Lately there has been a lot of publicity regarding the ethics and the moral responsibility of keeping horses, not to mention a build-up of outrage regarding the poor treatment some horses receive from their trainers. Some competitors seem to see them more as tools rather than living breathing creatures who give us, not only companionship, but also our identity as riders.
In my experience, most horse owners have the best of intentions at heart. That does not however, always serve to meet their horses’ optimal needs. It is such a privilege to get to be around these amazing animals, and we have a responsibility to treat them in a way that they will thrive. By doing so, we can reap the rewards of working with them as a partnership.
Horses are designed to be on the move and foraging for the majority of their day, and restricted access can result in health and behavioural issues. It is so important that we try to our best ability to allow our horses to be horses. They have simple basic needs such as access to clean water and good quality forage, veterinary care and maintenance of hooves and teeth, but we must not forget that horses are also social animals. They need contact with other horses, or if that is not possible, then with other animals, such as goats.
When we work with horses, we need to develop not only a bond with the animal, but an understanding of how their minds work. eing more accommodating to their behaviour and needs, we are more likely to be successful and develop a symbiotic relationship between horse and rider.
The more we are calm, clear and consistent with whatever system we may be implementing, the better our horses will be able to understand us. If it is not clear in your own mind what you are asking for and from that, how you are communicating that to your horse, it is most likely that your horse will have to guess, and a good chance that they will guess wrong. It is easy to develop a pattern of frustration, but it’s important to remember that your horse will likely get just as frustrated as you do, and they did not even choose the activity.
We need to make sure that what we are asking our horse to do is fair and within their physical capabilities. A drop in performance or a new resistance can be the first sign of injury or pain. Working with your veterinarian and equine bodyworker can help keep your partnership at its best. Always use appropriate equipment for the task and make sure it is properly fitted. Good training can rapidly change your horse’s shape, so it is important to regularly check all tack.
Our horses privilege us with their trust and friendship, we owe them the best of care and kindness through their days. And when the time comes that their health begins to fail, or they are in unmanageable pain, we owe it to them to offer a peaceful and timely end. The ultimate goal of horsemanship is a happy and harmonious partnership. That can only be reached when we give the horse a life worthy of the trust they have bestowed upon us.