One enormous change in the horse world, since I was riding and training seriously, is the spread of the internet. Oh, it was there – but social media was a few years from taking over. Now, anyone who owns a horse and has an opinion feels free to share it with the world (irony of that statement not lost on yours truly). On some levels, that is a good thing. Advice can be received from people that would have previously cost you a lot of money just to talk to. People who share viewpoints and experience can strike up a conversation from across the globe. But, with every benefit comes a cost – and the cost of horsemanship on the internet is the huge feelings of guilt it can engender!
With a background as a web developer and online training designer, it was natural that I would start this journey back to horses by poking around the internet. What I found is that I’ve been doing everything wrong all these years! Among my apparent offenses:
- Shoeing my horses – for nearly four decades I have had shod horses. According to some this is tantamount to crucifixion! (Yes, that last one has actually been said.) None of my horses have had chronic lameness, or seemed to have suffered in any way from wearing shoes. I have also had horses who stayed barefoot – they have also done well. We have had good shoeing and bad; good trims and bad. Every horse is different, and every situation is different. Keeping your horse barefoot? Good for you, as long as your horse’s feet look good and he’s sound … can’t we say the same to people who shoe their horses?
- Keeping my horses in stalls – I do not currently have safe fencing for 24/7 turnout. I wish I did! I also wish I lived in one of those places with rolling hills that stay green all year! We don’t all have the ideal situation for keeping our horses. But, I have seen happy and healthy horses in tie stalls (not that I recommend it) and I have seen miserable horses in 24/7 turnout. I have had horses who choose to stay out whenever possible, yet most of mine have always wanted in at some point. Even the mustang we had, when we first adopted him, spent time in the stall attached to his pen. Horses are as individual as people, so why should one mode of housing fit all?
- Riding with a bit – apparently this is another of those “ultimate cruelty” items. Sadly, there are many examples of bits being used cruelly, such as the Akeem Foldager blue tongue incident, recently. But I have seen much cruelty, over the years, done with various forms of bitless bridles. It is in the training and the riding that you find cruelty – a bit is no more cruel than the hand that holds the reins.
- Lungeing my horses – with the rise of “Natural Horsemanship”, there apparently has come a strange push back against lungeing. In the early days of the round pen gurus, they touted the superiority of the round pen (something I will take issue with in a later post), but they did not necessarily find it to be cruel. Yet, I have more recently run into many online conversations condemning lungeing. The arguments seem vague, though they mostly surround injury rates … yet I have seen some bad injuries in round pens. I also had my own Tally laid up for six months due to physical damage done in round pen work. So, this might be a stone you don’t really want to throw …
Of course, for every opinion there is a counter opinion. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for people taking their horse’s care seriously. My whole life is a constant seeking of knowledge, burying myself in everything there is to learn about any topic that interests me. But what strikes me about so much that’s on the internet is the religious fervor with which people embrace and defend their opinions. Add to that the fact that most horse owners are now coming to horses late in life, and with little prior exposure to anything horsey. So many of the more extreme positions seem to be based upon no more than a belief … one that cannot be shaken no matter how many facts one can present to challenge the belief.
If I could tell these people one thing it is that horsemanship is not a faith based activity. Listen to all sides, gather all the facts that you can, and make an informed opinion. If the result is a happy, healthy, calm horse, then you probably made the right choices for you and your equine companion. But please remember – there is more than one road to Rome! The right choices for you and your horse may not be the right choices for me and mine. You don’t have to justify your choices by condemning all others. Let’s save the guilt trips for the people subjecting horses to actual pain and neglect. Sadly, there is plenty of it out there to condemn.
Be good to your horses!