Recently a video has surfaced and has quickly made the rounds in the social media circuit, I believe it merits some discussion here. The video was made without permission of the videotaped parties, by an organization called Epona TV. According to Epona's website, "EPONA.tv is produced by seasoned equestrian journalists with a special interest in the sciences of biomechanics, learning theory, nutrition, behavior and management." However in this particular episode, I believe that they have behaved more along the lines of an animal rights activist group in the same class as PETA, in that they have used questionable tactics to “out” what they believe to be abusive treatment to animals, and then promote their ideas to sympathetic “animal lovers” who may or may not have background knowledge to make fair or realistic judgments on the material they are presented with. In this particular case, Epona taped the warm up sessions at the FEI World Reining final, and produced a video that they posted online, of reining trainer, Craig Schmersal, schooling his horse in the warm up pen. In their opinion, the video is proof of that fact that Craig is abusive to his horses, and that reining in general is poorly regulated for abusive treatment of the horses.
I have spent a lot of time reading comments on this video, both at the original source, as well as numerous other horse related social media sites, and am completely appalled at the comments, and general level of overall ignorance being displayed in these online environments.
First and foremost, let me say that I believe that this video does not show Craig in any way abusing this horse. He is a professional trainer on a very highly trained horse, at a world class competition, and he is simply doing his job, which is schooling his horse before he goes into a class. Period. Now I am not going to try and explain WHY I believe this is not abusive, because that is not the intent of my post. And, would I recommend that you run out to your backyard pony and start picking up on them like that? Of course not-it would be a recipe for disaster...
I have gleaned a number of comments from a variety of sites that I would like to include here. The first few are in support of Craig and I believe they all make some good points. These comments are few and far between in the 100’s of comments on this video that are out there. If you go looking for these comments, you may or may not find them. Why? Because those people who have posted this video are trying to do everything they can to damage Craig’s reputation, and the sport of reining in general, and are removing them as fast as they are posted. Please read on...
“These horses are the elite of their event and are capable of performing way above the average horse, If this is the worst example of abuse you can find in the sport, I think that the FEI and the NRHA are doing a great job monitoring for abuse and the trainers are doing a great job developing these athletes without abusive training. I am pretty sure that the riders hands and feel are way better than your observation skills. This horse is showing no signs of being abused.”
“I think people are reacting to what they think this feels like in their hands and to their horse, and I am sure if most people complaining tried this on their horse it would react like an abused horse. The trainer is not jerking, he is checking for resistance by picking his hand up.”
“After watching this video SEVERAL times and reading the varied comments I found myself unable to resist commenting. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING this trainer did should fall under the label "ABUSE". Did he school the horse? Yes! Could he be considered heavy handed by some? Maybe! But abusive or inhuman? Hell NO!! This man was simply schooling a horse-nothing inhumane.”
“I watch our horses work every day, and NO I am not seeing the downtrodden look that some of you are. We treat our horses with the utmost respect, and they have a quality of life most people would kill for. What I see here is an edited video used to inflame those who don't understand actual training as opposed to simply riding. Note the distinction here-“ACTUAL TRAINING AS OPPOSED TO SIMPLY RIDING!”
“Maybe to some he is heavy handed, but in general no he is not. This video is simply a product of the bleeding hearts who feel that you can achieve an international level competitor with a special stick, string, or whatever method you feel can convince your horse to do as you please.”
“I always find it funny when people pass judgment on a trainer or even a discipline, with which they do not have any involvement. All of us involved with reining, cutting, or working cowhorse know what it takes to get the job done. And we also know our horses get more pampering than most Beverly Hills house wives.”
“That horse has a life better than me and you. She lives in one of the nicest barns in the world with full time care, spa, vet, and a trainer that loves his job. She understands her job, which is why she has won over 100k in earnings. He does not ask anything that she is not capable of... “
“Anyone who competes at high levels of competition is aggressive, but his horse is well trained and knows her job...he is not abusive he is demanding...big difference.”
“This guy is training a show horse at a high level of competition.”
Now, here are some comments that I found typical of those in support of the video, and to me, display a blatant level of ignorance, that it is hard to believe! I have chosen NOT to post the 100’s of comments that threaten all kinds of abuse on to Craig and his family. They are easily found and are not worth my time or energy to post here: Note my comments in yellow…
“If this is what it takes to make a reining horse….geeze, I wonder how Stacy Westfall ever did it with NO BRIDLE and riding bareback…. and she didn’t have to use the wall to force a slide.” (Do they honestly believe, that Stacy just decided one day to climb on her horse bareback and perform a reining freestyle? Do they not understand how much TRAINING with (AGAST)-a saddle and bridle with a BIT went into this horse in order to be able to do this performance???)
Is that how they train horses to stop? Running them into walls with their head between their legs? Poor horse. (NO! That is NOT how they train horse to stop!! (NO they don’t “RUN THEM INTO THE WALL”! OMG!!)
When he was going backwards, I was thinking of that as a precursor to flipping over backwards. Then he almost ran into a wall! (ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!)
… oh and i just cannot get over the amazing skill of getting your horse to stop like that…. running her into a wall. poor thing hasn’t got a chance…( AGAIN-THESE PEOPLE DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE LOOKING AT!!)
And my favorites…
“And what’s with the giant bandage on her knee?”
“And I forgot…how does he even justify riding her with her knee bandaged???!!! I mean he probably took it off during the performance, but still, looks like an injury waiting to be even more exacerbated” NOT… I so can’t be bothered to explain this…the ignorance is pathetic….
Here is my problem with all this…The MOTIVE with which this video was made, was to deliberately damage one person’s reputation by giving a highly edited glimpse of a situation that is easily misinterpreted by those who do not have the knowledge or background to understand the situation. I take HUGE offence to people passing judgment in this circumstance, and using this as their “soapbox” to cry abuse, and even more so, to use this as excuse to utter death threats and abuse onto an innocent party. It is disgusting and offensive.