Sunday, June 13, 2010

Horsemen - a dying species?

While working with a young horse today, Yvonne and I were talking. As we do...

It seems to me that there are a lot of people who would love to do horse things. Some want to ride only, some would love to have and care for a horse. It also seems to me there are a lot of people who lack some very basic knowledge of horses.

It was only last night we were discussing over dinner how Walt Disney has a lot to answer for. All those Disney movies and cartoos which are brilliantly done but which present a completely distorted, even false picture of animals. More than a single generation of kids (and adults!) were indoctrinated with the belief that Lassie really had near human intelligence and feelings. Not to mention the jungle animals, Bambi and all the rest of them. It is one thing to make cartoon animals clean and beautiful and with lovely big, soft eyes. But to show them to have human emotions is another thing altogether. And then there is Barbie! She is as unrealistic a representation of a human being as her Barbie Horse and all it's pink accessories are fake.

No, this is not a rant against dolls and teddy bears and cartoons and feel good kid's movies.

But I do feel that there are too many animals in movies which pretent to portray animals as they are. Where in fact, they are completely removed from reality. So we end up with lots of little girls dreaming of having a horse, without having an inkling of the real world. I think that little girls should dream of horses, just as I did. But I do not think their dreams should be fed on Barbie horses and Walt Disney horses. Unfortunately, most kids grow up in an urban setting, so far too few have the opportunity to grow up with animals and naturally experience the reality of animals.

So, coming back to where I started this thread... I wish that ALL kids had the opportunity to spend some time with various animals in their normal setting (as in: go to a farm and see, touch, hear animals). I think all kids should also visit the zoo to be exposed to the fascinating variety of wild animals. The patterns, the movements, the ferocity, the colours, the smells!!!

And I wish that there were more good documentaries. Not just about wild animals (there are already lots of excellent ones), but about all the common farm animals and horses. But documentaries showing ALL of it. Not just the pretty bits. There should be healthy animals and sick animals, feeding as well as the other end. There should be comments about things that can go wrong with riding, with husbandry, with feeding, foaling and every other thing. There should be something about how horses think, how their eyes work different to ours, how their reflexes are so fast and how their wiring as prey animals determines their behavious. There should be beautiful footage of people and horses who really work together, how healthy horses look and how they naturally interact.

Maybe with more of that, there would be a more realistic attitude towards horses.

We've (mostly) gone away from the bad old days where horses were a commodity, an intrument of war, a mere beast of burden, to be used and abused as necessary. As humankind is growing up, such things as slavery went first, then women changed from being mere chattels to getting a say and a vote. And with time, the abuse of animals is decreasing. Partly as there is no longer the need and partly because the more enlightenend thinking, which saw off slavery and the rest, is now starting to permeate the human - animal relationship.

Unfortunately, the way I see it is that we are overcorrecting. It is no longer acceptable (in most parts of the world) to tie a horse to a post and beat the living daylights out of it, or starve it for days, to make it amenable to being "broken in". Thank goodness for that. But now we've gone too far. We live in a society that finds it abhorrent to correct an animal. It is considered cruel by many to put a bit in a horse's mouth. It is unkind to raise the voice to give a NO correction to a pushy horse. It is unacceptable to tie up a horse and leave it to learn patience. It is mean to flap a blanket at a horse, if it might get scared and back off a few steps.

I think that there are a lot of people out there who have or would like to have horses, who need a severe reality check. Horses are animals. Hallo!! Do you read me? Unlike the Barbie horse, they do unpleasant things like shit and urinate. And bleed when they hurt themselves. They run off when they get scared, or they kick or pull back if in panic. They have a hairpin trigger. They have motives and emotions, just not like Bambi, but real horse ones.

What I would like to see is another generation of horsemen/women who truly understand how horses tick. Who will love their horses and treat them fairly. Who will understand their needs and who can take them to their full potential. Who will educate them and correct them with love and firmness and with full understanding of their capabilities and limitations. And who understand the bridges that must be made between humans and horses, within the boundaries of modern life.

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