The recent uproar over Iowa horse trainer Logan Allen’s Facebook posts have brought certain training techniques into the spotlight. While many are calling Allen’s extreme tactics waterboarding, Allen himself told KETV news he was simply practicing a common training method called “laying the horse down,” which he says is “a technique some people do to gain trust.”
This practice is often times controversial – for some it borders on abuse and to others it’s a perfectly valid expression of submission. While The Inside Rein does not condone the images on Allen’s Facebook page, we were interested in learning more about this particular training method. For insight into this practice we reached out to Mitchell Bornstein, horse trainer and author of Last Chance Mustang, for his thoughts.
Here’s what Bornstein had to say on the topic:
“I can’t speak to this individual’s frame of mind, but my guess is that no,
he was not waterboarding the horse. Rather, he was exposing, or in other
words, forcing the horse to accept a specific stimulus – in this case it just
happened to be water from the hose. So, if the horse had refused the worming
tube, or run from a plastic bag, he would have put it down on the ground in
the same fashion and then ‘exposed’ it to the tube or the plastic bag while
it was down and prone. So, was he using water itself to punish the
horse….my guess is no – this was not waterboarding. Rather, he was forcing
the horse – from a wholly submissive position, to accept what he had
previously refused. In this case, it happened to be the water and hose.
Do I agree with his method and rationale – me personally, no.
Laying down your horse – that’s a huge topic. If you google “laying down your
horse” or go to YouTube and search for it, I would bet you will get
thousands of hits and videos of anyone and everyone “laying down” their
horse. In addition, if you look at many or most of the top natural
horsemanship famous clinicians, they will have videos and how to’s on this
procedure. My guess is that they don’t teach it under the guise of forcing
your horse to accept something, but rather as a technique to build “trust”
with your horse or “trick” training.
So, in years past, did you have folks laying down a horse to develop trust
or teaching a trick? No, you had them laying down their horse to put it in a
submissive position, establish control while it is hobbled, and in many
cases punish it for being difficult/obstructive. In fact, I bet if you check
out many of the videos online there are warnings from some of the “trainers”
or “experts” that this should be used only when your horse is being really
difficult, violent, or dangerous. Those same folks very well could be the
ones who might put a saddle on a horse and then tie the animal down on
the ground for hours or days to teach it to accept and to stop fighting the
saddle – a process that was used in the past and is still used by some out
I believe there is even a scene in the movie The Horse Whisperer where
Redford lays down the horse because the horse is fighting him and his control,
the trainer is trying to bond with the horse and establish trust. Buck Brannnaman worked on this film as a technical advisor and this is a big technique of his. There are countless very famous trick trainers/performers in addition to the show Cavalia who fill their shows with this technique and then lay all over atop the horse, etc.
My point is that this process has been out there for a long time but
is used and interpreted in many various forms. In this instance, the
individual is using it to force something on the horse that it didn’t want
to accept and he felt that it should. Laying down the horse is a
power/control move that puts the horse in a totally submissive position. To
then expose the horse to something that it finds threatening, a stimulus
that leads the animal to want to engage the right side of its brain and flee
is not teaching the horse to process or accept anything. Rather, it is
mandating, through force, acceptance. When most of us work with our horses,
we use a combination of positive and negative reinforcement. What I see here
is a third alternative, called “flooding” where you simply force the
stimulus upon the animal and leave it exposed, full tilt, until the horse
gives up, gives in, and most often just totally checks out mentally.
Personally, this is not something I want for any of my horses.
In this situation, me personally, I agree with the female trainer in the
news video who discussed other approaches. With this type of issue, I would
employ approach and retreat and various other methods which would help teach
the horse that it has nothing to fear and that the best/easiest course of
action is to accept rather than obstruct. Me, I want the horse to want to do
something and be a part of the decision. Forcing the horse to do something
takes its mind out of the equation and only breeds and instills trepidation,
anxiety, fear, and in my experience, eventual violent obstruction.”