Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Essay on Horse Slaughter

This is a response to a recent post from Fugly Horse of the Day entitled "Well SOMEONE sure drank the Kool-Aide over there!"

A good, firm, commentary that sounds like it came from a person educated in her views and not someone who just read a PETA review and wholeheartedly obsessed over it. Good one, Fugs! Now, I wish to present my views on horse slaughter.

Initially, I was one of the many that stood up to slaughter and said "wrong, wrong, wrong! Save them all!" I had the urge to go to every auction every weekend and save any horse that looked like it was being bid upon by those darned old killbuyers. They were, afterall, just a bunch of rotten scumbags bent on destroying every horse. They were all mean people that beat them. Just like in the movies right? You have those mean people who own this beautiful, spirited horse that only one girl understood, and only she could tame him. Nowadays, I say "Give me a break!" because that owner never actually beat them in the movies, just held on for dear life and spoke harshly to this crazy, spooky horse while he reared and struck out at him so he could try and get him to stop. Anyways, I was one of those people who viewed horses in "they are all treasures and each and every one should be saved." Yes, sugarcoating and all.

I still firmly believe in this, but now I have also added some sprinklings of reality to the situation.

Not every horse can be saved. Even though, at the moment, no horses go to slaughter in the United States, and the private and large rescues that can do so will try and save every last one, there are still the few just cannot be saved. I'm not saying slaughter them, I'm saying you should put them down. Euthanize them. But, God forbid, that means we'd actually be killing a horse! Regardless that they were in pain or that there was no possible chance they'd ever go to a good home, we're still killing them! Let's not focus on the fact that if we euthanize say, a very old gelding who has chronic lameness and has seen much better days and is just living off of daily doses of painkiller that make him generally loopy (but hey he's not in pain!) to keep him from keeling over, we could make room for a horse who still has better days of ahead of them and could become the next Olympian for all we know (ever hear about Hilda Gurney's first horse? He was a Thoroughbred that slipped through the cracks, and who would've thought that he'd become a bronze-medalist?) Let the aging, suffering gelding go peacefully. It hurts every time, yes, and when it doesn't hurt then you need to get out of being with animals in general. And if you fear it, you A) don't have to look, or B) don't get ones that have a strong possibility of needing to be put down due to chronic lameness or irreversible fear. There are other lives out there! Save them too!

So what does that have to do with slaughter? I'm saying that don't just save them all, find something to do with them! You can shut down all the slaughter houses you want, but you still have to take on the responsibility of redirecting owners on how to "get rid of" their horse, even though that is some harsh terminology. Same goes for shutting down slaughter houses for pigs, cattle, etc. It is expensive to care for several hundred or thousand animals that nobody really wants and the animals will ultimately suffer in the end. If you can't find anything to do with them and nobody that wants them, don't let them suffer! There are other alternatives to shipping a horse off to slaughter. It may take some cash out of your pocket, but if you can't dish out the money, what are you doing with a horse in general? Yes, I know that is a controversial line, because in the economy now, there are people who went from being able to keep their horse fat and shiny to overnight having to decide who gets the next meal: my family or the horse? Still, get the point?

Another thing to deal with this "overpopulation of unwanted horses" (which I think should be changed to "more efficient recording and better legal enforcement on equine abuse and abadonment on what is about the same number of equines we've had all along give-or-take a few") is that maybe instead of popping out babies from your (regardless if she's amazingly well-bred, and especially NO if she's just overall crappy) broodmare, stop breeding and add value to the ones you already have by showing them. Then you could get twice as much for a yearling than you would've if you sold them as a weanling to make room for another horse that nobody really needs right now. Most of us love our horses, hopefully, and the prospect of breeding always sounds like fun, but face it, horses are in a ways a luxury item (I do not like considering them livestock as most people own them as pets and/or as "athletes". We don't consider our dogs or cats livestock, now do we?) and the world right now probably doesn't have buying a horse on the top of their list. Hate to burst your bubble, but horses are not cheap.

We cannot save all of our horses, no matter how much we love them and try to care for the ones we have. I know when the BLM proposed euthanizing several hundred mustangs the animal activists had a cow - no pun intended there. But think of it this way, would you rather that these mostly-untrained horses sit and suffer in pens under a hot sun because there is not enough funding to care for all however-many-thousand and there is definitely not enough qualified adopters, or that they either be released back into the wild and be "wild and free" though really they'd be starving to death because the land can't support that many horses, or we could give them as peaceful of a passing as possible. Or even better, spay and neuter programs! It works for Chincoteague and for the crazy amounts of white-tailed deer in Texas, so why not for mustangs in general? Let the good ones breed and the not-so-good-ones just continue on without sharing the love. The population will go back to a comfortable and manageable level.

So that's one real-world application, though in the end they chose the spay-and-neuter route to appease the animal activists, which is just as sensible as euthanization. So now, not only do we have euthanization, we also have the save-the-horseys route of sterilization! Alas! two easily-accessible and sensible alternatives to shipping your horse to the slaughter house.

Another thing on slaughter: it is not the fact that horses are being killed that bothers me. Technically, and I really don't like putting it this way, we are killing horses when we euthanize them. It is how the horses are killed and the fact these horses were not raised for human consumption that bothers me a great deal. As for the kill buyers, they are business men in every sense. They are not out to break people's hearts, but merely out to make money - though shoddily I will say. That's not the part that bothers me. It's when they go into auctions inconspicuoulsy and don't let you know what you are selling to your horse to that bothers me. It's the fact that they scan Craigslist and prey upon unsuspecting owners so that they can get a pretty penny and send a horse off to an untimely and/or inhumane death. Yes, reopening slaughter houses in the US will supposedly guarantee "regulated humane methods" of killing the horse, but face it, they weren't regulated originally (you can't use morphine and painkillers in a horse that somebody will eat unless you want them to die, though I hope they at least choke on their Some-Little-Girl's-Beloved-Pony-Sparkles Fillet) and I don't expect them to regulate them now. They certainly don't fully regulate the cattle or swine slaughter houses: for goodness sake it's the Humane Society that typically steps in and attempts to yank the governments' head towards how their Big Mac came to be! So yes, I will never be in favor of slaughter, but it would give me some comfort to know if they are being regulated well. Yet another reason why slaughter is not a prestigious alternative to "getting rid of" your horse. You can sugarcoat horse-slaughter all you want, Arabian Horse Association, but slaughter is a very covert world with inhumane processes and with regulation that is beyond sketchy. Not exactly a good alternative for unwanted horses for your prestigious organization.

So, now that brings me to this: instead of going pro-slaughter Arabian Horse Association (and the many other organizations debating the slaughter issue) go pro-euthanization and pro-spay/neuter! Set up a fund for those who cannot afford to euthanize their horse and absolutely cannot find any other good home for their horse. Look into gelding horses and setting up a breeding regulation system like the warmblood associations have, i.e. stallion exams. Great way to get an even better breed.

If you want to "get rid of" your horse, don't throw them away to slaughter like a piece of trash. Give them a respectable end and let them go peacefully, not by having a bolt gun run five times through their head and then waking up while being gutted. Think about it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Horse: German Equestrian Teams Go Kaput in Wake of Drug and Med Scandals

The Horse: German Equestrian Teams Go Kaput in Wake of Drug and Med Scandals

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Oooh! Ouch! It's about time somebody cracked down on the cheaters! Ludger Beerbaum shouldn't have been so cocky. I wonder how Isabell Werth the German dressage star did?

As for Greta:

Greta did very well for our ride today. She even changed leads for me when we changed directions in the canter!

More info on yesterday's lesson and today's ride to follow.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

First Lesson Together

First of all, for "Followers" I didn't mean to follow myself.... big accident.

Greta was not eager to leave her new-found boyfriend across the fence that she had been flirting with all day... and that she had been constantly rejected by, poor thing. She gave out one last desperate whinny to Mr. Nick as I peeled her away from the edge of the pasture and up to the gate. She let out a big, forlorn sigh like that of a naive girl who thinks she had just caught sight of the love of her life and refuses to believe that it is not so! But nonetheless, Greta and I walked though the - finally! - mowed pasture and up to the shady spot of trees that I've begun tacking her up at so as not to get all gross and hot before we even begin riding. My very well-trained instructor (remember "Suzy" from the Introduction?) and her friend "Sally" along my riding buddy - who was interested in watching a rusty training-level rider and dressage-gone-polo-gone-dressage-again horse go for a first lesson together - sat under the trees at the picnic table very close by while Suzy helped me tack Greta up. I was a bit nervous about tacking up in front of her because I was afraid to be wrong of course, but as it turned out my only problem was how I adjusted the saddle and that I needed to put the saddle a bit further up on the withers. The real apparent problems would come later....

Now came the nerve wracking part: actually riding. Greta and I had worked together for about three-and-a-half weeks now, but that was just "getting to know you" time, without the song and dance most definitely. Greta was figuring out my version of aids and I was figuring out Greta' quirks and highlights. But now we are both on the same level in that we are both relearning everything we had just about forgotten: riding dressage.

So the list of grievances concerning my riding is as follows:
  1. I need to work on keeping my knees glued to the saddle and, according to Suzy, she "shouldn't be able to see any air beftween my knees and the saddle" which was followed from me by a nervous "Yes, ma'am!"
  2. It's okay to post, I don't need to be sitting the trot everywhere I go.
  3. Greta now realizes that the gate usually means "time to go," so if she wants to be done then stopping at the gate should do the trick, right? Yeah... no.
  4. Greta likes to stop once she realizes I actually am starting to get what I'm doing. Once again: yeah... no. Otherwise, she transitions beautifully!
  5. I don't need to be leaning back so far in the saddle. Really, I'm trying to impersonate what I see my favorite riders do, and once again, except it's me this time: yeah... no.
  6. When I stand up in the stirrups while posting, my legs stick out like I'm trying to do the splits. At least my hands stay still!
  7. I lose my stirrups way to easily. Psh, who needs stirrups anyway?
As for a list of accomplishments:
  1. Greta will get on the bit once I'm seated right and using my legs right! Thank goodness we don't need temporarily try a martingale, I couldn't bear to do that.
  2. My seat in the canter and walk is excellent (those are the easiest gates to balance in for me). At the trot, not so much.
  3. Greta and I are both well-trained, we just need some major refreshers. Like good teeth that had a blue slushie: it needs some really good mouthwash.
To me, so far so good! Greta and I will have our second lesson Thursday, and I actually would like to get some video. If not, I can use the power of blogging. Major power.

As for the Essay on LDR: it has some kinks, I know. But it's just a voiced decision on how I want to participate from here. Really. And a voiced opinion as well (well, couldn't you tell that at least?)

Happy trails ;)

Photo by JEM Photography

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Essay on LDR: Do we really need to be that showy?

Okay, so with me and my inexperienced hands, I was not too fond of getting a Pelham bit like Greta's former owner used on her. Greta has a nice sensitive mouth, and I was afraid I might turn a bit like a Pelham into a torture device with my hands right now. Of course, Greta had been used as a polo "pony" so a Pelham was more like an extra set of brakes than anything. Still, not exactly what I am used to right now.

So, I got her an eggbutt bit. We're still working on getting back on the bit, but one of our good friends who was trained by a German instructor from the Vienna Riding School will begin working with me and Greta tomorrow (Monday) so I won't be all alone on this!

But still, I got to thinking last night, in dressage, do we really need a bit? Shouldn't the contact with the horse be more about how I sit in the saddle and use my seat and legs than about how much pressure I can put on her tongue? Seat and leg usage are one of the foundation principles of dressage, not how hard you can tug at the bit, right?

So that gets me started on "rollkur" or "hyperflexation" or "low/deep/round" whatever you wish to call it. My personal opinion: it looks really showy on the outside, and it really just gives the rider more than enough control. A dramatically arched neck and foamy mouth (which I think having a horse splay it's saliva all over itself is far from attractive, it's disgusting) is a lot more noticeable and than a horse who's just bending at the poll, even though that is a much more reasonable limit on how a horse's neck should bend.

But what's the science behind this rollkur? Is it just crazy animal activists going after it because it causes some minor discomfort to the horse, but in fact it's not that bad... or is it really that bad? My opinion: it's really that bad.

But I did some research. In Dressage Today they had a great article on bitless bridles a while back that did a nice breakdown of why the rollkur method is accepted in the higher levels of dressage and also how a bitless bridle could benefit a horse just as much, really so long as it was the right horse. Also, a link to an interview by Horse magazine with Sjef Janssen, who is a very notable figure in European dressage: in essence, he's the genius who developed the rollkur concept. He does have some good points on how the rollkur helped one of the first horses he trained, because the horse responded to it better. Yes, that particular horse did, because he was supposedly difficult and needed more control (however a horse with a "sensitive mouth" shouldn't need that drastic of measures and doesn't sound like a problem horse, I would think more of a horse with a hard mouth and a nasty attitude). I don't feel this could work for every single horse. A horse with as soft of a mouth as Greta, for example, does not need such a method, not like I would have the heart to do it whether she needed it or not. Her poor mouth would become as hard as getting a doctorate degree.

But still, I can't give as much credit to a man who began riding at age twenty-eight and, from what I interpreted form the reading, in-a-ways taught himself despite the fact he had the resource of Spanish Riding School graduate instructors. But no, their practices were meant for more "bulkier horses" (like the very flexible Spanish breeds and Moor breeds that originally did the earliest forms of dressage. Very bulky horses. Very.) Sjef claims that modern dressage horses are "more like athletes, and should be treated like athletes". So basically he means to say that we as riders and/or trainers should treat our horses the way some coaches treat their athletes and push them to very limit to where they have sufficient problems later on in life, or, like another common fad right, jack 'em up with steroids (let's cheat!) Anky van Grunsven, though I love, love, love her freestyles routines, practices the same methods. She was also taught by Janssen and is even married to him. Cute couple. Salinero, from what I understand, was a difficult horse. So of course the rollkur method would work wonderfully. But it still gives absolute, if not too much, control to the rider.

That is another part that bothers me: the absolute control. Does a rider really need that much control though the bit? What happenened to getting the horse to want to listen to you, and to listen to you through the seat and legs?

So now, regardless of whether or not the horse is difficult to handle, I also found the physical effects of rollkur to be appalling. Of course the horse is listening, you're blocking his airway and putting extreme pressure on the top two vertebrae of the neck and in a position that is extremely unnatural!

And then I did even more research and it sounds to me like this Sjef Janssen was one of the main figures who ushered in this "new dressage era". He claimed he was met with "prejudice" from the Danish team. Well, I would too if you had a man storming in with less than half a lifetime of riding trying to shove upon the world a new method of riding. The method that was used and perfected for several hundred years was just crap apparently. It only works for "bulkier horses".

I'm not blaming any one person, I would much rather blame all who have chosen this method because they gave up on trying to find a more traditional way to get their horses to listen. A quick sampling of rollkur in the warm-up arena is fine to me if the horse needs some major stretching or needs to listen big time, but not for long periods of time and certainly not as a major training technique.

And the FEI is very wary to ban it. Why? There is sufficient evidence that is horrible for horses in the long run. Why not allow bitless bridles in competition, is it just that hard to accept the fact that some horses just cannot go with a bit, either because their mouth is too hard or for various other reasons? Why have we allowed a man who practically taught himself to ride tell people who have been riding for years longer than he how to control their horse?

I would like to see this rollkur era ushered out and fast. The Saddlebred industry used the horrible chain devices to get their horses to step higher, and that is now mostly gone, with the understanding that now they use certain drugs, and even then gaited breed organizations are cracking down on them. The miniature horse showing industry "back in the day" had a style of keeping your horses hooves very long heightwise, which made it difficult to walk. That was ushered out after scientific proof showed how bad it was for hooves and especially the fetlocks, shoulder, heck: the entire leg in general! Scientific proof shows this showy, spit-splattering rollkur method is horrible for the horse's musculoskeletal system in the long run and short term.

It really makes me want to decide now, at first level, whether or not I really want to compete and be judged down because I'm not "showy enough" with my horse (my great orginal instructor had been marked down at shows simply because she was riding an Appendix Quarter Horse, and even though she did the patterns the best, the warmbloods and Andalusians were the flashier horses, so they got marked up for that. Seriously now) for not overflexing her neck, which gets more and more drastic the higher and higher you go. I feel now that I might just want to get a bitless bridle and learn dressage for pleasure and to feel that I have accomplished something in bonding with my horse.

Thank goodness dressage is not the only equestrian sport with issues (I know showjumping has a fair amount too, as wellas eventing, and saddleseat, and western pleasure, and the list goes on!) And almost every sport has its "rollkur". Why can't a fair amount of educated people, not raving PETA-like fans, get up and do something about it? At least get the bitless bridle allowed?

It's not about ribbon and shows and fancy clothes, it's about bonding and love of the horse. If you don't have that, what are you doing in the equestrian sport? Go get into ballet or tack/field, where it's just your own body you have to worry about pushing and messing up. Be passionate about riding and having fun going to shows with your horse, not pushing your horse to the limit because you're scared to lose or too incompetent to ask for help and do a little research on how to solve your problems.

The horses are silent. The evidence, however, is deafening and painfully true.

A great article to read about this issue.

Me and Greta get back into lessons tomorrow, I'll put up how that goes. I'm excited!

Photos from Sustainable Dressage