Local News

Horse dies after controversial training method

SAN DIEGO – San Diego’s horse community is up in arms after the death of a horse in the care of a trainer known for using controversial training methods that some consider a form of torture.

Trainer Mark Arballo was allegedly training a Gunner horse with superb quality bloodlines called Bella Gonnabe Gifted at the River Valley Ranch near the San Diego-Mexico border last weekend when the horse died.

horseThe horse was tied up with a shank bit and apparently panicked, breaking the straps, according to Bethany Wallace, another trainer at the ranch.

“(Arballo) started wailing on it, beating on something,” said Wallace. “He was trying to pull and hit something with a long strap.”

“I saw Bella lying prostrate on the ground, tacked up and bloody faced,” she said. “Her nose was mutilated and bleeding out of her nostrils and one ear. She was unable to move – just groaning.”

Bella belonged to ranch owner Martha Torkington, who was not at the property when the incident happened.

Torkington said the training technique, known as “biting up,” is common and comes down to differences of philosophy: a heavy hand versus a gentler touch.  Yet, Torkington stressed, a trainer should never leave the horse alone during the process.

“If they get tripped up, they have no way of catching themselves,” said Torkington. “All the balance is in their head. They fall over and potentially hit their heads.”

Critics of the technique say the practice is just plain animal cruelty.  Horse trainer Christopher Martinez described the horse training technique as a “brutal…torture type device.”

Martinez used to work for Torkington, but he left the ranch claiming he witnessed abusive behavior towards the animals and the death of another horse last year under similar circumstances.

“They are so bound — that curb strap is puncturing through the horses chin,” said Martinez. “Every horse [at River Valley] has scars from it.”

San Diego County Animal Services is investigating the horse deaths.

VIEW & ADD COMMENTS

114 Comments to “Horse dies after controversial training method”

    Nina said:
    September 26, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    This story is poorly written and gives me no information. Where is the inverted pyramid? What kind of lead is that!? You lead with the community is up in arms. What are they doing? Are all of this trainers clients leaving him? Are people suing him?I want to know the mares age, how long has she been in the care of this trainer. This technique is controversial to who? One person? You need someone outside of this incident but who is within the industry. Where is the statement from the National Reining Horse Association? Where is the Statement from the American Paint Horse Association? Will he be punished within those organizations?

    The quotes were confusing and unclear. To the layman Gunner means nothing.It's more words but you could write recently deceased 5 million dollar sire Colonels Smoking gun which makes more of an impact. Or a quote from the owner. Many people love Gunner's because they're easy going and have flashy sliding stops. What was the purpose of her owning it. Was it her personal Non-pro horse? A horse she wanted a trainer to campaign? Or an investment as a future broodmare? What future did this owner plan? And how does it maker her feel that it's now vanished because of this man she let handle her horse?

    Write better articles! This one sucked.

    smeegal said:
    September 27, 2013 at 8:02 AM

    This is bullshit..! The horse died because it was BEATEN to death!! NOT because of the technique..and looks like a mexican did it…they are CRUEL and barbaric when it comes to training methods..same as how they slaughter horses down there (USA horses I might add) by cutting off their legs while they are still alive going down a conveyor belt…bleeding out….this "man" smh..did not have respect at all for this horse or probably the owner either…he needs to go BACK where he came from….the hole under the rock!!!!

    guest said:
    October 3, 2013 at 4:21 AM

    The method itself it not cruel. I can make a easy case to say that a heavy handed rider, one who`s timing and understanding that the release is more important then the pull is significantly more cruel then this method. That`s not to say that this method can`t be done in a cruel way. it can and too often is. when a horse is bit up they give to pressure and when the do they reward themselves thus becoming lighter and releasing the pressure that`s applied. I believe to use this method properly you must be including forward motion. right? the goal is to teach the horse to drive up into the bit not just give to the bit. being able to teach your horse how to carry itself without the weight of a rider helps it become stronger in carrying proper body position and in most cases is much less stressful on the horse then having some ignorant rider yanking and pulling, not using there leg properly to drive the horse, or someone just hanging on the horses mouth.
    There is both an ethical and unethical way to use this technique. the knowledge of how to use it and the character of the person using it is essential to making the use of it ethical. the problem is those two things seldom come together.

    delia said:
    October 9, 2013 at 1:13 PM

    that asshole should be tied up the same way if you cant handle these beautiful creatures you shouldn't be around them!!!

    Guillermo said:
    October 15, 2013 at 1:48 PM

    It’s really very complicated in this active
    life to listen news on TV, so I only use world wide web for that
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    Mandy said:
    October 19, 2013 at 5:59 PM

    NEVER EVER tie a horse up by his bridle. NEVER. And never "wail" on them, either. Cruelty and meanness are commonplace in HUMANS. Kindness and a gentle hand go a long long way with a horse. I have been training horses over 50 years.

    Sarah said:
    December 16, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    Anything that makes a horse panic and end up dead should NOT be done. Shame on all that do this.

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