Thursday, 1 August 2013

Beasts of burden

So I have just finished reading Joe Camp's book, Soul of a Horse. A very interesting read, all about how Joe and his wife first started sharing their life with some horses. This bit really made me think:

"Dr Matt was right when he said that until recently horses were pretty much just beasts of burden. But I believe many of them still are. Just different burdens. Instead of pulling a plow or wagon, they're jumping fences. Or racing. Or doing heavy-handed dressage ballets."

(He's American, so we'll forgive him for not being able to spell plough.)

Last year I remember seeing this promotional video for the Hickstead jumping on Sky. Lots of slow motion footage of the jumping. And lots of big bits, tight reins, heavy studs and leatherwork. Anybody else think these horses do not look happy?

Some of the dressage horses I saw at London 2012 certainly didn't either.

As for racing, starting a ridden career at two is, in my humble opinion, not good for any horse. I also don't like the way most racehorses are kept, little turnout, lots of concentrated feed, rugs, shoes, all the things we do to horses for our convenience, these things certainly aren't convenient for them. A huge percentage of them develop ulcers from the stress of their unnatural lifestyle, hardly surprising is it?

So why does all this happen? Same reason we've been using the horse as a beast of burden for thousands of years, because it suits us and because it makes us money.

But this abuse of the horse's trusting, compliant nature doesn't just go on at the high end of competition. Every time I go to a show here I see unhappy horses and heavy-handed riders. Kids wearing spurs. Ponies in gag bits. Tight nosebands. The infernal de Gogue. Horses getting hit because they didn't understand what the rider wanted of them. The list goes on.......

You don't have to take my word for it. Here are some pics I have taken in the last year or so - and these are just some of people I don't know, plenty of others I could include but this blog gets me into enough trouble as it is ;-)

The human race doesn't have much to be proud of really, does it?


Anonymous said...

This is a topic I've been mulling over for some time. Like you, I grew up with conventional horse keeping. Like you, I've changed my views on many things and I find myself repeatedly querying the way competition horses are treated. I idolised a certain Irish showjumper as a teenager, but I was horrified the first time I say him warming up a horse at the RDS - lots of yanking on the bit, spurring and whipping. But he was/is typical of competition riders, no better and no worse than most.

I think we have to accept that yes, for the most part, horses ARE beasts of burden. In exchange for their work, their physical needs are met - extremely well in most cases. So their work could be a 30 minute warm-up followed by a 1.5 minute course of jumps, or a 25 minute warm-up followed by dancing around a dressage arena, or it could be ten minutes in the parade ring, a walk to the starting gates and a 2 minutes gallop OR it could be trudging endlessly around a dusty arena for six or seven hours a day with a series of beginners on board.
Whichever it is, these horses have to earn their bed & board. Jump higher, run faster, carry fat kids. Or pull a plough.

They're the unlucky ones. Their owners’ livelihood depends on the horse performing – clear round, winning races, not dumping fat kids on the ground, tilling the fields. When your income is depending on “success” you’ll do whatever it takes to give you an edge over your opponents – bigger bits and spurs for a faster response, feed the horse up to the eyeballs so it’s bursting out of its skin (guilty of this back in Aero’s eventing days!), breed for an excitable temperament for the same reason, apply still more equipment to contain the energy…

I don’t see it stopping any time soon and I don’t see HOW it can change. Horses are just business to many, many people, no matter how much they profess to love them.

Privately owned "fun" horses with caring enlightened owners are the lucky ones.

Although again, looking at how stressed Aero was by the move here (both horses have stress lines on their hooves which correspond to the time of the move), I wonder just how enlightened we all are? We still do what suits US! Even Joe Camp put his beloved herd through a massive move, too.

Phew bit of an essay, sorry.

Helen Barnes said...

It's one of those questions with no answer, like if we didn't use horses for our own ends, if we'd never started riding them, would they still be around? Or would they have died out like they did in North America? If I had to move back to the UK, would I sell my horses here to someone else, not knowing their eventual fate? No, I'd put them through the stress of a long journey to keep them.....

BTW, this is exactly the kind of debate we like on the forum..... ;-)

Rosa Rantanen said...

I hate promotional videos like that, because then the people who don't know anything about horses start to think that this is normal, and then those who decide to start riding will think that rein yanking, bigger bits and a tight contact are the way to go!

English Rider said...

I agree with you, completely. I just wanted to give you something positive. I popped into a local show this morning and watched a couple of jumping rounds. There was a remarkable young female rider with a great seat and no spurs and another small boy on a huge horse, both obviously enjoying the course. In the back arena there was a competition, maybe akin to handy hunter? The top four riders after the jumping round were told to remove martingales and stirrups to return for final evaluation.
I was thrilled to see all of the above.

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