Traumatic Horse Training: Can You Spot Abuse?

When do horse training methods cross the line from accepted to abusive? Despite significant advances in scientific knowledge about horse welfare and behavior, abusive training still occurs.

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Traumatic Horse Training
Horses that have suffered training abuse might build lifelong associations with those negative experiences. | Photo: iStock

When do horse training methods cross the line from accepted to abusive? 

Breaking. It’s what our industry calls training a horse to be ridden, driven, or led with a halter, to accept tack and direction beneath or within it. But some trainers and riders have taken the word quite literally: breaking a horse of undesired habits, breaking his will to resist the confines and pressures of saddle and bridle … even breaking his spirit to flee perceived danger.

Suffice it to say, people haven’t always looked out for the horse’s best interest—physiologically and psychologically. But as society becomes more aware of animal welfare issues and as science reveals more truth about what horses experience in terms of stress, pain, and learning, training is evolving. And, on the whole, say our experts, equine education has become gentler, more conscientious, and, gradually, more guided by scientific principles.

But for all that, horse training is still sometimes far from ideal, they add, reporting that some trainers approach it ­incorrectly—leading to harmful consequences for the horse. And training abuse can occur in the elite competition world, leisure riders’ backyards, and everywhere between

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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