A key figure in the Arabian horse world has hit out at worrying trends in the show ring, suggesting spectators and breeders are being driven away.
Princess Alia Al Hussein, the governor of the British Arab Horse Society and a patron of the New Zealand Arab Horse Breeders Society, made the comments at this month’s World Arabian Horse Organisation (WAHO) conference in Qatar. She said some Arab horse breeders were turning their backs on their entire lives with horses because of the excesses of the show ring.
The princess suggested that abusive showing techniques and the sight of scared and stressed horses in the show ring had turned some events into a trial for spectators.
She suggested Arabian horse owners must have felt cocooned in the breed’s world from “abusive trends in the training of show horses across the ocean”.
“While we abhorred it, we also felt slightly complacent that this would never catch on anywhere else.
“I, for one, was alarmed at how soon that complacency was cracked when the European and Australasian show scene began to follow suit.”
The princess said the Arabian horse industry is not doing right by its horses through either blind belief in the word of trainers and dealers, “or through willfully blinding ourselves to the reality behind reactions of horses in the ring, or anywhere when ‘Stood up’, by most handlers.
“I regretfully but openly include Jordan in this, because while we truly try our best to ensure that our shows do not feature abuse, and make our owners aware of the issues, there are still many owners who do not ‘get it’, and while loving their horses, still either do not recognise or turn a blind eye to bad handling and scared horses.
“The show scene has become actually a trial for many spectators to attend.
“Those that do not have horses entered don’t come because it is not a pleasure to see a vast majority of frightened animals.
“Those that care too much to subject their horses to abuse often feel that they can’t compete with the ‘professional’ scene – and so give up.
“Many are giving up their whole lives with horses when not being able to compete against the wind.
“Yet attempts at strict rule enforcement are often countered by pleas for leniency towards the ‘professionals’, with comments like, ‘they are only doing their job – it’s their livelihood’.
“In truth, it is actually those relative few who are ruining the livelihoods of many, along with the sanity and wellbeing of their possibly beautiful but internally damaged charges.”
The princess continued: “The show scene is not in great shape – and from the little I have seen, this is true of several other breed shows to greater or lesser degrees. Much stress, much travel, little consideration for the horses.
“The more dangerous aspect for the future – aside from the breeders and owners leaving the scene (and who are the ones who ensure continuation of any breed) – is the negative transformation of the … Arabian into a cowering or aggressive neurotic flimsy travesty; not only off-putting to non-Arabian horse people, but with questionable potential for any life outside the show ring and a very poor prospect for the long-term viability of the breed.”
The princess said there was some good news, namely the “large, loud, and I think serious outcry about show abuse”.
“I believe that the present outcry, if sustained, may help us to bring about change – by waking up the owners to reality – to the suffering of their horses, by empowering officials … to being far more effective, and helping push us into far more practical action and decisions.
“As for the trainers, I also believe that many are as desensitised to what they are doing, as are children playing violent video games to real war footage.
“So, instead of just criticising the trainers, I do think that we need to actually try, at least, to get them to understand what the effects are of what they do.”
She said she was encouraged by the huge trend towards people wanting to use non-damaging and kinder methods in their interaction with horses.
» Princess Alia Al Hussein’s full address to the WAHO conference can be read here.