Icelandic Veterinary Authorities Criticize Horse Trainer

A public training demonstration in Iceland by a top Danish trainer has been formally criticized by Icelandic veterinary authorities as "contrary to equine welfare."

Iben Andersen, winner of the 2001 national Icelandic Horse championships in Denmark, presented an “unacceptable” training technique—which involved tying up a horse’s leg and making it lie down—during a workshop on Oct. 13 in Hvammstangi, said Sigridur Björnsdóttir, DVM, PhD, veterinary officer for health and welfare of horses in Iceland, on behalf of Sigurborg Daðadóttir, DVM, Iceland’s chief veterinary officer.

The country’s veterinary office received complaints from spectators, Björnsdóttir said.

“Studies of video records from the demonstration revealed how a young horse was forced to lie down by binding up one of its legs while the trainer put constant pressure on it to get it out of balance,” Björnsdóttir told The Horse. “This fight continued for 45 minutes, during which time the young horse fell down a few times but managed to come up again, and after which the horse became exhausted and gave up.

“The Icelandic Veterinary Authorities regard this method as a rough violation against the horse and find it unacceptable and in disagreement with the country's legislation of animal welfare,” she said.

“We have both general provisions in our legislation that ban improper treatment of horses and more specific ones where it is forbidden to make horses exhausted and afraid,” Björnsdóttir added. “A method that does both is therefore inconsistent with our laws about animal welfare.”

Andersen acquired a variety of training methods through “some of the world’s best horsemen” in Spain, Australia, and Germany, according to her official website

Hobbling a horse with one leg—called a “Scotch hobble”—is a training technique that has sometimes been attributed to certain forms of natural horsemanship. Nineteenth-century American horse trainer John Solomon Rarey popularized the technique at home and abroad, according to the 1916 biography Rarey, the Horse’s Master and Friend by Sara Lowe Brown. The technique was also featured in The Horse Whisperer as a way to train the traumatized horse, Pilgrim.

These endorsements, however, have not convinced a leading equitation scientist.

“Tying a horse’s leg up is an unnecessarily harsh thing to do for training purposes, and there are far better ways to achieve training outcomes,” said Andrew McLean, BSc, PhD, Dipl. Ed. “It can also be dangerous for the horse as many horses fight so hard that they can break their legs. If people claim that it’s to make a dominant horse submissive then that is even worse: training has nothing to do with submission; it’s simply about modifying and reinforcing behaviors.”

Iceland’s top veterinary authorities agree and said they want to halt the practice in their country.

“The trainer has been urged to stop using this method,” Björnsdóttir said. “A warning against this method by official announcement has been sent out to trainers in Iceland.”

Andersen was unavailable for comment.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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