I understand how this practise came about; to prevent the tails of horses ploughing fields from becoming entangled in their harness. However, how many horses with docked tails nowadays are ploughing fields? Furthermore, driving horses compete all the time with full tails. Sometimes *gasp!* they even win! On the other hand, I can understand how a tail could possibly get in the way of a harness. A) if you've done your prep work with your horse, you should have no problem reaching over and untangling the harness, or even leaving the tail a little tangled, until you can get to it (just as an example, all horses under my tutelage learn it's okay to have a rope under their tail or things tangled about their butts). B) if you really have that much trouble with it, simply braid your horse's tail! On the track, we reguarly braided up our horses' tails when working in mud. Took all of...yea maybe 30 seconds. I do admit to not ever haven driven horses though, nor having ever ploughed any fields behind a draft. SO, I admit, perhaps I am missing something and the odd plough horse does require a docked tail so as to work more efficiently. However those horses (perhaps docked for a legitimate purpose) are much more limited than the number of docked tails we see around. Not only is the procedure itself painful, but a horse uses its tail for a variety of purposes - balance, body language, signals, fly-swishing, etc. Our "fashion show" should not trump a horse's natural need for its tail. My theory is that if a horse doesn't need a tail...it wouldn't have one in the first place!
Aaah, this one's quite controversial, because there are many who seem to believe nothing is wrong with the practise. After all, it's only temporary, right? In this case, the major motor nerves of a horse's tail are injected with alcohol so as to affect the horse's ability to lift, or even move, it's tail. This is done to prevent a horse from wringing its tail - something a horse will do if experiencing discomfort, pain, frustration, or annoyance. Some horses have it done because their tails are too "natural" looking. Wouldn't want our horses to express themselves now, would we? Of course this has inherent risks to the horse. First off, injecting a horse can introduce infection. Tail circulation is poor (considering) and thus any injuries are slow to heal and infections can persist and spread - into the leg, into the back, etc. Soon, you have a dead horse on your hands. That's just the possible worse-case-scenario. Short-term, the horse loses the ability to move its tail for a few weeks or months...sometimes permanently. As previously mentioned, horses need their tails. That's why they are there. In other scenarios, untargeted nerves are hit mistakenly. There is just so much risk - and for what? A ribbon? I would rather be known for standing above, for refusing to risk the life and best interests of my horses by sinking to the level of competitors who are willing to block their horses' tails.
Chemicals Under the Tail
Chemicals like...ginger salve. It's a chemical irritant that is placed in the horse's rectum and generates heat. I can recall, as a kid, hearing about various substances being placed in horses' rectums at shows so that they held their tail in a permanent "banner" carriage (such as shown above). Ordinarily, a horse will only carry its tail in such a fashion when excited; afterwards, they will of course relax their body - spine included. Since the tail is an extension of the spine, the tail relaxes as well and thus lowers. So, we introduce an irritant. The horse, experiencing irritation and pain, lifts its tail and carries it as such in an attempt at avoiding the discomfort and pain. Cruel?
I fully admit I am unaware as to the appropriate names for these tails...but those look far from natural, even if they are show-winning
Other Tail Procedures
I am not fully aware of all the procedures out there, but manipulation of the Paso Fino tail is apparently a common one as well. I am not sure of how the specific tail shapes are achieved (my theory involves broken bones - anyone care to educate me?), but it can't be in the best interests of the horse.
Thanks to drug-testing, I hear that tranq'ing one's horse prior to competition is not as common as it used to be, however it still obviously exists and there are loopholes. Look, if you have to drug your horse for it to perform for you, you've got a problem with your part-ner-ship. The ultimate solution to an overly-excited, unmanageable horse, or a horse that is too fast in the show ring, is prior and proper development - of both the horse and your partnership with said horse. Drugging an animal is neither in the animal's best interests, nor is it in yours.
I hear this is still rampant, and it most certainly occurred when I was showing in my teens. This is most prevalent on the APHA and AQHA circuits, particularly in the WP classes. In this scenario, horses are left tied in their stall, often overnight. Their heads are tied far high above the level of their withers (the height a horse should normally be tied at) so that their necks are stretched upwards and thus their muscles fatigued. In this fashion, said horse will have a tired neck come morning and will thereby carry it at a more appropriate "show" (read: fashion) level in their class.
I hear the trend of exhausting a horse prior to displaying it to the public is not only occurring in the training world (trainers putting on demos), but also in the show world. People longeing their horse incessantly the morning of a class or riding it heavy the day prior, to ensure a calm horse come showtime. Same as with drugging a horse, if you have to exhaust a horse prior to riding it - perhaps it is time to re-evaluate your partnership with this horse, why it doesn't want to work with you, and your methods of training said horse. Just throwing it out there. Same follows for neglecting to feed or water a horse several days prior to a competition to ensure it lacks fight come show day. Or, drawing blood from a horse prior to a class to cause it to be anemic, and thus tired. Take a good, thorough look at your practices, because there are plenty of individuals out there NOT partaking in these practises who can win, or even who can put on a demo riding their horse bridleless. Horses that were former problem horses or presented their own respective challenges in the past as well. Developing a partnership takes time, and there are no problem horses, only problem riders. One shouldn't have to stoop to these levels to compete on a horse and if someone can do it bridleless, heck, you can definitely do it with a bridle!
Fishing Lines as Draw Reins
I very much doubt this is being done at the higher levels and I imagine it presents a false look to the flat-necked the judges look for. If a horse braces against said "invisible" draw rein, the horse's neck will obviously be rounded and tense. I'll go into more detail on such tools in the future, but personally I see any tool such as draw reins as an unnecessary shortcut and crutch (as a whole, on average). For those who believe they are a useful tool - do your prior and proper preparation so that they are only that - a useful tool to prepare your horse for the show ring or in extreme cases on certain horses. They should not actually accompany you into the ring (as evidenced by...well...rules).
In the racehorse world, a tongue tie is used to prevent a horse from getting his tongue over the bit and then swallowing his tongue as the jockey pulls on the bit. In this way, it also gives the jockey more control, because the horse cannot get its tongue over the bit. It is also supposed to help horses that have troubles breathing running because their tongue is inhibiting proper respiration, by keeping the tongue flat against the floor of their mouth. It can consist of any number of materials - we usually simply used vet wrap twisted into long strings. We'd wrap the tongue tie around the horse's tongue once or twice, then tie the ends under the horse's jaw, thus keeping the horse's tongue flat. A horse, just as a human, naturally carries his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth, sliding saliva to the back of the throat and allowing for effective swallowing. Obviously a horse with his tongue tied down is somewhat inhibited from doing so. Supporters of the tongue tie claim the tool is absolutely harmless and painless. Well, time for a little experiment. Lower your own tongue flat against the floor of your mouth, and hold it there. See how long it takes before you have to swallow - except, oops, you can't, because you are not allowed to lift your tongue! From my own personal experience with tongue ties, the horses always resisted having them put on, and a good 95 percent or more would have bitten their tongues during the race - due entirely to the tongue tie. The tongue tie would be the first piece of equipment we'd remove, and it was nearly always a bloody mess. Now, I hear that some horses in the show world, such as WP, are wearing some version of tongue ties - a rubber band around the tongue (not tied around the jaw, so not visible to judges), to ensure their tongues lie flat. Obviously this is another contraption designed for our benefit, not the horses'.
Posterior Digital Neurectomy. I understand that humans often undergo this procedure (such as in individuals with Carpal Tunnel Sydrome), however I would be rather suspicious of doing it to a horse who has no choice in the matter. This is often a matter of personal preference though, rather than of ethics. My reason for feeling this way is that if you de-nerve a leg in the event of an incurable lameness, for example, what are you possibly setting your horse up for in the future? If he cannot feel his leg, he cannot possibly avoid some possibly dangerous situations. A parallel example is with a racehorse whose legs have been numbed - he might run until he breaks down. On the other hand, it may permit your horse living a number of additional years, pain free. Yet, are we keeping the horse alive for his sake, or for our own emotional purposes? Personally, I think I would rather have my horse euthanised (I suppose only being in such a situation will truly tell though). Where this matter could cross into a matter of ethics, is when people insist on continuing to compete on a horse who has been de-nerved. Not ethical whatsoever in my books, because a horse in competition is placed at larger risk of injury after a PDN than a horse simply living out his life in pasture. Horses do not desire to show - they do not lust for fame or monetary gain. That is an entirely human trait. If one is having their horse undergo a PDN for the horse's sake, then they should have no problem not competing on said horse - possibly placing the horse at an increased risk - for the horse's benefit.
Apparently some individuals find it necessary to inject saline or air beneath their horses' skin so as to fill in sunken-in areas, particularly on older horses. Why can we not simply age naturally, and allow our horses to also do so? Have any of these individuals ever felt what it feels like to have saline or air beneath the skin? Somehow...I doubt it. Just for those wondering minds - saline burns, particularly if you are extra-sensitive, as I am. Large amounts of saline really burn. The amount necessary to inject beneath a horse's skin to appropriately fill in sunken areas would be particularly uncomfortable to a horse. So would air. Hence the reason neither substance is actually found in large quantities beneath the skin (surprise!).
A horse working deep and round
This is a long and in-depth topic, and I would recommend anyone interested as to why and how Rolkur harms the horse, to check out Sustainable Dressage (even if you are not involved in dressage). To sum it up, it essentially involves the rider (some very top level riders included) working the horse "deep and round" - nose to the horse's chest - purposely. It is a method very damaging to the horse physically when used for long periods of time. Another training tool lacking in benefit to the horse.
What is it about human nature that we feel it so absolutely necessary to submit an innocent animal to such abuse? Why must we disfigure and have our horses undergo harsh training methods or tools, for the sake of a ribbon or money? What does that say about us?
I am sure, as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, that I am merely nicking the surface. There are a lot of additional abusive practices out there occurring in today's show world (we'll talk about Saddlebred practices in a whole other blog this week). On that note, if you are aware of other practices, please note so below. I understand too that this post may encounter its critics, that the observers of the above traditions and practices believe they are doing nothing wrong. My first motto, however, is "do unto others as you would have done unto you". Imagine yourself experiencing any of the above procedures. Our horses have no choice in these matters, thus it is our responsibility to ensure their best interests are observed, at all times. Furthermore, think for yourself! Just because the pro's are doing it does NOT make it right. The professionals we admire in the horse world are only human too - humans often motivated by money, fame, careers, and winning a class - they are not infallible and are not always looking out for their horses' best interests either. God may have put animals here on this earth for our use, but he most certainly did not condone our abuse of them.
Okay, time to hit the hay before my brain starts malfunctioning on me at such a late (or early?) hour...if it has not done so already (you be the judge). Before I go though, here are a few of the sources and links I found helpful (other than the ones already posted in links throughout the blog):
Forum on tail-blocking Response from an individual who is an experienced (including Worlds) AQHA show steward involved in the AQHA world for 55+ years
Wikipedia Saddleseat tail-setting explanations
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Equine Cosmetic Crimes and other Tails of Woe A 2003 report by Sandra Tozzini documenting some of the abuse experienced by show horses; a very well-sourced essay.
The rest are sourced throughout the above blog!
Check 'em out for your own research purposes as well, as I merely touched on the above topics. There is much more information to be found - too much to be listed here. If you're an owner with a horse in full-time training and who is being shown by your trainer, take a vested interest in your horse and DO YOUR RESEARCH.