When does control become abuse?

I’m sure a lot of you have seen this photo floating around on facebook

FEIlegal

The first time I saw it I thought “hear, hear” but then moved along on my merry way and didn’t give it a whole lot more thought.

I love horses, that much is 100% true. But I’m also not a total bleeding heart. They are big animals with minds of their own and I understand that not every horse can go in snaffle. I don’t have a problem with “big bits” in theory, and I generally believe the adage that a bit is only as severe as the hands holding the reins. I also believe that upper level competition often requires a little more “whoaing power” than us peons down at the lower levels would need, especially on XC where they need to go from high speeds to slower speeds as quickly as possible. However – I do think that there’s a line between what is acceptable and what is just plain abusive. When this picture of Marilyn Little and Scandalous at Boekelo popped up on the internet, I admit to being a bit horrified.

MLbit
Photo: http://www.equipefoto.de

A double twisted wire gag, with one rein, a lever noseband with a chain under the jaw, and a running martingale. That combination is enough to set any horseman back on their heels a bit. But the nail in the coffin? The evidence of blood in the mouth.

This isn’t the first time that the internet has been set ablaze by ML and her bitting choices. The very first one that I remember was not long after she made the switch from show jumping to eventing and this photo appeared on the cover of Practical Horseman. Hard to see here, but yes that’s a chain flash. Never seen one before. Never seen one since.

MLchainflash

Her bitting choices are known to be on the less conventional side. That lever noseband with the chain under the jaw makes an appearance on her horses quite often, as do somewhat unconventional bits.

MLwirebit

There’s no doubt that she is a great rider and highly successful. I totally understand that sometimes there are strong horses that require something a little outside of the box. I don’t understand what’s going on when the majority of the horses in one barn end up in these kinds of contraptions, especially when they end up bleeding from the mouth. I also totally understand that sometimes horses bite their tongues (granted, I have never seen it, but I know it happens on rare occasion). I REALLY DON’T understand how the same rider could have blood in yet another horse’s mouth at yet another competition only a week later.

link (edited 10/28: the professional photographer that took the most damning photos has had them removed from facebook, so this link is no longer active. You can still reference another photo below, you just have to zoom in.)

There’s another angle here where you can see it very clearly as well, in case there’s any question about the authenticity of the above photos.

This looks bad for us. Real bad. The first time raises some serious eyebrows. The second time establishes a pattern. There’s a trend here, and it’s not a good one. I might not make any friends with this post or this statement, but it has to be said:

What in the holy hell is going on here?

WHY has the same rider had two horses with blood in the mouth, at two competitions, on two continents, within one week of each other, and gotten away with it both times? If we’re just missing it – how do we catch it? How do we punish it? And more importantly – how do we prevent it? If this can happen, multiple times, with zero consequences, something is very very wrong. Somehow we seem to have forgotten that the welfare of the horse is the first priority.

I chose ML as the subject here because so many pictures like this have surfaced in the past week, but it’s certainly not fair to throw her into this alone, because she’s not the only one to end up with blood on her horse in competition. There have been incidents like this showjumper and this dressage rider, where blood was noticed and they were immediately eliminated. And of course Steffen Peters’ elimination from the World Cup that happened earlier this year because of bloody spur marks. The difference is that those instances were dealt with appropriately and these with ML have not been. Blood in the mouth and bloody spur marks cannot be allowed to happen at any level without some kind of penalty. So how do we make sure that we’re catching it every time, especially in eventing where the rules are so vague?

The FEI eventing rulebook only addresses blood in one brief and fairly vague section:

526.4 Blood on Horses

Blood on Horses may be an indication of abuse of the Horse and must be reviewed case by case by the Ground Jury. In minor cases of blood in the mouth, such as where a Horse appears to have bitten its tongue or lip, or minor bleeding on limbs, after investigation the Ground Jury may authorise the Athlete to continue.

It seems like in both of these recent cases that the blood was not noticed and not investigated. The USEF rules for eventing are even more vague and don’t address the issue of blood in the mouth at all.

4. SPURS—Spurs must not be used to reprimand a horse. Such use is always excessive, as is any use that results in a horse’s skin being broken.

5. BIT—The bit must never be used to reprimand a horse. Any such use is always excessive.

To add fuel to my own personal fire, I came across a couple more rules and rule change proposals yesterday that made me wonder what exactly we’re thinking.

The first was this – a USEF rule change proposal for dressage.

USDFruleproposal

which seems to be targeting bridles like this in particular

followed by this note, put out by a USEF Steward General to other stewards:

“I am attaching a few updates that have been clarified for me by the FEI regarding tack, that have to date, not been added to the FAQ’S online.

The first is regarding the accepted diameter of a snaffle bit that is allowed in competition. After much discussion regarding the verbiage in the FEI Dressage Rules and the lack of language in the FEI Eventing Rules, the FEI has notified me that there is no legal minimum requirement as to the diameter of a snaffle bit allowed in competition.

The second is regarding the new bridles that are being seen. One is manufactured by Stubben as the 2500 Freedom, and the other is being called an “ear cutout” by the other manufacturers. Both have been declared illegal by the FEI.

Thirdly, please be aware that “attachments” to the bridle of any kind are illegal.

So… there is no minimum diameter of a bit, but we want to ban the use of bridles or attachments designed to make the horse more comfortable? This is the Stubben bridle in question:

Ugly as sin, no doubt, but what about it is so detrimental to the horse or the sport that it becomes necessary to ban it from dressage competition? The idea is not that dissimilar from a Micklem. Shouldn’t we be embracing changes and advances in technology that could make our horses more comfortable? I also don’t understand what’s so bad about a poll cushion or similar “attachment”. A system that allows a rider to go unreprimanded after having two bloody mouthed horses two weekends in a row yet wants to ban anatomic bridles REALLY has me scratching my head. I have to wonder why it seems like the priorities in these rules are so, well… backwards.

The obvious question is – what do we do?

OneVoice

First, we have to care. Second, we have to be heard. Third, we have to come up with solutions. Maybe we need to start by defining our rules more clearly. Maybe we need to have stewards at the end of each phase specifically to check the mouth and sides of the horse. Maybe we need to be more proactive about penalizing those who toe or cross the line, regardless of who they are. Maybe we need to remember why we make rules in the first place. I don’t have the answer and I don’t know how to solve this problem. But make no mistake, this cannot keep happening. As soon as we cross the line into looking abusive and forget about horsemanship, there is no more sport.

To those who see pictures like these and would rather just keep quiet, make excuses, or turn a blind eye  – you are part of the problem. We have to stand up, speak out, send emails, write and submit rule change proposals… do something. One voice gets lost. A lot of voices put together can make a difference. How do we fix this?

 

136 thoughts on “When does control become abuse?

  1. This became quite a heated debate on facebook in my feed the other day…I usually dont partake in these but I loved that you posted rules and facts to back up what you’re opinion is and not just making a blanket statement. Really well written 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hear you loud and clear on this one! I used to work for the USEF in the high performance office, and I can tell you that the FEI is out for the FEI and its own interests, not necessarily the horses or the competitors. Getting them to do ANYTHING is like pulling teeth. At the national level, USEA CEO Jo Whitehouse is actually a good, rational human being who will hear you out when it comes to these types of concerns. I would encourage people to shoot her an email or call her on the phone to discuss this issue – I’ve had several good experiences with Jo over the years. However, a rider like Marilyn Little is going to be protected because she’s winning and producing good results at the international level. The state of US eventing on the international stage is quite frankly embarrassing at this point in time (thank you, Captain Mark Phillips, for flushing our team down the tubes) so we need all of the good results we can get. Olympic/PanAm/WEG entries are on the line. There are a lot of people banking on the USA getting to send a team to these global championships. A lot of money on the line. A lot of ridiculous politics. A whole lot of egos. It should be about the horses, but frankly at the upper levels, a lot of times it isn’t.

    The new dressage rules just leave me scratching my head in confusion! WHY?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And exactly what you’ve said here is exactly why I find it so infuriating. Playing favorites to the point of ignoring horse welfare is the opposite of horsemanship. I do agree about USEF being willing to hear us out though – I have submitted rule change proposals before and they were very helpful with the process.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. You have no place to comment on another rider’s system. Especially not one who is as successful as Marilyn. As a groom at the FEI level I’ve seen the behind the scenes and Marilyn’s horses are not being abused in the least. They are strong horses and she needs control.
      So you can comment after you’ve won a gold at the Pan Am Games, won a few Grand Prixs and gotten multiple horses to Rolex

      #TEAMML

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      1. That’s terrible horsemanship, IMO and an extremely sad way of looking at horse welfare. There is a huge difference between a strong horse and having two horses bleeding from the mouth at two shows in a row. I am shocked that any horseman would feel okay about bloody mouths, regardless of whether they’ve won a hundred medals or none at all. I really hope that your opinion is not the new attitude that upper level eventers and their support crews are taking, because if so then our sport is doomed. If we as a collective are willing to stand there and say that this is okay, we have failed our horses and our sport massively. Blood is never okay – period.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. “You have no place to comment on another rider’s system. Especially not one who is as successful as Marilyn.” Are you kidding me? Did you even read the blog?? Because she’s Marilyn the blood in the mouth should not be commented on?? That’s the whole point of the article. And news flash, I don’t care if you’ve won Badminton and Burghley back to back, that does NOT excuse abusing your horse like that. And I’ve groomed for actual Olympians and not one of the 14 horses in his barn ever came back with blood in their mouth and some of those horses were like freight trains so save me that lame ass excuse. You ‘Emily’ are part of the problem, not the solution.

        Liked by 5 people

      3. Ridiculous comment. Everyone is entitled to comment on ‘another riders system’ whether it be positive or negative.
        Yes horses are big and powerful etc etc, but If this kind of ‘control’ is required to be successful at this level then it’s the riders short comings and the horse shouldn’t be the one to suffer. No better than a circus and is a bloody embarrassment to the equine world
        If the winning required the riders comfort and freedom of movement (and breathing) to be compromised aswell as piercing the skin to the point of drawing blood I think a different view would be taken. I certainly have 0 respect for anyone shameless enough to employ these tactics.

        Liked by 3 people

      4. It just shows what type of horseman this person is and she actually does not care about her horse and only cares about winning and she will do anything to achieve that goal including abusing the horses. They say your horse is your mirror and if she needs that much tack to communicate to her horse then we can certainly see what type of relationship they have which looks to be based on fear intimidation and awful harsh tack to control her horse people ride around bridless jumping with control and have a great relationship and the horse is totally submissive this just shows this lady does not understand how to communicate to her horses

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      5. ALL horses are strong! Developing horsemanship skills so they understand your aids IS the basics. It seems the Olympic level riders, across the board, have forgotten this. Most horse sport these days is sickening to watch. Bridleless is not a gimick, and if someone can compete and control their horse with a neck rope, let them! So this begs the question, if bridleless is not a gimick, then why do these riders need to fill their horses mouths with metal and clamp their mouths shut? YES, I have ridden jumpers and evented, I’ve heard all the lame excuses, and fell for them at one time. NONE OF THOSE EXCUSES ARE VALID OR TRUE! Whenever I see a horse over bridled and usually over bent, the first thing I think is they need to go back to basics. Somebody skipped a few lessons, as in HOW TO USE YOUR DAMN SEAT!
        I trained my own mare to Prix St George and evented her a little. And in that process, used less caveson, less bit and virtually no leg. In the end the double bridle was really just for show. All I had to do was pick up on a rein and slighly close a hand, IF she ignored my seat! I never had to death grip that mare. Schooled and trail rode in a halter frequently. She had about 5 speeds of hand gallop, all achievable with a barely noticable half halt. Judges would comment on the float in my reins and the lack of movement of my legs, in a positive way! What the hell happened?

        Liked by 1 person

      6. What I loved about the eventing community, is that no one cares how expensive your tack and equipment is. No one cares how expensive your outfits are, or if you match or not. No one cares if your tack matches. No one cares what breed of horse you are on, and how much that horse cost. What mattered was your horsemanship, and how you rode.

        I find it appalling that this is acceptable, and people are turning a blind eye to it. As Jim Wofford says, when violence begins, art ends. Blood in the horse’s mouth, is NOT ACCEPTABLE.

        So this is OK, because it is a successful upper level eventer. It is OK, because those of us at the lower levels, have no clue what it takes. It is OK, because we have never ridden the horse (more than 1 horse I would like to add).

        Too much blame shifting. You cannot change what you do not acknowledge. SHAME ON YOU for thinking this is ok, and turning a blind eye. It should ALWAYS be about the horse, period. There are THOUSANDS of eventers out there, the top 3 eventers in the world, don’t even use contraptions like this for control. Many ride very strong, very eager, very powerful mounts who love eventing as much as their rider, and none of them use shit like this in their horses mouths. Just M.L as it appears. So why is that? Why is it, only one eventer out of the masses, have to use bits that cause a horse’s mouth to bleed? To have to use curb chains? Why? Makes me wonder….when there are such a large number of eventers who ride just as powerful, eager, strong horses, who don’t.

        So, let’s take a look at many other eventers, who have won the Pan Am Games, and Gold Medals, and took many horses to Rolex, and who have won many awards in the sport of eventing. Let’s see how they do it, without massively bitting their horses up like this. I mean, if they can do it…..why can’t someone else?

        “But”, “But”, “But”, “But” is all I hear.

        So, if this were a bicycle chain bit in this horse’s mouth – would it still be acceptable? Would it still be just tickety boo and how dare you?

        So…..where’s the line drawn? There has to be a line……..

        Liked by 7 people

      7. You are obviously an enabler!
        That’s just as bad as the woman doing this to her horse!
        I don’t need any trophies to know cruelty when I see it.
        There have been plenty of other successful riders who haven’t needed to use such harsh training methods which draw blood! Yes, she has been successful, but I’d pay money to see her try and ride using skill instead of pain to make her horse do as she asks. That is not skill. That is simply barbaric!
        This is sickening! Absolutely appalling.

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        1. What knowledge are you possibly basing this on? One photo? If you’re going to base your entire opinion of a rider’s training and riding practices, be sure you apply the same judgement to Carl Bouckaert (http://horsetalk.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/blood-carl.jpg), Jock Paget (http://horsetalk.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/jonathan-paget-clifton-lush-SF.jpg), Karim Florent (http://eventingnation.com/eventingnation.com/images/home/wegblood4.jpg), Callie Evans (http://cdn.eventingnation.com/eventingnation.com/images/2014/08/blood-640×425.jpg), and many others who have had mishaps on course. If you wouldn’t react the same way to these pictures, then you need to take a step back and think about this.

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      8. Emily, Any decent person can see this is animal cruelty. Defending this type of abuse says alot about you as a person. Anybody who needs to ride with such hideous equipment, and repeatedly causes the horse to bleed from the mouth, lacks both compassion and skill as a rider. Who this woman is has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Cruelty is still cruelty, no matter who does it. Thankfully this disgusting excuse for riding is on its way out, the public will not tolerate blatant abuse of a living creature.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Maybe she needs to learn to ride better. Even strong, talented horses can be trained to work in humane bits. It requires training and discipline by the rider (not abuse) but can be done. These gadgets are a replacement for proper training and should not be tolerated.

        Liked by 1 person

      10. I’m sorry but WHO are you? Your a groom not a competitor or trainer. Just because someone is successful in competition doesn’t mean they are doing it ALL in the best interest of the animal. We’ve all heard the horror stories about soring horses to get more action or the things they do to racehorses that gets overlooked all the time. I have my own frustrations with my jumper but I never think along the line of adding more equipment to fix the problem. I think of my own abilities first and what I may be doing wrong and then to my horse and what he may be misunderstanding or needs more training on. The thought process of “more is better” needs to end! If a horse can’t be controlled on a safe and comfortable piece of equipment then maybe the horse isn’t the type to be in this sport.

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      11. I dont know Marilyn personally so I don’t think it’s fair to comment as to whether or not she cares for her horses or not. However, the comment that the horse most likely bit it’s tongue doesn’t hold water. Especially with the fact that this has happened 2 weeks in a row. I’m sure she has talent or she wouldn’t be competing at this level. However, as someone else pointed out, most other top riders are not using bits of this severity. I don’t like going on hear say. In fact I hate it! So putting all that aside we need to look at the facts and the facts are seen in the photos. This horse is NOT enjoying his job. His happiness and comfort is obviously not being put first which is what every animal deserves. It’s great that people are talking about this but let’s do one better and DO something about it. Amanda, I think your the perfect person to set forth change in the sport. Be an advocate. Start a petition to make changes in the sport. A petition for stewards that are impartial. Hired from an outside source. How much more could it possible cost to bring in one person to evaluate horses and riders for one day of a show?! Or start a petition for USEF and FEI to answer to why she wasn’t disqualified? Or why her horse wasn’t looked at? There’s too many excuses being thrown out there. Another idea is to ask ML to answer to these questions. If she has nothing to hid and cares about her reputation than she’ll have no problem answering to these disturbing photos. Thank you Amanda for getting the ball rolling! Let’s keep the momentum up and make a lasting difference!

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          1. ATTENTION
            Thank you Amanda!!!
            Amanda has started a petition on the petition site. However I must say I’m pretty disappointed to see only 4 signatures which includes mine!! You are all so passionate about your posts please take one more step and help to really make a change. Sign and share, post and let your friends and family know. Even if they aren’t “horse people”. Most decent people don’t want to see any animal mistreated. Here’s the link again.

            http://www.thepetitionsite.com/372/152/594/eventing-is-not-a-blood-sport/

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      12. Strong horses are just confused horses. I have seen out of control horses that were so afraid of the bit pain, with no idea of how to give to pressure, try to constantly run through it. I have seen their riders use more and more hardware and the horse just get worse all the time and need more hardware!. Its a cycle. I have seen the same riders participate in some natural horsemanship clinics and then have that B.F.O. moment about why the horse is fighting them and then throw away their gadgets and re-educate their horses with better techniques to end up with brilliant and co-operative horses.

        Often top riders just climb up the ranks and are never exposed to anything other than competition trainers who just use the same old techniques and gear. They never get to see the amazing things happening outside their world. They need to get out more!!! There is a big wonderful horse world out there who don’t use hardware and whips but because of the FEI rules forcing them to use such gear and old fashioned hoof protection that they don’t agree with, will never be seen in top competition. Shame on the FEI for keeping training in the dark ages and preventing brilliant horses from reaching the top.

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      13. Wow, Emily, I am not sure how to interpret your comment:

        1 – It is OK to abuse a horse as long as it results in a gold medal?
        2 – Only top riders understand the cruelty required to obtain their rank?
        3 – Us lowly folk can’t possibly comprehend that blood=OK when you are Marilyn Little?
        4 – If only the good would keep quiet and go on doing nothing, evil can continue to triumph?

        In any case, thank you for enlightening us as to the type of attitude that surrounds top riders.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. ATTENTION!!!!
          I posted this yesterday but I want to make sure everyone knows. Amanda has started a petition concerning this issue. Please sign and post it to your Facebook page and email it to all your contacts. If the petition doesn’t get enough signatures it will close.
          Thank you again Amanda for taking the time to help make a change for the better!
          Here’s the link
          http://www.thepetitionsite.com/372/152/594/eventing-is-not-a-blood-sport/

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      14. I’ve never understood this logic because yes the horses can be well fed and taken care of but, that doesn’t excuse abusive riding practices. Look at anky for example. Her horses are well cared for however she uses rolkur. Just because you win a lot doesn’t mean that bad riding practices should be overlooked.

        Liked by 1 person

      15. I have been a working student for an amazing trainer, who for one year was playing musical bits with his upper level horse, because he had “control issues.” I’m not kidding, that horse lost his ability to think and listen when it came to XC, and actually crashed a few times. My trainer worked so hard to try to make it work.

        I could get on this horse and do gallop sets (at advanced speed) and have control in a loose ring snaffle. But for some unknown reason, if we threw in jumps, he would not come back for us. And show jumping? This horse could literally do it in a halter and lead. Not hyperbolizing, my trainer literally attached reins to his halter and did a 4’6″ course easy peasy. It was then that my trainer realized that three day eventing was not for this horse, and he sold him as a show jumper to someone in Florida.

        I hear he’s doing very well over there, and has not needed anything more aggressive than a pelham. So, my point: this woman is not listening to her horses. If they “need” something that aggressive, maybe they shouldn’t be doing this sport?

        I’ve also worked for a member of the French national team, and we never used anything more aggressive than a dutch gag, but always with two reins.

        Liked by 2 people

      16. She has a right to comment and she is well based in research, supported by documentation. Strong horses or not, a training tool such as the bit is a “training tool” it is not meant to be punishment. Yes positive and negative reinforcement have a place in training. However, no tool of training can make up for lack of training. If you question this, see how many successful eventers perform in minimal bits (Michael Jung, William Fox-Pitt, etc). Pan AM, Olympics and WEG are not proof (always) of success as much as politics. Winning at any cost, no matter the sport or business venture is still the greed base of the popular politic.

        Liked by 1 person

      17. Of course she has the right to comment on another rider’s system. Regardless of whether it derives blood out of the mouth or not!
        The fact that the rider is accomplished does nothing for the discussion.
        So, because the rider places well, her methods should be instantly accepted? Don’t be ridiculous.

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    3. Dressage is my thing, yes, I use a double bridle, for 35 years now. My current Dutch mare is a big energetic spooky gal trained to I2/GP. Believe me, some days I am not sure she is going to pull a 180 on me in about 2 seconds. I use a crank cavison and yes you can stick your fingers in between it and her skin. I use a Herm Springer french link snaffle with an Australian made weymouth. I obviously started her training 4 1/2 years ago in a snaffle with a flash nose band. As we moved up to the more difficult work of fourth level movements we transitioned her to a full bridle. I had tried several different weymouths some different thickness’, some with medium ports, some with a higher port and even tried a mullen mouth. The later lasted for ten minutes into our ride as she managed to get her tongue in between the wemouth and the snaffle. I thought it was a fluke, but ten minutes later the same thing happened. So that bit was out of the question on her comfort scale. The Australian bit that I am using now has a wide raised port. She loves it. It also has a rotating mouth piece. She can put that bit anywhere she wants to within her mouth. Happy is an understatement with this bit and my mare. I am not even sure of it’s legality as a show bit, since I don’t show….but if my mare is happy, I am happy. Face it, one wants a horse who is happy with the bits you put in their mouth they should try some different things. But a double twisted wire snaffle? Seriously? Blood in horses mouths where the bits being used or the way bits are being fitted is in question is the job of the FEI and USEF. Rules apply to each discipline so that the horses cannot be abused simply by wearing bits. However, alot is to be said for a “normal” bit such as a Pelham, a Kimberwick or a Weymouth are plenty strong enough for any horse I have ever encountered in 51 years of riding. In the case of these types of bits being used properly takes proper training, where only the exact amount of pressure is used to produce the desired result. Having done plenty of show jumping and eventing along with dressage over the years but have never found a horse that was not controlled by the proper use of these bits fitted properly. The governing body of each discipline should hold riders responsible for the misuse of any biting equipment legal or not by fines and suspension. Blood found coming from any competition horse anywhere should eliminate them from the competition. Repeated offences should move both fines and suspension rates higher until the decision is made by the countries governing body determines them to be a repeat offender and permanent suspension should be brought upon them. Spur use has always been under the microscope….yet in all disciplines horses are still pulled from competition because of bleeding in the spur use area. Each discipline prescribes which spurs are allowed to be used. Bleeding cannot just “happen” by accident it is due to overuse or abusive use of any spurs. Whips fall into the same category to me. When one day I saw an olympic level rider in back of an indoor arena beating a well known horse with a dressage whip. I lost all respect for that rider that very moment. I am certain he thought that no one saw him take his anger out on this horse that was not even owned by him. None the less, the point here should be pointed at the rider. They can use a snaffle to abuse a horses mouth if they use it abusively, same with spurs and whips. Proper use of legal equipment is the goal here. Eliminating pain and abuse for all horses/ponies regarding all aspects of riding including things like rollkur. I have seen a trainer pull on a snaffle bit so hard the horse landed on the ground. I have come across a horse flipped over backwards by a snaffle bit landing him on his back. His mouth bruises were aweful to see. Bridling him after this incident took months, retraining him to accept the snaffle bit without rearing, another year. This type of abuse happens ever day in every country. This is the stuff that needs to stop not just competition abuse. Course that is just my opinion. As to my own mare, she loves her work, happy to do anything that I ask of her within her comfort zone. In other words, she is a dressage horse, she does not like to jump, I have no interest in that at my age anyway, but I would not force her into a discipline that the horse does not enjoy. Controlling a large powerful animal takes the right equipment, used properly….that is what separates a good horseman/woman from a hack. Sorry for the pun.

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      1. I bought a big WB straight from the breeder. Spooky, young, powerful. Guess what? With the right training he goes in a basic bit. It took time and training, not pushing him for more than he could do. If the horse needed to be geared so hard, my thoughts would be, maybe I picked the wrong horse for my sport. Why do you force them so much?

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  3. Wow. I can’t really imagine that all of those horses must have a super thin twisted wire on them. Along with all of that other junk. In the pleasure horse world, there is an over all opinion that young horses are started in a bosal, then go to a twisted wire snaffle, and then to a shanked bit. I have walked into several tack rooms at BN western pleasure trainers and seen a wall full of twisted wire bits. Not a smooth snaffle in sight. I just can’t wrap my brain around that. Where I board the BO is big on using twisted wire snaffle too. And training forks. Frequently at the same time. And yet I am getting the same results she is in a rubber snaffle and nothing else. I just don’t get it.

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  4. “Somehow we seem to have forgotten that the welfare of the horse is the first priority.”…don’t take this wrong, but to forget something, we have to have had it in place to begin with.

    Competitions in general regardless of the discipline/event seem to disregard the written rules and go by judge’s eye. I can show example after example across the board in this industry where the welfare of the horse was most definitely NOT the top priority.

    Until ribbons and prizes and most importantly dollars are awarded to those that treat their animals humanely and riders/trainers that bloody their horses are disqualified…nothing will change.

    IMO we have to get to the judges.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good point… it’s sad that the “abuse of horse” section in every rule book is one of the shortest and most vague. Although in the instance of cross country there are no judges, so that’s not the answer in that scenario. I think Allison nailed that one on the head.

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      1. One thing that has struck me about USDF rated shows vs USEA rated shows is that EVERY time you come out of the arena, your spurs are checked, your horse’s flanks are checked for blood with white gloves, your whip is checked, your bit is checked, and the horse’s mouth is checked for blood. EVERY TIME. I know USEA does bit checks for dressage but that’s it – of course, there are no rules whatsoever about what kind of equipment (I’m mainly talking about bits) you can when JUMPING, only in dressage. I 100% agree that “bitting up” for XC is probably a good idea (certainly for all the horses I’ve ever evented) but come on, there has to be a limit.

        Also that bridle is super weird looking.

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  5. Really well put together words and thoughts, Amanda.

    I agree that the bit is what it is due to the hands. Which, in your examples, shows that a rider, on different mounts, different competitions, etc. is the problem. Not necessarily the bit combo. I also am not a fan of overbitting. I think when you see a barn in which all the horses wear the same contraption, there is obviously a riding issue at play.

    For me, I don’t have the opportunities to show and ride as much as some. I think having a voice and using it are great. But, again, IMO, I think we need to take UL riders, trainers, and such off the pedestal. They are not gods of riding, they make mistakes and should be held accountable for ones that break rules. The small voices get crushed under the yahbuts of glorifying the giants of our community. But maybe some are giants because they took the wrong unethical road to get there…

    Sorry for the ramble, I just hate the hero-worship that goes on that allows poor horsemanship to continue.They are just like us and all voices count. I don’t think people should have a louder or more important voice just because they show more or won more or spent more. But then again, if that is the only voice speaking maybe the rest of us need to speak up.

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    1. I agree, everyone needs to speak up, and no one voice is more important than the next. Silence is a form of agreement, and I do not agree with what’s happened in this instance, so I for one will not be silent.

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    1. I hadn’t either. I’m absolutely flabbergasted. I have never seen a setup like that, especially on more than one horse. On one horse, say a horse like Hickstead who was known to be super hot and fast, I can understand bitting up within reason (and I don’t know that he was ever in something this extreme). A whole barn worth of horses and having to get creative with your tack? That makes me pretty skeptical.

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  6. I don’t see the point of the chain on the lever noseband EXCEPT to cause intense discomfort to the horse. The point of the noseband is to keep the horse from crossing its jaw. You are supposed to keep it tight, otherwise it doesn’t really do anything, but to add a chain to it boggles my mind. A chain cranked tight not only has to pinch terribly, but probably pinches even worse whenever the horse moves its jaw in any way. That is just crazy to me.

    Also I really flinch when I see thin, double twisted wires being used. I feel like there are better options out there. All I can imagine when I see twisted wires is the flesh of the tongue potentially getting caught in the small gaps/pinched/torn.

    I understand how hard it can be to judge the presence of blood. Fiction has such a huge tongue that he frequently bit himself while working hard and bled in the mouth. I know this because all I’ve used on him is a plain french-link snaffle, and never have I been harsh enough with it to leave sores/cuts on his mouth. But when in a get-up like ML’s….I dunno. I feel like that is a clear instance of tool-abuse.

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  7. Phenomenal post. I agree with everything you’ve said.

    “Shouldn’t we be embracing changes and advances in technology that could make our horses more comfortable?”
    YES. So much yes. I face similar debate when I discuss endurance v. CTR. CTR has a lot of rules banning things that are helpful to horses. For example, no bell boots or leg protection! None. We’ve made so many advances in technology and tack to make our horses more comfortable, and yet so many sports are so stuck on being classical that they refuse to move forward with these advances. CTR, eventing, and in some instances dressage.

    Hopefully, with social media as rampant as it is, those in charge will be forced, sooner or later (hopefully sooner) to enact changes that will protect the welfare of our equine partners.

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  8. ugh i admit to being ‘part of the problem here.’ topics like this honestly make me want to stick my head in the sand, wave a white flag, and declare ignorance. bc that’s so much easier than the alternative. but you are right: we cannot and should not be ignorant about this, and abuse should never be tolerated or swept under the rug.

    honestly tho it doesn’t seem like it should be all that difficult to address as a problem in the sport. when i volunteered as a gate steward at a usdf show, it was made very clear that any visible blood on the horse was grounds for elimination. and i’ve heard of eventers getting disqualified for spur marks – once actually erroneously when photos later surfaced proving the horse cut itself on brush rather than the spur. so perhaps there just needs to be a shift in culture from the ‘get it done at all costs’ attitude.

    also – as an aside that is based on nothing but my own assumptions, i wonder if the rules about crown pieces that lie behind the skull have to do with leverage or creating false breakover at the poll.

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    1. I thought about it for a while, trying to figure out a good reason for having objections to a crownpiece that doesn’t sit on the poll, but didn’t come up with anything that made sense. I have no idea how a crownpiece being cut differently would have any impact considering the bit hangs independently. If anything, having the crown NOT on the poll would be even less likely to create leverage or false breakover. I’d love to hear the reasoning behind it, if there is any, other than it being “untraditional”. Kinda like the throatlatch rule for dressage, which also makes no sense. Lol

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      1. yea that’s definitely a topic worth exploring. the technology exists now to better understand how our equipment effects the horse than ever before. but like you say – it seems to be part and parcel of the same issue: not putting the horse first above all else.

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      2. Ditto. Was mystified by this rule. As for the throatlatch, here’s a nice little bit of info from Sustainabledressage.net–gave me a chuckle but also explains the no longer needed purpose.

        The throat latch is a part of the crownpiece, and goes around the muscular part of the jaw, and actually serves a purpose:
        Should you fall of your horse and he start to back away from you, it will hinder the bridle from being pulled off over the ears. Manege bridles from 1600’s or so rarely have a throatlatch. Those horses presumably never went to battle, and never had to be dragged exhausted through the mud by the equally exhausted cavalry soldier pulling his mount along by the reins. There was no risk of the headstall coming off in the 17th century manege…

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  9. I hadn’t see those photos – it’s deeply upsetting.

    EN can be…I don’t think the right word quite combatant…but I’ve seen posts they’ve published that have “stood up” more than any other posts I’ve seen.

    May I send this to them?

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          1. EN described MLs elimination at the Poplar Place CIC*** on scandalous as a fall after an unfortunate stumble ….real story…horse said F*** you stopped at a huge triple combination and spun her off into the fence….so you decide if EN will discuss this issue……probably not……and then there is the whole KOC connection….yeh there is always that….

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    1. If you have use this type of sadistic and abusive equipment to control the horse you are riding how can you be considered a professional rider. How can you be considered a rider. How can you be considered a human being. Regulations need to be put in place to prevent this abuse. Equipment being used to make up for the riders inabilities is inexcusable.

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  10. I’m not a bit or tack expert by any means, but blood is blood. Blood is bad. Why is that happening more than once?

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t she the eventer that came from a background in hunter/jumper world? I’m curious if that has anything to do with it, because I do seem to see crazier bit setups in jumperland than I’ve witnessed elsewhere.

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  11. Marilyn Little is NOT an eventer. She is a crossover from SJ who decided that because eventers tend to be weak in the SJ that she would come over and win everything. And, she has. And she brought her crappy horsemanship over from SJ. She is NOT one of us. She is WELL known in the equestrian world for being abusive. She was the one who ran those very young horses last year at Rolex, one of which died a week later “from being cast”. It has to be jogged a few times in order to pass and go onto SJ…. awfully convenient that this very young not very sound very expensive horse would die a week later.

    My point is, yes she is abusive, and everyone knows it.

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    1. She is, I agree. Why isn’t she being punished for it, especially in instances like this where it’s very possible to do so? Are we turning a blind eye because it’s likely that she’ll be on a team? I don’t get it, and I definitely don’t like it.

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      1. Totally agree…I had no idea either and I avidly follow eventing news, results etc. Now I have read this and seen a bit more into the history it really is sad.

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    2. Just goes to show people with lots of money and lots of horses get away with murder. Maybe they are seen as untouchable and are part of such a small group at the “top” of the sport because few can afford it. You take down some of those and the the sport gets really small.

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  12. I can’t stand ML for many, many other reasons, and this is just (more) icing on the cake. There is no question in my mind that this is abusive, that she does not care that it’s abusive, and that the USEF/USEA will not care that it’s abusive. Which is just a spiral of frustration.

    I have been following the COTH thread on this pretty avidly. In the spirit of constructive conversation, one of the most interesting statements I saw there was that we so often have difficulty judging the relative abusiveness of a bit because a bit is already an inherently controlling piece of equipment that is already on the fine line of abusive. Used softly and correctly, it’s ok. But it’s very, very easy to step over that line.

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  13. As a scientist I want to say that it would be great if since quantitative evidence about the effects of such equipment on the horses in question would help change people’s minds. (Do these nosebands really stop crossing jaws? How does bitting up affect quantitative measures of horse stress and welfare?) But I also know from both experience and studies that evidence based change is rare. And that lots of those studies are poorly conducted, which makes people even more likely to resist the changes. Change is hard, but that shouldn’t stop people from fighting for the right changes.

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    1. Nicole,I would like to see more scientific studies done on a number of horse issues, but as you said, many of the studies are not set up well. The problem I see most often as a life-long horse professional is the lack of understanding of horses’ nature going into the study. A case in point was a study recently declaring that dominance is a myth in horses. The study equated aggression with dominance, but they are two very distinctive things. I can’t even begin to explain how wrong-headed this study looks to anyone who’s spent time around a herd of horses. On the other hand, I have seen some good studies on the use and effectiveness of the whip on racehorses. These studies have actually brought about beneficial change. I think that if the scientists would research experienced horse-people’s understanding of the issues first, they would be able to set up much more effective and productive studies.

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  14. I love the idea of a steward at the beginning and end of a XC run. It doesn’t take a ton of staff to get it done, and it seems like a simple way to keep people more accountable. A bloody knee? Probably just scraped a jump/bush/tree/whatever. Bloody mouth? Much less likely. It’s not even a tricky call to make like we’ve seen more recently in H/J with claims of withholding water and whatnot.

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    1. I think it applies across all of the olympic disciplines. A steward at the out gate for a simple check cannot possibly be a bad thing. Detractors will argue that this adds staff, and adding staff increases costs. I can personally say that I will happily pay a few extra bucks so that things like this do not go un-policed.

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      1. They do have this. There are vet and official checks before and after the cross country phases, ESPECIALLY at FEI events. If West Indie had blood in the mouth from misuse of bit, it would have been spotted and reported. It happens not uncommonly that horses bite their tongues out on cross country and you can get blood from that. I’m not arguing that the equipment in Scandalous’s mouth isn’t strong, but assuming she is abusing her horses is a pretty big jump to make from a strong bit. Especially since the bit used in the photos where you can see blood is EASILY the nicest one there. It has a smooth, round straight bar mouthpiece, so it seems unlikely to me that it could have cut the horse’s mouth. I am not here to argue on her behalf or anything, it just always surprises me when these witch hunts start and people seem to make an awful lot of assumptions.

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        1. i think perhaps the biggest takeaway from your points is that there really *should* be more conversation about this – that assumptions alone aren’t good enough, and ‘witch hunts’ solve nothing and perhaps even distract from the issue at hand.

          we actually as a community should acknowledge that there *are* horses running cross country with bloodied mouths (without getting pulled up by officials) and discuss what that means, how it happens, and what should be done about it.

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        2. Correct me if I am wrong, Amanda, but I believe the issue is not ML is evil, bad, not very good person, or even about her at all. The issue is ‘hey this rider (insert ANY rider) has blood noticeably in her horse’s mouth.’ The varying officials have not been consistent in how they have handled such things. Callie Evans eliminated without appeal after accident, and ML goes on after a check that determines bit combo pinched. Now, according to rules, that makes the equipment an issue and should have been addressed. It is not to point fingers at ML and damn her, it is to call attention to USEF, USEA, FEI, and whoever else that are letting these matters go. Why aren’t the horses getting more of a voice?

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          1. Yes, that’s exactly my point. I don’t really care about ML personally, she’s just the catalyst for this conversation. We have to figure out how to prevent things like this from going unreprimanded, for the sake of our sport and our horses. I don’t know how anyone could look at the dripping blood and be so flippant about it. One incident can have huge implications on the future… I think that if we love our sport (and I do) we have to protect it. That means policing ourselves and dedicating ourselves to horse welfare (among other things).

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    2. They do have this. There are people constantly watching these competitions, particularly because the photos with the blood are from Fair Hill, which is an FEI competition. That means there were not only USEF stewards present, but also FEI stewards. Blood in the mouth is something that is rarely missed, and it can happen for reasons other than bit cutting. I am not here to argue that Marilyn has done nothing wrong as I am not absolutely sure on that, but neither is anyone else here. If you’d like to see, go back and watch the videos from Burghley 2013. Jock Paget was stopped on course with Clifton Lush due to blood in the horse’s mouth. After the officials checked it was confirmed that the horse had bitten his tongue and the blood was not coming from the bit’s use. Also, if you actually look, the bit in West Indie’s mouth (the one with blood) is EASILY the kindest bit pictured. The actual mouthpiece is round and broad, the strength of it comes from the curb action of the long cheekpieces. That means it’s even LESS likely that the bit cut this horse’s mouth and she may have easily bitten her tongue. Blood is something taken very seriously at FEI competitions (google Callie Evans getting eliminated after there was some blood on the horse’s side from brushing a fence and they assumed it was from her spurs even though her stirrups kept her feet about a foot up from the blood spot). Everyone here attacking her for using harsh bits is absolutely in the right to have an opinion and to disagree, but there is not one answer to this situation.

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      1. It’s impossible to know why the blood is there unless the horse was examined properly by a veterinarian, as it SHOULD have been, but a huge problem here is that this horse went around at least the last part of the course with very visible blood coming from it’s mouth. Visible even to the spectators on the sidelines, who wondered why she was not pulled up. Even if you put aside animal welfare concerns for a second (which I hope everyone would have but obviously many do not) – Is this really what we want people to see when they come to events? A bloody horse that is not stopped or examined, and a rider that is not even questioned? Eventing cannot survive if incidents like this keep happening. We have a bad enough reputation for horse welfare already.

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        1. I’m curious, are you 100% sure that there wasn’t a vet examination done? I’m not trying to be a dick and just challenge everything you say, but do you know that there wasn’t a vet inspection made? There’s an awful lot of red on that horse’s mouth, I have a hard time thinking the vet at the finish didn’t see it. Especially at Fair Hill since it was an FEI event and had additional stewards in place.

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          1. Big difference between examined (which I have no doubt that it was) and examined properly or thoroughly. If the case is that the officials wanted to pull the horse but couldn’t because the rules are too cloudy, therein lies our problem. But if the exam is just a simple once over, that should be changed too. What I don’t really get is why horses have been stopped on XC before for visible blood (not from the mouth like this, but other places) but that wasn’t done this time? That part is strange to me.

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            1. That is not the case. FEI and USEF officials have the right to stop a horse on course if they believe the welfare of the horse may be in jeopardy. If stopped on course or disqualified for a horse welfare concern, it cannot be appealed. The actual rule, EV112.4 states that: ” The Ground Jury and the Technical Delegate have the authority to stop a rider on the
              cross country course for dangerous riding, riding an exhausted horse, excessive pressing
              of a tired horse, riding an obviously lame horse, excessive use of the whip and/or spurs
              or riding in an unsafe way.” Visible blood on the horse would qualify as potentially riding in an unsafe way and is grounds for being stopped. When Jock Paget’s horse Clifton Promise was spotted by a jump judge with blood in his mouth on course, Jock was pulled up and held until a vet could thoroughly examine the horse’s mouth. The vet determined that the source of the blood was a small mark where the horse had bitten his tongue so Jock was allowed to continue instead of being disqualified for blood because it was proven the blood was not the result of abuse in any way. In Also, I’m assuming you’ve never ridden in or groomed at an FEI event if you think those horses are not thoroughly examined by a vet at the finish line, ESPECIALLY in an international championship competition (which Aachen was). Horses are held in the vet box until their heart and respiration rates have come down to acceptably recovered rates. Their temperatures are taken ever few minutes starting almost immediately after the horse crosses the finish and their bodies are examined thoroughly, several times for signs of injury or strain. While the horses are in the vet box after XC completion, the vet is in complete control of the the situation; a horse may not be taken away from vet supervision until the vet is satisfied that the horse is cooling out well and normally and is not showing signs of injury.

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              1. So if you think that’s the case I will ask again: why was she not stopped? There was so much blood that spectators could see it dripping onto the horse’s chest as she went past. The rule does not specifically address visible blood, or blood from the mouth, and it should. Then things like this would be very black and white.

                Obviously the horses are examined after XC, but they are not immediately eliminated if blood is found. In fact, the wording of the abuse of horse rule explicitly permits horses with “minor mouth injuries” to continue. First of all, the word minor is completely subjective considering the circumstance, and second of all, I don’t think that’s the proper way to go about it st all. IMO they should be MR’d for any blood in the mouth, for the welfare of the animal. It’s disheartening that a mouth injury does not warrant the same attention that a spur mark does, especially considering the horse has to show jump the next day.

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              2. Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, USEA has come out and said that the injury was due to the horse being pinched between the bit and the chain of the noseband. No tongue bite there. Definite equipment inflicted injury.

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            2. I forgot to address your second point of asking why the horse wasn’t stopped on course for visible blood. There are a number of answers to that other than “Marilyn Little abused the horse and people let her get away with it.” Here’s a few of them.

              1) It happened in the warmup from a tongue bite and the officials/vets looked at it prior to her starting and determined there was no abuse or risk of further harm to the horse by allowing her to continue competing

              2) They didn’t see it. It’s a cloudy day, the horse is dark-colored, and it’s not that much blood (no foam or visible dripping) and it could very easily be not seen. You have to zoom in pretty far on that picture to be able to see it clearly.

              3) It’s not even blood. It may be the results of a red peppermint. In an interview about a French team horse that was disqualified from the dressage phase at the 2010 WEGs for VERY visible blood in that horse’s mouth, Judge Marilyn Payne (FEI 4 Star Judge) stated that they initially did not stop the horse during the test because peppermints can give the illusion of blood.

              So basically, the judges, ground jury and technical delegates have every right to stop a horse during the competition for reasons of horse or rider welfare. There is no reason they wouldn’t have stopped her, and to suggest that there is selective acceptance in our governing bodies of horse abuse by certain riders is a pretty serious thing to suggest.

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              1. Sure, all of those things could have happened but none of them did, as attested to by spectators and confirmed today by USEA. What officials did (examine the horse after the finish and clear it on the basis of it being a “minor” cut) is completely within FEI rules. That’s what’s so disheartening to me, and why I think the rules need to be rewritten.

                Also, there is very clearly dripping blood on the horse’s chest in the photos and more than one spectator said they could clearly see the blood dripping as ML went past. I don’t disagree with your possibilities in the general sense of things but none of them apply to this particular situation. That was a lot of very red blood. Ain’t no way that’s a peppermint, and I don’t know anyone naive enough to think that. The horse started the course with no visible blood and finished with a mouthful and flecks of blood on its chest, then was cleared from the vet box after examination revealed that the lip had been cut because it was pinched between the bit and the noseband. That’s what we know to be factual at this point, as stated by officials. I would have loved to have gotten a more innocent explanation of events but sadly that’s not the case.

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              2. The peppermint excuse is the most ridiculous yet! Peppermints are eaten quickly by the horse. It’s not the same as a person sucking on one until your tongue turns red. And as Amanda said which you obviously missed the USEA has determined the blood WAS from the equipment and not from the horse biting his tongue and definitely NOT a peppermint!

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              3. Peppermint? Did you even look at the photos?? Cloudy day?? Spectators see blood while the horse is blurring by but the officials don’t?? “There is no reason they wouldn’t stop her” So much blood from the mouth that you can see it on the chest? That’s a pretty damn good reason to stop her.

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              4. For over 40 years I have given my horses peppermints when I ride them and not once have I seen peppermint “froth” look even remotely like blood. Saying that blood and peppermint “look alike” is ridiculous. If someone is too blind to tell the difference, I suggest they go up to the horse and smell the froth. Surely you’re not going to tell us that blood and peppermint smell the same as well.

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            3. Oh okay, then it was a pinching injury. So she needs a bit guard. Why are you screaming about it being abuse? Would you be saying it was abuse if this had happened to one of Phillip Dutton’s horses? I’d think not. I would expect that you’d say, “Oh, maybe it’s new equipment and he didn’t realize he’d need a bit guard because it hadn’t happened before.” What it really seems like to me is that you don’t like Marilyn Little, so you’re declaring this horrific abuse based on one photo (there is no blood in the photo from Aachen). Seriously, a year ago the entire eventing community was pissed at the FEI for eliminating a competitor out of hand for blood that appeared to be from a spur mark but upon closer inspection was almost certainly the result of rubbing against a jump (http://eventingnation.com/does-millbrook-dq-build-case-for-appeals-process/). Everyone was yelling that it was unfair, defending Callie (and rightfully so) and saying the FEI and USEF had made a mistake. So why are people now starting petitions to have Marilyn banned from competing when Callie was assumed to have done no wrong? Marilyn has no history of horse abuse, and you’ve condemned her based on bitting choices and one photo without having been at the competition, knowing the rules of the competitions, or actually seen the bit that Marilyn was using which caused the injury which is just a REGULAR LONG SHANK PELHAM. Why does Callie Evans deserve defense for something that very easily appears to be abusive use of equipment but Marilyn Little deserves immediate condemnation? Please answer this because I am utterly mystified by this reaction, and it makes the eventing community look pretty dumb that we’d jump to the defense of certain riders but demand the scalps of others.

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              1. I’d be saying it was abuse regardless of who the rider was. If there’s blood in your horse’s mouth, not just once but two weekends in a row, there’s a problem – BN level rider or Olympian alike. Beloved or not.

                You seem to be having difficulty reading things as they are written so let me clarify a few things again:

                There is no photo from Aachen. There is a photo from Boekelo in which you can see red in the horse’s mouth, and photos from Fair Hill that show blood dripping from the mouth.

                The bit used on XC at Fair Hill was not a regular long shanked Pelham. Look again. But, as I stated several times, I do not support rule change regulations for bits and do not take issue with the bit on its own. Other people do, I do not.

                The petition is for rule changes to better define what constitutes abuse and how exactly visible blood should be dealt with. It has nothing to do with taking action against Marilyn Little herself. You’re making this a witch hunt when it isn’t.

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              2. You clearly don’t know the blogger. So now you accuse her of objecting to the rider as an individual rather than objecting to the blood caused by injuries to the same rider’s horses two weeks in a row. Wow. Your peppermint comment was ridiculous, but the thought that this is a personal vendetta is absurd beyond imagination.

                I’ve been reading this blog for months, usually in chunks of days at a time. Apparently you just dropped by for the argument, since you sound very new to the blogger or content.

                I do not know Amanda C. personally. Never met her, never competed with her. What I can be sure of from a lot of reading is that Amanda is very much pro-horse and pro-safety, and tries to build a good ride based on training and communication. When something has disturbed her, she has written about it.

                At this point, I have read comments on Marilyn Little and have talked to friends who are much more involved in upper-level eventing than I. I have watched many videos of her rides. Amanda did not write anything that can come close to a “witch hunt” against ML while giving other riders you mention a pass. On my own, however, I have determined that ML needs to either learn how to ride or get out of the business. Her reputation isn’t newly-acquired. The recent infraction isn’t isolated. If that’s the only way the US can medal in eventing, I’m ashamed of our team for staying silent.

                And she ain’t gonna fix that reputation with a pair of bit guards.

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            4. There is no proof that there was blood two weeks in a row. This was based on unsubstantiated photos that you said came from two different competitions, but they were all from Fair Hill. (And have now been removed as far as I know.) All you need to do to prove this is look at RF West Indie’s USEA record: http://useventing.com/competitions/profile-horse?horse_id=149074. She competed at the Morven Park CIC*** and then did not compete again until Fair Hill CCI***. This photo taken of West Indie into the last water at Morven (at the end of the course) shows nothing even slightly looking like blood: http://cdn.eventingnation.com/eventingnation.com/images/2015/10/Marilyn-Little-RF-West-Indie.jpg. As I recall from the photos that were removed, there was a good amount of blood visible so that strongly suggests to me that the photos were also from fair hill rather than Morven. Also, you referenced this USEA statement that says the blood came from the bit pinching, but no amount of Googling has led me to this statement. Can you please link to it?

              On the other points (apologies for the typo of Aachen instead of Boekelo), there is no blood in that picture. It is a shadow cast by the horse’s mouth. I have scoured every photo I can find of Scandalous at Boekelo and there is not a single photo anywhere that shows anything like blood that I can find. There’s no blood dripping in this picture: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CQ8n_2pWgAEioTw.jpg. And there’s no blood on Scandalous in any other competition I can find using this bit, like the PanAms: http://eventingconnect.today/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Marilyn-Little-RF-Scandalous.jpg.

              And the bit Marilyn is using on West Indie is a regular long shank pelham in in the mouthpiece. The rein attachments and the chain attachment appear to be different, but you can even see in this picture from fair hill that it’s a nice, wide regular mouthpiece: http://equiery.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/MarilynWestIndie_9833.jpg. If you are sure that the bit is harsher, please provide a picture of the bit to let us know what it’s actually looking like because it doesn’t look like it is.

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              1. Sigh. I give up, since you seem to be unable to read. TWO DIFFERENT HORSES, two competitions in a row. Scandalous at Boekelo, RF West Indie at Fair Hill. There’s a photo of both in the post, if you read what’s written. Actually, the original post addresses pretty much everything you’ve said here, and still somehow misconstrued, so I’m going to opt to quit repeating myself over and over since it’s obviously not helping you at all. If you’d like to see the USEA statements, head to the thread on the COTH forums. They have commented several times and there’s a great discussion, perhaps you could find more assistance there http://www.chronofhorse.com/forum/showthread.php?477807-I-wonder-if-anything-will-come-of-this .

                Liked by 2 people

        2. I understand at this point that you were referring to Scandalous as the other blood photo. The reason I didn’t understand this is because I don’t see a single thing in that photo that looks like blood other than a slight shadow, so I assumed you must have been talking about something else. There was no blood at Boekelo. There is plenty of video and photographic evidence that supports this.

          Like

          1. Hundreds of other people see it too, not just me… that’s actually the photo that started the entire thing in the first place, a week before Fair Hill even happened. But it’s obvious by now that people are going believe whatever they want, so I encourage you to join the discussion on the Chronicle forums and make your opinion heard. Good luck and best wishes.

            Liked by 1 person

  15. This is an absolute embarrassment to all of US eventing. There is no way around it. I don’t care what results this woman is getting–she ought be disqualified. Even a casual, non-horsey observer can see a really obvious problem here, and that’s not ok.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Well written post. This is horrifying. I hadn’t heard about this yet. Rules aside I can’t understand any person causing their horse to bleed and not doing something to fix the problem. Mistakes can happen… once. When they start happening all the time it’s no longer a mistake, it’s a habit. A very bad habit!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Very well-written! I agree: it’s how the bit is used; even a snaffle can be harsh in hard hands. Some horses do require stronger bits, but that doesn’t mean you must use it harshly. Ideally, a horse should stop from the seat, but of course reins are necessary sometimes. I rode a challenging horse who would not stop from the seat or snaffle at all. I would need to use full strength to stop him with a snaffle, so I used a kimberwick but as lightly as possible. I was a beginner then and don’t ride him anymore(I probably could ride him in a snaffle now), and now I do use a snaffle. Like you said, not all horses can go in snaffle, but that doesn’t mean you should pull sharply or hold the mouth when you have a strong bit. Seat first!

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    1. I should add that I know that snaffle v. other bits isn’t the issue. What I meant with my comment is that no but should be used so strongly that a horse bleeds. This is just appalling

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  18. Thank you for the excellent article. The stupidity of the upper level “rules” is what stopped me from wanting to compete in dressage. I’ll just mosey on over to Western Dressage, where they seem to still have their heads on straight…

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  19. As a jump judge in eventing, we radio in any horse on which we can see blood. If the stars align the horse is checked at the end of the course.

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    1. Sadly, several spectators have come forward saying that they very clearly saw blood on the horse when it went past them. So either word was not passed up the chain, or the ones at the top of the chain did not act on it.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I remember when the 2010 Dutch dressage team were “devastated” at one of their members being dq’d because her mount’s mouth was bleeding.

    Hurray for officials who actually do their job by checking and following the rules – but more to the point is that no sporting competition is ever more important than your partner’s health. If you truly care about your horse, then any amount of blood / discomfort / injury for whatever reason should not be tolerated. Otherwise you are a douche. Period.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Edward Gal was eliminated at Aachen this summer. 2015. His horse was the picture of everything that dressage should never be, nearly missing every transition and entirely lacking any rhythm or relaxation even for a minute. I saw the video on YouTube; it was posted by someone in Europe. Wish I could find it again, but I didn’t think I’d want to see such disharmony ever again and did not save it.

      He was eliminated for blood coming from the mouth. Reading the equine press was very discouraging. There was no mention of the poor horsemanship, only what a tragedy it was not to have a team score or something. Until the elimination, the judges’ scores were inflated, though not quite as high as usual for Gal.

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  21. I compete in Western Dressage but come from a reining and working cowhorse background. When competing in those two disciplines, any blood on any part of the horse is grounds immediate disqualification in that class, regardless of the association. No questions asked. No excuses accepted. And then if that horse/rider team has more classes following that disqualification, the are carefully scrutinized after each class. This is how it should be regardless of the discipline or association.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Great post. I used to love competitive sport, lived and breathed everything show jumping and dressage. As years go by, I become more and more disillusioned about equestrian sport and while I continue to support it and feel passionate about my involvement in it, I find myself searching for a path that still involves excellence in training but leads to a different “arena” when it comes to sport…

    Like

  23. I’d like to point our something anatomical about horses. When you cause them any pain or “discomfort” (PAIN) in the head area, they tense their necks and it becomes even harder to control their head and neck. We want a head and neck free from tension, it creates a lightness up front so they can actually (gasp) get their hindquarters under them and use them! This has totally been lost in upper level dressage. I see hollow backs, due to tension in the head and neck, all the time. As well as over bent horses, who are trying to get away from pain! A horses anatomoy determines where his head winds up when he is correctly using his hind end. Forcing a head set on a horse kills impulsion, and pisses off the really good athletes.
    Anyone ever see the film “BUCK”? There is a very good example of an upper level dressage horse being ridden correctly in this film. Watch it ad nauseum if you don’t “get it”.
    Horses MUST be ridden from the hind end forward for correctness. You clamp their mouths shut and force bits into their molars, you are just trying to control the front end, which is worthless and degrading to the horses health. I really wish bridleless was an option in the show ring. Not super realisitc for XC, I get that, but if a top show jumper can show his mare in a halter? Who knows, the only limit to how far we can go with horses is ourselves.

    Love the cover picture for this blog.

    Like

  24. Well written, as well as most of the comments. I think a big part of the problem is we really only valued horses as anything more than a commodity for what, like 50 years? Not really that long for a culture change to putting the horses health and comfort first.

    That said, I’ve ridden in some decently strong bits, for occasional flat or low jump lessons training a heavy horse, but good god the combinations in those pics are horrendous. Idk who could tether those to an animal without feeling guilty.
    Horses are capable of navigating xc terrain without any help tack or rider, so shouldn’t we be finding ways to make courses reasonable for horses to jump without riders needing the equivalent of a Jake break on a prius?

    Like

    1. Honestly, I think horses were viewed as more than a commodity in times past. They were a necessity. When your life and your livelihood depends on your horse, the relationship goes to a whole new level. I’m old enough to know people who lived and worked with horse before cars became commonplace, and I also make my living with horses. I live and work with the same horses for years and we become unbelievable close through our time spent together. The trust and partnership that develops over the years is truly awe-inspiring to me. Not many people have the luxury of spending the amount of hours I have with each of my horses in the course of our job. That’s what it was like for many people in the past as well. A good horseman-or-woman of any era values their horse as a partner and is concerned about his well-being as much as their own.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. I’m certainly not an “every horse should go in a snaffle at all times” person, as mine jumps in a pelham. Different horses need different tools for different disciplines. (Mine does dressage happily in a French link.)

    But this is a case where I have to fall on the side of favor for the rules that Dressage has for blood on the horse–whatever the cause, its grounds for immediate elimination. Sure, horses can bite their tongues or catch themselves on the heel, or heck be bitten by something on the way into the ring. But I like to think that most horsemen would rather err on the side of caution and safety for all. Steffan Peters seemed to handle the situation with grace at the FEI World Cup. I don’t even think a check would be an additional expense to the competition–when I’ve done bit/spur/whip check at dressage shows, it’s been as a volunteer. Every 3rd horse is checked, and people are all very nice about it.

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  26. I have an argumentative presentation to complete and this will definitely be one of my sources! Love that you have written this article, but saddens me that articles like this are having to be written, it brings tears to my eyes to see these horses in that condition.

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  27. I’m a competitive dog trainer, and someone tried to get me into horses because they thought I would enjoy the bonding / training that comes with horses.
    After a month of hanging out at some barns and attending some events, watching some lessons, I was sick to my stomach by the abuse that goes on. I love horses, but horse people.. can’t argue with them. Yelling, kicking, throwing things at their horses to intimidate them. Those methods are so outdated. And they wonder why their horses are so spooky.

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  28. So many things wrong with horse sports now, nasty bits, nasty nosebands ratcheted as tight as they can possibly go, gadgets and dubious training methods, spurs and the attitude that damage from these things are an acceptable occupational hazard for the competition horse of today. My opinion is that if you have to resort to such things there is something wrong with your riding or something has gone wrong in the horse’s training. I am no follower of any ‘natural horsemanship’ cult but do believe we should treat all animals kindly, fairly and with respect. Good horsemanship seems to have been lost, old ‘rules’ have been forgotten, like not using any form of drop noseband with a curb bit and being able to put two fingers under your noseband and trainers (like I had) who would not allow you to use spurs until you had sufficient control of your legs so there was no marking of horses with them. Would be interesting to see if Marilyn were to come and compete here in GB, I don’t think she’d get away with it quite so easily.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. An interesting yet horrifying, and well written post. I rode horses for 12 years (unfortunately not in the physical position to be able to anymore due to health issues), and NEVER had to use anything as extreme as any of those on any horse I ever rode, and that was quite of few, of varying temperaments, training styles, and booger range. I may not have been on the circuit like the big ones you’re talking about here, but even the most hard-headed, powerful horse I was on that decided he had an attitude problem NEVER would have induced me to use the degree of force represented in these photos. Disgusting. Then again, I hated even using Price of Wales spurs on my boy.

    I was always taught that a GOOD rider, someone with the right attitude, knowledge, strength, and ability to connect with their mount, was generally enough to establish what you needed and get any job done. The most I used when NoMo was having a day and being a handful was a Kimberwick bit and chain, and it got the job done. Then again, he was MY baby, and we had a connection and understanding, even when he was being a complete snot, I never felt the need to use more force.

    If you have to go to such lengths, why is that the horse you’re riding? You’re no longer being a partner, you’re being a tyrant and have no place upon a horse, in my opinion.

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  30. Thank you so much for your well-written and concise article. I completely agree with you on your points, and appreciate the fact that you attached pictures and articles to your statements, which provided evidence of their factual nature. I have been a rider and horse owner for over 35 years who has always used the absolute minimum of equipment. My focus is on building a relationship with each and every horse that I ride, whether I own them or not, to build a strong foundation of partnership and cooperation. I would no more injure or abuse my equine partner then I would a human partner. Ultimately, as sad as it is to say, many trainers and riders, especially at the higher levels of any equine sport, be it hunter/jumper, dressage, eventing, racing, western pleasure, saddleseat, barrel racing and all of the equine sports that we participate in on a daily basis, look to that sport as a money- making enterprise. Yes, they started off in equine sports because they enjoyed, hopefully even loved, working with horses, but have bowed to the gods of enterprise and money-making by trying to turn out their horses as quickly as possible, to as high a level as possible, regardless of the horse’s physical, emotional, or mental well-being. I whole-heartedly believe that a person can compete at very high levels, have a very successful career and treat their horses with the utmost respect and care, but I also believe to use said partnership model of training, especially the training of a horse to a high level, takes a longer period of time. This is because it takes time for that relationship to be honed and that partnership to develop. However, humans, the controlling-natured beings that we are, take these loving, trusting creatures and turn them into money-making robots. The riders are not considering the horse’s welfare necessarily, they are looking towards the prize. This makes me very sad. I completely agree with your statement that we as equine owners need to speak out that we will no longer stand for abusive tendencies in our equine sports at ANY level. We need to state that we will no longer support the handing out of prizes to trainers/riders whose horses exhibit evidence of abuse of any sort. We need each individual organization that oversees the equine sports to have CLEAR, strict, and concrete rules that specifically state what is considered abuse and/or inappropriate behavior on behalf of the trainer and/or rider, and we need to stand by those rules regardless of who it is that may have broken them. I know many people may disagree with my cynical view of many riders and trainers at a professional level; however, we need to realize that mostly this evidence is shown at upper levels of competition where hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake. I for one will be speaking out and writing the organizations that you listed in your article. I also hope that your readers will also reach out to the other organizations who also practice abusive training modalities within their sport. As I said before this abuse is in all equine sports, not just the examples you listed in this informative article today. Unfortunately, the list is quite extensive to the abuse that we carry out on these beautiful creatures in all sports. Beyond just writing the organizations that control the sports, we can also help prevent equine abuse in our everyday lives. If your readers see any evidence of these abusive activities at any organizational event that they are at, whether it be a local show or a large national meet, I would hope that they would speak out to the officials remembering the beautiful, precious, mute souls that we as humans are charged to protect. Thank you for your bravery in speaking out!

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  31. You know something, there is a much bigger takeaway here, and that is the fact that young riders observe and learn from veteran riders. For instance, my daughter, who is only 12, constantly reads and researches ways to improve her horsemanship. In fact, it was she who brought this article to my attention. She also took it to her trainer for explanation – to the trainer’s horror for sure. Although my kiddo is savvy enough to do recognize and question an issue, what about the riders who are not? It disappoints me that my expectations of veteran horsemanship are bested by a 12-year-old little girl.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. OTTB98 that’s AWESOME!!! So nice to see a mother who’s instilling the most important values to her child. To have compassion, to be curious and to question things that don’t seem right.
    You deserve a medal!!!

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  33. I have worked on the Thoroughbred racetrack for years, where the horses are trained and encouraged to be “strong”. I have never seen a twisted wire used on a racehorse. The racetrack is often portrayed as uncaring of the horse’s welfare, but even here a bloody mouth would be considered completely unacceptable. If a horse should come back with blood, his or her mouth would be thoroughly checked for problems, the bit would be changed, and if it was determined the damage was caused by the rider, he or she would be fired.

    Like

  34. In case anyone wants to reach out to her sponsors to express their concern regarding Ms Little’s behavior, a list of contact emails for her sponsors is below. Here is a copy of the letter I sent to each of them (with the bracketed sentence removed, as applicable):

    Dear Sir or Madam,
    I have noted that you are a sponsor of event rider Marilyn Little. It has come to light that Ms. Little uses questionable techniques in her riding, which appears to cause pain and bleeding in her horses. I do not believe she sets a positive example and certainly no role model I want for my children regarding how to be a responsible horse owner, let alone a top rider.

    As an example, for discussion regarding Ms. Little’s bitting practices, please see https://the900facebookpony.com/2015/10/23/when-does-control-become-abuse/, or https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1092121887474135&id=100000290019243.

    [Although I have admired your product, so long as you continue to support such animal abuse, I cannot in good conscience purchase your product.] I would hope that you would carefully consider the type of message you are sending in endorsing the behavior of Ms. Little.

    contactus@devoucoux.com
    contact@samshield.fr
    Info@perfectproductseq.com
    http://www.bluegrassanimalproducts.com/cgi/start.cgi/contact-bluegrass.html
    joseder@derdau.com, marketing@derdau.com, salesrep@derdau.com
    http://www.ceva.us/Contact-us/Contact-Us
    http://walshproducts.com/help.php?section=contactus&mode=update
    http://www.backontrackproducts.com//Contact-Us-5.html
    info@mdccorporation.us
    info@lister-shearing.com
    http://equinemripalmbeach.com/contacts.html
    sales@timergps.com
    inbox@horseflight.com
    sales@intrepidintl.com

    Liked by 1 person

  35. I’m shocked that this is happening at the FEI level with no repercussions. We have an FEI horse (granted, a jumper not an eventer). At the horse shows EVERYTHING is monitored from the stall, to the schooling ring, in the warmup, to the showring. As soon as he comes out of the ring, an FEI is waiting to take off his boots to make sure nothing is under them. With this level of scrutiny, how is the blood not noticed??

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  36. Those bits are a f…..g joke! ! You don’t deserve to have a horse if using bits like that. And you certainly don’t understand horses.

    Like

  37. Just want to let you know that Kim Severson has shared both this article and the petition. I saw it on facebook, and that’s why I’m here.
    I really hope that this gets traction with her support.

    I’ve always been indifferent about ML, until a friend of mine wrote a brilliant takedown of her and her attitude:
    “Last night I read a write up in The Chronicle Of The Horse about the “misunderstood” rider Marilyn Little… and I have to admit that, as a member of the eventing community, I was slightly offended. Marilyn, blaming us for your cool reception into the eventing community is a little ridiculous and I’ll explain why.

    Last November when you traveled to Galway Downs, the facility where I board and train, I experienced first hand what I can only assume others have experienced as well… I sat on my horse about 3 feet from you in a schooling ring the day before the event started, smiled at you and said “Hi Marilyn! Welcome to California!” You could barely muster a smile and turned away. A teammate of mine (who is an upper level rider herself) congratulated you after a beautiful SJ round, but you barely glanced at her before turning and walking away. This past April in the sponsor tent at Rolex you and your family sat down at the table a friend and I were sitting at and when we tried to engage you in conversation you literally turned your back to us without even attempting to be pleasant.

    You lament the cold shoulder you’ve received in the eventing community. You talk of rumors & innuendo and of being misunderstood. This is an easy problem to fix, Marilyn, but a fluff piece in COTH isn’t going to do it. You’re an amazing rider and you have some crazy talented horses. We as a community are ready to embrace & support you, but you need to be someone we can respect and admire. You’re a member of our community and a role model, but so far I’m not seeing that you even understand what that means.

    Your move, Marilyn.”

    Since that post, I’ve changed to: “you were an ass to my friends, you should shape up.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That makes me immensely happy to hear! Support from upper level riders is crucial. Much applause to her for being brave and honest enough to publicly stand up for the welfare of our horses. So many have offered private support, but none have been willing to come forward publicly.

      Liked by 1 person

  38. The Canadian eventing rule book states “excessive use of the hands, whip or spurs” can be seen as abuse. Clearly the bit/noseband combination with blood is abusive, thereby warranting a warning card, elimination or DQ. The FEI after 5 years of asking still will not allow the Spursuader spur, a kinder and more humane spur but will allow spurs that can cut and injure a horse. I’m not at all optimistic that anything will be done in this blood situation…the horse needs a voice.

    Like

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