Tail blocking is pervasive in
reining events and members believe it is a necessity to win prize money.
There seems to be a “cheat to win” mentality
that has become pervasive in the show horse industry1. Tail blocking
is unethical for veterinarians and shows the decay in training programs when
it becomes a necessity to get a horse shown.
It is a cosmetic procedure for the “show
look” being used to disguise heavy spurring and sour minded horses. It can also
disguise soreness in horses for some ailments.
Tail Blocking is painful for the horse
when being done, and they suffer for months following. It must be outlawed.
Tail Blocking is disrespectful and
abusive to the horse, and it is only done for the trainers and owners financial
According to DR KATE HEPWORTH-WARREN, DVM,
DACVIM – the Quiet Tail is “perhaps the most dangerous tail alteration procedure, which
the AVMA defines as “numbing the tail to cause it to hang limply.” This
practice is most often performed on horses competing in Western disciplines,
such as pleasure or reining classes, where horses are penalized for wringing,
raising or moving the tail side to side excessively. “
According to the American Association of Equine
Hepworth-Warren says “Because tail
blocking is considered inhumane and unethical, it is not taught in veterinary schools.
Thus, any individual who performs the procedure most likely has had no
veterinary training and may have minimal knowledge of the anatomy and function
of the tail. If it is performed by a veterinarian, it is unethical.”
It is a cosmetic procedureand if performed is done so for financial gain only by the veterinarian.
Some veterinarians are cashing in on this condemned procedure.
These unscrupulous veterinarians need to be outed and penalized for doing the surgical procedure, whether shown as the procedure or not on the invoice. If they are the attending veterinarian to the training facility or property, they must be reviewed when a horse is tested positive for a block tail.
The Veterinarian Association has a duty of care to
ban Tail Blocking with severe fines, if not barring where done excessively, veterinarians
who conduct the unnecessary cosmetic procedure.
Associations soft handed approach toward tail
blocking is seeing a rise to epidemic proportions. Often boards are run by
trainers. They are compromised in their ability to enforce rules, with
conflicts of interest between owning-showing-training horses and rule enforcement.
This is a serious welfare issue that needs independent testing. Testing
provided by a 3rd party to ensure fair play in the show ring and the
welfare of the horses.
Independent testing is the only pathway as boards are remiss in their duties.
Trainers Tail Block Horses?
Penalties are applied by judges for tail movement that put trainers out of the winners circle or top placings.
Because a swishing tail is penalized in some horse show events, particularly reining classes, handlers sometimes resort to methods, commonly called “blocking” or “nerving” that numb the tail or block the sensation of the nerve endings so it cannot move. Because tail-swishing is often linked to poor training methods, improper use of spurs, or to the horse being “ring sour”, i.e. burned-out on competition.
is means for the horse’s welfare?
The tail is part of the horse’s spine. It is used
for balance as it performs various manoeuvres. It is also used to remove flies
and other biting insects from its sides for comfort. Tails can tell when a
horse is suffering anxiety, frustration or indicate potential illness. It is a
signal used by mares to the advances of stallions and used in herd (two or more
Blocked tails hang lifelessly, rather
than swaying slightly with the movement of the horse. The animal has no way of
lifting its tail to defecate and therefore defecates into its tail. For mares,
they pass urine into their tails and often have bacterial issues in their
uterine as the urine leaks in. This can lead to permanent breeding issues. Some
trainers tie the tail around with string to their neck to save the constant
In some cases, the discomfort of the
injection leads the horse to move stiffly in the hindquarters.
In worst cases, the tail is
permanently damaged and in severe cases infection spreads into the hindquarters
and tails can fall off.
A horse with a blocked tail cannot be left to pasture. They
require full -time care to clean them each time they pass manure. Without the
care they are subject to being fly strike (maggots under their tail) and other
Horses naturally position themselves to urinate and defecate in
such a way that it does not fall/splash on their legs. The mental frustration
of not being able to do that continually mess themselves is torturous.
on Blocked Tails
Horses competing in NRHA reining events, particularly high prize money and title events like futurities are observed to have blocked tails, regularly. Watching the live stream of the recent futurity it was clear the problem is escalating. Members cited in 2018 up to 80%, if not more, of horses competing at the NRHA Futurity event in Oklahoma City had altered tails.
The NRHA has a statement on blocked tails but there is no evidence
of fines or suspensions being given.
As the NRHA is not effectively managing the rules, the matter is
now for public input through petitions to veterinarian associations and law
makers. This is an inditement on the sport and a sad state that those that should
be protecting them have abandoned them. The members are fully aware of tail
blocking and do nothing.
As some say, this is no different to the self-regulation applied to
the Tennessee Walking Horses Big Lick, which is undeniable suffering for the
Be warned: this can be distressing to watch, and its just a sample of what goes on. Are they drugged? Tired? It sure is not normal – or is it?
The rule makers are creating an epidemic of this style of training and showing. It happens that often now they had to add a clause in the rule book – a 5 point penalty for that single run. Reining people have no issue with this – this is what showing reiners is all about.
WATCH THE ENTIRE VIDEO – 2.19 minutes The horses in the video are ridden by top riders and million dollar trainers. The last horse is interesting too.
This maybe a training video for NRHA judges and members to understand what the penalty is applied for, and it was published to the public.
A penalty score of 5 points is applied for this conduct. They may be out of the money on that run, but they are back in the next round pushing the horse to the extreme.
A well managed association would be taking a more serious approach to rule making and the enforcement of rules. But maybe if the rules were enforced as members say ”there would be no-one left showing”.
Should collapsing on their knees be a suspension for six months and banned for it happening twice for over-riding or over-pushing the horse? Should it be an instant drug test? (These horses may not have been in the tiny sample of horses tested at the show that day. If they do test positive they usually get a smack on the hand. Trainers gamble their number will not come up. Reiners have the highest positive drug test results in FEI competition.)
Also, watch their tails and you can see which horses are using their tail to stop and those that lay flat looking a lot like a tail block has been done.
Footnote: When Casey Deary’s horse went down he was applauded as a hero by the NRHA Marketing Machine as they moved quickly to respond to the claims of abuse. Deary himself releasing an NRHA PR styled response as the equine public reeled from what they saw.
The NRHA video has been wiped off the internet but the remaining image says a thousand words.
The most applauded maneuver is the reining slide. Reiners live and breathe to slide their horses every day. Have you ever wondered what it really looks like in slow motion? Have you looked beyond the length of the slide and flying dust to see what the horse is required to do?
The futurity event is the pinnacle of reining accomplishment as they take 3yo horses through a 2 year grueling training program in pursuit of winning the covenanted prizes in Oklahoma City, USA.
When we saw that Russell Guire of Centaur Biomechanics had videotaped a reiner with his high-speed video camera, we knew it would show the real pressure and psychical strain these horses go through. There’s no doubt these horses get a workout in the biomechanics department.
This is one of those videos that you should watch once or twice, then go to full-screen mode and watch it while toggling the stop/play buttons. Watch the neck, the shoulder, the back and the hocks.
Some horses get high level care, but many do not, and that does not mean they are going to be any better off. Watching the video makes it a little easier to understand why Adequan is one of the chief sponsors of the Futurity.
These relatively small horses are carrying a heavy saddle and rider well above the accepted ratio of 20% of the horses body weight. And then asked to turn inside out to slide and stop.
Look at the tail bone and see how much work it does in balancing and helping the horse achieve the sliding stop. Regrettably most tails are blocked these days creating even a great psychical detriment to the horse during the slide.
Many trainers are asking baby horses, just 2yo (some not even that old) to start sliding within 90 days of being under saddle and some by 6 months are boasting about the length of the slide. No wonder so many break down or are running on drugs to enable them to get shown or even stay in training.
Should Reining Futurity age be changed? In more enlightened sports we are seeing horses unable to compete until they are four and five years of age. Psychical pressure like this not asked of horses until they are eight to ten years of age in many English disciplines as they look for longevity of the horse.
Western Horse Mechanics.wmv - YouTube
This video was shot in Great Britain. The rider is Shane Borland, an accomplished European-circuit reiner; he represented South Africa in reining at the 2006 and 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
I’m sure everyone who watches Russell’s video will see something different. But maybe after watching it, you will notice more than you did before the next time you watch a reining horse slide, and maybe you’ll look at some different parts of the horse and consider what they are really asking this horse to do. You may even look at changing your training program, your fitness program or expectations of the horse to ensure longevity.
Following years of controversy over horse abuse and high levels of drugging, the FEI is finally disconnected from the sport of reining.
Insiders at the FEI and connections say that they have been working to find a way to disconnect from the NRHA reiners without bringing a further spotlight on the abuse and drugging and creating further shame on FEI events.
In this latest move, the FEI has terminated their agreement with both the NRHA and AQHA. The FEI issued a statement Tuesday highlighting its position on three provisions of the agreement – classes for horses age 7 and older, stewarding requirements and medication regulations.
The reining horse industry, although promoting they are growing, and their passion for horses have an ever-growing record of abuse and show little evidence of a desire to improve it. The public are becoming more aware of the abuse applied to the training of these horses and are not accepting it.
Everyone remembers the vile video and images of Craig Schmerscal and Martin Muehlstaetter at FEI in Europe where people saw firsthand the degree of abuse these horses suffer. The domination and spurring that makes people skin crawl.
The daughter of a board member Roseanne Sternberg, riding Shiners Chic tested positive to the banned steroid stanozololfailing and was suspended. It is reported in some media that over the period of the agreement, the NRHA has the highest positive drug test results of all FEI sports.
Maybe this is the bell tolling on yet another chapter of reining slowly imploding as the general public step away and those with a conscious toward horse welfare cease membership and involvement.
Behind the plethora of images showing the famous reining horse slide, is a sport that is coming into question more and more by the public and a small number of members within the sport. The Hollywood style images are blinding individuals of having a conscious with lack of care toward the star of all the shows; the horse.
The world has changed with instant media. People are aware and concerned about what is going on behind the scenes of reining; their expectations and tolerance of dated standards are over. The feedback of cruelty occurring is sickening.
As some owners and trainers show a menacing compulsive obsession toward winning, that seemingly crosses the line to no longer caring about the horses; just the prize money and bright lights of the Hollywood style futurity events.
Some well-known industry stalwarts have publicly communicated their distress as hundreds, if not thousands, of 2 year-olds being started world-wide with only a handful coming through. Many dumped within months as trainers look for their next big prize. Some of those horses that fail to make the journey suffering life-ending injuries, others crippled, broken and damaged cast aside by owners that have no interest in anything that is not a futurity prospect. Some poor souls are ending up being slaughtered. One well known top breeder left the sport saying “I can no longer live with what the horses go through, so I am out of the business.”
People raising concerns are publicly ‘bullied online’ for daring to question any practices, training or conduct associated with the sport. Rebuffing any points raised as a lack of knowledge of this what they attempt to call unique sport. Their top statements are:
You know nothing about the sport
You don’t know what it takes to win
You’re not a trainer what you would know
You are one of those PETA or animal rights people
Share the article to Facebook, and they will all appear stating you are wrong.
Outside the bubble of reining, observers are shocked at what it takes to win, and they don’t like what they see. People who are highly experienced horseman and horsewoman from other disciplines cringing.
The prize money is much bigger, and the horse is paying the price.
The reining fraternity is showing no care for public opinion as its vocal members attempt to belittle observers. Their attitude is it is better to attack the evidence-based opinion than acknowledge, little own fix the problem? Some members have shown their outright recklessness denying proven court documents, videos, and images of abuse. Some enablers are holding themselves up as experts of the reining industry. There is a special place for those people as they enable abusers.
Behind closed Facebook walls a well known NRHA person writes but publicly denies any issues.
The saddest of all is the members of the sport are forced to choose their involvement over horse welfare. They write of the pressure applied for daring to speak out they live in fear of being kicked to the curb for daring to comment or acknowledge anything off script to the Kool-Aid Elixir mantra. The ironic statement is seen consistently ‘I can say this as I am no longer a member.’ Others write they are fed up with the abuse and left the sport.
What type of person decides that the welfare of the horse is no longer a priority? Denying science and logic and convinced that horses enjoy coping the excessive spurring and jerking and all other manner of things to control the animal’s movement and thinking. Could it be that the Elixir has been carefully brewed and shaped for many years? An Elixir that appeals to some people that need to idolize and be accepted in the crowd. The only thing in their life is to gain attention through the horse’s success no matter what it costs the horse? People easily awed by the shiny lights and smooth talking trainers.
Long-standing well-respected members write of their concern over the changes being seen in the sport in training styles and treatment of horses. Some cite the horse now is seemingly a disposable product.
One person writing “they pay $100k for the horse – they don’t want a pet it has to win.”
Trainers rule with an iron-fist quickly dismissing any questions of poor conduct with the slickness of a car salesman and with the prowess of well-practiced responses. The NRHA board, stocked with trainers governing the behavior of their cohorts. To the point of welfare, the focus on medications over abuse exists in the rule book as they attempt to block fellow trainers from gaining a competitive advantage through mixtures of cocktails in drugs. The sometimes abusive journey of how the horse gets to the show a seemingly low priority compared to drugging, based on the imbalance of rules in the handbook and enforcement.
As a sport in quarter horse events internationally, the number of members is just some 11,000 with active members lower numbers. It assimilates to being a small cult-like group of people with the obsession of the Futurity and the sensation of sliding. Culminated in the annual pilgrimage to the Futurity.
It is time for the rules to change and the NRHA to show compassion for the horses over the passion for the dollar.
So, you’ve decided to get a reining horse. You have seen the glossy images of horses sliding and those stud horse advertisements. You visited some shows, and wow you are in. You have been told it’s the greatest sport on earth and you want to be part of it. You have heard all about the futurity, and that seems to be the conversation all the trainers want to have. There are horses advertised for sale but its hard to know where to start. Your friends all start advising which trainer is the one to use and what a great fella he/she is too.
So, the first thing that becomes obvious is you need to get a professional reining trainer. Rarely does anyone take on being in reining without a trainer nowadays. These animals require specialized schooling, training surfaces, shoeing if you want to be competitive at even the lowest levels. You also need assistance in finding the right horse – a sound one if that is possible.
You are about to potentially pay $20,000 – $50,000 – $100,000 or whatever sum over to a person that could do whatever they want with your investment or passion and leave you with nothing.
What to know about trainers
From this moment forward is when fools can part with a lot of money only and end up with a broken down, out of fashion horse that is of no value. Trainers have a unique way of dealing with their clients. Many operate on the basis of how much money can they drain from your pocket in pursuit of their personal goal. They want to win a futurity and the owners fund them.
It is much like a pyramid, those at the top get the pick of the crop of clients and horses. They rule the world and convey the view you cannot live without them. They have all the salesmanship of a professional car salesman and operate in an industry with no rules or regulations on how they treat and manage horses and clients outside of the show pen. There is some waffly piece of paper called the NRHA Code of Ethics, but that has as much value as a piece of toilet paper. The NRHA print it, but they do not stand by it in any form. The top trainers can churn and burn clients, and no-one cares what happens to the client or the horse. They have a nickname for all the clients “Next.”
The lower ranked trainers have their own special kind of story. They have learned how to keep horses in barns for a longer period of time, so they feed their families each week. They don’t have the prize money to live off, so they are a good salesman. It’s a survival skill they learn early in the business. They are always on the lookout for what is referred to in the industry as the ‘dinner plate horse.’ An owner that is excited about having a horse in the futurity and dumb enough not to question what is going on. They also come with a healthy bank balance that will hold together for two years.
Then there are those trainers just starting out that talk of great feats of ability as a non-pro and now hang out his or her shingle and proclaim, “Today, I’m a professional horse trainer.” They don’t like working nine to five and decide that a life of training horses is the way to go. Do what you love is what the guru’s tell people to do. They have little experience in managing horses outside of their own, low levels of veterinary knowledge and certainly have not been astride enough horses to add real value to the process. Their fees are a little lighter, but so is the feed bucket the horse will get. They are usually cutting corners on everything, including your horse’s welfare, to keep the lights on in their house.
As recently cited in an article by Rick Dennis “However and for the record, there are a lot of really good horse trainers out there; however, the corrupt, immoral, fraudulent and imbecilic individuals operating within the industry, as well as the ones causing the abhorrent abuses and fraudulent activities, are unfairly stigmatizing the honorable ones. For the record, not all horse trainers are created equally or share the same moralistic values of trust, duty of loyalty, honor and country.”
Isn’t funny that everyone seems to be meeting many of the bad ones and not too many of the good ones these days.
Did you know that thousands of horses are started for the futurity each year? It’s the business of the NRHA – a futurity. Look at the entries that made it through to the event, and the least heard the excuse for a horse not being there is the client ran out of money. Most horses have broken down mentally or physically in the training regime of drilling them numb to complete a reining pattern.
Are references the answer?
People say, get references before picking a trainer. But here’s the thing. The biggest thing you will possibly learn about the reining horse business.
The top trainers have another little skill that no-one new to the industry knows about. The skill of hiding their skeletons and being rid of the evidence. The lesser trainers have the same skill but often not the expertise and political power. The one thing that is standing out to Reining Trainer Engima now is how many people have a civil action against top trainers, and other lesser trainers, for abuse of their horses and welfare problems. Horrific tails of what happened to their animals and the common fact is they, the client, is now exiled from the reining horse industry. To participate in reining, you have to accept the horses are wastage or you’re out on your ear. For people that have a passion for horses and a touch of kindness in their sole, it’s a hard lesson to learn at the suffering of your horse.
Those reporting to RTE their experiences often sought support from the NRHA only to be told it’s not in the rule book so move on. They have a lawyer on a retainer to manage those squeaky wheels called owners. The NRHA ignores what happens outside of the pen, even though one day they decided to publish their Code of Ethics. You have wonder what their intention was.
Another lesson for today
To the newcomer or the unsocialized owner, they would be unaware of the issues in a specific training barn as huge prize money means trainers cannot be questioned – the client is always wrong and just a troublemaker or stupid. No other industry would have such arrogance but reining (and other horse disciplines) prize money brings immunity. This makes reference checking hard, so most people learn through their pocket as they are lured by the salesman.
Back to the purchasing of a horse. Trainers make good money on sales commissions of horses so they can always fit you out with a horse or two or three. They will tell you romantic stories of its breeding and lure you into writing out a nice check.
You finally settle on a horse and after many x-rays and disappointments of failing vet checks (hopefully, you got x-rays) you find your new dream. In fact, the trainer helped you find two. One for you to ride and one for them to take to the futurity – what a great guy/gal.
If you have gone and purchased your own horse and want it trained, just make sure of the following:
Do not put a horse that is not bred by the trainer’s stallion (or tops client stallion) as it will rarely make it. They support their own stock first.
Make sure the person can get along with a mare/stallion/gelding. Some trainers cannot work with some genders.
Be aware that other top clients (ones they have romanced for some time) will always get the winning ride. It’s a loyalty thing – intentional or not. Their horse always gets that extra bit of care.
If the trainer does not get excited about your bloodline – step away immediately. Don’t try and convince them and don’t let them give it a go. Many people report of trainers taking their money only to turn around and say ‘gee I hated that horse’ of ‘I knew that bloodline was useless.’ Nice bit of information to find out after you load it up on the trailer.
What else could possibly go wrong?
You start on the journey, and the expectations are set of what the horse can potentially do. Here in lies the trap.
How do you know if your horse is a dinner plate horse?
Is the trainer really riding the horse or is one of the sidekicks on it?
Is the horse being properly cared for with the right amount of food, clean stable, turn-out time and rugging?
Is the horse stressing being in training, but you are not being told? Does the trainer even like the horse or is it last out to work, if it’s not too late that day.
Is your horse spending seven days in a stall and worked only every couple of days?
You can make regular visits to the barn but that is usually at a set time, and you get a stage show put on every time you visit. Unless you’re an experienced horseman yourself, with good knowledge of welfare and training methods, you can be quickly bamboozled. Remember: they are professional at doing stage shows to clients, they do them all the time. So, don’t think you can catch them out easily. These salesmen have burned some of the best breeders and owners.
Make unannounced visits to the barn during the week. If the trainer does not like it, then bring your trailer. He is in a business that should be working horses daily. Don’t expect the trainer to drop everything and cater to you, but hang around and watch what is happening with all the horses. Stay around at feed time and offer to help. Gosh, the day you visit you may even get to see your horse worked and found it in a stall not tied to a tree out the back.
If you are in doubt your horse is not being cared for or suspect your being led up the path; you can pretty much be sure it is happening. Don’t trust them, don’t believe their stories, verify everything and ensure you regularly visit your horse to oversee its welfare. Good Luck and remember the NRHA is not there for you.
To solve this problem, the NRHA needs to be made accountable or remove their Code of Ethics. Please vote for change.