Greed in Full View. Shameful Saddlebred Stuff

Emily Thomas Luciano is an accomplished rider as well as our talented marketing director. Read more. In this guest column, murfreesboroshe discusses her observations at a host of showing events around the southeastern U.S.  Thanks, Emily!

She writes:

Over the past year, I’ve traveled to horse shows and equine trade shows across the country. I’ve seen how equestrians from all different disciplines show, groom, ride, and care for their horses. Though I’ve been impressed with some of what I’ve seen, one major question plagues me— who is the real winner in our industry? Is it us? Or is it the horse?

I’ve seen horses started at 18 months so that they’re ready for races and futurities. I’ve seen horses shown until they are so swayed-back that I’d be embarrassed to have them in my front pasture.

Why does this happen? In my opinion, show world greed is the catalyst. Horse owners are on a quest for shiny buckles, blue ribbons, and the winner’s circle.

Emily Luciano performs at Extreme Mustang Makeover with Gus

Emily Luciano performs at Extreme Mustang Makeover with Gus

Don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-showing. In fact, I love to show! I’ve competed in four different Extreme Mustang Makeovers, have competed in obstacle and trail challenges, and even have done a handful of western pleasure classes. I love to work toward a goal with my horse. Showing is fantastic as long as the welfare of the horse comes first.

But some things irk me:

I didn’t see one fuzzy muzzle at any of the equine events I attended this year. A horse needs vibrissae (whiskers) intact so he can feel where he cannot see and not injure his nose or mouth. I prefer fuzzy ears and unclipped fetlocks for the same reason. Read more here.

Sometimes I want to troll up and down the barn aisles with a megaphone saying, “Those horses need those whiskers! And hairy ears keep the bugs out and keep them warm! And feathery fetlocks will properly shed rain!”

Trimming and clipping soon became least of my concerns. What horrified me most was the Saddlebred scene:

Swayback Saddlebred

Swayback Saddlebred

At one particular event – a huge, championship show drawing scores from around the Southeast – we brought a few of our mustangs for a separate event. The mustangs were furry and winter-coated. Their condition contrasted starkly with these clipped, statuesque equines being led around with chains across their noses (sometimes with two handlers)

The first horse to shock me was in a driving class. (I say that because there is no way he could have been saddled to ride.) His back looked like a canyon. I’m no biomechanics expert, but I suspect this is the result of his handlers cranking his head, neck, and poll at unnatural angles. For years.

As I strolled the show grounds over the next several days with my mustangs, I caught myself with my mouth open more than once. First, the stall decorations: I’ve never seen so much

In whose best interest?

In whose best interest?

effort thrown toward something so superficial.

  • One farm brought in hedges to encase their row of stalls.
  • Another brought in gas lamps…GAS LAMPS! and a trophy room, complete with haute couture, life-sized images of the owner in a gown of feathers, posed with their horses.

On the next to last day of the show, I had evening duty with our mustangs and needed to walk through several other barns to reach our truck. En route, I saw horses stalled for the night with blankets, full harnesses, cribbing collars, and what I perceived as buckets on their tails.

After some research, I learned these tail buckets were called “bustles.” If you’ve never seen a plastic tail bustle, imagine a two-gallon bucket fixed to the tail head and strapped to a full harness. These horses were stalled overnight in this contraption. I was horrified.

Saddlebred Bustle contraption

Saddlebred Bustle contraption

I asked one groom why on earth the poor horse was put up like that. His response? So he didn’t rub his tail.

Why would he feel the need to rub his tail?

Well, it’s a poorly kept secret in the Saddlebred industry that handlers will put ginger paste or some other kind of burning substance under the tail so the horse keeps his tail away from his body. This isn’t practiced by everyone, but it’s more common than we might think.

I wasn’t blind to the looks I got with my rangy-looking horses. These show elites looked down their noses as my mustangs plodded behind me in their rope halters on a loose lead, unclipped, and head low. They’d be shocked to learn that it was me who was the critical one.

I’m not painting everyone who shows with the same brush. But, I do think it’s high-time that we, as a horse community, evaluate our priorities, especially in the show arena. Whether you show Quarter horses, Saddlebreds, Tennessee Walkers or race horses, let’s put the horse first.

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    • I’m in the Saddlebred show industry and I agree some of our people NEED to change but may I also offer some education. Swaybacks are a genetic trait that is more common in saddlebreds than other breeds. It is a undesirable trait for us and we DO NOT breed for it. But horses should not be thrown away just because of this, there backs are like that from birth and it is not from there head sets. Saddlebreds are born with straight up necks and collect there backs through tucking there noses and bringing there hind end underneath themselves. This is how they get so much motion and action that adds onto there natural motion. I’m sorry the show you saw was bad, many people in the industry are trying to stop people from doing wrong like this. I hope this shed some light that all exhibitors are deeply about our saddlebreds and there well beings.

      • It may not be common because of breeding, but its common because of the headset. Saddlebreds have nsturally really high set necks, but riders and drivers take it a step further by cranking their noses in so cheek is against neck. You can compare it to how saddlrebreds behave in pasture and see the difference. The result is bad posture and really hollowed out backs, leading to sway back.

        • Do you think a horse is comfortable with their nose touching the ground, being tied down , ALL horses naturally carry their heads up , a horse with his head between his legs is defenseless.

      • You are ignorant. Please know what you are speaking about before you have an opinion much less put it in writing and post an article for other uneducated to read and believe this nonsense. You could talk about how your mustang was chased with helicopters and motorcycle and four wheelers to be penned then loaded with hot shots and packed in semi stock trailers before being hauled all over the country by unscrupulous people. Even though the government has tried to regulate how many hours that they can be hauled before being allowed to rest and drink before going through the whole process over and over again but many of these people are in it for one thing the cash. I didn’t start this.

        • Thanks for your comment. It is a common and flawed practice to highlight the wrongs in a different arena (like wild horse captures) in order to distract from the the wrongs of the one being addressed here. Certainly we can all do better if we are truly in it for the best outcome FOR THE HORSE.

        • Exactly, and have to wonder if her travels in SE USA didn’t have her at racking barns, where they have gotten their hands on Saddlebreds because the things described are not accepted in the ASB world.

      • This was a really awesome article! It makes me so sad that people do everything they can to make their horse look perfect, but they forget it’s a living creature. I’m leasing a Saddlebred this summer (and hopefully buying him someday) and I will never, NEVER do anything to make him raise his tail. I feel so bad for them 🙁

    • My saddlebred was born with a sway back. I showed her competitively for all of the younger years if her life and it never made her sway anymore severe. It’s looked the same her entire life. It wasn’t affected at all by being ridden.

  1. Emily you know I agree with you on many issues with our horses and on some issues not so much. That said, knowing you personally I know you want the best for all horses. I do not like many things that are done for shows such as the stacked/weighted shoes, tail harnesses, ginger, etc… I do NOT like horses being started under saddle as long yearlings, 2 year olds and even at 3 years old with many. I rarely started any of my own before they were in their 4th year of life. They need time to mature. I understand the clipping issues you talk about and I agree to the point that when not showing leave the whiskers and definitely the ear hair but I will clip for shows. None of us are going to agree 100%. We all just need to agree to not abuse our horses and care for them properly.

  2. Actually what you saw on the American Saddlebred was a tailset with a roll top or spooned metal crupper. Morgans wear a tailset with a bustle (which is a large overstuffed crupper like what is on a driving harness). The bucket is a crude way to try to keep the horse from rubbing it’s tail or rubbing the set off because, no surprise, the tailsets are uncomfortable or even painful to the horse if it has a sore tail.

    Please go to to see pictures and videos of mutilated tails from the tail cutting and tail setting procedure. This disgusting practice is legal in most areas of the USA and is endorsed by the USEF.

    There is a new Proposed Rule Change at the USEF to BAN all forms of tail alteration in all breeds covered by the USEF. If you are a USEF member, please comment your support for the proposed rule change. Even if you are not a member, you can send an email condemning these tail alterations.

    There is also a petition that you can sign urging the USEF to ban horse tail alterations.

  3. I fully agree with you on what you wrote. You know me and my baby Spanky Lee. The only thing I do is clip his bridle path. I really don’t care what others think about his whiskers or ears. I only blanket him when it is going to be below 30 and the only time I use a tail wrap and tail bag is when I trailer him. I know he is not the “best dressed” horse at a show, but I also believe he is happier.

  4. I’ve had horses for over 50 years and loved them even before then. Over the years, I’ve seen and learned a lot about what people will do to horses for the sake of trying to win some prestige and a ribbon. It doesn’t speak well for the human race.

    I’ve about come to the conclusion that competition corrupts, but I do find it refreshing when someone can go into a competitive situation and come out on top WITHOUT sacrificing the horse. Unfortunately, that is almost impossible with the way some breeds/shows/classes have been changed to be so artificial.

    Relatively new competitions such as Cowboy Dressage (not to be confused with Western Dressage), ranch horse riding (not to be confused with reining, cutting, or western classes) and trail obstacle competitions are refreshing because they have not (yet) developed the fads that will ultimately ruin them.

    There is so much information available now on horse handling, training, hoof care that it seems incomprehensible more people do try to do better by their horses. Thank you for your speaking up for the horse.

  5. You have a lot of your information 100% Wrong and it’s incredibly irresponsible of you to write this and literally have no idea what you are talking about. You have a lot of opinions about an area that you didn’t take the time to research properly.

    Incidentally, I noticed a picture of you and your horse balancing on a small table. Do you think your horse likes that? Perhaps you should also look into your practices as well.

    • Karen,

      I still stand by what I wrote. From the outside looking in, I find what I saw that day appalling, unnatural and selfish. I’m sure there are terrific saddlebred owners out there who don’t put their horses through the wringer for showing purposes, but I didn’t see those. I’m an advocate for the horse. At that show, I saw horses who were the absolute definition of learned helplessness. And for what? A blue ribbon? Bragging rights? It broke my heart.

      And I’m 100% comfortable with my horse practices. The horse you’re referring to is my mustang, Gus. In that picture, he was 60 days from the wild. And believe it or not, he sought out that pedestal because he enjoyed the treats and praise that came after. To this day, he will seek out the pedestal if it’s out in the arena. So yes, I’d say he does. All I did was engage his curiosity and build upon it with positive reinforcement. All in a snaffle bit, on his clock, using trust. So, yes…I’m comfortable with my practices.

      • Karen,
        I learned to ride on saddlebreds and showing was part of our family culture until the barn in central Illinois where I grew up brought in a new trainer from Chicago. After his arrival, we would come into the barn after school to see our beloved horses in head and tail set harnesses sweating …. obviously in duress. We were told this was necessary in weeks prior to shows. When asking why our horses suddenly held their tails so high for shows, we were told it was because of a special ointment that was placed in their anuses prior to show. ( Would you like ginger in your A—?) The hoof heights also increased, and so did thier leg lifts. One of my friends horses ended up with all hair rubbed off of her tail because of the ginger…. so they started to place hair pieces on it for shows. I watched multiple horses being whipped prior to entering the show ring, so they had “energy” !
        My parents, luckily were not blind to this abuse. We left this barn and took our horses, to pasture. If you love your horses, do the same. The saddlebred show circuit is one of abuse! The horse you referred to in your toxic defensive post on this thread went onto a small podium for the rider because of trust….
        Think about that!

      • I really like what you stand for and totally agree with you.
        In my opinion it’s nothing but posing and posturing by trainers with no regard for horse welfare and riders who bounce around like sacks of sloppy concrete whilst hauling on severe bits with flailing arms and hard hands.
        It’s hellish to watch.
        I’m all for showing but, for the love of God, show and enhance the natural beauty and movement of the horse instead of trying to change things that were never meant to be.

    • Agreed! Do some more research about the reason why they do this! I ride Saddlebreds and they all enjoy this because it was what they were bred to do. Also the horse on the table is just cruel.

      • Saddle Seat itself may not be too bad, but how do you think most horses would feel if they were wearing a ridiculously heavy bit, having a crippled back that you refuse to genetically fix, pulling their face off, and having a sore tail from a tail set? Your sport shouldn’t disappear, but it should be fixed. You’re failing to realize your sport’s flaws, and trying to spread the word to fix them. Your sport isn’t perfect. No sport is. And treating it like it is, is simply irresponsible for the horses that actually need help. Please realize this.

        • ridiculously heavy bit? crippled back? pulling their face off? That is 100% ignorance on your part. Congenital swayback is genetic, as it’s name says. It is not the result of the headset, training, or riding. Saddlebreds with this condition exhibit it prior to training.
          Now on the bits and pulling the face off. Saddle Seat as a discipline uses bits designed for off-the-bit riding. The long shanks on the bit allows the horse to work off the shank motion before the bit itself actually acts. Of course you would not ride in such bits for dressage or hunt seat where the rider takes contact with the horse’s mouth. Just like you wouldn’t ride with dressage contact in a Saddle Seat bit. Again, 100% ignorance.

    • Karen,
      I learned to ride on saddlebreds and showing was part of our family culture until the barn in central Illinois where I grew up brought in a new trainer from Chicago. After his arrival, we would come into the barn after school to see our beloved horses in head and tail set harnesses sweating …. obviously in duress. We were told this was necessary in weeks prior to shows. When asking why our horses suddenly held their tails so high for shows, we were told it was because of a special ointment that was placed in their anuses prior to show. ( Would you like ginger in your A—?) The hoof heights also increased, and so did thier leg lifts. One of my friends horses ended up with all hair rubbed off of her tail because of the ginger…. so they started to place hair pieces on it for shows. I watched multiple horses being whipped prior to entering the show ring, so they had “energy” !
      My parents, luckily were not blind to this abuse. We left this barn and took our horses, to pasture. If you love your horses, do the same. The saddlebred show circuit is one of abuse! The horse you referred to in your toxic defensive post on this thread went onto a small podium for the rider because of trust….
      Think about that!

    • Most of it is wrong. This person has never been in a good Saddlebred barn, nor been exposed to one. Sounds more like in racking horse country in SE and they are all over down there. Some walking bred and they have gotten their hands on Saddlebreds too.

  6. Emily,

    What you were seeing with those sway backed horses is not a result of work or their heads being cranked up. It is called Lourdosis and is a genetic thing. While they are not the prettiest horses to look at, most Lourdosis horses are riding sound our driving sound. Would it be mt preference to have one? no. Would I every breed a particular mare to a particular stallion again if they produced a foal with it? No. But you start right out of the gate with assumptions about something without asking anyone in the know what is going on. That makes the rest of your article seem less credible.

    • Thanks for the insight, Carra. In that case, it sounds a bit like quarter horse folks breeding horses that pass on HYPP. Doesn’t do anything to improve the breed.

  7. The horses don’t have their heads “cranked up” in unnatural ways. That is their natural head carriage. A quick Google search could have cleared that up for you before writing your peice. There is nothing cruel about it and they aren’t forced to hold their heads in unnatural ways.

    Why does it bother you so much that people decorated their stalls with bushes and lamps? Why was that note worthy?

    I am glad that not everyone walks around and without any knowledge or research and writes articles about things without knowing what is actually happening (for example head carriage, sway backs, etc). You have placed judgement on things you saw, based on a negative and uneducated view point. It is neglegent reporting and shouldn’t be permitted.

    • Karen,

      Your response to this article was refreshing after reading such a biased, uninformed published opinion. I was offended at the statements made assuming that saddlebred caretakers are borderline abusive or cause damage to the animals simply because you don’t understand these horses are naturally built with a longer, more upright neck. Lordosis is no fault of the Breeder, owner, or trainer, and often isn’t even preventable it just turns up and the horses can still be ridden or driven just as well as the next.

      Saddlebred owners don’t judge you for grooming and training your mustangs differently than we do, so don’t pass judgement on us for what you don’t understand

    • I get this so much. Some trainers need to stop but the way people decorate should not be a concern. And some people might think that people in the saddlebred industry are rich fed up snobs but were not! We just want to show our horses and have fun! It shouldn’t be someone else’s concern who has a different type of horse or that is not educated in that specific area of saddlebreds or etc. But please don’t judge this industry because we might do things differently. Why can’t the equestrian world be loving and kind?

  8. I am relatively new to the horse world, having started lessons 3 1/2 years ago (English, because New England, with a goal of confident trail riding) as an older adult. I bought my lesson horse, a mare who came “off the truck” (aka horse dealer) from an auction in Pennsylvania. Because I’m an uninitiated adult, I get away with breaking a few rules, and I’m proud to say that it’s because of me that no one shaves their horse’s face or ears in my pretty big barn any more, even for competition. I learn things about the horse world on a daily basis, and I’m continually amazed that my smart little mare still puts up with my amateur attempts at communicating with her. After watching the WEG at Tryon (streamed), I realized that there’s so much I don’t know about higher level competition. So much. That said, I met a saddlebred barn owner this weekend in the Midwest (I’m a transplant from the Midwest) that made all my previous ethical concerns pale in comparison, and we didn’t even get into discussing soring or any of the other really terrible things this breed is known for. The show horses never leave their box stalls except to train, what 30 min a day?, because of the fear of ruining their giant shoes, long feet, or anything on their tails. They submit to TWO bits that absolutely make their heads unnaturally high and back. I was encouraged to try riding one of these beautiful and incredibly sweet animals, and had to be continually reminded by the barn owner to hold the reins with a fist (not the light finger hold on a French snaffle that I’m used to) at a 45 degree angle and to hold my hands very high and firmly, with absolutely no leg on the horse. With that unnatural gait (let’s not even talk about how they train them for their “5th gait” by making them unbalanced) they are forced to trot and canter while high stepping. It’s unbearable to watch. The flared nostrils and wild eyed demeanor with the tail unnaturally up — just gross. The shoes are unreal. The utter superficiality of this saddleseat show world in particular is nauseating. And indefensible. There is nothing wrong with primping, or training to the nth degree, or costumes (I mean is it a little bit Jon Benet Ramsey? Maybe.), but horses need to be horses, not toys.

    Thank you for publishing this piece. We can do better.

    • The American Saddlebred was bred to look how it looks today. If you look at the best horses in the show ring, and look back at Foal photos of them you can see that they have always been highstepping and highheaded since they were born. Their whites of their eyes are natural to be showing, bc most Saddlebred are born with a bright set of eyes. Yes, there may be a couple of unethical practices in saddleseat, but the same goes for every discipline. Just because we do not treat our horses differently then yours does not mean we are abusing our horses.

    • The American Saddlebred is born with that high stepping trot and canter that you saw. Also they are born with that natural head set and high held tail that you talked about. When you were riding all the things they told you were for a reason and some for the benefit of the horse. The one thing that bothers me the most about your post is that you did not get to discussing soring which this breed is known for. That statement is absolutely incorrect. People sired Tennessee Walking Horses, not Saddlebreds, in the Big Lick, also not Saddleseat. Although some people do cruel things to the Saddlebred most of us don’t. I bet that if you did the right research you can most definitely find out that people that abuse horses in almost every single discipline out there. Next time do some research and stop pointing fingers.

    • I have a saddlebred that was a mid five figure “ investment” for a group of folks at a show barn. I paid literally 2 figures after his throat surgery ( basically a hole inside his throat ), “ tack rein” , which is a rein imbedded with tacks to keep him moving straight, failed to work and he was deemed not fit to even be a lesson horse. He has a tail that literally was hacksawed BY A VET to fit into the crupper, bustle, whatever…. When you lift his tail, he tenses up expecting ginger to be inserted. This boy has been through it, is mentally scarred for life and yet is the funniest, sweetest horse I have ever had the pleasure of partnering with. Buck Brannaman said it correctly at a clinic that my gelding and I attended….” The person who did that to this horse should spend the rest of his/her life in prison”.
      I agree.

    • The white eyes showing, sweat and foam dripping from their mouths and necks, clearly agitated and high strung demeanor, but oh, the tail is fluttering so prettily with the five pounds of extra hair added.
      Reminds me of the mothers who coat their three year old daughters in makeup for the sake of winning a beauty pageant. Such a sad, superficial world.

    • When you were watching the WEG, did you notice how many horses (ridden and handled the way I suppose you approve) wore TWO bits? Just like the Saddlebred. How many of the dressage riders force the horse’s head down to his knees and stretch his back to the limit in warmup? What about the flared-nostrils and sweat of the 3-day-event horses? And the shoes–do you know how heavy they are? Less than 2 lbs for a 1000 lbs animal. I wear more on my feet than they do, as a proportion of my weight. And many of the top horses go lighter than that, some even are barefoot.
      As for the wild-eyed demeaner, that’s just how they look. After their routine they stand and pose. How about the dressage horses in the prize ceremony that won’t stand? Who is really scared here? And as for the 5th gait (the rack) did you know that it is genetic, not man-made? That some horses do it in the pasture on their own without any training? I’ll bet you didn’t. Anything that’s different from what you were taught is “wrong” and “abusive” in your eyes.

    • What a refreshing piece from someone who cares and has seen, firsthand, the cruelty that is being fiercely defended by a group of so called ‘horse lovers’
      They would be prosecuted for cruelty in the UK.

  9. My boyfriend works for a saddlebred barn and they are doing a show in Missouri right now. He called me saying that nearly every barn trainer is rubbing either ginger or salsa into their horse’s assholes and every horse has a broken tail to get it to sit higher. There are also a bunch of swayback horses. Horses with Lordosis should NOT be bred or shown, as this is a major breed fault, but people do it anyway for the ribbons.

  10. Wow. You’re hating on other equestrians. Why do you care if we put hedges outside of stalls.
    That back problem you saw- it is a genetic flaw in some saddlebreds. They can still lead a normal life with it. I would know because i have one.
    NO ONE puts ginger salve in the horses butts. Real saddlebreds naturally throw up their tails when excited.
    You’re being judgmental and clearly do not know anything about this discipline. Please do some research before you hate.

    • Agreed. I think I saw one Arabian once in a lifetime of watching Arabian shows. He had his tail straight up and did not move it one centimeter side to side as he trotted. As if it would cause him pain to move his tail in any other position, it wasn’t normal. Even wry-tailed Arabians move their tails in movement. This one did not. I suspect poison (ginger) but I cannot be sure. I would agree with you in general that virtually no one does that, it’s not needed.

    • But some people do put ginger salve on their horse’s tails. Don’t try to think Saddle Seat is perfect. It isn’t. Which is why we should make efforts to fix it the bad parts of it and make it better. Also, you don’t need to love other equestrians. If you are in a group, you don’t need to automatically love every person in that group.
      For example: There could be that one horrible person in dog shows who beats their dogs to have them perform well. And you are just a normal dog shower. You do not have to like that person just because they’re in the same profession as you. Of course the example I gave is more horrible than Saddle Seat. But not everyone in a certain group you’re also in doesn’t have to liked by others. That’s going to tell them they can get away with doing horrible things.
      If you’re going to be in a sport, at least try to understand the side another person is coming from. Pretending your sport is flawless is irresponsible and potentially dangerous and can help people get away with terrible things if you don’t bring light on it. Be voices for other horses. Don’t suppress the truth of the flaws of the sport. And if it’s more natural, with a softer bit and natural tail and back, it looks pretty. But a lot of aspects of it need to be fixed.

  11. Really Ava, NO ONE, guess it hurts to admit the truth of the matter, what about the overgrown hooves, and ridiculous shoes, seems to be a pretty clear case of animal abuse, you know what they say. “The truth hurts, but l guess if there’s a blue ribbon to be won, you can look in the mirror, and sleep well at night. As far as clear conscience, l guess you’ve got one of those, one thing for sure you’re trying to defend an indefensible position, a couple of lines from a poem l wrote for my wife when her Polish Arab endurance horse passed away. Majestic by nature, equine by birth, The nobleist of creatures, God’s gift to Mother Earth

  12. Emily, I think many have missed the point of your article” We Can Do Better”. I would like to think that no matter what discipline we all love our horses. In my profession we have something that we call sacred cows another words it is something that is done because it is always been done that way. We have now come to realize that in order to move forward and improve practice we need to evaluate what we do and consider what is the best practice. I encourage those of you out there to look at how we treat those animals we love and do the research. Remembering research is not just the opinion of a professional, that an opinion should be able to be backed up by validated research, and stand up to peer review. We do not have to defend best practice, research if done correctly will speak for itself. We should ask ourselves, the professionals, and governing bodies is this in the best interest of the horse? Would you what this done to you? As a society we get caught up in the politics, the blue ribbons and the economics forgetting why we gravitate to these wonderful animals. Be an advocate for those without a voice, life is a wonderful gift and horses are a blessing. If we reflect on our history the horse can tell us so much about human nature. We can do better, have the courage, be the change!

  13. Let me take apart your argument piece by piece.

    1. Keeping the bugs out of ears is important, but what about when they get in? Unclipped ears are a one-way street that almost nothing comes out of. Dirt doesn’t stick to wax-covered ear hair when it’s clipped, and bugs can get out if they do get in.

    2. Some horses need stud chains or to be led by two handlers. Ideally, they should have been taught better manners from the start, but it’s for safety. Stud chains are a tool. Hammers can hurt you, but they can build houses for the homeless, too. It’s about how you use a tool.

    3. Nobody likes swaybacked horses, but a lot of saddlebreds are predisposed to being swaybacked due to their genetics. I can assure you, the owners of swaybacked horses do everything they can to help these horses cope with their disability. Also, saddlebreds have a naturally high head carriage, no need to “crank!”

    4. Decorations are fun and add atmosphere. It’s not hurting you.

    5. I’m sure you’re not making a case against blankets, but grouping them in with your “harmful devices” doesn’t help your credibility any. The “full harnesses” and “buckets” were, as others have said, bustles. Their purpose is to stretch the muscles of a tail that has already been set, allowing the horse to move its tail higher – whoever you spoke to was incorrect. Bustles move around constantly, and they require constant supervision to ensure the horse is comfortable and the bustle is in the correct position. Cribbing collars are needed for a lot of horses because they will suck air into their gut and not want to eat their food, leading to malnutrition. This is a habit that’s tough to break, and sometimes managing it is all you can do!

    6. Gingering is the process of finely chopping a piece of ginger less about the size of your pinky nail and mixing it into a tub of plain Vaseline, then smearing a tiny, TINY amount a short distance inside a horse’s anus so an arabian or saddlebred will carry its tail high and proud. A LOT of people do it wrong, but don’t assume the correct process is inhumane – it feels like when you eat a gingersnap cookie and your mouth tingles a bit. SALSA will cause PAIN and DAMAGE.

    7. You didn’t mention this in your article, but a concerning amount of commenters have gotten this wrong. SADDLEBREDS, ARABIANS, AND MORGANS DO NOT HAVE THEIR TAILS BROKEN. The process of tail setting is very precise, and should only be done by a veterinarian with experience and success doing this procedure. Setting the tail involves nicking the ligaments of the tail and allowing them to stretch, making it easier to raise the tail. It actually makes it easier to swish flies!

    8. Again addressing commenters, saddlebreds are not sored. Tennessee Walking Horses are, and the practice doesn’t lead to long-lasting horses, so is less common than you think.

    9. Commenters – “overgrown” hooves are a problem, but saddlebreds have their feet kept a bit longer than quarter horses and other breeds because they move VERY differently from other breeds and are shod differently. Weighted shoes are a tool, and used correctly, they cause no harm and allow a horse to move high in more comfort than they could ever have barefoot. In fact, make sure your “barefoot/natural shoeing trimmer” isn’t cutting your horses’ feet too short, because that will cause a LOT more problems than overgrown feet.

    Emily and commenters, please do more research and ask more questions! Horses are beautiful creatures, and we in the saddlebred world love them very much and want to keep riding them in the show ring for years to come. Believe it or not, most of us can’t afford to abuse a horse for a show season, throw it away and get another.


    • Thanks for your comments, Cindy. At Best Horse Practices, we consider alterations, surgeries, supplements, and various intrusive measures made by many saddlebred owners and riders to NOT be in the best interest of the horse. For EVERY comment that you itemized, we see mostly excuse-making and rationalization. Each one, if asked of the horse, “Is this in your best interest?” “Are you healthier and happy for it?” we feel the horse would most assuredly answer, “NO.”

      • Thank you for your response, Maddy. I’m not sure how providing the facts of why things are done is considered excuse-making, but you’re entitled to your opinion. 🙂 I am surprised that you don’t use supplements, however. HorseGuard is recommended by most vets even for pasture pets to help provide what may not otherwise be provided in forage or feed.


        • Thanks, Cindy. I also appreciate the back and forth. As for supplements, research shows that with the exception of Vitamin E, Selenium, and salt, horses don’t need supplements. There is also good research showing that what companies SAY is in their products often deviates from what is actually provided.

          • All I can say is “wow”. The ignorance that is radiating off your comment makes it almost hard to read. Stick to your own discipline and don’t come after ours. You don’t know nearly enough to make a one valid point. We prioritize in the safety and happiness of our horses in order to keep them show ready. Most of the “information” provided here was extremely biased and in most cases, downright false. Yes there are abusers that are prevalent in our industry, but none of us condone any sort of mistreatment. I bet there is also mistreatment in your discipline too! Stick to facts, not bias. Please educate yourself before word vomiting on your keyboard! Thank you and have a great day you keyboard warrior!

      • ” Each one, if asked of the horse, “Is this in your best interest?”

        If assked of the horse, they would prefer to live in herds and graze, and not be packing human beings around and live in 12’x12′ stalls.

    • Cindy,
      I love ginger. I eat it freshly chopped in my food. Have you tried putting it up in your butt? I would ask you if it hurts but the answer is clear – if it didn’t hurt, your horses wouldn’t hold their tails, paralyzed, away from their anuses.

    • Common sense again, from someone who clearly knows this breed and what goes on. Saddlebreds are a trotting breed and have to trot square. They are not sored. The amount of misinformation in her ‘article’ is astounding. Almost as bad as the ‘poor nursemare foals’ scams.

      Would think this one spent time in racking horse barns.

  14. Thank you for your article Emily, I am surprised by some of the comments from the pro-tampering fraternity, you would think they might not prove their ignorance by replying and trying to justify their actions. I do believe that there is a huge problem in the US of tampering with nature. We can look at the English Thoroughbred, the English Hackney, the Scottish Shetland pony and the Arab horse. The Thoroughbred has hit such a genetic bottleneck, due to the US market wanting speedy 2 year olds, it is debatable if the breed will be sustainable for much longer. The Hackney and the Shetland are virtually unrecognisable to any native of the country that they hail from. As for the Arab, I recently saw a video of a US Arab show, they have been turned into a monstrosity, all tiny dished face and flagged tail. I have been around horses all my life, I ran an Arab stud, all our horses including the two stallions competed in endurance, hunter trials/cross country and the show ring, the senior stallion was no slouch at dressage either, yet those American Arabs looked so frail as to be unrideable in any other circumstances than the show ring. This tampering is not restricted to horses, dog breeds and cattle have all suffered for the sake of people’s vanity. Do the animal kingdom a favour and get some Barbie dolls to primp and pose.

  15. Idk if this helps clarify things about Saddlebreds tails but as stated in an article by The Horse (

    “Hugh Behling, DVM, of Simpsonville, Ky., is a veterinarian who has Saddlebred show stables among his clientele. The tail surgery performed on Saddlebreds, he says, is relatively simple and straightforward. An incision is made through the ventral sacrocaudal muscles that depress the tail. The tail is then placed in a tail-set device that elevates the tail.

    The reason for the tail-set device is two-fold, Behling says. In the beginning, it separates the severed ends of muscle so that they do not reattach. Secondly, it loosens and stretches the ventral sacrocaudal muscles near the incision and allows the dorsal muscles to contract so that the tail is more easily held aloft. When the horse is in show training, it normally will wear the tail-set device except when being ridden or driven.

    However, during periods of time when the horse is out of training, Behling says, the tail-set device often is removed.

    The goal is to present an elegant picture of a high-stepping horse with its tail plumed. To heighten the effect, some exhibitors braid in an artificial tail to provide more plumage. The artificial tail is made of horsehair from other horses’ tails.

    Behling says muscles that allow the horse to swish his tail–the coccygeus muscles–are left intact in the surgical procedure. The horse, when not in the tail-set device, he says, can swish its tail in normal fashion.”

    It should be noted that in many barns I have worked in horses wore tailsets only during show season or during the week before a show. It wasn’t something they lived in 24/7. We also took them off on hot summer days. We also turned them out a lot in the arena, round pens, or small grass paddocks for free payl multiple times a week. We didn’t put them in large paddocks with other horse shows because we didn’t want to risk horses being bit or kicked (and possibly injured). Many trainers I worked with believed in trail riding your horse around the farm and only out show shoes on during show season with many being in plates or barefoot all winter. There is darkness in every breed/discipline but Saddlebreds are generally well cared for by those who own, train, or show them. I would love to see people across disciplines come together to openly discuss without anger why we each do what we do.

    • I apologize for grammar mistakes… Should have said “free play,” “with other horses,” and “put show shoes.”

  16. Wow! This is officially the dumbest thing I have ever read!
    My horse has a genetic swayback. He was born with it. It’s unfortunately a common genetic flaw. Look it up if you don’t believe me.
    So I really don’t appreciate you implying that people like me are abusive. That’s beyond wrong and uneducated. Where’s your vet degree? Oh yeah… you don’t have one. Haha. Your opinion is not scientific facts.
    I’m going to keep riding my horse saddleseat. He’s barely shod, has an amazing farrier, shows only a couple times a year, and is in a barn where horses are perfectly healthy at nearly thirty years old. As the cool kids say, die mad about it!
    Please read a book or two <3

    • Thanks for the comment. We think checking the sarcasm and insults at the door would make for a more effective dialogue.

    • The article itself does not shame Saddle Seat itself. It is talking about the horrible things a portion of Saddle Seat owners do to their horses, and that portion of the sport needs to be gone. And we need to talk about stuff like this. Leaving it in the dark is going to endanger so many horses that truly do live horrible lives in the hands of the wrong riders. And that’s not fair to them. If you want to make your sport much cleaner, you need to be a voice for those horses.

  17. The saddlebreds are in no harm when in their stalls with all of this on. This is how they train their tails to be up and most cases, they do not use ginger to do so. The buckets are so they do not rub up on their tail and ruin it before shows. These swayback saddlebreds are not from handling the horse wrong, but in fact a genetic disorder.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kalea. We find your very first remark telling and believe it speaks to the larger picture of horse keeping. Namely, horses are more stressed and less healthy in stalls. We can all go down the tunnel of constant disagreement of genetic traits, saddlebred practices and BEST practices when taking research and welfare in mind, but this crowd, unfortunately, seems unwilling to consider that certain practices (including the breeding that sadly nurtures swaybacks) might be reconsidered when evaluating what is best FOR THE HORSE.

      • Lets talk about hunter jumpers and eventers being made to pound over jumps day after day. A horse has only so may jumps in them. Lets talk about Quarter horses bred to have big muscular bodies and tiny little feet made to spin and twist. Lets talk about Quarter horses made to hold their hed low like a depresed horse ansd shuffle along in shows. Lets talk about dressage warm bloods having to have their jpijts injected and ‘maintanence ‘ is comon.

        I have a 6 year old Saddlebred. He came from an east coast show barn and his forelock was shaved because he must have been a fine harness horse. His top line is fine. They have a natural flat croup and high tail. His hooves are normal (now). His tailset is high spirited flag when he moves and natural. No one has messed with his tail muscles. His neck and haed carriage is long and high. He is naturally beautiful. This is my third natural Saddlebred. There are pleanty of human coo coo loos in the show worlds of every breed. The country pleasure Saddlebred class in shows requires a natural tail and normal hooves. I have my Saddlebreds for trail riding.

      • “We find your very first remark telling and believe it speaks to the larger picture of horse keeping. Namely, horses are more stressed and less healthy in stalls.”

        Good for you. You can keep all your horses outside, whether they like it or not. I used to keep my horses outside too until I acquired a horse that didn’t like it. She likes her comfy stall. Outside 24/7 was stressful and unhealthy for her. She’s not the only horse I know that thinks this way.

        In addition, the law requires that stallions be kept in stalls. It’s even in their name “stallion”–the stalled one. But maybe you’d prefer to unnaturally geld them so they can live naturally outside?

  18. Thank you, Emily, for speaking out!

    As long as it remains legal to produce these ridiculously exaggerated gaits, and classes for it are offered at shows, mechanical soring– and in the case of Tennessee Walkers that are “Big Lick” trained– stacking and chemical soring (which is illegal but still goes on), will continue. There are a plethora of behind-the-scenes YouTube videos exposing these BARBARIC practices, which many people attending gaited horse shows probably never see.

    The title of your article, “Greed in Full View,” says it all. The unspeakable pain of the bruises caused to the tender cornet band from fetlock chains (not to mention horses that are chemically sored and stacked), the tail nicking and bracing, the hours of misery these horses endure each day in a bustle, the excessively high angle that their heads and necks are cranked up, riders seated all the way back on top of their horse’s loins… All of this is done to “out-flash” the competition and win in the show ring. None of it is for the benefit or well-being of the horse. Most people who have horses claim they love them, but this is not how people who truly love horses treat them.

    I think there is much more honor in revering the horse’s natural splendor. Gaited horses are smooth, athletic, and beautiful with no need of being artificially altered. I’m in agreement with you, by the way, on allowing horses to keep their fetlock hair, ear hair, and whiskers. These are there for important reasons and should never be clipped.

    Again, thank you for having the strength to speak your truth. Ignore the nay-sayers who are so accustomed to these methods that they can’t see the cruelty behind them. Some admit to the inhumane training practices of their discipline, yet deny their own affiliation with these practices. If that were the case, they’d be riding in the “natural” gaited horse classes. People will always find a way to defend what they do. When convicted, some engage in gaslighting. This often involves personally attacking those who speak out. Ignore them and march on! I am with you.

  19. Not only is this disgusting to read but offensive to see she snuck in horses stalls to photograph.
    I was at this show
    And this article is such trash.
    You have made assumptions about things, and researching a topic on Google doesn’t count as research. So your description of the “tailbuckets” is completely absurd.
    Your so far off on what goes on its gross.
    And there is nothing wrong with decorating a barn isle. We go to horse shows to get away from the stress of life. Why must you assume that making the area pretty and pleasant is in some way egotistical and self serving.

    You must not understand a driving bridle if you have a problem with the one you pictured.

    You need to go spend a year in a handful of different saddlebred barns.
    Learn about what you slander.
    Ignorance is bliss

    • Thanks for your comment, Erica. In fact, we have spoken with horse owners at saddlebred barns and have reviewed the research. We would suggest that instead of insulting the author, you contribute to the conversation in a way that moves toward understanding and common ground.

  20. Why do you keep referring to Saddle Seat (a riding discipline) as if it encompasses everything about the industry?

  21. I have owned and bred Saddlebreds, Arabs, and NSH since the 1980’s. ALL of my Saddlebreds have been natural pleasure horses that are rarely in a stall and spend most of their time outside doing exactly what any wild horse would do.

    Every one of my Saddlebreds have had a NATURAL and perfectly upright high head carriage although several were never broke to ride or drive at all. ALL my Saddlebreds have had a natural high tail carriage from the moment they were born. I abhor any alteration of any animal and I would cut my own throat before I ever considered gingering a horse. All our horses have normal hoof length and have never had any long hooves nor artificial gait enhancers used, they have a naturally high trot and and hock action, that has been developed through selective breeding over the past 150 years.

    I have had only one low back horse born in all my years of breeding, he was born to parentage on both sides that produced very few low back horses, but it was genetic, it popped up, and caused him no problems whatsoever, and I kept him for all 32 years of his life before losing him to EPM last fall.

    I just adopted a Saddlebred stallion with a low back from a kill pen sale! That horse ended up being sold for meat export to Mexico because of unfounded statements about Saddlebreds being “high strung” and low backs.

    He is a quiet, sweet and gentle horse that is perfectly trained for pleasure riding, but was passed up at two auctions and ended up being sold for meat because of his low back and the false information people that have no experience with Saddlebreds spread about low backs. The man who transported him was present at both auctions and overheard that ridiculous talk.

    His low back is absolutely not any problem our discomfort to him according to our veterinarians , he has had full examination, which we do with any horse before we ride them. Had I not found out about this horse, and looked beyond that “swayback” to the wonderful horse he is, he would be dead right now. He would be dead because of a birth defect that may be unsightly to you, but is familiar and manageable to those that know the breed.

    You may be interested to know that I and my group of friends have spent over four thousand dollars to rescue this horse, who although he is an intact stallion that could win at any show, will never be used for anything but companionship. I wouldn’t even ride him except for the fact that he craves human contact and follows me like a puppy dog, it is his choice, the moment he shows any disinterest in riding he will immediately be retired from it. I loved him before I met him and I love him more every day, and he doesn’t even have registration papers, so there is none of the “greed” you seem to believe is the root of the motive for everyone that has Saddlebreds.

    If you had bothered to research you would have found out that there are show classes at Saddlebred shows for natural horses, and my natural, unset, uncranked, quiet Saddlebred horses have received standing ovations at all breed shows with their NATURAL exuberance, ungingered NATURAL flag tails, and NATURAL high trot and hock action. The majority of Saddlebred owners are just like me, yet you have condemned us all for the behavior of the few. There are also humane “frames” that are used by MANY, it is a lightweight padded frame that is worn for only the few minutes they are in the show ring and removed immediately after, it does not restrict the tail and has a hair cover. They are used by the MANY that refuse to have their horses surgically altered and set to compete.

    I have had caught hostile trespassers on my property several times because of misinformation about Saddlebred and Arab farms. People who have no idea about us, our of horses, our our farm. I have also adopted, rehabbed, and found forever homes for dozens of abused and neglected horses from many breeds. Do you have any idea what the angry intrusion of a trespassing stranger into their first safe haven does to these horses? All because of people labeling all owners of a particular breed as abusive and heartless. I witnessed a sickening roundup and breaking to lead, and stand tied of mustangs out west many years ago. It was conducted by a mustang adoption group. The brutality was frightening to me, but I was told to do some research, and I did, and I came to understand that these horses would be destroyed if they had not been rounded up and been able to be loaded and transported in short time. I did not condemn people adopting wild horses because of the brutality of their capture. I do not question whether your horse is happier now that he is being led around on a loose lead that running with his herd in the wild.

    Saddlebred horses are very domesticated breed, they were bred for specific traits, and they naturally possess lean and upright confirmation and exaggerated action as a result of that breeding. They are wonderful, caring, gentle, affectionate, and intelligent horses and their owners love them. Stop condemning them and all their owners to ridicule and obscurity just because you prefer a dead broke horse with a low head set.

  22. Like Kris (5/23/2021) I too was raised with and showed Saddlebreds, but I’m a lot older – so this was in the 1950s. The stable where I learned to ride did many cruel things to the “show” horses. This was consistent and common in ALL Saddlebreds, from small shows (Palomar Stables, Bradley’s in the hills above downtown San Diego, Valley Lane Farms, and others) to the Del Mar National Horse Show (with competitors from all over the western U.S. and Canada), and finals at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.

    There was no oversight. No care for the horses or their comfort. Noone to care.

    I competed on other people’s horses – didn’t have my own. So I was not privy to the care and training. What I saw and experienced came from a few hours before lessons, and weekends spent just hanging out at the farms and ranches – I loved everything about being there, so my dad would drop me off on Saturday morning and pick me up at end of day.

    I didn’t discover the truth about the “training” practices until later in my horse show life. Here are just a few handy helpers to get “maximum performance” from an already exquisitely beautiful animal …

    1. Flag tails were not sufficient, so the tail was broken about 8 inches from the rump, then bandaged to heal in an upside-down U shape.
    2. Ginger was used constantly and consistently in the anuses of ALL the Saddlebreds.
    3. Horses hooves were always grown very, very long.
    4. The horse’s pasterns (ankles, to humans) were weighted with big rolls (some were rubber, some were wood), so that it took extra effort to lift the leg. The result was an abnormally high step when the weights were finally removed the day of the show.
    5. Because of conditioning with a whip in the stall by a trainer, horses were conditioned to react with great fear just before entering the show ring, simply by the trainer slapping his riding boot with a whip. All for a “more animated” appearance.
    6. Horses were usually left with bit and surcingle (“bitted up”) in their stalls for hours. This supposedly trained them to “come off the bit” and further accentuate their naturally graceful neck and head carriage.
    7. Legs were frequently “sored” with a heat-inducing substance to make the horse “step lively” and appear to have even greater leg action than normal – very typical of Tennessee Walking Horses, but also done to Saddlebreds – though I saw this less frequently.

    Sadly, most owners and riders who kept their horses stabled with a trainer seldom knew of these atrocities, because the horses were seldom mistreated in the sight of the young riders.

    There may have been other atrocities I never learned of – these are the ones with which I became painfully aware as I became older and was allowed into the stalls and barns before and after hours to see the truth. None of this is assumption or conjecture. It is what I saw. This was the 1950s to early 1960s in San Diego, California. We have not come that far.

  23. Thank you for sharing you experiences Deavon and for sharing your honest observations.
    How can anyone defend what you saw?
    It is certain that there is a section of people dealing with Saddlebreds who are truly in denial about horse welfare.
    More exposure is needed.

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