That was probably a TWH, magic. Never in my life have I ever seen a Saddlebred with three inches of shoe. There is a lot of abuse within the breed, which I do not know enough about to comment about.
The abuse of Show TWHs does not, and should not condemn a completely different breed of horse or complete dicipline.
As well, the bad acts of one(in case that is not a TWH), should never(though it often does) taint the acts of the rest of the whole group.
Magic, I am not going to pass judgement on the person at your barn, but if that is a show horse(didn't say whether he was or not, though if he wasn't there is no reason for any of what you say the guy does. Sounds like the horse is.), my main question is why isn't he at a show barn? There are lots of factors that could contribute to that, from none being in the area, to him being kicked out of one and word got around to the others. Don't know, and not going to ask or pry to find out. Just shooting out a couple possible scenarios.
I am not going to reiterate on the tail sets, because it is all in past pages.
The "bearing rein" you refer to is actually called an overcheck. If you remember, it was not cruel in "Black Beauty" until it was cranked higher and higher and higher, passed the limits the horse could stand. It is not used like that now. Yes it is to help a horse keep his head up, and help him set his head. Keep in mind, that most Saddlebreds, and a lot of show TWHs have a naturally high set head. Their necks, ideally for saddleseat and harness divisions, should be long, graceful, come up and have a nice arch, like a chess piece. I have one three week old filly now, who has a neck like a sea horse. If you scratch her, she will literally stick her head over the middle of her back. She is a neat little sister. Sadly it looks like she has a case of lordosis, which will limit her potential.
If you watch a Fine Harness Class in any Saddlebred show, at the end of the class, you will see the "headers" come into the ring, and they will usually undo the overcheck when they are just standing in the lineup. I'll try to find a picture of the Fine Harness Saddlebred, Joe Friday. I am in love with him.
Putting an overcheck on, say, a Quarter horse, or a horse with a naturally lower headset, and expect it to carry his head high would just be foolishness. Trying to crank thier heads up, or on upheaded horses higher than they physically can, can cause restriction of the airways, and they can choke down. I have seen that quite a bit in Hackney Ponies. One actually collapsed to his knees in a class, because he just couldn't breath.
It all depends on the individual and their supposed good judgement.
A bad reputation will follow you. There is LOTS of gossip in the Saddlebred world. Seeing bad practices and poor judgement, and out and out stupid choices can damage a trainer's reputation. "Did you hear? So and so's horse collapsed in the ring. I heard he was using this and this, and his customers are pulling thier horses from his barn." People are still talking about one of the Five Gaited Championship horses, who tried to attack his rider in the ring. It was crazy and makes you wonder why a professional trainer such as the one riding would let him get that way.
The "Hobbles" you saw, were more than likely "stretchies". It is a length of surgical tubing, connected to two, usually padded, leather bracelets around the fetlocks. These are strength training devices used to help a horse learn to "use his legs" (pick them up higher). It is up to the horse whether he uses them or not, just like with chains. Usually they are fitted to the horse. I know we have about four or five sets of stretchies depending on what a horse requires.
They should never be worn for long periods of time, especially when they are first learning to wear them, as it can make thier shoulders sore. As with any training, you need to start slowly and build up.
Strength training and endurance is imperative to a show horse. We want our horses to come out of the ring looking as well as when he went in.
If you read here, this link will provide you all with many Whys to what you may see "wrong with the dicipline". http://www.american-saddlebred.com/protean/myths2.htm
If you need anything on here cleared up, I would be glad to help you.
The trimming of the forelocks is not cruel. Personally, I
hate it, because it looks dumb to me, and even worse trying to grow one back.
Ask questions before passing judgements. Finding the right people to answer those questions is imperative as well. I am more than happy to tell all that you would like to know, and am pleased to know that there are many willing-to-learn minds on this forum as well.