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  • Writer's pictureLouise Stobbs

Pain during training

Today’s food for thought. I’ve just watched a video of a trainer reassuring an owner they don’t ever use pain during training and that they think using any pain during training is wrong, a sentiment I very much agree with. They were giving the example of never striking a horse with a whip or hitting them to cause pain, yet they had just spent the last thirty minutes yanking the horse around on a knotted rope halter. Do you not think that has the capacity to be painful?


The cognitive dissonance that occurs within the horse industry is really interesting, I think it is largely to do with the fact that they do not vocalise pain like a dog or a cat would. We all know that whips and spurs can hurt, but what about other things that we see day to day and have perhaps become desensitised to?


Horses have a lot of sensitive areas on their face, yet various rope halters and training halters are literally designed to apply extra pressure and make things uncomfortable for the horse. They are marketed as if they’re a kinder option, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are more capable of causing pain than a normal, padded headcollar. Even with the plain rope halters the knots are designed to dig in when pressure is applied. I am not saying they can’t be used lightly, but I am saying they often aren’t.


You might be thinking its fine because the horse chooses to pull and if that causes him pain then so be it. I personally think that, most of the time, there are more ethical ways to achieve things that don’t involve stressing the horse to the point they feel the need to yank backwards on a harsh halter. I also don’t particularly want a horse to comply with what I’m asking because if he doesn’t it means pain.


Another big one that was initially uncomfortable for me to acknowledge is how easy it is to cause pain with the bit. Everyone talks about soft hands but not many people actually have soft hands. It is difficult to have these discussions when so many horses at top level are being ridden with excessive pressure on their mouths and winning, but we must have them if we want to improve welfare.


It still shocks me how casually we talk about horses “pulling our arms out”, if your arms are tired how do you think his mouth feels? There is a pretty eye-opening study where they found 50% of the horses had bit-related lesions after the cross country phase, you can read the study here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8044447/ this is not okay.


Other things to think about are over-tight girths, badly fitting saddles, training aids, tight nosebands and bridles, basically any equipment you put on your horse has the ability to cause discomfort if it doesn’t fit well yet we expect the horse to just get on with it. Not to mention the fact that many horses are already uncomfortable in their bodies.


Is it okay to cause pain just because its unintentional or because we don’t know another way to achieve what we want? Or should we be striving for better? 🐴


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