Local horse experts react to viral abuse video
When a video showing a horse being pulled across a property in Grand Lake by a truck, the public reacted with immediate outrage on behalf of the horse and shamed the owners. However, some equine experts in the High Country saw some common mistakes that can happen without the right education and experience.
In November, Amber R. Saldate, 33, and John A. Saldate, 52, of Grand Lake were each charged with one count of animal cruelty for the actions depicted in the video. The Saldates are scheduled for arraignment on Jan. 28 at the Grand County Courthouse.
Sky-Hi News was unable to contact the Saldates and couldn’t determine if they have retained an attorney at this time.
In the video, a horse named Trigger was tied to the hitch of a truck by a leash attached to the halter before the truck begins pulling the horse about 100 yards across the ice and snow while he resists. Amber Saldate can be heard yelling profanities and laughing in the background.
For several local horse trainers, the incident serves as a reminder of common misperceptions about horses and training that lead to an avoidable situation.
“People treat animals like objects, not as conscious beings, but they are and they have feelings and emotions, even though they are different from ours,” said John Longhill, executive director of the Blue River Horse Center between Kremmling and Silverthorne. “When we enter their world, it’s our responsibility to understand what their priorities are and how they communicate.”
The horse involved was seized by the Grand County Sheriff’s Office and taken to the Colorado Humane Society after it was evaluated by a vet. The initial evaluation the animal didn’t suffer any obvious trauma, but was sore and given pain medication.
The 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office said it couldn’t comment on the current status of the horse because the case is ongoing.
In Grand Lake trainer Laura Mauck’s 16 years of experience, resistance like the horse in the video displayed often stems from a lack of training. In an interview with CBS, Amber Saldate said they got the horse for a good deal because it gave its past owners problems as well.
“It doesn’t matter what the horse is bred to do or meant to do … that horse needed to have a good foundation, and it didn’t have that,” Mauck said. “A horse is a horse through and through, and we need to be understanding the horse at the very basic level of what it is and how it operates.”
Longhill echoed Mauck’s comments, noting the horse is a prey animal and “a reaction machine” by its very nature.
“Their three reactions are to run, hide or fight,” Longhill explained. “It’s like if you had a child, would you tie them to a truck and drag them? No, you would teach them what you’re trying to do and get them to feel safe.”
In order to avoid causing resistance or an unintended reaction, it is key to have control over your own emotions, Mauck said, because horses will respond to the trainer’s anger or frustration with its own emotional response.
“You have to have control of your own emotions before you work with a horse that could trigger some emotional reaction,” she explained. In the video, “they never gave the horse a chance for it to do what it is they were intending it to do.”
Grand Lake trainer Tyler Klees, who has 12 years of experience, agreed with Mauck that one of the most important, yet difficult, aspects of training horses is handling your own emotions and maintaining self-control.
“It’s easy to get caught up in those expectations of ‘We’re going out right now,’ and a lot of that is just unrealistic expectations from the humans,” Klees said. “That’s the big thing in this particular case, is just step back and breathe. Don’t get me wrong, that is the toughest thing for people to do.”
Both Longhill and Klees said training starts with the basics: building a relationship with the horse on the ground before ever attempting to ride it.
“It goes back to the history of the horse,” Klees explained. “If there is no history, then it’s all just rewards so then the horse is working with you and there’s no resistances built in.”
When it comes to dealing with stubborn horses, Klees’ philosophy doesn’t change much — keep to the basics.
“It all starts with getting the horse to acknowledge you,” he said. “First, you’ve got to get them to think about you and operating in the same environment as you. Then you’d ask, like you would any horse, with softness and then depending on how they react or don’t react at all, crank up the energy level.”
All three trainers acknowledged their jobs aren’t easy and require a lot of time and dedication, as well as resources, which everyone does not have access to.
Not having the time or ability to commit to training a horse doesn’t preclude people from being owners, Klees said, but they shouldn’t attempt to “fix a horse” without understanding how to do it.
“Go through the proper way of buying a good horse that’s going to fit you and get you to have an enjoyable horse for whatever you want to do,” he said.
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Members of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission as well as the public are invited to attend CPW’s second online educational session related to wolf reintroduction efforts 6-8 p.m. Thursday.