IS EQUESTRIAN SPORTS ON THE VERGE OF BEING BANNED?
In the Netherlands a popular television show host by the name of Lubach trolled Equestrian sports as being outdated and in need of being banned asap. This not only sparked a heated discussion between non horse people and horse people, but also within the equestrian community, and via social media, the discussion flowed further throughout other European countries.
DOES THE WORLD REALLY NEED EQUESTRIAN SPORTS?
Of course, those that practise the sport as a hobby and especially those that make a living out of it will say yes. In Belgium there are over 300,000 horses, however there are lesser than 13,000 members of the National Equestrian Sport Federation (LRV). That means that there must be literally hundreds of thousand of horse owners who own horses but do not participate in any competition. I personally are one of them. As a comparison, the National football association counts around 400,000 registered members. Only a few countries in the world actually have equestrian sports mainly in Europe, US, Australia and UAE. Rich countries, as we all know, keeping horses is expensive, but competing in Equestrian sports is even more expensive.
I truly wonder how great the impact would be on the world if Equestrian sports were banned or at least no longer able to perform professionally. I feel a research coming…
DO HORSES NEED EQUESTRIAN SPORTS?
According to a Dutch colomnist given a platform via an important Equestrian sports magazine, yes. His philosophy: If riders can no longer compete with their horses, massive amounts of horses will be slaughtered so, it is in the horse’s best interest to keep Equestrian competitions.
Did your blood boil reading this? Mine sure did! No, Mr. I-slaughter-my-horses-when-I-can’t-compete, I am pretty sure in Belgium alone, hundreds of thousands of horse owners will not have their horses slaughtered if competition is no longer an option, as the vast majority of us, does not compete anyway, we simply love horses as companions, as pets, as family members and for your information, we do not slaughter them, we let a vet put them to sleep peacefully when such time arrives. The reply though of Mr. I-slaughter-my-horses-when-I-can’t-compete, completely underlined Mr. Lubachs message.
To all those who agree with Lubach and oppose Equestrian sports, please be sure to know that this ‘colomnist’ does not speak for the vast majority of horse owners, as I clearly and easily demonstrated above.
But to answer the question, if horses need equestrian sports, quite Frankly, the answer is ‘ no’.
I will get a lot of heat for this, I know. And lots of people will tell me their horse loves competition, love to be a star, travel to events and have an audience, and up to a point I believe that. Yes, some horses love events, they love an audience, they love a challenge, sure. I have (had) horses like that. However, one does not have to compete to offer that to a horse. Shows on local festivals and festivities, riding clinics etc. can provide the same stimulation for that type of a horse. In any case, that is the way I do it.
You might be wondering now…
DO I THINK EQUESTRIAN SPORTS NEED TO BE ABOLISHED?
To be frank and blunt, I think the FEI needs to be abolished: as the whole reason the FEI was set up for in 1921 was to protect horses, a goal the FEI failed at miserably, we can all agree, n’est pas? We need a completely new federation based on science and actual welfare and classical dressage.
For me Equestrian sports do not have to be abolished as such, as I am a person that believes in the freedom of individual choice, but I also believe in Equine welfare before all else, so if horses wellbeing cannot be 100% guaranteed within equestrian sports, then I can no longer support it.
Horses after all, cannot choose to enter equestrian sports, so the very least we humans can do is make sure they do NOT SUFFER and preferably have a GOOD TIME. That should seem simple enough, however, let us be honest, it shows it is not. Use the pain face scale on all horses during competition or after, and research shows many horses are at least uncomfortable. What I see personally is horses that do not have a clear rhythm, no natural and healthy way of going, are crooked and tense. This includes, alas, the so called ‘best of the best’. Horses that show a correct and natural way of going are an exception rather than the rule, I am very sorry to say.
Happy Athletes? Happy Athletes do not need to be rollkured, draw reined, poked and hit with whips to perform, do they? “Yes, but that is only a few bad seeds” is the reply I often get. Is it though? Be honest.
Then I usually get the: “But there is so much worse out there, neglect, horses dying of hunger. Sport horses live like Kings (is that really a fair comparison?)! And what about vivisection or circuses or clubbing baby seals or bullfighting? Now that is terrible, why don’t you go do something about that?” “Ironically, that is exactly the same rhetoric bullfighters always use and I have been actively working on ending bullfighting and vivisection for 35 years as well, now that you mention it.
I am not opposed to Equestrian sports, as I said, IF, equine welfare is ensured. This includes for me that Equines are not beaten and tortured into submission and positive reinforcement is the first and foremost training tool applied.
MY RULES FOR SUSTAINABLE EQUESTRIAN SPORTS
No riding before the age of 4
Training, riding and keeping according to the correct biomechanics of the horse and his prey and herd behaviour
Training according to positive reinforcement mostly
No participation in competition with ANY health issue or if the horse is medicated
Anatomic correct trims and barefoot where possible and several months a year barefoot so the feet can heal
At least 3 months of holiday a year (outside with friends, barefoot)
Specie appropriate living (track systems with friends or walk in paddocks, free range etc) and nutrition (at least 12 kilo hay per day and zero grain, clean food added)
Tack kept simple: snaffle, bitless without leverage and metal, double bridle optional instead of mandatory, spurs optional and not mandatory and perhaps made of softer material instead of metal, no whips during competition or warm up (in some countries whips are already banned from racing).
We have fantastic technical possibilities nowadays and online competitions are already a thing. Do we really need to travel horses across continents?
I really believe that if changes like this would be made ASAP, not only would the Equestrian sports make a huge leap to ensure Equine welfare much better, it will also make the chance of the public and politic opinion more positive towards equestrian sports, ensuring its future.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF THE SPORT WILL NOT MAKE REAL AND BIG CHANGES TO ENSURE EQUINE WELFARE?
As we have seen with the Olympic pentathlon, public and political pressure and opinion can make a difference as the equestrian element was taken from the pentathlon, because of the public seeing sheer horse abuse in plain sight. The Equestrian community was as appalled about the German pentathlon ‘performance’ as was the non-horse community. Seeing this effect gives animal rights groups traction, it fuels public opinion that equestrian sports are no longer fitting modern society and it gives politicians who oppose it (and there are a lot of those within the EU) more power to set up legislation to band Equestrian sports.
This has been going on for about 30 years now, as more money entered the sport and the welfare of horses deteriorated within it.
How come now it actually could pose a problem for the professional sport? Because internationally world leaders are coming together to work on a common narrative and one of those narratives is that landownership of private citizens is a bad thing that needs to be drastically increased. Fuelling the narrative that Equestrian sports is an evil thing would certainly help them out.
Therefore, expect more negativity towards Equestrianism and sports coming soon. As opposed as I am to this narrative, we can use it to our advantage and put pressure on the FEI to actually make horse friendly chances. Compared to other sports, the FEI is really a tiny thing and the powers of world leaders combined is not something the FEI would be up against. Let us use this traction we have now and put pressure on the FEI, together with the non-horse public, judges, contestants, scientists, veterinarians and (classical, positive reward based) trainers and horse owners.
BOTH THOSE THAT WANT TO BE ABLE TO CONTINUE PROFESSIONAL EQUESTRIAN SPORTS AND THOSE THAT WANT IT CHANGED TO A MORE SPECIE APPROPIATE AND FRIENDLY WAY, SHOULD COME TOGETHER ON THIS AND MAKE THE NECESSARY CHANGES!
Do not blame the ones that point out the harm that befalls horses within Equestrian sports, blame the ones that inflict the harm!
Judges, rule according to the protection of the horse
National organisations, make the changes NOW, do not wait for the FEI!
For to be quite frank, keeping horses as pets as a whole could be on the line if certain animal rights groups and politicians get their way. It would fit the most powerful’s narrative. It might seem crazy, but a lot can happen 10 years from now. Let us not give them the power to take away our land and our horses. Let us show them that horses are family, pets, and they can be happy athletes!
HORSE ARE BORN ATHLETES ANYWAY! IT IS UP TO US HUMANS TO KEEP AND MAKE THEM HAPPY!
TO THOSE THAT NOT WANT TO MAKE THE NECESSARY CHANGES WITHIN THE SPORT, I SUGGEST THAT YOU ASK ELON MUSK TO MAKE ROBOT HORSES FOR YOU. YOU CAN ABUSE THEM ALL YOU WANT AND THEY MIGHT EVEN SUIT YOUR NEEDS BETTER THAN REAL LIFE HORSES!
For the love of horses,
© All rights reserved Josepha Guillaume - Dressage in Hand