Friday, July 15, 2011

A Black Eye for Bridle-less Riding

I recently learned about a piece of equipment being used to 'train' horses to stop harder, and I wanted to share this information with all of you.  It is called a tack collar, and while it is surely being produced by many manufacturers, I found out about it through Buckaroo Leather Products.  They recently posted an article titled, "Tack Collars, gimmick or useful training Device?" , which seems to imply that they are investigating the usefulness of this device, when, in fact, they do not criticize it at all, but rather defend it (that does make it easier to sell!).  So I guess I will be critiquing it for them...

This collar is simply a leather strap resembling a breast collar that has spiked rivets on the inside.  It is worn across the horse's chest, and when the horse is asked to stop, the collar is pulled against the horse's body, and the pain from the rivets causes the horse to stop harder and faster.  The spikes come in a variety of lengths, all the way up to 1/2 inch.  The article says that they are 'soft, gentle studs' but I can clearly see in this picture that pulling them into a horse's hide, even if they have a blunt end, would cause pain, especially when the horse is running hard to do a sliding stop.

The point of using this device is so that when the rider decides to move from riding in a bridle to going bridle-less, the horse will be impressive in its stops and responsiveness.  They even show a picture of Mandy McCutcheon, the NRHA highest money earning non-pro ever, in their ad, because if she uses this, surely, it must be acceptable, right?

Since when is it necessary to use a spiked collar to get a horse to stop nicely?  A horse that is bred and built to do reining, receives patient, proper training, is physically fit and feels good, and has a rider that has good timing and body control doesn't need to dig spikes into the horse's chest to get a nice stop. Riding bridle-less used to be a novelty, meant only to show how broke a horse is - and a way to show how lightly controlled and how partnered-up the horse is.  This tack collar is the opposite of that!  Trainers like Stacy Westfall have made riding bridle-less trendy, and yet, we can no longer assume that someone who is able to ride without a bridle is doing so because they are completely in-tune with their beautifully finished horse.  I contacted Stacy to ask her what she thinks about these tack collars, and she didn't respond.  Does she use them?  I have no idea, but I would guess probably not.  It is all the people who want to be just like her, or at least maintain the guise that they are 'natural' horsemen, that are using them.

Arguably, this type of device is not much different than using spurs, but we have all seen that spurs have become so commonplace - and so overused - in reining that we don't even question them. And the result is that many reining horses are dead sided and spin their tails.  Now we have "spurs" for their chest too, so that in every direction a horse moves, it can potentially meet a hard metal poke.

The article goes out of its way to warn people that this collar should only be used by experienced riders on well-trained horses.  That is a good way for them to avoid liability, but has absolutely no teeth to it at all.  First, the purpose of this tack manufacturer is to make money, and second, how do you ask a customer to prove that they can handle a particular device?  You can't, and even if you asked, most people would say, "Of course, I am a great rider, and sure, my horse can handle this!"  But how many people, that are the type attracted to a spiked breast collar, actually have a soft hand, like that article recommends?  I would venture to say that if you truly are an experienced trainer with soft hands, what on earth would you need something like this for?

I was contacted by Mandy McCutcheon, who was pictured in the article for these collars by Buckaroo Leather Products; she stated that she did not give BLP permission to use her image, nor has she ever used this piece of equipment to train her horses.   Further, she said that the horse pictured, ARC Sparkle Surprise, is a good minded horse that went straight from the bridle to going bridle-less with just a rein.  Kudos to her for setting the record straight!!


  1. This is just staggering. "Training aids" such as this are a disgrace. I'd be so bold as to say that anyone using one of these is seriously lacking in their appreciation and understanding of the art of horsemanship! I'm being careful with my words here Shannon because this is an issue that troubles me. But if top money-earners are resorting to equipment like this, then the "sport" of reining is in even more trouble than I thought. Quick fixes, short-cuts and fancy tricks are not in the best interests of the horse!

  2. I could not agree more, Judy! I will never watch a bridle-less demonstration again without wondering if the horse was fake-trained in this way! To me, that is what it is - - faking lightness, faking try and desire on the horse's part, faking mastery of horsemanship.

  3. Shannon, don't you think this quote is timely...

    "There are various schools of riding, differing in method and style. There are a number of mechanical means designed to achieve in a short time what in shape and form looks right and is difficult to distinguish from the genuine article. But there are no short-cuts to proper horsemanship." The Art of Riding - The Baron Hans Von Blixen-Finecke

  4. That look ALOT meaner then spurs. Its just disgusting.

  5. SICK !!!!!!!!!! The more I see the more I'm convinced that I never want to compete and never ever ever want to win that bad !
    From Helena in Ireland

  6. Disturbing is all I can add. Why would a top non-pro need risk being pictured with a device like this? Is it really just for money? They have another name for those people. Also, was she not just given a title or honor for her level of commitment to the sport? I thought she cared for her horses? Also, was her husband not one of those featured with the other video scandal? Or was that one not released? The name is familiar is all I recall. How can this sick device be legal and unregulated. When will the authorities step in. Forward this to PETA and tell them the world is tired of this treacherous horse ABUSE. There, I sad it ABUSE. Everyone really needs to leave these creatures be; sorry for ranting but now I am ill.

  7. It is not completely apparent to me that Mandy McCutcheon uses this tack collar, as the ad does not contain any quotes from her, stating that she uses them. That said, the fact that the tack company felt that using her image to advertise this product is OK does imply that she endorses their use. Certainly, if she found out her image was being used without her permission to sell a product that she does not stand behind, she would have them remove it. And yes, her husband was also targeted by Epona for his rough riding at the FEI World Championships.

    Anyone who would consciously endorse such a product certainly feels that it is their (false) right to treat animals any way they choose, regardless of the abuse involved in their actions. And there is a percentage of the human population who firmly believes that it is their God-given right to abuse animals, children, spouses and any people they deem unworthy of their respect. It is for all of us who care about ALL creatures to stand up and speak for the powerless and the downtrodden. I am glad that this blog entry has been able to raise awareness; hopefully, it will empower people to speak up and stop this sort of thing.

  8. I'm so relieved to read your update - thank you for keeping us informed and way to go Mandy!!!!!