Some perspective, please.

28 Sep

I don’t generally share posts about abuse etc on this page, but there is no shortage of them on the internet so any regular visitor to social media is going to know a fair bit about the evils of the world.

Today I was reading a discussion on a popular site about a photo currently circulating of a horse wearing a very “busy” bridle, including quite a tight nose band. In the photo, the horse does look stressed BUT – and it’s a big one – it’s clearly a blown up cropped image from an action sequence or an edited frame from a video. There is no context provided, there are no other images from the sequence or footage from the situation, and the image is being circulated from a group with a clear negative agenda, in this case to ban certain equipment and allow others in competition.

All of which doesn’t necessarily mean the horse wasn’t stressed at the moment the photo was taken, of course. The image of the horse with a lot of equipment on, nostrils flared and eyes wide, doesn’t play well in isolation! Anyone who knows me knows nosebands are a bit of a “thing” for me, and I’m uncomfortable with the fashion for doing them up extremely tightly, for no other reason than a belief that that’s how it’s done and it’s “normal” for horses to open their mouths just to be annoying. Cranks and flashes are particularly insidious, if you ask me, because they are easy to do up incredibly tightly with very little effort. They also tend to sit/fit poorly when comfortably loose, encouraging people to tighten them for purely aesthetic reasons. I’m rather a fan of taking them off completely if a horse is having contact/resistance issues – to the point where if a photo appears in social media without a noseband people who know me often jokingly comment and ask if I had anything to do with it! If your horse is desperate to open its mouth, perhaps ask why, instead of automatically telling it to shut up.

That said, I’ve also had a fair amount of contact with upper level competition horses and I know it’s often a game of inches, not just for success but for safety. Even the best produced, most sympathetically ridden horse may need something “a bit more” at the highest level of competition. (Although, if you’re putting your four or five year old in a leverage bit to do low level competition, frankly, I think you need to take a good hard look at your riding and/or training program.) I’ve also seen the value of a temporary step up or constraint to retrain a horse that’s got into poor habits or developed a boisterous attitude towards competing. I am by no means a complete smooth snaffle purist!

All of which I say to demonstrate my personal feelings on the matter.

But what really upset me about the discussion this picture engendered in a group that’s closed and limited to people who ostensibly want to be good horsemen, was some of the reactions. First, even though a video and other photos of said horse were produced, a large number of the people involved simply refused to look at them. They had no interest in seeing anything other than the image they wanted to see, that served their agenda. So much for horsemanship being about objectivity and fairness.

Secondly, it took no time at all until someone invoked the negative treatment of horses in competition to the Holocaust.

Really?? REALLY?!?!

Even after a challenge, the poster and a couple of supporters maintained the validity of this comparison. The statement was eventually withdrawn but, quite apart from the obvious offensiveness, it just made the whole agenda seem insane.

But what really got under my skin was the repeated hyperbolic language. Multiple posters beat their virtual chests over the horrendous “cruelty” of various tack and training practices. They invoked the horrible suffering of the silent victims and the inherent evilness of people imposing their will by force, even though ignorance. (Leaving aside that most of them ride, and if that isn’t imposing your will to the detriment of “what is best for the animal”, I don’t know what is!)

Frankly, people like that need to get a big grip. They need to go to a page like PFK (https://m.facebook.com/princefluffykareem) and take a good hard look at what suffering looks like and what sort of lives many horses in this world lead. Don’t get me wrong, I know two wrongs don’t make a right, but even leaving aside the extraordinary silliness, how can any cause hope to be taken seriously with such a blinkered view of the realities of a situation?

Are there ethical considerations to be discussed with regard to horse sports? Yes. “Discussed” as in people look at the realities and speak to their opinions on the matter. Telling people they are evil doesn’t generally get then on board.

But you people invoking genocide and hyperbole, you aren’t helping your case!! The people you do want to reach are so alienated they don’t want to even start a dialogue because they know it’s going to devolve into the digital equivalent of screaming and name calling almost instantly. Yes, some people are clapping and cheering. Quite often people who are heavily invested in other people being evil so they can think of themselves as good. Almost always people who have no experience with, and no influence on, any kind of upper level competition riding. Of course you are welcome to your beliefs but if you want to convince people then bring on the facts, the reasoned arguments, the solutions, and the shining examples for people to follow. Stop telling me that a tight nose band is the worst thing that can happen to a horse. It makes me disinclined to believe anything else you have to say and even less inclined to stand with you, even if I might actually agree on some level. Get some perspective.

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