I wrote this piece a couple of years ago and it got lost in one of the many re organisations of my various web pages. I have been meaning to rewrite it, but I will stick it back up, just as it was. I meant it then, and I haven’t changed my opinion today. In traditional (ie hunting, fishing and shooting) circles, dogs and horses go together like….”Horse and Hound”. Dogs are trained using body language, voice, whistle, hand signals, treats, praise and an occasional smack. To train a horse you strap a lump of metal into its mouth, tie its mouth closed with leather straps, attach more straps so you can haul its head round by its mouth. Then fit a couple of metal spikes to your feet so a kick in the ribs is more effective and carry a whip, just in case.
The dog is a descendant of wolves, a natural born killer and you use kindness, so what is the evil genetic background of the horse, that you need all this equipment to subdue it?
My phrasing is offensive, but I want to make people think, and to think effectively you need a love of knowledge, a philosophy. Status Quo, not the Francis Rossi version, the establishment one, is the enemy of the love of knowledge. Revolutionaries must be philosophers, as revolution without a philosophy, is greed for power or money or whatever turns you on. Philosophy without revolution parasitises the ruling classes, justifying their greed while siphoning off as much as possible. Revolution with philosophy says “there is a new and better way to do………………..” fill in the blank, but I am going to upset a lot of people for whom “life is very comfortable, thank you.” I just hope that in the process, I will make life a little more comfortable for the horse.
I am not saying those using bits, spurs and whips are cruel, I am questioning the whole philosophy of horse training. If I grab a knife, knuckle duster and baseball bat as I come to greet you, you would be within your rights to respond with a loaded shotgun. If you go out to train a dog, you pick up a whistle and a couple of treats because you expect a willing intelligent animal. To train a horse……… you get booted and spurred, grab the whips and gauntlets, don your helmet, and like a knight of old, armed to the teeth, you go out to meet your enemy, a placid, herd living vegetarian.
The reason is military. Despite the phrase “dogs of war” western civilisation has no tradition of dog use in war, but War Horses are a different matter. An entire upper class code of practice, from the conduct of war to extra marital sex is bound up with the horse, which is odd as the horse is not notably interested in either.
Chivalry is the buzz word. Think of a military leader who isn’t pictured with a massive power symbol between his legs. And if it is a power symbol, the last thing you want is for people to think it is friendly, that you can pat it and feed it carrots. Massive power symbols between military leader’s legs aren’t part of the “my little pony” culture.
The downside is that you need to work quite hard to turn a placid, herd living vegetarian into a status symbol.
You want people going “WOW he must be powerful, look at the way he controls that savage beast!” Yeah look. Tie a lump of metal in its face, and haul it around, remembering to wear gloves to protect your delicate hands from the reins (and forgetting that the other end of the reins is a lump of metal against some poor beasts gums and lips and tongue). But this only controls the front end so the metal spikes on your boots can control the middle and you can hit the rest with the whip. Even the most placid character revolts under this treatment.
Chivalry, “The characteristic qualities of temper, character, manners, and behaviour of the ideal knight, esp . courage, loyalty, generosity, courtesy;” Try telling the horse you “won your spurs” for those qualities.
Horse welfare isn’t the only victim of chivalry. the chivalric code was written in blood on the battlefields. The penalty of failure was death, and guess what, it hasn’t changed a bit. Horse and Hound in January 2008 ran an article on eventing safety which mentions that in 13 months, 11 riders had died. Just look at those numbers 2008, 13 months, 11 dead. And now look at Formula 1 motor racing. Open topped cars, insane speeds, deaths in the last TEN YEARS.. NONE.
To quote the Horse and Hound article, ” Delegates settled on several suggestions to put to the FEI. These included research into breakable jumps, such as the Dutch federation’s cardboard poles and jumps made of Lego-like pieces that break apart on impact.
If you want eventing to be a test of the skills and social attitudes of a mediaeval knight, this makes sense. But I don’t want my daughters to indulge in a sport where the governing bodies condone such a “cavalier” attitude to safety. To make eventing safe, use blow up bouncy castle material jumps and put three inches of forest bark on the track for 100 yards before the jump and 200 yards after.
It won’t be “eventing as we know it”. No funerals for a start. Well I for one will forgo a little of the horse’s respect, for the lives of the riders and horses.
Take chivalry out of horsemanship and you have a naturally gentle animal, working with a person, for their mutual pleasure, and with the shared aim of avoiding pain, injury and death, while having some fun. What is wrong with that outlook?