It’s Not Horseback Riding – It’s Exploitation!

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Royal Lippizaners

© Heather Clemenceau – taken in Toronto where the Lipizzaners were on tour.

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

Last night I read the “Death to Carnism” blog on Tumblr – “Horseback Riding: Is it Vegan?” The main premise of the blog is that horses are cruelly treated and oppressed by riding,  a viewpoint I struggled to comprehend. The author is also adamant that animals should not be possessed by anyone who benefits from such ownership in ANY way, or if their presence in our lives gives us any sort of personal pleasure or happiness.   So obviously, I think the themes presented in the blog are spurious, because, even though I don’t eat meat, I can hardly equate riding horses with eating a factory-farmed animal. Nor do I believe that pet ownership (a legal construct) implies that we are guilty of imprisonment, commodification, oppression, or cruelty to animals. For someone so intensely passionate about treating animals well, the author of the blog seems to have no issue treating human beings like crap. I realize that some extremist vegans don’t think there is anything special about those who are blind or confined to a wheelchair, but it probably isn’t feasible for those people to hire humans to perform the same tasks that many animals perform. Or worse, go without a therapy animal altogether just because someone believed that the disabled person ought not to have derived any convenience from the pet.

The author also believes that horse owners should be persuaded to simply turn their companion horses loose as a means of liberating them from the confines of

Hapsburg eagles on the Lipizzaner bits

Hapsburg eagles on the Lipizzaner bits

enslavement. This ownership = enslavement meme is consistent with Rutgers University Professor Gary Francione’s extremist abolitionist movement, which does not justify the keeping of any domesticated animals or pets no matter how well they are treated. “Vegangelicals” such as the blog author mistakenly believe that horses (and by extension, household pets, therapy dogs, guide dogs or even goats used to maintain pastures and provide manure for the garden) are subjugated in a comparable manner to the confinement of farm, laboratory, marine, or circus animals.

Of course, activities that are too risky for horses (such as  abusive rodeos, chuckwagon races, and some other activities where the degree of risk is unacceptably high) should be eliminated or the welfare impacts minimized. Any invasive training or riding techniques that involve punishment or extreme control or chronic injury should certainly be avoided. Horse owners are always ethically responsible for all the activities and actions they conduct on horses, and  we must always be prepared to justify them ourselves.  Most horse activities, while they are primarily carried out for the “happiness” of horse owners, are non-injurious to horses.  Healthy horses can easily carry 25% of their own body weight or slightly more for shorter duration activities without negative effect.

Another issue for the top hat tip to Nicblog author is whether we can ever be justified in asking horses to do something they might not enjoy, or something they might enjoy less than standing in a paddock socializing with other horses. Most horses would choose to stand in a paddock eating grass with other horses because they are bound to other members of their herd. However, while asking a horse to carry us in for a lesson or trail ride might impose upon the horse for an hour or slightly longer, but it is hardly an example of abuse. Most horses have a pleasant, tractable nature about them and don’t begrudge us riding them at all. Asking a domesticated, trained horse to participate in an activity that is within the scope of its training and physical/mental ability is not abusive to the animal.

And by what stretch of arrogance can anyone believe that we should ever turn horses loose?  There are infinite examples of horses starving to death after being abandoned by uncaring owners. Abandonment of an animal is usually considered a criminal behaviour, and yet,  some followers of the “Carnism” blog were praising this as admirable – it’s not. The author clearly does not comprehend that wild horses are being systematically exterminated in their natural environments. Agencies in both the US and Canada consistently bungle efforts to manage the population of wild horses on public lands (that’s a nice way of saying how to cull them, which is a nice way of saying how to kill them). If one wants an example of inhumane treatment of wild horses, they need look no further than helicopter roundups and corralling horses into traps, often followed by slaughter not long thereafter.  And only a deluded person believes that companion dogs and cats (or other animals) used to being cared for as “oppressed” pets are better off being suddenly turned out to become strays.  One only has to look at the condition of former pets brought into shelters to know that they don’t usually thrive. Caring owners don’t abandon animals.

tack room for the lippizaners 4

The tack shown here (for the Lipizzaner stallions) is leather, but all horse tack is available in biothane, a synthetic. It is generally a rule in most show classes that you must use leather saddles, bridles and harnesses however.

I chose not to eat animal products out of a love for animals, passion for conservation, and concern for our diminishing global resources. Avoiding meat and other animal products seemed to be a kinder, gentler, and more ecological choice. Yet via direct experience, I’ve found that many vegans are quick to point out what they think are unjustifiable uses of companion animals while being unwilling to acknowledge that even their own meals include death. Growing fields of soy beans means removing habitat from thousands of wild animals, killing them through deforestation and loss of their home. Songbirds and insects are killed by pesticides. Fertilizers are often made from petroleum, and fields of tofu seeds are literally being sprayed with oil. If we’re not using oil to fertilize crops then we are using organic material: manure, blood, bone, and fish.  We exist,  and therefore it’s impossible to entirely avoid harming animals.

There are reasons why many potential vegans refuse to self-identify as vegan. Sadly, the movement has become more about angry rhetoric and less about common sense. Veganism should be an ideal and not a cult. If vegans proceed to lambast thoughtful and pragmatic people with the view that they cannot ride horses or own animals then they must also accept that their philosophical position will never appeal to people who have the motivation to live life without unnecessarily and intentionally harming animals. Most companion animals live extremely comfortable lives compared with factory-farmed or even wild animals. We must of course always treat animals in a manner that invokes respect.   The “Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness” was one clear expression of this consensus. That animals can consciously suffer needs no discussion.

Tack room for the lipizzaners

The Lipizzaner is the breed of horse most closely associated with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria, where they demonstrate the haute école or “high school” movements of classical dressage, including the highly controlled, stylized jumps and other movements known as the “airs above the ground – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipizzan

Even PeTA is not opposed to horseback riding:

“When there is a respectful, loving bond between horse and human, then horseback riding can be as much an act of companionship and exercise as walking one’s dog. However, just as we oppose the use of choke collars on dogs, we also oppose the use of whips, spurs, and other devices that cause discomfort and pain to horses.

With domesticated horses, PETA supports humane, interactive training. Horses are not equipment and can suffer from the heat, humidity, and overexertion. Horses don’t enjoy constant work any more than a human being enjoys being forced to do manual labor all day long. Just as a dog can be housetrained in a positive manner, gentle methods can be employed to teach a horse to tolerate a rider on his or her back. PETA does not support training methods based on punishment.

We do not support keeping horses in isolation and believe that they are happiest when kept in social groups.”

 

 

About heatherclemenceau

Hopefully as I've grown older I've also grown wiser, but one thing I've definitely become cognizant of is the difference between making a living and making a life. Frequently outraged by some of life's cruelties, and respect diversity. But.....I don't suffer fools gladly, and occasionally, this does get me into some trouble! I have the distinction of being the world's worst golfer - no wait, I do believe that there is a gypsy in Moldavia who is a worse golfer than I. Nor am I much of a dancer - you won't see a booty-shakin' flygirl routine from me! I'm also not the kind of cook who can whip up a five-course meal on a radiator either! And I've never figured out how to get an orchid to bloom a second time. I love to discuss literature, science, philosophy, and sci-fi , or even why Seinfeld is funny on so many levels. Words move me. I'm very soft-hearted about most things, especially animals, but I have a stoicism about me that is sometimes interpreted incorrectly. I do have a definite edge and an often "retro-adolescent" sense of humour at times. I'm a big advocate of distributed computing projects to advance science. Check out http://boinc.berkeley.edu/ if you want to find out more. I'm an eclectic (but not crazy) vegetarian, and as such, it's a personal practice of mine to seduce innocent meat-eaters into cruising the (salad) bars at every opportunity. You would be powerless to resist. I was recently surprised to find that a computer algorithm concluded that I write like Dan Brown, which is funny because I didn't think Dan Brown could actually write. Check out your own style - http://iwl.me/ Oh, and I love impractical shoes and funky hats.

15 responses »

  1. Just more proof there are a lot of insane, stupid, commie control freaks out there that can’t think their way out of a wet paper bag.

  2. All species deserve long and happy lives. As long as we are here as friends to all the innocent, we have to make sure that the right things are done for all species, not just a few.

    To that end, we must persist in ending the torture and killing of our best friends. Email and/or contact Congress through http://www.USA.gov **Pass The SAFE Act and The PAST Act now**

    “Not to hurt our humble brethren (the animals) is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission–to be of service to them whenever they require it… If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”
    –Saint Francis of Assisi

  3. Exactly what Alexander Nevzorov says.

    Read the book “The Horse Crucified and Risen.” All the answers are there. Look up Nevzorov Haute Ecole.

    • We don’t say exactly the same thing. But one thing I can never figure out is why I have so many so-called adherents to Nevzorov Haute Ecole who are completely opposed to any riding of any horses. He runs a school of horsemanship, and is followed by people who claim no one should ever ride horses, but that airs above the ground are OK. While I agree with many statements he makes about certain events and horseshoes etc. etc., he also claimed that his school had taught horses to read and understand human language (in this case, the Latin alphabet), like Clever Hans. Hans was discredited, as the horse was reading the subtle body-language cues of his trainer, although the trainer did not intentionally cue the horse. This puts him into crackpot territory.

  4. With all the horrific animal abuse in the world, why don’t they join in the fight to save dogs and cats from being table food, the horses from being slaughtered, and become more informed with differences between wild horses and domestic?

  5. Excellent post, Heather, as usual. I read that same article some time ago. I didn’t post a comment at the time because I was too angry. In the end, I decided to just let it go because I knew I’d never convince her that she obviously knows nothing about horses or the vast majority of horse owners and that I found her post extremely insulting and way over the top.

    Besides, my reply wouldn’t have been as good as yours anyway. :)

  6. “If vegans proceed to lambast thoughtful and pragmatic people with the view that they cannot ride horses or own animals then they must also accept that their philosophical position will never appeal to people who have the motivation to live life without unnecessarily and intentionally harming animals.”

    Guess what? If vegans proceed to lambast thoughtful and pragmatic people with the view that they cannot eat meat or drink cow’s milk or wear leather shoes then we similarly accept that our philosophical position will never appeal to people who have the motivation to live life without unnecessarily and intentionally harming animals.

    Vegan motivation has never been popularity – it’s always about being vegan.

    • Except that veganism has now encroached into areas where it really has no business being. For example, some vegans have recently taken to admonishing vegans who date non-vegans, those who feed carnivores meat, and people who work as wildlife rehabbers for feeding small animals to raptors. This is completely unreasonable behaviour and they deserve to be called-out for it. I’ve even been pointed to a movement that seeks to either abolish or bio-engineer carnivores in order that they “evolve” from predators to herbivores. Clearly people who promote this know nothing about the predator/prey paradox, nor do they understand the various roles and habitats of carnivores, herbivores, decomposers etc.

      The general population grows at a rate faster than veganism, so despite the outreach that goes on, the movement is not growing. I am still not going to eat animal products, but I’m gradually withdrawing from all the vegan groups I had participated in since I find many vegans are getting increasingly bolder in terms of what *they* believe is acceptable. I’ve been told I should leave my husband because he isn’t a vegan, because some don’t believe I’m capable of being the arbiter of “what works” for me. If I wanted someone to lord over me and tell me what to do in all aspects of my life, I’d run off and join up with the Scientologists……

    • Veganism (still) is what it was when it was coined in 1945 by Donald Watson. No more, no less.

      If someone is trying to tell you it’s more then that’s *their* opinion.

      Similarly, when you try to tell people that it’s less than it is, that’s *your* opinion.

      Of course everyone is free to hold their own opinions, but selling them as veganism is at best misguided, if not a malicious misrepresentation.

  7. This is long so please bare with me:

    Hi Heather, my name is Lauren and I came across your blog post today while doing some research. I am a soon-to-be graduate of Purdue University, am a vegetarian for multiple reasons, and rode horses for 15 years before changing my entire viewpoint on riding.

    I have ridden in both English and Western disciplines and was once a rated member of the United States Pony Club. I have raced barrels, hacked Saddlebreds, ridden in Western pleasure classes, ridden trails, competed in dressage, and jumped cross-country. I have probably ridden over 100 horses (I am not joking) from ponies to ex-racehorses. I have also had many different riding instructors over the years including so-called professional riders. I used to attend the Rolex Three Day event in Kentucky every Spring and thought that somehow my poor (seriously) self would find an opportunity to become a professional eventer with some off-the-track-Thoroughbred I’d bought for $300. Then one day I literally walked away from it all and I have not looked back since.

    Last September, I saw an article pop up on my Facebook about the organizers of a three day event changing part of a cross-country course half way through the order-of-go. Apparently many of the horses and riders had been having problems at particular jumps due to poor weather conditions. So I posted the article to my feed with a statement that this was unfair because most of the professional riders at the event were at the end of the running order and would now be riding a different if not easier course than the novice riders that went before them. I got some backlash from fellow riders who said the organizers were correct to look out for the “safety” of the other riders once they realized there were too many problems. I insisted that this still wasn’t fair because the riders at the end were more experienced and should know how to “handle” the poor conditions. Still, there were arguments that this change of course was proper for safety. A little angered, this time I pointed out that the whole sport of eventing is dangerous and horses can die. They do die. I was at Rolex just across the field in 2008 when Lainey Ashker’s Frodo Baggins went down over the now-infamous Flower Basket jump. Horses die in this sport all the time and yet we never once ask the horse if he’d rather not go out there and risk his neck for it.

    So I began to think about this some more. I’m no physicist, but I realized that any time a mistake is made at a jump it is always the rider’s fault. This is due to the fact that the horse is in no way “designed” to carry a rider (living organisms do not have a defined purpose and neither do their parts; see Diamond v. Chakrabarty which alludes to this legally, and check out the NIH’s stance on this). Any minimal shift in the rider’s weight (which is going to happen), shift of the tack (which is also going to happen) or otherwise (a random act of nature, i.e. shifting of wind or terrain) can and will throw the horse off-balance. In addition, any perceived “wrong” move taken by the horse in response to the shifting of his balance or active response to shifts in the rider’s weight are often punished by use of the crop and/or spurs. Typically, what the horse is really doing is making an active judgment of the situation to account for rider error (i.e. the shifting of the rider’s weight). Again, I don’t have science to back me up here, but I would hypothesize that the movement the horse would make on a cross-country course, such as an approach to a jump, would almost always be different from the movements made by the horse with a rider on its back. To complete the example, if you have a horse and rider approach a jump and he suddenly refuses or lunges to the side to go around the jump, he has made a judgment call that he could not safely make the effort without injuring himself. And for this the horse often receives a whack with the whip, a jab of the rider’s spurs, and/or a nasty yank of the reins. The horse made an effort to protect himself – to survive – and he received punishment.

    I don’t believe any horse on this planet would go out and run an XC course of his own accord in the absence of a rider. Horses can certainly jump, but I would like to think that they do so out of necessity rather than finding joy in it (I’m not talking about a horse jumping a random log in the middle of the field on his gallop back to the barn for evening chow, which is still technically necessity anyway – jumping the log might be the fastest way to the barn). I know horses a little bit and I had ridden them for many years – I just don’t think they would jump an entire cross-country course without the guidance of a rider for what humans call “fun.”

    Further, if these event riders have such great partnerships with their horses, why exactly do they need whips, spurs, and/or bits? Some go “nice in a snaffle,” but I’ve seen gags, pelhams, and elevators on the cross-country horse, as well as different lengths of spurs on the rider’s boots and different types of crops in the rider’s hands. I have been to many upper level and lower level cross-country events and at least once I have seen a rider “get rough” with these “aids” in some manner. It isn’t acceptable. We could argue about “good” contact all day, but my question still stands: what are the spurs, whips/crops, and bits for if you have such a good partnership with your horse?

    Why would you ever need those things to “communicate” “jump this massive fence at a gallop with me on your back?” Perhaps it’s because in the absence of these “aids” the horse would have a much easier time of saying “no” and there goes the “connection” between man and horse.

    I watched the video and read the Tumblr entry you discussed in your post. Based on the definition of “vegan,” a person who follows this philosophy does not consume any animal products for any reason in any manner whether that is strictly for ethical, health, or other reasons. Hence, riding is not vegan because a human being would be taking something from the horse (energy, a place to sit, engaging the horse as a vehicle for transportation, etc.) and the horse rarely gets anything positive from the experience of being ridden. The viewpoint is clear and there isn’t anything inherently wrong with it either. If there is something inherently wrong with not riding a horse because it is unnecessary or unethical or whatever, please enlighten me.

    I am not vegan and though I do not ride anymore for the reason that it is harmful to the horse’s well-being, believe me when I say I miss riding horses. I grew up riding and it is something that’s ingrained in my soul for better or for worse. But I have learned that to ride a horse is selfish on my part. I don’t need to ride a horse for any other reason than enjoyment. And when there is overwhelming research to show that riding can harm the horse physically, physiologically, emotionally, mentally, and/or psychologically what reason is there that justifies riding? I do not believe that the research snippets in the video are incorrect even if they may need some more fleshing-out and additional research.

    I am vegetarian and I do not necessarily equate not eating meat with not riding. However, I think that equestrian competition is exploitation of the horse for human gain at the cost of prohibiting the horse from expressing free will to not participate (and not be punished for the refusal). Competition impacts the horse negatively in many respects and should not be supported. Absolutely any equestrian competition is harmful to the horse.

    Let me take your pet or dog ownership thoughts into account as well. So we say our animals love us, yeah? So same thing as above with the spurs, whips and bits on horses, why do we need leashes and collars for dogs? (I would concede that typically the leash and collar aren’t used in the same manner as the bit and spurs, but that they can be used with severity.) If humans had true partnerships with their dogs (and some do) then we shouldn’t need leashes or collars. When you get down to the bare minimum of the uses for the items used on a horse and the items used on a dog they are each used in a manner consistent with control of the animal. The leash and collar keep the dog from running off and the bit, whip and spurs force the horse to do our bidding when we get on his back.

    Further, just because horses could carry 25% of their bodyweight on their back (by what study by the way?) does not mean it is designed to do so. Again, living beings are not designed for a purpose. Do you even know exactly why you exist on earth? I can’t even pretend to know that. Studies have also shown that when a horse bares a rider on its back for more than 15 minutes of work this can cause the horse immediate soft tissue damage and pain. If you know of a study that cleanly refutes this please post it. Please refer to the Nevzorov Haute Ecole’s website for information on the study I noted here.

    While “going for a trail ride” hardly sounds like abuse, if the horse doesn’t have a choice in the matter then this doesn’t make it ok. Just because you don’t think you’re harming the horse does not mean that you aren’t. If you love and cherish your horse why would you take this risk?

    In the “death to carnism” blog, the author does not advocate turning horses loose in the wild. The author states that this would be irresponsible. That is another discussion for another time as well.

    You’re right about humans harming other animals no matter what considering the world we live in, but this is not a free pass to just hop on a horse and ride it. That’s a hypocritical point of view. If you know you are harming the horse, why would you ride it? If you don’t know, you shouldn’t ride, and you should study-up.

    Just because PETA thinks it’s ok to ride horses does not make it suddenly ok to do so. This organization has been discredited on many fronts for many different reasons. Take a look at this Huffington Post opinion piece from 2013 if you are certain you support them: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-j-winograd/peta-kills-puppies-kittens_b_2979220.html. (I am not saying they are entirely horrible because I really just don’t know. But I’m willing to bet since the Huffington Post still has this up on their website they haven’t lost a lawsuit on facts.)

    Finally, if we humans must abide by “consent,” as in, “no, means no,” but we do not afford this to other animals for one reason or another than as humans we are taking a step backwards. No one being is superior to others – they all need to exist for this planet to be whole. In addition, though I am not a representative for Alexander Nevzorov’s Haute Ecole, I understand that while he did ride horses for a while he did so without the use of any restraint of the horse’s head. Since that time he has expressed that he feels riding is unethical altogether and does not teach riding or condone it. Instead he teaches a way to have a meaningful relationship with the horse on the ground without pain or force at all.

    • Hi Lauren, this is a great comment, very well thought out. Thank you for taking the time to put it all into words. I do agree with much of what you’re writing. Do you mind if I put it into a separate blog post in a few days so I can respond to it properly? TKS, Heather

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