Every now and then I get the bit between my teeth and go off on one about something that is going on in the horse world. Usually this involves me writing a long and rambling blog post, and then scrapping it because it’s got nothing to do with what we’ve been up to with our own horses. However, after writing the “The Invisible Equestrian” posts, and seeing how well received they were, I have had a change of heart. Therefore this post is the first in a series which I have decided to call “Mouthing the Bit”. Like “The Imvisible Equestrian” they will be sporadic in nature. They will be written entirely from my own point of you, and please bear in mind I am not an expert in any field and hold no equestrian qualifications whatsoever, i’m just an enthusiastic Amata who loves horses. I will not be deliberately setting out to offend anybody in any of these blogs, but I do hold some strong opinions, and I hope they will be thought provoking and encourage debate. After all, I can’t be the only person who has an opinion on these subjects, can I?
September has been a strange month. In many ways a lot has been achieved, but I’ve hardly sat on a horse all month. As a result I haven’t achieved anything with the horses. , and it’s scarey how much weight they have gained, especially Florence. At the end of August we barely had a blade of grass to our name, and Florence had very evident ribs and waistline. Now, are 4 acres of scorched earth have miraculously morphed into 4 acres of verdant Savannah. Worryingly it appears that Florence has morphed into a poster girl for the laminitis trust.when I went to ride her on Saturday her new memory foam girth wouldn’t go round her!
Obviously I know and understand that Florence’s weight is a problem at the moment. She is an older horse with PPID, and therefore, without being obese, is already at risk of laminitis. I love my horses and their health and well-being are important to me. Therefore I am already taking measures to try to help Florence shed some timber. However sometimes I find myself wondering about other peoples attitudes towards horses. Well to be perfectly honest with you, peoples attitude towards all animals, but especially horses. Britain allegedly has a reputation of being a nation of animal lovers. Honestly though, i’m not so sure that we are.
On Saturday Hal and I went to an open day at the Mare and Foal Sanctuary. This Devon-based horse welfare charity has several farms throughout the county, One of which is only a few miles up the road from us. However it is only their official visitor centre that is normally open to the public. On Saturday though, The farm near us through open its doors. Well, Hal and I couldn’t resist. I could go on for hours about how impressed I was with the place, what amazing work they do, and how gorgeous all the resident ponies were. It was tough, but we did manage to come away without applying to rehome one of the residents. However, I for one came away feeling really thoughtful about the whole horse situation in the UK at the moment. Whilst it is obvious that there is no quick fix solution, and this is a very complex subject indeed, it did make me wonder about some very in trenched attitudes in the horse world as a whole, and how much this may be contributing to the horse crisis.
On Saturday there was an entire barn full of ponies who the sanctuary were trying to rehome. On each stable door there was a biography of the individual pony, and I noticed that there was a small group of ponies who were all said to be part bread Fell Ponies. I’m a little bit of a fan of the Fell Pony, having had the loan of one when I was younger. Sadly though these amazing sturdy little creatures are now considered a rare and endangered breed. . My interest piqued, I asked a member of staff how they knew these ponies were all part bred Fells. After all, not many of them were particularly Fell looking, One of them was actually chestnut. The lady told me that they didn’t really know for sure, but that they had all come into the sanctuary through the same rescue case, and that there had been some Fell stallions involved, so it was an educated guess. She then went on to tell me that these were only a handful of the 140 live horses and ponies that had been found on one site, in a joint operation with several other rescue charities. She also told me that the individual who owned them have now been banned from owning any animal for life.
140! Live! So that means that there were actually far more horses on this site, and when the authorities became involved there were already dead animals there! I’m sorry but how does it get to the state where one person has in excess of 140 horses? How does it get to the state where horses are dead on site before the authorities become involved? Who is really to blame here?
Did this individual deliberately set out to have so many animals, or did things just get terribly out of hand? Did he breed all these horses himself, or were some of them bought in? Did this all start because this individual had a mayor that didn’t have a job, so he thought it might be nice to breed a foal from her? Or was it a cynical and deliberate attempt to make money by breeding horses cheap and selling them to the unsuspecting? Somebody, somewhere, knew there was a problem along time before it got to this proportion. It is very unusual for horses to be completely invisible to anybody except their owner. Even if you know nothing about horses, and have no direct contact with them, there are certain clues to their existence that cannot easily be overlooked. Noise, smell, flies, done, are all things that get noticed quite quickly by even the most non-horsey individuals.
. Let’s face it, even the smallest of ponies is difficult to overlook. How do over 140 go unnoticed?
It starts with you and me, and our sense of responsibility towards others, both animal and human. What do we do if we think there is a problem? Do we ask questions? Do we discuss our concerns with someone who might be in a position to go and check things out? Do we ask how people get away with it, and how it’s allowed to happen, ask why nothing ever gets done about it, but do nothing ourselves? Do we turn a blind eye, it’s not up to us to tell other people how to live, we’re not the responsible or guilty ones here, are we?
Unfortunately, while DEFRA and Trading Standards, do sometimes become involved in equine welfare cases, there is no statutory animal welfare authority in this country. Regardless of what you think of them, the RSPCA, BHS, World Horse Welfare, are, like countless other organisations, including the Mare and Foal Sanctuary, only charities, Limited in what they can achieve by the funds they receive from members of public, and with no legal jurisdiction to enter properties and sees suffering animals. .
It also starts with the horses we own. , and the choices that we make in respect of them.
Equine welfare charities often refer to “Imbisable Horses”. By this they mean those animals that nobody has any idea exist. Never see a Vet or Farrier, moved from place to place, repeatedly bought and sold, unpassported, often fly grazed or abandoned. So where do these Invisible Horses come from?
It starts with a mare. At the moment, early Autumn, my equestrian media is full of ads for foals for sale. They all stress how well bred the foal is, they all talk about the foals presence and way of going, and how easy to handle it is.
. However, with very few exceptions, they all say something along the lines of, “lack of time forces sale…”. . Now,,
, I do understand that, people make plans that sometimes get sidelined by life. Jobs get lost, relationships breakdown, people get ill, etc, but not all the time. How many people put a mare in foal when she can no longer do the job she was originally bred or bought to do? There seems to be an attitude that, if you have a mare, and for what ever reason she can no longer be ridden, even if this is just a temporary situation, The obvious thing to do is put her in foal. Why? For what purpose is this foal being bred, and to whose benefit?
if a mare is older, unsound, or injured, is it really fair to make her go through an eleven month pregnancy? What will happen to the foal once it is born? Do you have it’s future career all mapped out in your mind? Are you going to make a killing when you sell it to one of the myriad of people who have been beating a path to your door on the hope of being the one who buys it at weaning? Well all things are possible, but I suspect that, in the majority of cases, beyond choosing the stallion, and some vague idea about it being whatever the fashionable type or colour is just now, the actual living breathing, flesh and blood foal, and it”s Life after it has been sold, has hardly entered the thoughts of its breeder.
We see a similar phenomena on with older and unsound Horses, especially geldings. I get quite upset when I see adverts for horses in their late teens or early 20s, Who have obviously worked hard, competing and hunting, but due to their age are slowing down, stiffening up, and need a bit more looking after. Very often the advert say something along the lines of “too good to be a field ornament”. Really! So why aren’t you keeping it then?
The cynic in me is inclined to think that, what people actually mean when they use this phrase is, “this object is no longer useful to me, why should I bother to invest in looking after it anymore”. OK, I know that not everybody has the financial ability or facilities to keep more than one horse. I have been that person struggling to keep one horse on livery. It’s hard! I truly believe that the bast number of us genuinely love our orses, and are determined to do our best for our beloved friends. However, i’d be willing to bet that the majority of these unwanted potential field ornaments come from semi professional, multi horse situations.
So where is the love? It seems to me that at least some of the horse crisis in the UK is caused by the view that a horse is only valuable when it is being ridden. Horse as tool, or commodity, to be profited from, sold on, or treated as a foal factory, when we no longer have a use for it. Who cares what fate befalls them when we sell them? So long as we aren’t inconvenienced in anyway.
No horse asks to be born, broken,ridden, bought, or sold. , in this day and age, when, in Western society at least, very few people are dependent on the horse to eek out a living,
, nobody actually needs a horse, nobody has to have one, horse ownership is not obligatory. Owning a horse is a luxury And a privilege. Surely, if we choose to keep Horses, then don’t we also choose to take responsibility for their welfare?
There are already too many horses I’m the UK. Please let’s stop adding to the problem by breeding foals when they will have no purpose. Let’s stop viewing horses as only being valuable as long as they can do a job, let’s repay the hard work they do for us by taking care of them when they become old.