Ulysses is one of our Hanaeleh Horse Ambassadors and we point to him as one of several examples of the the horses we’ve rescued who have been abused and suffered in “Charro” riding. Ulysses came to Hanaeleh from the Riverside Animal Shelter, where he had been picked up as a stray, wandering around the riverbed, starving to death.
Ulysses had cuts and scars across his legs, back, chest, neck, and face; there was not one part of him that was not either hurt or had a scar from being hurt in the past. His front legs show multiple bowed tendons as well as scarring from being hit repeatedly with a blunt object. He still, three years later, has scars across his hips, back and flank. His eyesight is minimal, and, unfortunately, he is neurological as well, which is a result of the Charro training method, not a natural condition.
What is a Charro?
A Charro is a Mexican cowboy, and the discipline today is rooted in the concept of needing a horse to move large groups of cattle. Today, however, the riders practice in an arena and there are rarely cows involved. The saddle is a throwback to the saddles used when roping and herding cattle and are often quite heavy with large pommels. They are now decorated with silver and can often be quite colorful. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of abuse in Charro riding.
In California we often see the result of horses who have been “charroed” or put through the abuses that are quite common to the discipline.
NOTE: At Hanaeleh, our credo is to keep all equine abuse information palatable without whitewashing. We want you to have all the facts and the following descriptions may cause uneasiness or upset.
Charro Riding is Horse Abuse
In Charro riding, the horse is made to “dance,” or prance about while the rider sits comfortably on his back. The horse is agitated while “dancing,” and often downright terrified.
To train the horses to “dance” (which is often a bastardization of a piaffe or passage), the horses are cross-tied and stand on wooden planks. They are cross-tied so they cannot move forward, and as one person stands behind the horse with a whip, two other individuals stand at the horse’s front, alternately hitting the horse’s legs with a stick or a whip. The horse quickly learns to pick his feet up instead of being hurt. These continual beatings are most likely how Ulysses got to be so scarred across his legs and back today.
Very much like the Tennessee Walking Horses who are trained for saddleseat, the Charros attach chains to the horse’s legs in an attempt to make the horses throw their legs out in an unnatural manner. The visual effect is that the horse is “dancing” and is more dramatic. The reality, however, is that the horse is terrified of being hurt by the chain smashing against his legs.
Charro “Dancing” in Action
Below is a short video that shows horses being trained in the Charro method of dancing. Please note that Hanaeleh did not create this video, but it gives you an idea of the abuse that Ulysses and other Charro horses go through (there are several typos in the video, but please look past that to see the message itself):
Charro Cruel Practice of Tying Horse’s Head for Hours
Charros don’t like a lot of head and neck action from their horses; they want the feet to be moving, but not the head and neck. In order to prevent the horse from flailing about and trying to escape the rider’s spurs, the Charro will tie the horse’s head up very high (often to the roof of the stall), or tie the horse’s head to his chest in an attempt to fatigue the neck. The horse’s neck muscles are so tight and exhausted that the horse is unable to fight his rider.
Charro Riding is Why Ulysses is Neurological
Our vet surmises that there are several pinched nerves throughout his neck that have caused his neurological issues. Unfortunately we did not get to Ulysses in time to repair the damage that these riders did to him, and his neurological issues cannot be reversed to the point where he would be considered “normal.” Instead, we try to massage his neck area and give him high doses of supplements like Vitamin E that help improve circulation.
Horse “Tripping” (Charro Riding’s Heinous Sibling)
Charros, like American cowboys, will also rope horses and throw them to the ground for sport or to try to prove their dominance over the horse. This is also known as tripping. This causes an extreme amount of damage to the horse’s legs and joints, sometimes causing permanent damage. We have worked with other individuals who have rescued a pony or smaller horse only to discover that their horse was both physically and emotionally traumatized from being used for tripping or trained by Charros. The horse ends up experiencing a complete mental breakdown or is so scared that he is unsafe to be ridden.
Not all Charro Riders Adhere to These Abusive Practices
Indeed, there are likely many who are kind and take their time in training their horses. Unfortunately, we see the result of the abuse. We see the horse who was taken to auction after the Charros hurt the horse so badly that he will never be safe for riding again.
We see an amazing horse like Ulysses deal with the aftermath of the abuse that he suffered, and know that if it were not for our intervention, that he would be dead. He would have been euthanized, not because he was a bad horse, and not because he had any physical issues to begin with, but because people deliberately set out to hurt him because they either did not know how to train him humanely, or just didn’t care to do so.
Hanaeleh urges that instead of defending the entire group of Charro riders, those who do not resort to abusive practices will call out those who do! They will help prevent more horses like Ulysses from being tortured in an undisguised attempt to show off.
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