has one hell of a lot to answer for in my book, because she really amped up the trend toward that kind of trash-talking. Oh yeah, it's been around for a long time--just look up the history of the Usenet group rec.equestrian, also known as rec.eq or the wreck, and you'll see it. But Fugly has developed her one little mindless claque and it doesn't help the dialogue one damned bit.

Me, I linked this blog to my Facebook. We've got a dialogue going there, but it's not public, it's friends-only. A bunch of refugees from the wreck are talking there. I could end up posting an interesting manifesto on my LiveJournal later on today or this weekend. Stay posted.

JaneA said...

Disclaimer: I now have backyard horses and my horse related activites are limited to trailrides and playing around in the arena. However, in the past I have hung around with and participated a little in the western pleasure and reining world. I, too, have at times been uncomfortable and sometimes downright unhappy with what I've seen.

With that said, I'd like to applaud you for your reasoned, balanced post. These thoughts have made my head hurt, too. The problem, IMHO, boils down to the fact that there is no black and white wrong and right here. The reality of this situation is perceived differently by different people. This post and the responses show the truth of that. Unlike using a barbwire bit or tying a horse up and beating it until it bleeds there is more room for personal perceptions here.

Thank you for your post. It's yet another reason why you're one of the first places I turn to with my morning coffee.

mugwump said...

Uh....again, I don't think I'm ignoring, promoting or supporting training I don't think is fair to the horse. As a matter of fact I thought (let me know if I'm mistaken) that I have been writing this blog all along with the intent of becoming successful in the show ring without being abusive.
I will be an amateur this time, but will still have done all the training myself.
I don't go to watch the finals of the major events, I don't support abuse when I see it and I do believe I've been pretty open about explaining training practices I find inappropriate that many of you would never have known about otherwise.
I don't go to horse races, greyhound races or the circus and I openly say why.
I also stand by what I said in this post.

mugwump said...

joycemocha- I definitely agree, Schmersal needs some serious PR training.Temper is what gets many trainers in trouble, with horses, clients, the public, it goes on and on.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for commenting on that second video, Mugs. Here's what I don't understand - in the training video, the horse carries her head vertical or slightly forward, and the rider rewards that. It looks like he only bumps her when she starts to bring her head up.

In the show warmup video, Craig bumps her until she's curled well behind the vertical. If it's him riding in the first video (and apparently she's doing it right at that time), why is he insisting on a much more severe head carriage at the show? Does that amount of 'bumping' in a warmup pen indicate that she really should have been schooled more before it got to showtime? I'll have to look for a video of his actual competition run at that show and see if she went behind the vertical then, or if he was only requiring it from her during warmup.

If I'm understanding you right, you're trying to say that this kind of training isn't something you approve of, but also isn't in the 'call animal control, NOW' category either. It's like parents who make their kids practice piano three hours a day to develop their talent - not something I'd do, and I really think it does more harm than good in the long run, but it's not going to get CPS called on them, either. Is that a fair comparison?

burdfour said...

Thank you, Mugs. As Wayfarer said...difficult thoughts into words.

As someone who has competed at those levels, and dropped out for the same reasons you did, I also had difficulty finding behavior that equaled "abuse" on the video. NOT training that I want my horses subjected to, agreed, but you can equate this to the 8, 9 and 10 year old children being prepped for the Olympics...I wouldn't have my kid subjected to that, either.

CS's "jerks" except in one situation, didn't look much more than what I call me "bumping" my old gelding to remind him of his self carriage, the slack barely went out of the reins. Legs were only "bumping" too, not what I would call spurring. Was the horse uncomfortable and intimidated? Yes, I think so, which is one of the reasons I'm a "drop out." Now, I DID object to one of the run downs, where he (apparently) lost his balance forward, and looked like he was JERKING back and forth with each hand while standing up in the saddle. You only saw this from the back, but it looked really ugly.

I saw a rider who looked tensed up, maybe (probably) overdoing it, in his reaction to the venue that he found himself in. He was fighting for that level of perfection that he knows it takes to win at that level.

I agree, not someone I want to train one of my horses, and I have a 2 year old that I need started this fall (gotten too old for babies), and I am having a HECK of a time finding a colt starter with the combination of knowledge but NOT pressure that I am looking for. I have already figured that this horse, though I think she has the talent, will never be a world champion, because I am not willing to put the kind of pressure on them that it takes to achieve "perfection," nor am I willing to put that pressure on myself or the kidlet of mine.

Good job...I fail to understand why "over the top" training practices are so rabidly attacked in western venues, where some practices that I consider, lets say "unkind" (tying the mouth shut with a figure 8, grackle, or a (for pete's sake) crank nose band is LEGAL at certain levels or venues.

mugwump said...

I have to say something about Fugly- I think she is a vital voice in the horse world.
She's pissed, she's loud and she will be heard.
I don't always agree with her, but I don't have to. She's a siren, she will shout through a bull horn, throw rocks at your head, whatever it takes to get you to think.
I don't want her to calm down, I need her radical thinking to keep me contemplating the horse world from all sides.

mugwump said...

Anon- I really liked your comparison. These horses are the kids made to play piano until their fingers cramp. The parents and coaches of junior olympic hopefuls is another comparison.
I'm not in that camp either, but I don't equate it with children who are locked in closets, starved and beaten by their parents.
The video with the baseball camp is practice. The horse is expected to work at about 70%.
At the show he is wanting 110%. So the head bumping and banging is to have the horse afraid to take the bit.
Then when he shows, he can run the whole pattern with minimal contact on the reins.
When he lifts his hand the mare will know the next step is a pop on the mouth and put her head back in position.
I am simply explaining, not condoning folks.
When he stood up and wacked at her mouth I am guessing she wasn't keeping her back up through her stops. He got mad, stood over her shoulders to get off her back and got after her until she picked back up. His risk would be rattling her so she couldn't listen anymore because she was afraid,but I don't know.

Again, not a training method of mine.

Jenn said...

"What I'd really like to know is who exactly says a reining horse should carry themselves curled up like an armadillo on the interstate during rush hour." Who are the people who make this the "norm". Shouldn't we be after them as opposed to the trainers that are trying to earn a living within the confines of the set ideals?"


In all the show disciplines. This over-exaggerated trend is not limited to the horse world.

See Terrierman:

For Fugly type rants and appraisals of what we are doing to our dog 'breeds' - we are breeding to the exaggeration of traits that make the dogs unfit. (Seriously, bulldogs CAN'T delivery normally. Every bulldog born today is a C-section)

I don't know what the trend to the extreme is common in our society, but it seems deeply rooted.

I think we need to speak out against it as much as each individual can.

But I appreciate your viewpoint, Mugs - even as I respectfully disagree. I thank you for your insight, and bravery.

Jenn said...

Should read:

I don't know why the trend to the extreme is common in our society, but it seems deeply rooted.

Becky said...

Mugs, I agree that you going rabid on the trainer does nothing. You've hit the nail on the head--- screaming and foaming at the mouth about the way the mare is being ridden accomplishes nothing.

I think the issue you're trying to emphasize is that just getting mad at Schmersal is not going to a darn thing. Nobody cares if you write something witty on Youtube about how awful the training practices are, or how many thumbs-up "likes" you get for your comment.

So, you're right. Either get over it, or actually do something about it.

Do I like the way Schmersal is riding the mare? No. Am I going to actually get up off my butt and do something about it other than reading stuff on the internet? If I’m honest about it, probably not. I will if it’s easy – I’ll sign a petition, and I’ll think lots of nasty thoughts if I see horses being ridden like this, but I probably won’t do much more than that. So why am I qualified to crucify a guy for doing something that I’m too lazy to do anything about?

That said, sometimes it takes a video like this making the rounds to start a change. Written word can only do so much in this day and age - you need to get people fired up in order get them past their inherent apathy/laziness.

Too many of us just sit on our couches, shake our heads, and say "Tsk, tsk. That's not right at all," before moving on. Some of the more energetic folk might even join a forum and post a couple of angry rants. We’ll crawl the bloglines and leave furious comments on people’s posts. That does nothing for lasting change – it just makes us feel better about ourselves.

So maybe crucifying Schmersal isn’t going to change anything… but then again, maybe it will. Sometimes a cause needs a scapegoat. Schmersal knows his training methods aren’t right – otherwise he wouldn’t have tried to squelch the video. He knew it was wrong, and he continued to do it--- yes, everyone is probably training like this, but we can’t post videos of “Everyone” or it becomes too much to process.

“The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.” It’s kind of cold, but the way I view it is that Schmersal took a risk, and unfortunately he lost. It sucks for him that he is the one who got caught doing what so many others are doing, but that’s kind of the price you pay for not doing the right thing.

Muriel said...

THANKS for this post Mugs. It is spot on. I agree 100% with Joycemocha. You need a certain level of "skill" to be able to ride a horse with such amount of pressure.

At my yard a futurity winner came to train his horse before the European NRHA futurity. It was pretty much like Schmersal. I was disgusted. My back teeth were swimming, I walked off the arena. I told what I thought to our in-house reining-trainer. he smiled replied that they did not train like this, but it was the tune-up before a big show.

Afterwards, I had the oportunity to check the horse. NOT a hair was missing, his mouth was perfect. he was also a relaxed happy horse, and his trainer let me give him a carrot...

What to think?

Is it about the money? YES. Is it about fame? YES. So what?
Thought I would love to meet somebody who makes a good living from horses. I have yet to meet one. Big breeders have usually another money source than horses. Well at least in Europe.

Another question : who sponsor teh Equine veterinarian research? The one-horse owner?

As a disclaimer, I do not condone this type of training. I also know why first hand, as I own a QH mare who has been trained in reining, I am doing my best to manage her arthritis in both hocks and stiffle. she is only SEVEN years old O_o

I think Schmersal was an easy target, as he knows not to be teh most simpatico trainer. What about Shawn?

Muriel said...

Just adding that this Holier-than-thou attitude has destroyed Dressage for the mass.

I do not think it has made any difference for the welfare of horses. Rolhkur is the method used in most Dressage yard.

The changes should come from the Top i.e. judges, then the trainers will change.

However, whatever humane method you use, you still have to tune-up a horse for winning. I am very curious of the alternative. I truly wish there is one ...

nagonmom said...

Thank you for posting this. I was confused after the video, and dreading the comments. He does what my trainer does, he bumps his horse for not maintaining position. The reaction to fencing indicated most commentators had not a clue about reining training. There was an indication for each training intervention, a goal for training intervention, and release. Would it make it into a Disney movie? No. I have decided, like you, that having a well-trained horse is one of the best things I can do to protect that horse. (And my old self as well.) I prefer to be reality based, rather than use Walter Farley as a training source. Horses don't poop rainbows. What they do to one another with teeth and hooves in the natural setting far outweighs reining bumps.
This is not the same as taking a horse out back and beating it with a two by four, described in another Fugly blog. These methods demonstrated by Schmersal are demanding, and I would guess being demanding of your horses is required to succeed. It is not black and white. At least not to me. I appreciate your discussion of the topic, because of your expertise and honesty. And today especially, your sense of balance and fairness.

Ramie said...

Mugs, thank you for having the spine to put it in small words: If you like watching reining, then you like watching the results of training like Schmersal's. I'm sorry that people managed to misunderstand you anyway.

If you like watching modern dressage, then you like watching horses that were trained with rollkur.

This is not hard math. I don't like modern dressage, I don't support it: no USDF or FEI membership, no purchased tickets to shows, nothing. If you support modern reining - with entry fees or membership dues or whatever - THIS is what you are supporting. It doesn't matter if you do or don't like it, it doesn't matter how you train your own horse, this is the system that you're feeding cash to.

Rather than howling and squeaking about the training methods that it takes to win at 3, why not train your horse up slow and careful, then show at six or seven or twelve? If there isn't a venue to show your horse, why not? Kick up a scream, find some like-minded people and MAKE ONE.

The most depressing comment I read on the Fugly blog was about a horse who was still reining at twelve, which was quite unheard of; this was supposed to be a very good thing, it was extremely sad to me. Twelve. They're just getting good at twelve.

Londoner said...

I know she's been quoted already but:

"What I'd really like to know is who exactly says a reining horse should carry themselves curled up like an armadillo on the interstate during rush hour."


However, totally agree - I saw the video on fhotd and watched it three times scratching my head trying too figure what was so cruel exactly.

Yes, there was a quiet argument going on between the two - an argument that was resolved without fuss. Yes, she has a stupid head position - as do a whole lot of horses that compete in top events. Is it so much worse than the overenthusiastic rider that yanks her horse's head into an'outline' every day with nary a care as to the rest of its body, or whether the saddle fits properly, or if its suited to the job? I'm not afraid to admit I've been that person.

You do wonder how far progression for the sake of progression is going to continue, though...maybe when you can walk around the back end of a horse and see him staring at you from between his legs.

TBDancer said...

Read Fugly's introduction on the blog about Schmersal. While she doesn't like his training methods, it's his mouthing off to Epona TV about not showing the video because it's his "intellectual property" that got her dander up. As she makes clear, it's Epona TV's intellectual property, NOT Craig's.

That said, I respect what Fugly has to say, and I agree with the sentiments expressed here--if you want to win at higher levels, you have to do what these folks are doing.

I stopped showing QH pleasure in the mid-70s when what WE called "Eastern Pleasure" started making its way into our shows. That's the pleasure "frame" we see today with what I call the "four-beat-loping peanut rollers."

Suddenly those of us with horses "in the bridle" were not placing, so rather than jump up to buy "a newer model," a lot of us stopped showing.

That hasn't stopped the trend, which is still what wins today at the shows. Of course, the whole concept of horse shows has changed. Today competitors go to week-long circuits and spend money that would fund small African countries for a year. Their horses earn ROMs in one or two classes because the entries are huge, and the winners are all poll-to-wither height (most of the time). It drives me as crazy today as it did back when it first started, so obviously MY deciding not to show didn't do anything to change things.

If you want to see a judge doing the right thing--but very uncertain of whether or not he's doing just that--look at the head judge at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky this past fall standing up to excuse the Dutch rider whose horse had a bloody mouth. The judge looks as if he's not sure what he's about to do will be greeted with cheers or boos.

The rider was pictured warming up in rollkur, and the excuse given was that his tongue was numb and he bit it. I've seen her on the same horse at other award ceremonies, and his tongue is out and he's waving it.

My point is, more than one judge is going to have to make up his/her mind that the current showing trends are crap and they won't be placing horses that perform that way.

If just one judge doesn't place peanut rollers, he/she won't be invited back again and word will spread so no one else will hire him/her either.

Justaplainsam said...

I was thinking the same thing Mugs. Although I wasnt comfortable with the video, its alot less than what is seen in alot of show rings around here (and we do the peasure thing).

The change needs to come from the top down, when the Anky's, Cleve's and now Craig's stop winning, things will change. Untill then...

JustMyStyle said...

This was a great post Mugs! I read your blog because it gets me thinking, and it's not about tearing everyone apart. As far as the video, the horse didn't look scared or hurt in any way to me. Having said that, I grew up showing Morgans. We waved slated bamboo at the horses heads and poofed baby powder to get their ears and feet up. It wasn't abusive but it usually resulted in a bugged-eyed scared horse. The horse simply learned to push up into the bridle and keep going. So, maybe my views are slanted...

However, I also noticed that no one is complaining about the other horse in the background in the video. The rider is doing the same thing with less feel and timing, and no one seems to care. I don't think it's fair to take everything out on Schmersal if you can't even acknowledge this isn't about him, it's about the way the system is set up.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

"For the true horseman the cultivation of willing participation is a sacred bond... submission is equestrian bankruptcy. Willing participation is a joyful contribution based on understanding. Submission is based on coercion which usually leads to soulless obedience." Erik Herbermann

I must agree with a few other commenters that the ends never justify the means, when cruel training methods, outright or subtle, are in question.

When money and acclaim become more important than the mental and physical welfare of the horse, the trainer / owner / rider needs to look hard in the mirror, and apply the same harsh standards to themselves, that they are so willing to submit the horse to.

Mustang Hatty said...

I read your post and agree that the cues given in this video are not wrong, fencing and aggressively backing are not

The problem I see with this training (in both the show video and the basic work video of the same horse) type is on the rundown this horse wants to go for it, but she (I think she) has been trained to stay at or behind the vertical. She can't stop properly (At 1:42ish her balance is so far off her hind end goes scrambling to avoid falling). To slide right the head has to move, butt drops so does the head. She has been trained not to.

The cues aren't wrong but they are not timed right. Forward motion stops then back. At 2:10, and that looks like a sliding stop cue to me, he is pulling her into a back before the slide is done. Which is why the rider comes about out of the saddle.

But my biggest issue is that headset, sweet beejeezus what is that? I know how this trainer gets it: on his site he states that he puts all 2 y/o in a german martingale.

If NRHA requires this dumb head set, I'll stick to NSHA and NRCHA for showing. And hey, maybe I won't ever be big in reining but not going with that head set, but I also won't ever have to worry about pulling a horse over on me. And I can sleep at night.

Bif said...

I think it comes down to how you perceive the Horse.
If it is a tool, a working animal, then there are training methods which might not be outright cruelty but are more than most of us would subject their animals to.
If you see them as artwork and partner with intelligence, though vastly different from our own, you will strive to get the maximal performance that you can get the horse to willingly offer on his own.
If you see them as they actually are... well, they'd rather be out eating grass, and they mostly just tolerate us. The ones that are more invested either have limited horse society or are very food motivated. (This is partly tongue in cheek, as I've seen and experienced some very interesting horse~human bonds.)

redhorse said...

"If you see them as artwork and partner with intelligence, though vastly different from our own, you will strive to get the maximal performance that you can get the horse to willingly offer on his own."

Bif, I think you hit that nail on the head. I have a hard time explaining this to non-horsai relatives and friends.

Mugs, I agree with your observations. I think a lot of us would like a place where we could compete without using some of the methods that are currently winning.

Angelina said...

I thought the video was horrible, but you are right. Even if we were to yell at this one man, even exclude him from the sport, it wouldn't help. Not until the goal, what reiners are trying to achieve, is changed. When these methods and this way of riding get top results, of course people will use them. When rollkur gets Anky and Gal their results, they'll use them. When a torture instrument of a bit enables a hopeless rider to take her green horse on trail rides, she will happily torture her horse, thinking it's okay, since the bits are legal. When excessive whip and spur use is allowed, sometimes even promoted, at riding schools, children will think that's how you should handle your horse. When an overcheck, hobbles and a whip will get an amateur in harness racing results, he'll use them.

If the goals changed, the sports would change. If the goals were happy, healthy, injury-free horses, if you would somehow get points for a natural-looking, sound horse, who would train like Anky or Schmersal? If the children at the riding schools were taught that some bits shouldn't be legal, and that if you need a torture instrument to control your horse you shouldn't be riding him, who'd use them in ten years? Who'd ride like Schmersal if the horse really mattered for the guys at the top, the ones who make the rules?

Maddywithay said...

I can understand the backing and bumping, but what he's doing with his hands seems rather rough... he appears to be yanking upward, and that is what I have a problem with... I feel like the same result could easily be achieved by a much lighter hand. Is this really the way they train reiners? Makes me sad to see it so rough...

I went back and watched the video again, keeping in mind what you said... I have no problems at all with most of what he is doing but in the beginning he really is ripping on her face.. I would hate to see someone do that in a snaffle let alone the curb that mare is in... Agh.

Val said...

Lots of interesting feedback here, and I do not want to repeat what has been said except that I agree that only a change in the winnings will lead to a serious change in training. Sadly, there is no room for money or ego in the training of the horse, but at the end of the day some people make horses their business. This almost inevitably creates a conflict of interest.

I guess what I really don't like is going to a local horse show and seeing a kid on an easy mount "bumping" him in the mouth like this trainer. Whether they want to be or not, professionals are role models and there will always be riders, adult and youth, who try to emulate their techniques.

Jen said...

You raise an awfully good point. I think it is often a fine and shaky line that exists (one that I don't care to walk myself) between competitiveness and abusiveness.
Can't say I cared much for the video, but then again I don't care much for competition in general (it's just not my thing :o) I guess it can be a pretty tough call sometimes; outside the TWH industry's "Big Lick" horses that is (which is painfully obvious - eek :oP

Minus Pride said...

What an interesting post. I'm just reading this on Tuesday morning after watching the video and posting about it on Fugly and my own blog. I think I would like to take back what I said and say hmm, not how I would train/compete a horse, but competing is not my livelihood. I don't have to get my horse in first place to put food on my table and hay in Sugar's mouth. I think this trainer did what he had to do to win, and while that's not what I would do, I can see why he did it. I really, really appreciated that post and it seriously opened my eyes. As always, you make me think Mugs!

Londoner said...

TB Dancer,

I respect your point, but:

"I think you’re an abusive asshat and no one in their right mind should EVER let you on their horse."

To me, this is a little hyperbolic from what I saw in one video of a good, if harsh, rider.

I'm interested to see the judge at Kentucky - it isn't on youtube, is it?

A said...

I don't see abuse in this video. I see an extremely competitive mare that's getting a tune up. To me, it's akin to working on an engine to a Nascar stock car, as compared to working on your grandma's Buick that she bought when she was still allowed to drive. Worlds of difference. Tuning an NFR caliber barrel horse would probably look brutal to the average back yard horse owner too, but there's not much footage of those types of things. When these horses are running at THAT much money, the trainers ARE NOT going to do anything to jeopordize the horse's ability to perform and win. A ripped mouth or sides with rowel tracks is not going to get it done. That's my opinion, for what it's worth. I applaud Janet for coming at it from the angle she did, and trying to give an explanation for what was going on in the video.

Anonymous said...

I think people forget that this mare will get a good home. She will be sold because she is competitive and a winner. This horse, although maybe a bit fried while be in a better position than those who lurrrrvvve their ponies but dont know what they are doing.

Good job Mugwump, your blog is always better to read than Fugly, i cant stand that inflammatory stuff all the time.

Anonymous said...

Wow - a couple of different ways.

Excellent Post - I too stopped training and competing for "owners" because I was no longer comfortable doing what was needed to win. Not only are the winning standards artificial copies of real life, but many of the owners, who have no idea what they are asking, want it now...I had a mare come in for breeding...a maiden mare who was also entered in a smallish local futurity as an English Pleasure horse. The owner expected to leave her 30 days (definitely not more than 60) and to get her back successfully in foal and to have gone from VERY green broke (don't know what smoke his at home trainer was blowing to have told the owner that her training just needed to be maintained) to good enough to win a futurity. The mare went home in great condition having been worked in a low stress manner everyday, and in foal. The owner and his trainer had a cat-fit that she wasn't ready for the big futurity. Sorry about their luck - I sent her home ridden, happy and in foal.

And Wow because this topic certainly got the comments, and some very thought provoking ones at that. I hate the way reiners are going now. They do not look smooth or athletic - to me they are laboring chunks who can barely get forward and who's greatest wish in life is to stop. Just an eerie echo of the riders who used to show off their horse's agility, willingness, responsiveness and athletic ability.

Great post Mugs !!!!!!!!!!!!

CR said...

wonder if Ray Hunt would have ever had a reason to ride a horse this way. nah.

Anonymous said...

"If he was using a cruel bit or if he was truly ripping at her as has been suggested... then the mare would be reacting in some other way...She is not sweating and foaming like a stressed out horse would be either."

Not necessarily. Many animals, from dogs to horses and beyond, stop fighting at some point.

Some animals just shut down because they discovered that opposition is just met with harder corrections.

You see this a lot with dogs. Some of the ones that have been beaten no longer fight back. They turn submissive because they know that physical pain is coming, and there's no point in struggling because the pain will come, regardless.

Also, some animals can mentally cope with hard handling methods, where some cannot.

For example, I'll use dogs. Why do you think it's German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois that are usually seen in the bite sports? The successful dogs in these sports are tough, drivey, and can handle corrections at the level needed during high-adrenaline bitework sessions.

Many of the Quarter Horses of the reining world, and the Warmbloods of the dressage world, are able to mentally cope with correction styles that most "hotter" horses cannot.

Naturally, there are variations within breeds and types, of course.

gtyyup said...

Very well stated. I especially agree with this:

"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."

Life could be a lot worse. But it's the industry not the trainer~

JEppe said...

Do I want to be the best? It depends on what "the best" means.
In dressage they want the horses to move more and more like this or that. They have lost the idea of horses. They are creating monsters.
There are some limits. People are not interested in those. As you said, it's all about the money.

American beauty queens are mostly artificial products.

Cruzisff said...

Anon- I really liked your comparison. These horses are the kids made to play piano until their fingers cramp. The parents and coaches of junior olympic hopefuls is another comparison. I'm not in that camp either, but I don't equate it with children who are locked in closets, starved and beaten by their parents. The video with the baseball camp is practice. The horse is expected to work at about 70%. At the show he is wanting 110%. So the head bumping and banging is to have the horse afraid to take the bit. Then when he shows, he can run the whole pattern with minimal contact on the reins. When he lifts his hand the mare will know the next step is a pop on the mouth and put her head back in position. I am simply explaining, not condoning folks. When he stood up and wacked at her mouth I am guessing she wasn't keeping her back up through her stops. He got mad, stood over her shoulders to get off her back and got after her until she picked back up. His risk would be rattling her so she couldn't listen anymore because she was afraid,but I don't know. Again, not a training method of mine.

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