Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Sky Is NOT Falling

An important part of my job as a blogger is to keep tabs on what is going on in the horse industry, and report my take on those happenings. One place that I frequently check for new subjects is the Quarter Horse News, and specifically, the blogs that they sometimes publish. I take everything I read there with a grain of salt; after years of subscribing, it is apparent to me that the QHN and its editors have a definite agenda that is evident in their writing and coverage of current events. Nevertheless, I recognize that a certain segment of our industry thinks like they do, and it is interesting and helpful to be able to identify those trends.

Recently, I read the most recent entry of “Katie's Blog” and was struck by the tone it took. The topic was on the USDA regulation of Tennessee Walker shows, and how it “had taken on a life of its own.” This blog entry characterized the inspections as inept, quoting a trainer (who had been disqualified due to scars present on his horse's legs) as saying, “The government went nuts. They don’t know what they’re doing. Absolutely don’t know what they’re doing.” Katie went on to question whether the government would soon be looking at other equine competitions, and would even go after people for tying up their horses.

She says several times that she isn't promoting cruelty, but I am puzzled....what is she promoting by trying to set the inspections of horses at competitions in such a negative light? The right of others to be cruel to their horses? That everyone should resist any monitoring, because “God forbid” it might lead to all of us losing our animals?

The “Big Lick” Tennessee Walker people have a long history of hurting horses for the sake of blue ribbons, and they are now getting what is due to them. Let's give the good people of our USDA some credit; they are not complete idiots. They aren't blind. If they see a horse with scars or marks that fall within the predetermined standards for abuse, the horse is out. OF COURSE the trainers who are ousted are going to be mad, and are going to say that it was wrong, but I am pretty sure that most Walker enthusiasts want to weed out those that continue the nasty practice of soring, and make a statement to the rest of the world that they advocate for the horse. We should applaud them!

The attitude that there is something wrong with monitoring horses at competitions is paranoid and will not prepare the performance horse industry for the scrutiny that will inevitably come. Katie writes, “But what about hobbling a horse? What about using spurs? What about saddle spots? …...” Every single one of the listed methods of horse handling can and should be examined in a logical way. For example, spurs. They are part of the normal operating equipment for training horses (for many people, not all) and when used properly, do not cause significant harm. Are there types of spurs that are harsher than others? Yes! Are there trainers who abuse them? Yes! So, therefore, should they be regulated, both in type used and method? Yes! That isn't something I need the government to tell me, it is common sense, so why wait until an activist gets upset by watching a trainer bloody his horse with spurs, gets photographic proof of it, and then calls in the government to start writing sanctions? Can't we monitor and discipline our own now, and set a tone for what is acceptable? If we are worried that the USDA won't be capable of adequately monitoring our sport, shouldn't we appoint trained, and extremely objective, inspectors to monitor what goes on in the warm up areas and within the show pen at events? Isn't it prudent to be a step ahead of the scrutiny, rather than being reactive and defensive?

The performance horse industry has long operated under a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy toward training methods and abusive practices. Somehow, the right to put a bike chain in your horse's mouth has fallen under the same umbrella of willful ignorance as the right to carry loaded guns into bars. After all, how can you compete with the other guy if you aren't equally armed? How many people out there feel that their right to jerk and spur sounds something like, “I'll give up my 'brain chain' bridle....when you pry it from my cold dead hands!”? And questionable practices are certainly more likely to be ignored if the person doing them is popular, has a big name and lots of money.

This isn't the Wild West, folks. The performance horse industry must work in harmony with the rest of a global society in order for it to prosper. I am not a paranoid person; I don't believe that we are headed for some type of war against the humane activists. I also don't believe that an activist's end goal is to stop all horse competitions – they just want the horses to be treated with respect. For a very long time, we have turned a blind eye toward abusive training practices. It is my belief that the new spirit of activism has arrived to put a check on the attitude of disrespect toward the animals we make our living from.

And we have a choice now; keep our blinders on, continue to mind our own business, continue to accept that which we know is wrong, continue to dig in our heels at change. OR we can step up and move forward, toward better riding, better equipment, better rules and better competitions. We can choose to reach out to those who are concerned about the animals, and create a more transparent industry in which questionable methods that were previously hidden are nonexistent. And we can drop the scary rhetoric – it isn't “us” against “them.” We all should be for THE HORSE.