Pages Navigation Menu


☛ Horse Abuse, Part 4 – 5-15-15





In today’s society, telephone cameras can be used to photograph a trainer’s methods.

By Rick Dennis
May 15, 2015
One of the most if not the most controversial article written about the horse industry is horse abuse by trainers. In the horse industry, I consider this a grey area even in lieu of a rash of publicized animal abuse cases being broadcast by HBO specials, magazine articles and social media as well as those individuals being prosecuted in a court of law for animal cruelty or abuse. First and foremost, not all horse trainers in our industry are bad or abusive. In fact, we have an abundance of very good and devoted trainers. However, unfortunately we do have our share of abusive trainers in our industry that I consider a minority and when identified, they should be removed, period. It’s these individuals that attach a bad stigma to the industry.


As my previous horse abuse articles, i.e., “Horse Abuse, Parts 1,2 and 3,” I have clearly and unequivocally depicted horse abuse is not relegated to one instance of the horse industry but by documentation has been proven to inhabit a broad spectrum of activities to include: the horse racing industry, performance horse industry, private owners, horse rescue operations, riding academies as well as a myriad of horse-training disciplines, etc.  Perhaps the most insidious culprit inhabiting the horse-training industry is PUBLIC PERCEPTION.


How an individual perceives and processes a viewed horse-training activity can spell the difference between being reported to law enforcement on an alleged animal-abuse charge or for the same individual to understand the observance as a normal phase of training in a horse’s life, or the nature of the beast so-to-speak. The main component absent in the equation of distinction is PUBLIC EDUCATION. Over the years there’s been a lot of articles written on horse training and the proper use of horse-training equipment as well as the acceptable applications of each. Unfortunately, the majority of the individuals reading these very fine publications are those of us in the horse industry and not the general public.


For political correctness, the majority of spectators at horse shows are comprised of those in the industry such as owners, equine enthusiasts, exhibitors and trainers in between classes, equine vendors, etc. However, a portion of the mixed-bag spectator crowd is comprised of the general public who either has absolutely no knowledge of the horse industry at all or in some instances they’re very knowledgeable individuals who are also animal rights activists. Never before has our industry been more inundated with animal rights activists and anti-animal abuse coalitions scrutinizing our industry!  Basically, all spectators collectively have one binding factor in common: they all love horses.


Another binding concept distinguishable among spectator masses are the animal rights activists and anti-animal abuse coalitions, is their willingness to expose instances of animal abuse, via, social media and Internet postings. Individuals who are either under investigation, been criminally charged or cited with animal cruelty or abuse crimes are adamantly opposed to having this information disseminated on social media or the Internet citing this information as being improper, unconstitutional or in some manner a violation of constitutional rights. However, the dissemination of a public information document such as an arrest record is perfectly legal. Moreover, the final outcome of criminal charges are determined in a court of law.


We should all be reminded that cell phones with very fine cameras and video recording devices are ever present in our industry. Further, it only takes a few seconds for the knowledgeable operator to upload a video recording of someone correcting or abusing their horse in an unorthodox manner and posting it on You Tube. Likewise, it only takes a few seconds to post a photograph on social media. Therefore, we all should be cognizant of our surroundings and actions while in the general public’s eye, even on our own training facility, for that matter. For the record I am not an advocate of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) or the Humane Society of the United States.  Both organizations have their pros and cons but both are limited in scope of legal authority. However, their undercover operations have been very effective in initiating criminal investigations into animal abuse.


A perfect example of the effectiveness of cell phone cameras and video recording devices can be found in the following links with both examples resulting in investigations for alleged animal abuse as reported by The video of the training incident at the Cumberland Riding Academy was taken on a cell phone by a child. This clearly establishes the effectiveness of cell phone video-recording devices and their ease of operation. Caution: the photos and video recordings may be disturbing to some viewers.

Click for Kountz Arena investigation>>


Click for Cumberland Riding Academy Investigation>>

An aerial  drone.

Another interesting tool being considered by law enforcement is the use of aerial drones to check on livestock for indications of animal abuse. I recently learned one state has begun testing drones for aerial video recordings and photography applications in this area.


Since the Department of Justice has entered the animal abuse foray, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has established new guidelines, effective January 2016, to track instances of animal abuse or animal cruelty in the same context as other felonious crimes.  Eventually, these law enforcement statistics will be used to strengthen and expand arrest classifications and punishments for those arrested and convicted of these crimes. More than ever, we’ve witnessed individuals who have been convicted of animal abuse crimes being sentenced to prison.


Click for FBI article on adding animal cruelty>>




A survey of nonprofit horse organizations, including the American Quarter Horse Association, National Cutting Horse Association, National Reined Cow Horse Association and the National Reining Horse Association, revealed each one has some criteria for addressing horse abuse. Equally, each one addresses other areas of potentials for abuse such as drugs, prohibitive training equipment and tactics.


The American Quarter Horse Association outlines specific training equipment, i.e., bits, draw reins, wire cavesons, metal bosals, bumper bits, prong bits, etc., that are prohibited at approved AQHA shows. These new rules were ushered in Nov. 1, 2012 by the newly appointed AQHA Animal Welfare Commission which is dedicated to putting the American Quarter Horse first to ensure the welfare of the horse. For further information, click on the following link and refer to the AQHA rule book for additional information:


Click for 2015 AQHA Hand Book>>


Another example of a non-profit addressing prohibitive training equipment is the National Reined Cow Horse Association. The following NRCHA rule addresses this subject with specificity:


14.2.3 – Humane Treatment
No person shall exhibit any horse which appears to be sullen, dull, lethargic, emaciated, drawn or overly tired. No person on show grounds, including, but not limited to, barns, stalls, practice area and show arena, may treat a horse in an inhumane manner, which includes, but is not limited to:

(1) Placing an object in a horse’s mouth so as to cause undue discomfort or distress.

(2) Tying a horse up or around in a stall or when lounging or riding in a manner as to cause undue discomfort or distress. In addition, leaving a bit in a horse’s mouth for extended periods of time.

(3) Use of inhumane training techniques or methods; poling or striking horses legs or body with objects, excessive spurring and/or excessive jerking of reins.

(4) Use of inhumane equipment, including, but not limited to, saw tooth bits, hock hobbles, tack collars or tack hackamores.

(5) Any item or appliance that restricts movement or circulation of the tail.

(6) Inhumane treatment which results in any bleeding.


Click for NRCHA 2015 Rule Book>>


The National Cutting Horse Association and the National Reining Horse Association also have similar rules in place addressing animal abuse and equipment.  For additional information please refer to each ones rule book.

Click for NCHA Rule Book>>


The drawback of nonprofit rules and guidelines is that they only address specific instances of rule violations on approved show grounds and don’t have any affect whatsoever outside this realm of authority. The problem with the performance horse industry is horse trainers occupy a niche in an unregulated industry and the only enforcement of reported instances of horse abuse violations outside an approved show ground is delegated to the law enforcement community and the judicial system.


Perhaps it would be advantageous for the horse community if equine nonprofits would establish guidelines for the ethical treatment of horses by trainers outside the approved show areas by implementing association rules and guidelines to promote the ethical treatment of horses during training. Equally, in my opinion it would also be advantageous for equine nonprofit’s to establish a committee to address specific reports of alleged animal abuse among members that would include penalties and ramifications for violators.



Judges at equine non-profit events are the second line of defense in detecting and contributing to the ethical treatment of horses. During an association-approved event, it’s the judges’ duty to not only judge the competitors but to also remove lethargic or crippled horses. Judges are also empowered to enforce association rules. A judge’s role becomes problematic when an association rule changes to eliminate how a horse travels, such as the recent AQHA rule change for Western Pleasure horses and the judge continues to judge a horse exhibiting the old rule, dictating how a horse travels during a class, in a positive fashion.


Another example to illustrate a problematic area is exemplified in head collection. When a horse enters the showing arena with its head on the ground and is judged in a positive fashion, this promotes other trainers to follow its lead. For political correctness, very few horses travel in this manner in a natural state. Instead of rewarding the exhibitor in a positive manner, the exhibitor should be penalized for an unorthodox way of traveling by his horse. Other than a natural state, the only way a horse travels with its nose on the ground is through the bitting-up technique where the horse’s head is repeatedly restrained down and between its legs during training. Perhaps it’s best for an equine nonprofit to address this issue with a rule adoption.



Horse trainers also occupy a specific niche in the equine profession where training techniques are usually passed on from generation to generation. If the apprentice is learning horse-training techniques from someone who has augmented their training program with gimmicks, abusive practices, abusive training equipment, or developed short cuts including the use of drugs in their training program, then the apprentice will more than likely do the same.


The truth of the matter is there are no shortcuts in training a horse – only lazy trainers!  To properly train a horse requires hard work, hours-upon-hours of saddle time, wet saddle blankets and devotion to the job at-hand. I know this truth to be self evident, as I’m a judicially certified professional multiple-event reined cow horse trainer. The antiquated abusive training techniques developed over the years by unethical self-professed horse trainers should be prohibited and removed from the industry, along with the trainers practicing these unorthodox and abusive training practices. At my training facility, horses are ridden into submission, not beaten into submission, and trained the right way.


I was very fortunate in having learned the art of training a reined cow horse from a legendary West Coast training facility. For three years I was in and out of the West Coast or California horse-training facilities, observing various training styles and techniques and I can state with authority, “I never viewed one instance of horse abuse, period.” However, I did see a lot of very fine horses being trained the right way and with precision by some of the most remarkable practitioners I’ve ever met. However, I can’t state the same is true of other training facilities that I’ve been to in other parts of the country. However, one aspect is clear: present-day society demands the ethical treatment of horses at any level.


Some examples of antiquated and abusive training techniques include:

1) the use of barbed wire or wire cavesons to set a horses head,

2) tying a horse’s head around to the D-Ring of the saddle or its tail with a bit in its mouth to promote flexion and leaving it unattended and struggling against the constraint,

3) bitting a horse up or a technique whereby the horse is fully tacked up and a rein from each side of the bit is attached to the rear D-ring on each side of the saddle and tightened in a fashion as to promote head collection, and being left unattended,

4) tacking a horse up and leaving it in the sun all day without water to take the edge off of it,

5) tying a horse’s head up in the air for extended periods of time to promote head lowering when released,

6) tack collars whereby tacks are inserted through a leather strap with the sharp ends exposed.  The collar is then placed around the horse’s neck with the tack ends exposed to promote stopping when pulled on,

7) using a wooden dowel to tap a horse on the top of its head while riding to promote head lowering,

8) The use of kick chains to encourage a horse to stop kicking. This device is comprised of a leather collar with a chain attached and placed on the rear legs of the horse. Each time the horse kicks, the chains strike the horse on the legs which can cause injury or crippling,

9) beating a horse on the head with a set of bridle reins as a reprimand or to promote head lowering, or

10) the use of harmful supplements, i.e., Rumesin or drugs for injured, disadvantaged or crippled horses to promote training or showing.


Click for McColley Petition>>


As with all things, there’s a right way and a wrong way to accomplish everything. For example, bitting a horse up to initiate head collection in a round pen is perfectly acceptable as long as it’s performed in gradual steps with an O-ring snaffle bit and the horse is NOT LEFT UNATTENDED.


I use this training technique as it was taught to me and I teach to others. The variables in the equation to promote safety and the ethical treatment of the horse are found in the manner it’s applied. 1) I perform this training only to initiate a proper head collection, with the remainder or final stage of training being performed in the saddle with the horse not fully restrained. 2) I leave a slip knot on the inside rein constraint in case the horse gets in trouble, and 3) this training technique is performed in my presence in the round pen, and the horse is never is left unattended.


An example of the wrong application can be illustrated in the Mark Arbollo case. Arbollo was a reining trainer from California. During a training exercise, the horse was bitted up and tied off to promote flexion and left unattended. The end result was the horse died. Arbollo plead guilty to animal abuse and is facing a three-year prison sentence in June 2015.


Click for Mark Arballo Case>>




Perhaps the most misunderstood topic in the horse-training profession is found in the use of bits and spurs. If properly used, spurs are a wonderful training tool to aid the horse trainer in the training and finishing a horse. On the other hand, if these items are misused they can become implements of fear for the horse and promote injury and abuse.


One of the most disgusting things I see in the horse training world is a trainer losing his or her temper and hanging a high port correction bit in a horse’s mouth with a series of violent upward jerks of the bridle reins as a corrective measure for losing a cow or to promote a stop. This technique can become problematic, especially when damage is done to the bars and tongue of the horse. Each bit is designed for a specific function to promote ethical training. Never on a specific bit design have I ever read the inscription describing the function to also include its use as a REPRIMAND OR PUNISHMENT TOOL.


The same applies to spurs.  If used properly, spurs are a wonderful tool. If used wrong, they become an instrument of abuse for the horse, which usually results in a dead-sided horse with no more effect after repeated pounding sessions. One way for an owner to determine if his or her horse is being excessively spurred is to just look on each side of the horse’s rib cage area as well as the front shoulder. If tiny bumps are present that look like hematomas, then I would discuss the aspect and expectation of ethical training techniques with the trainer. The same applies to bits. Just open your horse’s mouth and examine the bars, tongues and roof area.  A horse’s mouth tells it all.


The final aspects of horse training which require insertion in this article are that:

1) sometimes  “extraordinary horse cases, require extraordinary horse-training techniques.”  This is especially true with horses that have developed bad habits from abusive or unskilled trainers. Sometimes it takes something as simple as whipping a horse on the butt to promote forward motion with a sullen horse.

2) Other extraordinary training measures include tying a horse’s front leg up to the saddle horn and lounging in a round pen to instill authority and promote good behavior or laying a horse down on the ground to illustrate who’s master. If done properly, these are totally acceptable training techniques to bring an unruly or dangerous horse into submission. This is clearly evident when the same technique taught by the Vaquero or Old Style (Spanish) training technique was used in the movie, “The Horse Whisperer.”


One fact is clear!  Times have changed and horse abuse is no longer acceptable in our society and those in the industry have to understand these changing times and change with them or a set of handcuffs, criminal charges, a prosecuting attorney, a court of law and possible jail time may be the determining factor and end result.


“Until Next Time, Keep ‘Em Between The Bridle!


Copyright © 2015 – Richard E. “Rick” Dennis, all rights reserved.



Richard E. “Rick” Dennis

Managing Member

Office/Mobile: (985) 630-3500

Web Site:


468 ad


  1. “Perhaps it would be advantageous for the horse community if equine nonprofits would establish guidelines for the ethical treatment of horses by trainers outside the approved show areas by implementing association rules and guidelines to promote the ethical treatment of horses during training.” I agree with this 100%..
    William C.

  2. Thank you for mentioning this crime perpetrated against Young Doc Bar. I wish we knew what the next step will be. Your articles always do great. I have it on two other pages: Justice For Young Doc Bar and Justice for Copiah County Horses. I wish we had Rick Dennis helping us on this case.

  3. I really liked your article.
    Mario from Argentina

  4. Bout time trainers took a schelackin!

  5. Another masterful article only you can do. Good Job.

  6. I agree with you, “not all trainers are bad,” but in my day I’ve seen some pretty bad ones! Not so much with the real pros but mostly with the ones that think they’re pros.

  7. Thank you for mentioning Young Doc Bar. A terrible, horrific situation. It haunts me and I feel so powerless. I liked your article a lot.

  8. I really like your article. It’s long over due. Thanks for sharing.

  9. As always, a very informative article. I think you covered all the bases.
    Sharon L. Wiley

  10. I hope this article opens the eyes of some horse owners who have horses in training and go and check on them two or three times a week. Very nice article.
    Michelle Roosenvelt

    • There are in excess of 2,000,000 internet articles on the subject of animal cruelty: I challenge anyone to find an article that discusses the cruelty subject so well, then pin points the solution of how to train without cruelty. Congratulations, Rick your ONE of a KIND.

  11. I agree with John. there’s a lot of papers written on horse abuse but non like this one or as good.

  12. I see AQHA is scrambling to finally get something done about the horse abuse problems. Maybe articles like this one has taken hold!

  13. I love intelligent articles. This one on horse abuse spells it out.

  14. A good article Rick. Thanks for sharing.

  15. I’m glad to see folks are going to prison for horse abuse. We need more articles like your four-part horse abuse series. Thank you Rick Dennis.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.