We all develop our beliefs, often based upon ‘common wisdom’. As we go through life, we have a choice – test our beliefs against our experiences, and adjust them as necessary; or stick to them no matter how facts and experience may disprove them. Nowhere are unfounded beliefs relied upon more than in the horse world. I have personally found many of my once held beliefs were either never sound, or are simply no longer applicable.
I used to believe that a horse who was good at their ‘job’ would always find a good home.
Then I saw one of the best children’s jumpers I’ve ever known rotting in a dry field, belonging to a family that felt every 72 hours was often enough to feed a horse. When animal control was called, and began monitoring the situation, the horses were moved overnight to another county, and who knows what end they came to.
I used to believe that a high price paid for a horse at least guaranteed a good level of care. Who would destroy a valuable investment?
Then I saw a million dollar stallion starved nearly to death. Most of the rest of the herd, whose overall value was millions of dollars, were either dead or had to be destroyed.
I used to believe the top riders who talked about their feeling for their horses as valued partners.
Then one of my favorite jumper riders was caught up in a scheme where some of his top mounts, among others, were killed for the insurance money. He was suspended from competition for life, but is still very involved in the industry.
I used to believe that once a person felt the ‘dance’ and lightness of a correctly trained horse, they could never tolerate any inferior form of riding/training, especially any that involved force or short cuts.
Then I watched as one by one the riders I’d always admired, who had once embodied correct, humane, and light riding began to defend, and eventually adopt, methods that are far from classical, humane, light – or bear any resemblance to the enviable education they had received in their early development.
I used to believe that if people were presented with proven facts, they would change their views about what was humane and considerate training/riding.
Then the science came out, and it changed no one’s mind. They still see the struggles to breathe, expressions of pain, signs of emotional shutdown – and all the other signs of poor treatment that past horsemen knew, but science is now proving – as ‘moments in time’. All justifiable by the shiny trophies and/or popularity that too often come in spite of the suffering.
I used to believe that if I lent my voice to the effort of many to keep the flame of good horsemanship alive, the abhorrent trend in all areas of competitive riding could eventually be turned around.
Then I watched those who are even more seasoned, and have been fighting the good fight longer, and from a higher position, give up and turn away. If they, with their position and knowledge, cannot stem the tide, what can I add?
I am not alone in those beliefs, although the reasons I lost them may be unique to my experience. I frequently run into people who share some of these beliefs, often to the detriment of their learning, as I see them presented with contrary evidence they refuse to see. Belief too easily trumps fact – it’s how our brains are wired, and it takes work to keep the door open for facts that contradict our beliefs.
Maybe these beliefs were once founded in fact, but times have changed. Or maybe they were always founded on wishful thinking. Whatever the source or intent, we owe it to ourselves – and our horses – to look for the truth behind our beliefs, and adjust where necessary. Learn from the past, listen to the modern science – but most of all, look at the horse. Really look. Can you really justify the over tight tack on a horse’s highly sensitive face? Does the activity really justify the wringing wet body? Or the amount of drugs that may now be just an acceptable practice? Learn the difference between a happy, relaxed, engaged horse and an overly alert, tense one.
When I began this journey back into the horse world, at large, I was shocked by what I saw. Along the way, I gathered hope at the voices that were raised – but many of those have even turned upon each other. The situation has been seen as ‘getting better’ in that time – even as the horses go on suffering and even dying in the name of sport. We are now two generations into riders who have seen nothing but tense, unhappy horses in top competition – and because of the successes of the riders they admire, are sure that is the ‘ideal’.
I used to believe that could be turned around, but now I fear that, much like climate change, the time has passed to make any significant change. The justifications are many, but at the heart of it all lies money. And in a race between horses and money, horses always lose.
Be good to your horses – they are always worth believing in!