Are we saddling horses with the raw end of the deal?



Images shared online in recent days show the horse world has a lot more problems than what to rename eventing and whether equestrian sports will remain in the Olympics.

Horse sport has a long and proud history as part of the modern Olympic movement, but I am struggling to see where the “Olympic Charter” fits in with some of the treatment of horses that I’ve seen in recent days.

stock-overbentIn the most recent incident (and there have been many on social media in recent years), a leading showjumper was filmed with her horse trotting along happily during a warm-up at a high-profile show. Several times she yanked and see-sawed on his mouth then backed him up.

Presumably stewards and other officials were patrolling the warm-up area but I don’t believe the rider was either stopped or spoken to.

Times being as they are, social media shone its ever-present spotlight on the incident, once the video was posted online.

The rider mentioned above has since apologised on her Facebook page and appears contrite. We shall see what the FEI makes of it all. We understand that officials have reported the matter, but it still begs the question as to why stewards did not intervene.

I don’t go to high-level shows so I can’t say if this sort of thing happens often, but in this case it was caught on film. I don’t doubt there are other such incidents where equine welfare has come off second best while in public view.

Another video surfaced a couple of years ago showing a reining horse being “warmed up” by being galloped flat-tack toward a wall, then being pulled up heavily at the last minute.

A few days ago, on a TV channel, I saw a few minutes of a horse and rider being schooled at the trot by a dressage trainer. The horse, tacked up in a double bridle, had his head pulled back behind the vertical and the rider was pushing him along with a poke from her spurs at every stride. I could not believe that this was being encouraged by the trainer. I stopped watching in disgust.

There have also been disturbing images coming out of the sport of endurance in the United Arab Emirates. Horses have died in endurance contests. In one notable video a rider is shown flailing about on his horse and “supporters” are running onto the course to urge (chase) the tired horse along.

Just today I read a quote from famous US jumping trainer Jimmy Wofford, which reads in part: “Above all we need a partner, not a slave. Give him the education he will need, and then sit quietly while he does the job you have very skilfully and very patiently taught him. He won’t let you down. We owe all this and more to our horses.”

trot-poleIndeed, horse sport’s governing body also mentions this partnership as part of its values: “It is the successful partnership between these two elements; the relationship of confidence and respect that is built up between them, that makes the sport so exceptional.”

It continues: “Fair play, equality, complicity with the animal and respect for the environment and the horse are the core values of the FEI.”

But back to the Olympic Charter. To paraphrase, it reads: “Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”

Just how this fits into what horse sport has become for some riders is beyond me.



4 thoughts on “Are we saddling horses with the raw end of the deal?

  • April 2, 2016 at 12:15 am

    Sadly, the answer to the question in the article’s title is ‘Yes, quite often.’

  • April 2, 2016 at 12:22 am

    Given the horses aren’t voluntary “athletes” or even “partners” since they are trained using aversive pressure via negative reinforcement as well as punishment, their participation in the Olympics seems oxymoronic to me.

  • April 3, 2016 at 9:34 am

    this should be partnership between equine and rider. The horse is the athlete……

  • April 22, 2017 at 4:59 am

    Compassion for the horse does exist, but rarely in a competitive environment. The horses’ comfort or well-being are seldom considered when there are prizes for the rider/owner. Shoes, harsh bits, heavy hands, pounds and pounds of sweet feed, horrific treatment before shows, Rollkur, the list goes on. If we speak up, we’re a pariah. If we don’t, we’re complicit.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *