That's a scary thing to say, don't you think? Why would a horseman of my skill and experience ever even think it wasn't ethical?
Then again, maybe you've never met a horseman like me! To answer the question: Is horse riding Ethical? I say, Yes... and no.
Horses bring great joy into a horse lovers world. And genuine horse lovers bring safety, pleasant experiences and healthy lifestyles into a horses life. The reality is, it wouldn't be ethical to turn all the horses back to the wild. Most would perish. It also wouldn't be ethical to leave them stranded in small pastures or tiny stalls. Therefore, one of the best things a horse lover can do for a horse is create positive interactions, which of course can include riding.
The question of riding being ethical or not has to do with what type of riding or training a person does.
For instance, a consequence oriented rider tends to punish the horse for confusion or missteps. A consequence oriented rider takes a horse out for a trail ride to bask in nature without thinking of the horses experience too. (forget about the horse, he's just a vehicle to get to nature faster). In my opinion, this is abusive and definitely NOT ethical.
However, a reward oriented rider tends to encourage the horse to grow, learn, and engage with her environment in playful or fun ways. A reward oriented rider goes on a trail ride because it's fun and because it's an opportunity to bond with and educate their horse partner.
The question of ethics then must move from the subject of riding to the subject of breeding. This is where it really get's scary. You must understand, I love horses. I live for horses! I am here on this planet to serve horses. I feel like I owe it to them. In fact I feel like our generation owes it to them. They helped build our cities, roads and canals. They gave us security, power, speed, distance. They gave us happiness, romance, and now, enlightenment.
I want people to see their value and honor it. And one way we can honor their value is to stop breeding. Not altogether, and not all at once. We just need to be smarter about it, be more conscious, because there is no outlet for horses flooding the market.
Do you know what happens to a thoroughbred that doesn't race well? Do you want to know? There are a few programs to help solve the problem, but none of them are talking about the root of the problem. Breeding carelessly, feverishly almost, looking for the next best horse, is the root of the problem. Everyone loves baby horses, but rarely do people stop to think about that new babies chances of having a good life.
Would you like to know what his chances are? Without hard evidence, I can't give you a direct answer. I'd only be making something up and I don't want to lead you astray. What I can say and what you could probably guess is, the findings so far from preliminary studies, aren't good.
You can follow your own horses history. By the way, if you're reading this and you've made it this far, I'll take that as an indication that you truly do care and your horse is one of the lucky ones. Now simply take a moment to review or follow your own horses history. Where did he come from, what did he experience before you? Or ask about your neighbors horses history and discover the challenges that each horse went through. Now think about their future. What will happen when you can no longer care for them? Have you thought of that? I think about these things often.
Sometimes, people ask me, "How did you get like this Don? How does a horseman, a trainer, a rider, get to be so sensitive about issues like this?" And often the very next question is..."If you feel this way so strongly, why do you have horses? Why do you ride?"
First of all, I appreciate the questions. I love horses. I care deeply, but the most interesting thing is, I think I'm a little bit autistic. Even from a young age I remember seeing things differently from my brothers. I would see a horse shy away and in my imagination see the very thing that caused her to shy away. Not being completely sure of what I was seeing, I would test the horse and watch a little closer, and time after time I would confirm that what I saw was exactly what the horse saw. I can "feel" what they feel. I can see what they see. I can understand them, their plot in life, their pain, their comfort, their joy, their questions. After twenty years of seeing it, feeling it, living it, helping horses recover, helping students learn, I see deeper now. I'm more practiced.
Is it possible I'm just hallucinating and I should just go back to thinking a horse is a dumb animal? Is it possible I'm reading into things too far? Of course, anything is possible. But if you could see what I see, the way I see it. I don't know if you would ever look at a horse the same way.
Here is what I want you to see. If you want to see...
You're horse has every single human emotion. Yes, every one. Fear, Stress, Anxiety, Joy, Happiness, Pain, Hunger, Depression, Sadness, Appreciation, Gratitude, Loneliness, Apathy, Disgust, Anger, Embarrassment, Desire, Playfulness, Longing, Insecurity, Peacefulness, Bliss, Tension, Scarcity, Patience, and any others not named here.
How do I know? I see it.
Can you read someone when their fearful? Probably. A practiced psycho therapist can read you like a book. A married couple can read between the lines and instantly pick out the emotion driving the behavior. What I am is a practiced and gifted horse psychologist.
I can see the tension in the muscles, the face, the breathing patterns. I can see the digestion slow and speed up. I can see the hesitation to move a certain muscle. I can see the early sweat patterns. I can even see what is causing the emotion most of the time. I can see where their attention is moment by moment. I can see when they hope to explore and when they want to shut the world out. And you could see those things too, if you're willing to learn how.
I want to show you how, if you want to learn. And there will be much more to come along the subject of reading horses. But allow me a moment to retreat to the first question... Is riding ethical?
And that, I cannot answer for you, but I can say that the answer is already "in" you. Are you ethical in the way you interact with your horses? Do you think of the horse first, or even at all? I bet, if you've read this far, you're one of a growing population of horse lovers who really, truly do see the horse and want to give her what she deserves!
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"You're welcome at my campfire anytime."
Don Jessop - the breakthrough guy
By the way... the quote "you're welcome at my campfire anytime" didn't come from me. Can you tell me where it came from? Extra points if you can:) Comment below.