Defending Horses with Words and Money

WM BrisaEyeFair warning: I’m going to ask you to do a favor for horses. It will involve some of your time and the money that you spend anyway.

I try to avoid any photos of abuse. I don’t share them because they titillate perpetrators. Besides, I’ve seen enough cruelty for a thousand lifetimes.

One got by me this week on Facebook; it was a photo of a dog who had fireworks set off in his mouth. He was a German Shepherd with kind, intelligent eyes and a mass of blood where his mouth had been. Brutal, stupid, and the work of his own human. More and more, that’s how I see riding abuse in horses.

Riding abuse is a catch-all term I use for any mounted behavior involving violent hands, metal on bone, and a horse’s mouth. In dressage the FEI has gotten many complaints, so they debate what to call Rollkur. Or Hyperflexion. Or LDR (low, deep, round). They’ve changed the name a few times to make it understood better. It’s defined as an exaggerated flexion of a horse’s poll and neck, that got “popular” in the 1980s when Nicole Uphoff of Germany used it in training her horse, Rembrandt. It became a fad used by successful competitors. Now young horses in lower level dressage in the U.S. get pulled behind the vertical. In spite of dressage fundamentals and USEF rules.

Dear FEI, It isn’t that we don’t understand the words; it’s the cruel and destructive training method that we despise. (Tug of War, Heuschmann). We want it outlawed.

This week the internet bled with photos from the Falsterbo Horse Show in Sweden. Images of riders in warm-up abusing elite horses, their noses pinned to their chests, while the riders braced back, pulling hard. Even with all the complaints, this painful method continues. They may be competitors in the discipline that I love… but what they are doing IS NOT DRESSAGE.

The debate has torn dressage riders apart. Classic dressage proponents talk about disowning competitive dressage riders, even though most dressage riders competing today do not use hyperflexion. Competitive riders who are innocent feel attacked, even as they hate the cruelty that exists.

After we lump all the dressage riders who show their horses together in an unfair pile, we also blame the judges, although the worst of it goes on in warm up. And the technical delegates and stewards who have the job of reporting infractions. People rant against dressage when the cause has much more to do with money. We point to everyone but ourselves. What if we contribute to change and not more blame?

This brutal week for horses got a bit worse with the release of a Clinton Anderson video. Erica Franz wrote a great article on her Writing of Riding blog titled, Clinton Anderson isnโ€™t an Asshole.

Many of you sent the YouTube link to me privately, and I will admit to a meltdown. To my eye, the most brutal hyperflexion techniques exist in western riding and it’s personal; it was reining that led me to dressage in the first place. I wasn’t born with a dressage saddle; I love a hot spin and a cool run-down, but I’ve worked with a handful of Anderson method horses. They had a story to tell, too.

To add gasoline to the fire, at the end of that video, Anderson shares an unprofessional rant, in guise of bragging about not being politically correct, while insulting his very clients. The other word for that is bullying.

Have we all become haters? Is that where we are now? Did classical masters like Klimke, Oliveira, and the Dorrance brothers give in to cruelty? The exact opposite; they spoke for training with kindness and understanding–above brute force.

Then there are people like me. I train fear-free with positive techniques, often working with horses who have flunked out with other trainers. Sometimes with stallions and other times, with Anderson’s “tree-hugging idiots that ride in a bitless bridle.” Just my kind of rider, frankly.

And I write this blog. The most common comments and emails are from riders whose experience with trainers remind me of stories about domestic violence. Riders who escaped with their horses and believe that herd behavior is a little more nuanced than “the meanest one wins.” Every week, my readers get to feel good about understanding that leadership is about providing safety, not fear. I preach to the choir but it isn’t enough. The horses need more.

โ€œMy doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.” -Anna Sewell, Black Beauty, 1877.

We always wring out hands and coo to each other about the suffering caused by cruel training. Enough already.

Training disasters are like fashion disasters: Mullets and white patent leather shoes went away when we stopped buying them. We have to do our part instead of grumbling while horses suffer.

When equestrian consumers take a stand and quit supporting abuse with our considerable money, the real change will begin. And yes, change is as slow as rust. We don’t have a moment to waste.

I spent a lovely evening this week, with a glass of wine and my computer. First I wrote a short paragraph explaining that I was boycotting their company because of cruel training methods and unacceptably rude words from a professional they sponsor, and ended by saying I would encourage others do to the same. Then I went to the Down Under Horsemanship sponsor page, made easy with clickable links. Two of the sponsors were companies that I’ve done business with for decades. So I pasted my complaint on email after email, sipped my wine, and felt better than I had all week.

Or go to No Rollkur, read up, and sign the petition. Relabel yourself; Horse Advocate is a good title. Then stand up proud to put horses first.

Each week, take a few hours away from your horse (or better yet, cleaning the bathroom,) and instead of complaining to your friends who agree with you already, add your voice to your dollars. Smartpak will notice. Then contact national organizations, like USEF, USDF, or your breed organization, and speak your word for horses.

And if you are going to send off complaints, also compliment sponsors who back trainers and events that you respect, as well as sending off notes to show management about good judges and show officials that promote the true standard. VOTE, dammit. Your word is stronger than you know.

A few weeks ago, I posted that some friends and I were going to the FEI World Cup in Omaha next spring. There were comments that dressage was cruel and boycotting it was necessary. If that’s how you feel, by all means boycott, but please write a pile of notes to let the organizers know your thoughts. Scream bloody murder; be heard.

As for me, I’ll be there cheering loudly for the best horses and riders and taking names of the rest, soon to become my new pen pals. I hope the dressage world finds a path back together. That we won’t let that ideal of the art and beauty of a horse and rider partnered in oneness ever be destroyed. That those who understand what’s at stake will refuse to hand dressage over to the haters. That we will stand with the horses, who taught some of us at least, to rise above our human shortcomings.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Anna Blake

0 thoughts on “Defending Horses with Words and Money”

  1. Great post. I’ve been doing this for years, writing and calling, and I do think it works. I’ve been on the phone with VPs of horse product companies trying to explain why I can no longer buy their products because of who they sponsor. I’ve sent them videos and articles. If enough people do this, they will drop the sponsorships. I no longer buy fly predators from Spaulding because they sponsor Craig Schmersal. I no longer shop Smartpak because of their affiliation with Clinton Anderson. Cashel Fly Masks is another one.

    I hadn’t seen the blog post you mention about CA but that explains why my blog hits have skyrocketed this week. I have an old post where I posted his obnoxious statement from his own website years back after a horse died in his training program. His PR people took it down shortly after he wrote it – it was awful – but I captured it and have preserved it on my blog. That post gets more traffic than any other I’ve ever written, and at least it offers some info to anyone who might be researching CA online to determine if they want to buy his products or (God forbid) put a horse in training with him.

    The post has 150 comments and I have received countless private emails from people sharing CA horror stories that they experienced or witnessed. They are afraid to go public.

    I’ve also received veiled threats, which I ignore.

    I agree with your suggestion that if anyone chooses to boycott any show or competition or clinic, do it, but write and let those managing the events know exactly why you are doing so.

    • Great job, and me too. I know some people will get grouchy with us, but that’s the point of being an advocate for horses, isn’t it?? Thanks, Billie, for all kinds of great things!

    • I’ve never been a fan of CAs – he always just seemed too “pushy” – for lack of a better word. But after watching that part of the video where he “says it like it is” (or like HE says it is) my opinion took a dive & it wasn’t all that high to begin with!
      I know every discipline has a downside – seems when money & trophies become the end-all, the beauty of it is just gone. Look at what is done to Tennessee Walkers! As much publicity that’s been shown on that front – still nothing has been done to stop the brutality. Dressage? As many have said – it can be the most beautiful display of a human and a horse coming together or downright cruelty. In western disciplines – western pleasure horses come to mind – although pleasure is not the description I would use. Maybe things have improved there – but as long as they reward horses rolling peanuts & scuffling along (lope?) its not pleasurable to watch. (in my opinion)

      • I don’t think they are a pleasure to ride. That lope is too bumpy, and you aren’t going any faster than a fast walk. As for Clinton Anderson, he shouldn’t be allowed around a horse.

      • Certainly the word “pleasure” is far from an accurate description. Now maybe I’m wrong & there have been changes in how pleasure horses “go” – but recently saw one of Julie Goodnights tv shows & the horse that she was working with started out with the scuffle along lope – honestly – just sad looking. Almost as sad as Tennessee Walker’s big licks. Almost.

    • Billie, can you please give us the link to your blog post? I’m not really that familiar with Clinton or his “Method” and would like to be more informed. From what I DO know I wasn’t impressed but my opinion has now descended to the “one step above Big Lick Walkers” level (the absolute MOST evil bottom-dwelling horse abusers on earth)…

  2. I just sent an email to Smark Pak. I was going to purchase a KK snaffle biut from them but wrote and told them that since they sponsored CA that I was going elsewhere with my business.


    On Fri, Jul 15, 2016 at 9:12 AM, Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog wrote:

    > Anna Blake posted: “Fair warning: I’m going to ask you to do a favor for > horses. It will involve some of your time and the money that you spend > anyway. I try to avoid any photos of abuse. I don’t share them because they > titillate perpetrators. Besides, I’ve seen enough cr” >

  3. The internet age has made written complaints (and praise) more important than ever. Facebook is all about posts (writing), which far outnumber videos. A letter or email that reaches a company’s exec or PR head will be more effective than it might have been years ago, because execs and PR people really fear unfavorable FB posts.

  4. Just wrote Cashel. It was 7:30 am, so I had coffee, but I’ll write more companies tonight with wine. I was just about to order new Cashel fly masks, will have to find a new brand. THANK YOU for this post, your easy access to key sites via links, and for inspiring others to use our connected power to advocate for horses. (And for women in the horse world!)

  5. Here’s a thought about the World Cup. If the audience members who see a rollkur rider in the warmup were to stand up and turn their backs to that competitor’s test – it would make a very clear statement! I often find myself walking away from ugly tests, maybe turning my backshould be my new norm.

  6. I could be wrong, but I dejectedly feel that I probably am not. The problem here is money. Follow the money. Competitive dressage needs a big audience to survive. It builds a big audience by rewarding flashy, but incorrectly trained horses that appeal to an audience looking for an entertaining performance. I don’t know how to educate a vast number of people worldwide as to what is correct and what isn’t. The person who came up with “flashical” dressage to describe today’s competitive performances definitely hit the nail on the head. If Reiner Klimke were to repeat his 1984 Olympic round today, he wouldn’t even place. And I absolutely adore that winning ride on Ahlerich!

    • I cliniced with a “big name” classical trainer who refers to the current style of incorrect training (and riding) as “forcemanship” lol.

      The gorgeously free string of one-tempis in Klimke and Ahlerich’s victory lap at the ’84 olympics brinds tears to my eyes every time I see it.

      • Just to end on a bright note – let’s not forget that Charlotte Du Jardin and Valegro’s tactful, sensitive and expressive rides at the 2012 Olympics which won gold and broke records. Here is a quote from eurodressage, from a judge of the freestyle:

        “When asked why the Brit was first and the Dutch second, Stephen Clarke, president of the ground jury and kur judge at C, hit the nail on the head and showed that the judges look for what dressage is truly about. “The first two horses certainly were very close,” Clarke said. “The impression we had was that Adelinde had huge power and expression and for us there could have been more lightness and self-carriage. The horse crosses its jaw, which took down the harmony mark a touch. Charlotte had more self-carriage, not quite as much power and expression in piaffe and passage. One had more power, the other more harmony and self-carriage. Our decision was for the harmony.”


    • I love that ride! It won’t be easy, but lots of horse people watch too. At the Atlanta Olympics, most of the stand were riders. Thanks, you’re right about money. Let’s hope people write emails!

      • I hadn’t read that about Charlotte and Valegro’s Olympic scoring… wonderful. It is so visible when you see them. Thanks for sharing this, it makes my day. Hooray for the good guys.

  7. I had my first riding experience under the gentle hand of a Native American. Before even going near any of the horses I was told that it was a great privilege being granted to be that a horse would allow me to be on it’s back, that it was necessary to respect the horse and that it was cruel to demand or bully to get control. He then had us walk into the corral and see if any of the horses would come to us, they all flocked to him. It made a huge impression on the kid I was. I remember while standing and looking at the horses surrounding him suddenly feeling something tickleing the back of my neck, i could just see a tail swishing out of the corner of my eye so stood very still while I was being sniffed. The chestnut gelding moved around giving me a thorough going over, then bumped my hand gently with his nose, then set his chin on my shoulder. It was a feeling I will never forget. I heard our teacher quietly say, “he has chosen you, you’re doing well.” At first I didn’t understand, I had simply stood there watching. Then I realized that everyone else was trying to coax the horses to come to them, I had been absorbed in watching. We learned to ride with no tack at all first, to become a partner not a controller. It was a marvelous time and lessons I use to this day with my dogs, I’ve never been able to afford a horse, to my sorrow. You’re spot on about speaking up, letting companies who sponsor people and practices that harm horses. To be a responsible partner to horses we must speak, we are their voice.

  8. Oh geez and I just placed an order with Smartpak! It’ll be my last and I’ll tell them why. I observed a clinic CA put on once several years ago, I wasn’t impressed. Have to figure out how to find out who sponsors who, (whom?). Almost 30 years ago at one of the first Midwest Horse Fairs here in Wis. I saw Lois Heyerdahl with her horse Silhouette. I was stunned at the beauty and have been enthralled by dressage ever since though I only trail ride. I’m going to really try to be more careful about who and what I support now.

    • Please don’t say “only trail ride”. Not all horses or riders are naturally good at it, and it’s a skill that can be developed. I recently discovered NATRC, a competitive trail riding organization that judges on the well-being of the horse as well as the skill of the rider. I use the same methods of classical dressage to train for the trail that are the basis for all authentic equestrian sport.

      • Agreed. Not all horses just love a stroll on the trail and it takes skill and sound riding fundamentals to have a good partnership on the trail. You’re right, Curtis. Thanks for commenting.

      • I was “only a trail rider” too. Usually at the trails around the barn where I boarded, but twice we took the horses up to Brookfield (NY) state forest lands with great trails & spent a week. The second year it rained most of the time & we were in tents (dry ones) but boy, the riding was just super. And no not all horses or riders are comfortable being out of an arena & in open space! We were.

    • Lois Hyerdahl was wonderful; she is missed. She as a dressage judge she came to Colorado often, but I never saw her ride. I’m so happy her memory lives. As for being “only a trail rider”, don’t make me laugh. Trail is a very challenging discipline that requires skill and connection. Also the ability to know what to do in unpredictable surroundings. In the end, it always comes down to relationship. Thank you, Sherry.

      • Thanks Anna & Curtis, sometimes I feel less a part of the horse world because I have no interest whatsoever in competing in any discipline. I enjoy being around my horses and I enjoy heading out the ‘back forty’. I live in a rural area, lots of farms and side roads so I don’t even go to the trails, field edges and tractor lanes are enough for me.

  9. I’m a Texan who has never liked CA I applaud your blog quite often, looking forward for your wit and wisdom This one A plus! Western pleasure. Reining, QH looking and moving like toetured souls
    Thank you

  10. Love it, Anna! I needed that, this week – too many disturbing things … not just in the horse world. Will start writing those letters! At least it will feel like I’m doing something!

  11. Anna, I love your books, your blog.. You have made me cry and openly laugh – sometimes simultaneously- you’re a life “enricher.” I am sickened and so deeply saddened by that incident involving the German Shepherd Dog. I avoid all tales as they are eternally part of and for my own sanity; I avoid them at all costs. I have unfollowed people on FB as they post these horrific stories with no ACTION, just an “info session” letting the world know of a sad and horrible situation. I bet I could list every one because they burn in my heart forever. God bless all of those innocents. I do my part to help as I donate to two local rescues and to the ASPCA… I make sure all my animal besties have the best day every day. These include our dog, cat, rabbit, canary, fish, chickens and our horse that is boarded at the best barn in our area. I have had two German Shepherd Dogs in my life. This story has rattled me to the core and I’ve been crying all morning. I’m upset with you for telling it and so very angry toward the perpetrator of this crime. I am hoping against all hope that they have been caught and are bring held accountable and will be punished. I don’t know why I’m writing, I guess just to release some of this anguish I’m feeling. Thank you Anna, for taking all those actions you did regarding that idiot Anderson. Thank you for your love and kindness for all YOUR besties. You make others love them too, through your stories.. Marcia

    Sent from my iPad


    • Marcia, thank you so much. THANK YOU. I’ll begin by saying there was also a photo of the dog’s owner, that he was in custody and told the police what he’s done. He will be prosecuted. It appeared the jaw was okay, he was getting vet care, he was sitting up, relaxed, in the photo.

      I got this same comment three times, from committed readers like you. I was surprised. It wasn’t on my radar–other things were but not the dog reference. How did I miss this? I care very much about my word choice; I think about each and every word. My blogs take me several hours to write, I edit each a dozen times. I have rules. When I write about abuse, not only do I NEVER post a photo of abuse, but I choose a horse eye. For me that is the abbreviation for intelligence, kindness, and all the traits I value.

      So I did want the blog to emphasize that we underestimate the pain involved in Rollkur… There were two sentences about the dog. I didn’t write them to be inflammatory, I wrote them starkly. I did use the word ‘blood’. (Stick with me here. One of the hard parts of writing is picking words that say what you want them to say, please help me, I have missed the mark this time.) (Secondly, I understand you are sensitive and committed. Me, too. I don’t sleep well, I deal with these issues personally, in my home barn. One of the things people tell me all the time is that they could never do what I do because they love animals too much. They could not possibly think I do it because I love them less.)

      I know a blog post has to be brief, I have around 1000 words to way what I want to say. This one was long, 1200 words. If the blog was about the dog, I would said more, but it was about horse mouths. Perhaps I should have left it out entirely. I included it because, like you wanting to release your anguish, it had been in my mind all week, and usually that’s how I know I’m on the right track. This time three of you said no, and who knows how many who didn’t comment. I need to know that, so again, thank you. I’m sorry that my words stung. I will try to be even more aware in the future.

      Then I will add one more thing…because it’s something I know a bit about. Loving animals is a stressful thing. That’s an understatement. When I notice myself crying at a Hallmark commercial (much kinder than this blog) or grouchy with my server, or weepy looking at my Grandfather Horse, I know I’m somewhere near emotionally exhausted, and I do things to take care of myself. So I’m sending you wishes for whatever that is; a cool glass of wine, a day at the beach, a massage… Please take good care of yourself. We can’t do animals any good if we don’t. Again, Marcia. Thank you for your heartfelt comment and I will promise to try to be more aware.

    • I felt horrible for the German Shepherd Anna wrote about and I sure do understand about the FB “info” stories – the drama on FB is the reason I don’t have an account (grandchildren do). Honestly, clicking on the like button really doesn’t do anything to make things better. And the thought of that dog or any other animal being mistreated always gets to me. But, we have to realize that you and I and most of the women (& men) who comment on here all feel the same way. If WE don’t look at the pictures and read the stories – who will stick up for these animals? I don’t buy any horse products anymore – but I bet most of the people on this blog will make their feelings KNOWN about CA & possibly that’s enough to make a change! My attempt to change things means writing comments or letters (actual paper letters!) Mostly trying to publicize what’s happening to our wild horses & burros. That has become my “thing” the past few years & I feel strongly about them.

  12. You are spot-on as usual, Anna, and companies who sponsor CA WILL listen if enough people write! Vote with your feet,” i.e. dollars, but write or call and explain WHY.

    I know whereof I speak: I AM a PR person, and I work with a horse products company. If people contacted us about our sponsored trainer (obviously not Clinton and carefully hand-picked by me) to tell us the affiliation is why they were going with the competition – oh, yes, we’d definitely listen!

    • Thank you, Tracie, for the inside info. I keep thinking that they shouldn’t decide by pro and con votes, but by doing the right thing. A friend assured me that would never happen because $$. Gosh, I hope that isn’t true…

  13. Amen! Horses still have the stigma of “living machinery” attached to them; no one ever asks a cat person what they “do” with their cat. Yet, we all fall into the trap of “training, disciplines, techniques, competitions to prove our excellence” when attracted to horses. Myself included. But when you find yourself supporting a horse you’ve partnered with his whole life though major medical issues, everything slows down. And you discover the essence of that horse. And you discover the best within yourself. This is the equine gift, to see ourselves and train OURSELVES to our best selves, not the horse. The horse will then follow our lead. A revelation once you embrace it.

    • Oh Kate, this is just the biggest truth. Sad that we find out in hindsight, but it does make us better. My old gelding has now been retired as long as he was ridden. Half the time I think he’s taught me more being old and crippled than he did when I was in the saddle. It is all about us molding ourselves into being a good partner… Thanks Kate, love this comment. My living machinery do too. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • You just spoke a huge truth. My partner, Baron, was in constant training from the time I first crawled on. We even took Dressage instruction for a couple years, but I had to quit because of the cost. I would see Dominque do remarkable things with him he rode him, but I had no idea how to get that response. When I asked if he would teach me how, his answer was he trained horses, not people. Years go by and I’m still trying on my own. By now I’m riding bareback with just a pad because my back was too bad to get a saddle on Baron. One day I finally told him, no longer was I going to train on him, I was going to train on myself. When I didn’t get the response I was asking for, I just went on to something we could do. Then that night as I’m soaking in the tub, I ride through what I was trying in my mind and going through what my body needed to be doing to give the proper cue. A couple years later, I realized I wasn’t using the reins as we went through the different exercises. I rode over to the arena fence, got off, and took his bridle off. Climbing the fence again to get on and off we go, We did different speeds in all 3 gaits, large circles, into small circles, a run down the center line with a quick stop and back up, side passes- it just blew me away. The benefit for me was I had learned to really focus, and I got better and was more conscience of my body movements. We learned to listen to each other. It was a beautiful feeling. He is now 26 and I’m 80. My doctor says No to my climbing the pipe fence to get on and ride bareback. Baron is 16.1+. The threat of a nursing home keeps me grounded.

      • It’s amazing what happens to a human when we take their hands away… We have to notice the rest of our bodies. I can’t tell you how many rides I figured out laying in bed after waking up. You and Baron have a perfect relationship, and I agree with anything that keeps you out of a nursing home… you are doing great. Thank you for this beautiful comment, Patricia!

      • What a beautiful picture you put in my mind! I’m only a couple years younger and no longer have a horse – my boy was put down when he was 28 and I miss him every day. I hope you and Baron have many many more years together – I understand the threat of a nursing home! I guess anyone over the age of 75 does. Please know how very lucky you are to still have your horse & be able to be near him. (your dr might be right-maybe)

  14. To make more of an impact, go to the sponsors’ Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages. They pay much more attention to their social media presence than they do email or written complaints, unfortunately.

  15. Anna, I took your advice and wrote to SmartPak, who is one of my favorite companies. I already received a thoughtful response about why they originally chose to sponsor Clinton Anderson, and that their sponsorship and marketing teams met today to discuss my feedback and the video I referenced. She said my feedback “is being heard in a meaningful way.” Thank you for prompting me to take action and not just sigh out loud.

    • I hope so too. Comments on their FB page say that the video was edited to make him look bad, so many defend him. I think I’ll call them early in the week and follow up. Thanks Kari. I appreciate your comment.

  16. I wish I bought stuff so I could write a letter to tell them why I wouldn’t! I seldom FB because of the horrible images and people’s lazy-*ss natures. I used to rant about VOTING!!! and gosh forbid THINKING! versus having an opinion based on hearing someone’s opinion based on someone else conclusion from another person’s perspective on what they heard. People drive me crazy.

    Okay, kinda got away with myself there LOL

    I am eternally grateful for you activists of all kinds; Thank you, thank you, thank you

    • Thank you, Joan. Dang, I do love a rant… I hear you about FB and people are forever adding me to groups without asking me, I am careful what I “like” for the obvious reason. I unfriend people who post abuse photos… Yes, it’s a mess. And without FB I would still have eleven readers. Yes, each of my friends. So I’m torn. FB has broadcast my voice to people who would have never found me any other way… but what about all the swill on FB? I have no answers, just a rant. Thanks, Joan.

  17. Hello Anna,

    I have to start by saying I have a huge respect for your equine knowledge, training and writing ability.

    This subject has really got my attention…

    I have been working in the equine business for the past 25 years. From barn manager to assistant trainer with several successful dressage and hunter/jumper trainers. Then I managed and trained at a large three-day event facility. I have also worked at a cutting horse breeding farm and been responsible for the handling, riding and collecting of the stallions, halter training of the foals and starting the horses in between. I say this all not to toot my own horn but to explain to those who support CA and his methods that I do have a bit of experience behind my opinion.

    There is always more to learn as an equestrian. However in this day of internet beware of the those that think a horse should be man-handled into submission. Unfortunately, CA is not the only “trainer” who uses force to get results. Rollkur, hyper-flexion, face behind the vertical… whatever we call it, is physical ABUSE! It is a simple concept that so many are making excuses for. It does not create a harmonious partnership between horse and rider. The horse that is in pain will not work a cow to his best ability or perform tempi changes with harmony and expression. You may be able to force him into low-level competition but he will not shine and he will not last.

    I stopped using Smartpack last year because I found a better way to supplement but now that you have informed me of their sponsorship of CA I will be writing to them tonight. I plan to go to their social media sites as well.

    Thank you Anna, for suggesting a way to fight back and giving me a forum to vent.

    Anna Walker

    • Thank you, Anna. Great comment! I so agree. Fearful obedience is ugly, there is no art. A horse whose spirit has been suppressed or destroyed, whose eyes are dead…no. Just no. I wish it was as visible to novice riders as it is to more experienced horse people. Thank you so much.

  18. Anna, I took a few days, thinking if I should could or would let you know how harmful i felt that image (a vivid image due to very well written, descriptive words which transfer a vivid picture) was in this very powerful and important post. I did not want you to feel badly, for the intention behind the entirety of the post is so pure and real. I also asked myself why would Anna share such an image? And it became clear to me that when we are haunted and imprinted by suffering, holding it consciously with others of expansive hearts and like mindedness is a way of brining light to the darkness – a way of healing.

    I spent time contemplating what to do with this haunting suffering that lives inside and was triggered by this horrific image. I returned to a core and very simple practice found in the Buddhist tradition, called Tonglen. Breathing in the searing pain, and breathing out its opposite, the very gentle energy of freedom or true joy. Thank you for bringing this living alchemical practice back to my life at a time when it is something I can “do to help.” Because as you say the world is a bit in need right now…

    I also cried beautiful tears of release when I read your -open as the blue sky- response to another community member’s reaction to this portion of your post. My, oh my, the gift of the compassion and empathy, and honesty and love in your words back to her- to us all- are a gift. And yes, when on emotional overload and triggered, tis time to take care of oneself before reaching out to do so for any other being…thank you for that.
    bowing, with palms joined,

    • Thank you, Sabina…For accepting my apology because I am sorry to offend. And again, I didn’t hear it the same way. I worry; sometimes I write and want to evoke an emotion, but more often there are comments that readers are in tears and it comes as a surprise. I honestly can’t tell how words will land. It’s a little like having a horse that randomly bolts. ๐Ÿ™‚ But I do know about breathing through pain, it’s a tradition wider than one philosophy. That’s the breath to share with horses and with each other. Thanks again.

  19. Dear Anna,
    Your words move me. Every time, they move me very deeply. You are an amazing wordsmith but it’s more your love for animals and your hatred for all things cruel are so close to my heart. You manage to put into words that which I cannot. I thank you for that.
    (I will be writing to SmartPak whom I used for years.)

  20. Letters written and many responses already received. Seems companies are scrambling to dis-associate with CA. What a dumbass. I wonder if he thinks the Spanish Riding school knocks the shit out of their stallions as part of their curriculum. I’m seeing a lot of abusive fallout from “natural horsemanship” clinicians locally. I’m vocal where I can be. Thanks for the encouragement.

  21. Thank you, Anna. This post evokes unpleasant images, but folks like me wouldn’t know about them but for your writing. With this knowledge, I can do something about it. And, thanks to all for your suggestions.

  22. I just saw this post this evening. As for the video, the horse looks so unnatural. The hind legs aren’t even coming under him. No way does his movement look free or comfortable. That is NOT how any horse moves in nature!! As for the Spanish Riding School, their horses are quite a bit older before they are even started, so that their best years come when they are in their mid-to late teens.
    Your blog has become my new favorite horse blog. It speaks to how I view my horse and how I view all animals. Thank you, thank you!


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