The discovery of Farida Khan, a notoriously abusive equestrian from Bangladesh, has surprised and disgusted the internet equestrian community. Several videos from her Facebook page went viral and prompted new pages calling for investigation into her animal handling practices. She’s been reported to just about every agency imaginable, including Stop-Crush. While at first many of us were dismayed by her apparent lack of riding skills and overt cruelty towards her horses, it was soon realized that there was a seedy subtext at hand. That’s because Farida deliberately whips her horses as sexual stimulation for a fetishistic audience, who urge her to “draw blood” and change the colour of her horse from “gray to red.” You can check out her YouTube channel (under a fake name) here. Caution – I would say that most scenes depicted here are NSFW!
“Oh yes it definitely hurts them a lot and I enjoy seeing them suffering for my pleasure. Whipping and kicking is the best thing I like when I am astride it gives me a nice feel and its such a wonderful feeling to control such a beast.”
With very little effort it’s possible for one to discover that there exists an entire subculture where horses are either beaten into compliance with whips and spurs or ridden and stroked provocatively. I knew about the “pony” fetish, where adults dress up as horses complete with bridles and saddles. But the pony fetish is hardly something to get bent over, since it’s enjoyed by consenting adults and apparently no animals are involved.
Several of Farida’s “hard riding” videos are featured on the Horse Women Facebook page and clips4all website which I reviewed, just so you don’t have to! There are the whipping and spurring videos that many of us have seen and condemned, as well as videos of adult women riding mini horses while jerking on the reins and hitting them with crops. The commentary that goes along reveals that the hitting of these small animals is designed to appeal to some sort of sadistic tendency in the viewer. Clearly, these videos make us uncomfortable, in part, because they are designed to arouse and remind their audience that beating an animal is titillating. But what’s also curious is that many of the people who favourited Farida’s horse abuse videos also have favourited classical dressage videos on YouTube as well. They seem particularly drawn to Piaffe training.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m utterly disgusted by the whipping and excessive spur usage even if there is no sexualization of the practice. But I also wonder what it is about regular dressage that attracts these same people to watch and favourite videos of Olympic, USEF, and WEG performances? Farida Khan attracts a niche audience, and she brags about her dislike of horses and cruel treatment towards them. She hits them multiple times for absolutely no reason, jerks on the bit, and turns them sharply as part of “training sessions.” But if you want to see “accepted” torture of horses you don’t have to watch fetish videos.
Most horse owners would never abuse their horses, even out of ignorance. But watch a few equestrian events and you can see whipping and spurring, along with horrendous combo bits or multiple apparatuses used on horses that are designed to force compliance or cause pain. What is often accepted as “horsemanship” is often abuse that should not be permissible.
Thanks in part to investigations by the Humane Society of the United States, the soring of Tennessee Walker horses —the intentional infliction of pain to their feet and legs to produce an exaggerated gait known as the “Big
Lick,” has received international attention. With H.R. 6388, the Horse Protection Act Amendments of 2012, it is hoped that we can end the failed system of industry self-policing, ban the use of certain devices associated with soring, strengthen penalties, and hold accountable all those involved in this cruel practice. An HSUS undercover investigation documented the prevalent use of caustic chemicals to sore horses and led to a 52-count indictment of Jackie McConnell, who pleaded guilty to one count of felony conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act, and three of his associates. In September, a federal court sentenced him to three years of probation and a $75,000 fine. McConnell also faces prosecution for violations of the Tennessee animal cruelty statute.
Thanks to the Olympics, two other forms of horse abuse have been getting attention. If you watched the 2012 Modern Pentathlon you know that competitors had to shoot, fence, run, swim, and ride a horse that they had never ridden before. Because they have to do so much, you know they aren’t going to be particularly great at any of these sports, even though the competition must be gruelling. These pentathletes certainly aren’t deliberately hurting their horses, but virtually every rider in the modern pentathlon displayed all the polish of someone who learned to ride three months ago in a crash
course – emphasis on “crash.” I recall seeing maybe one competent rider who could utilize aids other than the “Holy Shit Brakes,” or the “Save Me Jesus” seat. These riders choke up on the horse and give zero release – on one occasion causing the horse to flip over backwards – both riders and horses were lucky there were no serious injuries. Non-abuse is supposed to be a core tenet of riding, and the pentathlon was sheer abuse for many of these horses, who appeared quite competent on their own and should have been allowed to complete the course sans rider. So give me the ancient pentathlon of discus throwing, javelin, long jump, running, and wrestling over this torture. Riding a horse correctly with proper aids is not easy, as demonstrated by the fact that these fairly well-rounded, athletic competitors do not universally manage to achieve good results.
In the dressage world, Austrian FEI rider Ulrike Prunthaller has been given a nine month ban from competition and a 4,000 euro fine for the application of “painful and illegal training methods” to her horses. Her coach Friedrich Atschko is fined 5,000 euro for conscientiously supporting these methods. The pair was cleared of the charges that they injured their horses with screws, nails, stones and other unwanted artefacts, due to a lack of evidence. Such training methods are to be loathed, they give the horses significant pain, suffering and fear. It can hardly be said that these two were not aware that they were causing suffering.
Rollkur/hyperflexion is another form of abusive submission horses are being subjected to in dressage. Exaggerated flexion of a horse’s poll and neck became popularized in dressage in the 1980s when Nicole Uphoff of Germany used it as a training technique with her horse. The rider whose name has become most closely associated with the method is Anky van Grunsven. What makes this particularly abusive is that, at the Olympic level, the competitors UNDERSTAND the anatomy of the horse and they enforce rollkur (or “Low, Deep, Round”) anyway. And if they don’t do it in competition, they’ve been seen doing it in practice, away from the arena proper. Even some of the riders not using rollkur were seen digging in with spurs upon entering the arena for their tests and on through their rides. The FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale) and all its associated federations enforce their own rules and standards when it comes to rollkur, or not!
German veterinarian Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, working with German Olympic dressage champion Klaus Balkenhol, created headlines when they publicized the findings of Heuschmann’s anatomical and biomechanical studies of hyperflexion. Heuschmann said that hyperflexion not only fails to develop the proper musculature for upper-level dressage, but the exaggerated flexion can also restrict the horse’s airway. Heuschmann published a book, Tug of War: Classical Versus “Modern” Dressage, detailing his findings and arguing against the practice of hyperflexion. Unfortunately it seems as though rollkur has made it’s way into the Western Pleasure world as well, where it’s still not humane.
What makes rollkur especially cruel is that it closely resembles, to me, images of
prisoner abuse and torture from the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in occupied Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. They demonstrate extreme examples of a technique broadly defined as “stress positions,” which are designed to “soften-up” prisoners prior to interrogation. Here, prisoners are being forced to artificially lower their heads and adopt unnatural positions of their spines, similar to horses in rollkur.
We must stop seeing a horse as an adversary that must be “broken.” It seems today lavish gaits,tricks and precision are what is rewarded in competition rather than the quality of the training, the willingness of the horse, or the dedication to the sport by the rider. Most of us have done something questionable or ill-advised with regard to our horses, or we may have seen a trainer do something that didn’t seem right but we didn’t know at the time why it was wrong. If anyone in any equestrian discipline uses some of these techniques on horses with the full knowledge that we are causing them pain or distress, then we are little better than sadist Farida Khan. Use of the whips, extreme bits, and harsh spurs are the surest indicators that all other training has either been neglected, rushed, or poorly executed. “Hard Riding” is just anther type of willful abuse – the reason for it hardly matters. The horse does not know why we abuse him or for what purpose, only that we do.