We all know (don’t we?) that racing horses is cruel. I mean the very fact of using living beings for commercial purposes, not to mention the cruelty, the whipping, the shooting of the horses if they get injured – because it’s cheaper to kill them than fix them – I mean, come on. If you don’t get that that shit’s wrong, then may I politely suggest that your moral compass may be busted.
Don’t even get me started on dressage. When I see majestic horses made to prance around like idiots just to prove the riders can ‘control’ them, it makes me sick to my stomach. Way to strip a living being of its dignity.
These things may be obvious, but I wanted to address a question where the answer may not be so obvious:
Is it OK to ride horses if you don’t race them or use them commercially?
I remember the one and only time I rode a horse (I wasn’t yet vegan). When I say ‘rode’ I actually mean ‘clung on for dear life.’
It was in the south of France, and under pressure from my then partner, we went horse-trekking in the Dordogne.
From the get-go I was uncomfortable. I had mentioned I was nervous to the organiser, so he said he had given me a very gentle, docile horse.
This didn’t make me feel any less nervous. During the trek the horse behind kept head-butting mine up the bum, so my horse kept running away from it. I ended up getting off the horse (THAT was a scary enough manoeuvre!), and telling the organiser I couldn’t go on. He shamed me and said NO-ONE had ever got off the horse in the middle of a trek before. I shrugged and just led the horse by hand back to the stables.
I think I can now verbalise how I felt that day.
I think I was aware at an unconscious level that I was sitting astride a living being, who had the full agency and right to do whatever they wanted at any given time – like ALL living beings do. I would not blame the horse if she wanted to throw me off her back. I was not confident, like the other trekkers seemed to be, that the horse was a thing that would do whatever they commanded. I didn’t see how they could be that confident, horses aren’t machines.
It’s not something I could have expressed that day. I hadn’t given much thought to whether animals were fully-sentient beings or not, and I’d already lived in France for two years at that point and was used to seeing horse butchers everywhere.
Yet it just didn’t feel right.
And while part of this was because I was scared AF that I would fall (not gonna pretend I was a saint thinking purely about the horse), I think I also knew that a horse is a living being, and ultimately, living beings have their own mind – even if humans break their spirits when they are ‘broken in.’ Therefore, the horse could do anything at any time – and why wouldn’t she? This didn’t help my fear of falling any, lol!
Now we know animals are the same as us in every significant way – they suffer, feel pain and fear in the same way we do (some countries have even declared that into law); so regarding the above question there is just one thing to ask yourself:
Would you like a big ol’ lummox riding on your back? Controlling you? Pulling at reins that pulled at your head and mouth? Having metal continually banged into your feet, because your hooves can wear down with all the unnatural weight you carry when people ride you?
I’m gonna hazard a guess that the answer to this is no.
So how can we justify riding horses for pleasure whether it’s for commercial purposes or not? The minute we get on their back we are stepping on their agency.
Yes, they may let you do that – probably because they have been previously ‘broken in’ (ugh, I hate that term), and they know that you are their food source.
This doesn’t mean it’s right.
I’ve found that we get the answer to pretty much any question regarding the treatment of animals if we ask – would we like it done to us?
Would you climb on the back of any of your other pets? Ha! I like to see someone try and climb on the back of their cat – the cat would soon let them know how they felt about that!
I’ve been lucky enough to see truly wild mustangs and burros in the west of America. We don’t get wild horses here in the UK (the Welsh/New Forest/Dartmoor horses and ponies are actually privately owned and semi domesticated), so it was pretty amazing to see these horse families living wild and free.
I get that due to domestication horses need to be fed a majority of their diet by humans, and to generally be looked after; but isn’t that the same with cats and dogs? Why do the horses have to be ridden to merit their upkeep?
Isn’t it possible to have a horse companion (just like a dog companion) and take them out for walks every day, let them run some, pet them, and just generally enjoy the company of these beings without climbing on their backs and making them do stuff?