When Does The Show Ring Go Too Far
 By mosquito   •   26th Jan 2010   •   10,748 views   •   25 comments
Going to a horse show or an event is great. Beautiful horses, smartly dressed riders, all ready to perform their best. But sometimes getting horses to look and do their best isn’t as great as it seems.

Horse ShowIn one area, scandal is hitting the horse showing world hard. An investigation by USDA inspectors at last year’s Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration brought some inhumane practices into a global spotlight. The practice they were looking for was ‘soring’. To get Tennessee Walkers to really pick up their feet for a flamboyant step, some trainers – but certainly not all – used highly caustic and irritating chemicals on their horse’s pasterns. Lighter fluid, even diesel fuel would be applied to the pasterns, wrapped with plastic to seal in heat, and the boots put on top. The result? Blisters and painful sores. To get the effect of high stepping gaits, trainers than put chains over the damaged area, so that each step causes the horse severe pain, and the horse lifts its feet higher to try and ‘step out’ of the pain.

The USDA Investigators arrived at the 2009 Celebration, and started inspecting the horses’ feet for signs of soring, such as open wounds or scars. Some trainers even took their horses straight out of the show rather than risk being caught by investigators. The publicity was extensive –there were over 400 violations, and the incident hit network TV and national papers. They also found examples of ‘pressure shoeing’, where objects are placed between the shoe and the hoof to increase pressure and pain, and get the horse to step faster and higher. The tragedy is, soring has never been endorsed by the Tennessee Walking Horse breed society, but all too many trainers use it anyway.

And that’s not the only case of using pain to improve a horse’s performance. Recently several showjumpers were banned for the practice of rapping. Rapping originally was a fairly routine technique used to get ‘lazy’ jumpers to stop rubbing the jump poles and get a little higher. It was used by experienced trainers, usually only once – as the horse jumped a fence they would raise a lightweight bamboo pole slightly to ‘rap’ the horse’s legs and surprise it into jumping a little higher next time.

Horse Rapping BannedEarly uses of rapping weren’t intended to risk injury, or to frighten the horse so much it would stop jumping altogether. However, the practice soon got out of hand, and the FEI banned it many years ago. And the trainers banned recently took the concept of rapping too far. They were found guilty of putting irritants like caustic lotions or spiked plastic strips into the horses splint boots, so that if it hit the fence it would experience sever pain. We aren’t talking about amateurs or inexperienced riders either – these were Grand Prix and former Olympic riders too.

These cases are pretty clear, but the question is what drives a horseperson to do these things? In these events, sometimes the prize money isn’t even all that much. What makes someone who spends all day with these horse want a trophy or a ribbon so much they’ll go to these lengths?

The greater debate comes in other show ring practices that haven’t officially been defined as cruel by the sport’s governing bodies, but which many think are taking winning too far. Arabians were one of the first breeds to be shown without ear, muzzle, and eyelid hairs. Many feel that depriving horses of that natural protection is too much, and doesn’t make them prettier anyway. Others really love the look of a cleanly clipped head, and go to great effort to keep their horse comfortable.

Other saddle seat breeds have drawn attention too. Long hooves, fetlock rattles, and set tails have all come under criticism. In the vast majority of cases these practices are done with farrier or veterinary supervision to ensure the comfort of the horse, but many riders think even if they don’t hurt a horse, they are unnatural and unnecessary. Dressage riders adopting the extreme tight neck flexion called ‘rollkur’ are coming under criticism. In these examples the line of cruelty is less clear, and these practices aren’t officially prohibited.

Some techniques and equipment are very common practice, yet some horse people find them distressing. Curb bits and chains, martingales, and spurs all have objectors, although there’s a case to say that in the right hands, these tools are humane and effective. The racing industry has come under criticism for using drugs like Lasix, excessive whip use, and racing horses too young. Eventers are challenging the design and construction of cross country fences against a demand for more exciting events for spectators. Some people think even stabling a horse is unnatural and unkind.

Practices that break the law – like soring – are certainly not acceptable. But there are plenty more that don’t use pain or injury to change a horse’s performance. Ultimately, it is up to each rider and trainer to ask themselves honestly if they have the skills and experience to use these showing techniques effectively and humanely, and to ask themselves each time if it’s right for their horses. Either way, a happy, comfortable horse is always going to be the one that performs its best!
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LCM London Girl returns  MOD 
Great Article..loads to mull over there, thankyou
  Jan 26, 2010  •  7,130 views
I second how the show ring has gone to far. In the UK, you find many horses are in sever conditions or are being trained in obscure ways to get extra marks in the ring. I have also found that more often than not, these incorrect things can often cause you many wins or losses, and the whole of the judging community "prefere horses like this. Although it is not the same in america, it is often found that horses have to be severly obese to do well in the UK. I unfortunatley had to do this to my horse in order for it to win. Although this isnt as bad as other things, this can still be life threatening and shows that showing is no longer about horse health, but getting the impossible out of your horse.
  Jan 26, 2010  •  7,377 views
Topthorn Equestri  
You are great about getting things we shouls know out there. Thanks I have learned alot. I knew about most of that stuff but I had not seen what it looked like. Now I can report it if I ever see it hopefully I won't though. :)
  Jan 26, 2010  •  7,394 views
Olympus Stables  
Love the article, its crazing what people will do just to win, I couldn't hurt a horse to help me, its crazy
  Jan 26, 2010  •  7,392 views
Fantasy Farms  
Thanks for posting this! I made a poll and NO ONE knew what soring was! Most people don't have a clue what it is. Thanks for posting this!!
  Jan 26, 2010  •  7,380 views
I agree there has been a lot going on in the horse show world, part of which I would never get into breed shows... i showed quarter horses, and after watching some people tie their horses heads up high as to "tire" their necks out so they have a great head set. Its sad what some people will do to win, Ive known about the soring for many years and actually did a report containing information about it and the things some will do to remove the scabs the soring leaves behind, and actually had a non horse person ask me why that was so wrong... i don't need to go further on that statment as i think we all do. What ever happend to the training methods that didn't hurt... and just plain practice, practice, practice and more practice... but getting this out there will hopfully help to stop this...
  Jan 26, 2010  •  7,749 views
Valkyrie   MOD 
I love showing, so it disgusts me to no end how desperate some people are to win a ribbon or some prize money. I come from New Zealand where, thankfully, such horrific practises are uncommon. I abhor anyone who would hurt our equine friends because they can't accept losing. Those people deserve to rot in prison. Sadly, we only catch a few of them. The majority are left free to continue maiming and ruining animals. Let's cut open THEIR feet and make them run around, and see how they like it. Sorry if this sounds violent, but I abhor anyone who mistreats animals, particularly horses.
  Jan 26, 2010  •  7,675 views
I am nice to my horse and give it the best care to help it be happy and perform well. I wish people didn't sore or use rapping wrongly. Are they trying to ruin showing for everyone? And as for training equipment, use it wisely and make sure you do not be cruel with any of it.
  Jan 27, 2010  •  7,673 views
Great article! It's scary to know how far people are ready to go to make their horses “look good". I once heard about plastic surgery on horses, it's a similar subject and maybe skenesson or someone else could write an article about that? If it's true it would be interesting to know more about it why, on which breeds and so on...
  Jan 27, 2010  •  7,708 views
Great article, alot of thought has been put in to this. I agree, showing does go over board at times, i find it severly cruel clipping whiskers as that is like our finger tips.
  Jan 27, 2010  •  7,669 views
Ebony Acres  
wow. Soring and rapping? Never heard of it. I do occasionly use a martingale if the horse I'm riding has a very bad habit of rasisng his head to high as it can be dangorus.
  Jan 27, 2010  •  7,684 views
Athenas Love  
This is a great article, but bad showing happens in all breeds and ALL disciplines. The soring issue has been going on in the TWH arena for two decades. It is very sad, but horrible thing when judges allow these animals to place above horses that are more correct and more sound. I repeat, you see this in EVERY discipline--from horses getting knocked in the knees with broomsticks to make them jump higher to halter horses having the tendons in their tails cut so they won't swish--or hooves cut back too far. The list goes on and on. It should be said that honest people who love their animals do not do these things for glory. Its always the bad apples (including people who kill horses for insurance money) who make everyone else look bad. I have owned a TWH who gaited naturally and never would have ever considered making him into that equine abomination the "big lick."
  Jan 27, 2010  •  7,707 views
wow my mom was watching a vedio on youtube about how dressage ridder4s were forceing the horses neck to tuckin so much that the toung lost circlation and was blue handing out of the horse' s what has our horse cisadey come to forceing horses to have pain just beacuse we want the big prize that is sad i would love to help to pervent these kind of things so if anyone thinks of an i dea email me wow horse people this is sad don't you think
  Jan 27, 2010  •  7,802 views
Wow, I would never do that to any horse...Thats just cruel =(
  Jan 27, 2010  •  7,691 views
That is just so CRUEL!!! How would the owners like for us to do that to them...something to ponder....
  Jan 27, 2010  •  7,741 views
dont those horse riders like horses?? i thought people rode cause they love them, stupid people who even thought of doing that to their horses. good kob at writing the article though!
  Jan 28, 2010  •  7,676 views
people like that-animal and horse abusers-are cruel and eserve to be locked how could anyone be so heartlessas to do something so cruel! =(
  Jan 28, 2010  •  7,680 views
It used to just be a horses 'natural beauty'. No it's 'artifical'. The trainers could careless as long as they don't get caught. It's cruel and inhumane, but they're so focussed on winning they wouldn't care if the horse ended up passing out as long as they win. It's pure evilness that drives them on, and this isn't the first time it's happend. Tennessee Walkers are my favorite breed and I hate what people do to such amazing horses to try and get more out of them. Kindness will have the same affect as evilness, it just doesn't ruin a perfectly good horse.
  Jan 28, 2010  •  7,721 views
Bright Horizon  
It is ridiculously and sadly amazing at how far people will go. Poor, poor horses. :(
  Jan 28, 2010  •  7,697 views
poor horses i feel sooooooooooo sad for them
  Jan 28, 2010  •  7,685 views
Esmeralda Elites  
I've heard all about this stuff. I've also seen videos of it in progress too.....its really sad and some horses I think have died from it.
  Jan 28, 2010  •  7,693 views
BlackAsh Manor  MOD 
I have seen many a horse crippled literally through the back through rollkur usage, and the quicker that is banned then all the better. I try to stay away from gadgets and gizmos while training, because you don't get a true idea of what you can make a horse do. The sooner all the practices are banned, the better
  Jan 28, 2010  •  7,739 views
Sterling Ridge  
I agree that people take things too far sometimes but we should also remember the things that don't hurt the horses. All of these things in these articles are ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE and should never happen to a horse but before you accuse someone of something, think things through. I ride saddleseat and recently posted pictures on Ponybox. Within 5 minutes, I had multiple people commenting on how much I hurt my horse and how I was a terrble person for doing that to an animal. My horses have never been hurt because of things that we use on them (chains, martingales, bussels, etc). I really wish that the people that commented had thought things through before they told me how mean I was. If my horse was unhealthy, I wouldn't be able to show. Before you show at most Morgan shows, your horse has to be approved by a vet. If they were hurt in anyway, the vet wouldn't approve them!! I'm not saying that you guys are wrong, I just want to remind people to think before they accuse people.
  Jan 29, 2010  •  7,743 views
I won't pretend I'm a saint. I've used quite a few gadgets in the past, including running martingales, pulley draw reins, and ankle chains. However, I have certain limits at to what I will do. On my own horse, I will never use multiple gadgets. On other people's horses, I will, within reason, ride them how they want them ridden. This means I'll use pulleys and a martingale, if that's what they do. I will never sore a horse, use gadgets combined senselessly (the saddest thing I every saw was a horse being ridden off just a draw rein through a curb bit.), and I will not do anything which is ultimately harmful to the horse's long-term well-being. If a horse loves the show ring, I'm going to demand a headset out of him, but nobody rides the head of a trail horse.
  Jan 31, 2010  •  7,727 views
Cruisin Past Curfew  
I have only been in one show, and everyone is fair-and-square there. But this is just horrid. Hard work, determination, love and care are the answer for winners, not abuse. This sickens me to no ends that people would actually put their horse in pain just to win. That just shows how some people have no respect at all for their horses, they only care about winning, trophies, and money -.- Very sad.
  Apr 3, 2012  •  6,464 views
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