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Why can’t we talk about horses like human beings? Oh wait…

Many people say, you probably won’t meet anybody as opinionated as a horse person, and I’m inclined to agree. I’d even go so far as to say politics sits in second place to the ideologies that exist in the world of horses.

I have a few opinions myself after my years as a trainer, clinician and horse owner, but one thing I believe is there is opinion, and there is stubbornly maintaining a blind spot to any idea that refutes the dogma that defines a person’s equestrian pursuits. And defense of that dogma can get ugly.

To push the point, I feel the venom unleashed in dialogue between horse people with different philosophies, techniques and disciples is sometimes very shocking, often wounding and frequently just plain mean.

Especially when it comes to conversations commentating upon or questioning the big winners in the competitive world. The abuse hurled is a betrayal of the animal at the root of it all; the horse.

Sledging really flies when the higher echelons of competition, the heroes, and mentors, or the high-profile players, seem under attack. Or what is perceived as attack, even if it is only a disagreement.

It happens in any discipline. As if there is not enough ego involved to pump up the humans using horses as the pathway to success, people get all bent out of shape, defensive, angry, if you raise a point that might feel like negative criticism. Their ego seems not strong enough to float their confidence.

Again, the horse gets lost in it all.

We should know better. When the horse becomes a tool for personal reward, or some echo of historic tradition, regardless of its ethics, I believe that is pretty shabby. A horse cannot make choices, but we can.

A horse was not born to understand not only the complexities of another species’ designs upon their athleticism, ability, or their beauty.

People frequently circumvent basic concepts a horse needs to navigate in our world  to achieve a human aim. They expect a university education from a grade-schooler without the proper education, putting their own human needs first above this animal evolved over millions of years, emotionally, physiologically.

None of that seems to matter when a ribbon is at stake. When our needs are at stake. We make rules which have absolutely no logical reason except they feed our ego, our sense of superiority. We redefine horse behavior to pacify, perhaps our subconscious concern, that maybe what we’re doing with this animal may not be quite ok.

Take for instance a dressage horse with a mouth buckled down firmly and a chest dappled with foam flying from its mouth being spurred at every step to do the test. Listen to the audience that roars when a rider performs a bridleless, bareback reining demonstration, as if it is the close to a horse in its natural setting.

We love it, but you couldn’t fabricate a more alien setting for a sensitive, hard-wired herd animal.

Just a snippet of what we approve, and that approval defines the march ahead in horsemanship, in competition, in the basic tuition people receive when they get their first horse. Then those basic tenets endure, sometimes for a lifetime.

As Harry Whitney says, “As they are started, so they shall go”.  In my mind, that principle doesn’t just apply to horses.

It’s a pity. As children, anybody who loved an animal had a pure love. A pure appreciation of the animal. A kinship with the animal mind. We all have nostalgia for the purity of those days with that simple relationship. Those of us who have enjoyed it.

Then we got older, and we made rules, and lost sight of the animal.

I believe that with temptation of achievement, we shut doors to discussion about new ideas. Instead of personal evolution in the relationship with horses, people are too apt to ally themselves with the biggest winner or the way things have always been done.

Too often, the last thing we consider when it comes to making our decisions? It would be the needs of the horse.