Just back from vacation and trying to catch up with El Rey Magnum, the “cartoon horse?”

Well, good luck with locating the original promotional video and images. His owners Orrion Farms of Washington state, US, have pulled everything remotely connected with Magnum from their website, apart from one small head-shot on a secondary menu button which I suspect they missed when panic-pressing the delete key. This follows a global social media backlash about the colt’s physical appearance, which must left Orrion feeling they’d been hit by an express train.

The horse world comprises thousands of single-interest groups. Like-minded cliques find their specialities so cocooning they can go a whole lifetime blissfully unaware that the rest of the horse world thinks they are weird, deranged even. That naivety surely accounts for Orrion issuing a video about Magnum and proudly announcing “the horse the world has been waiting for has arrived” and that “you won’t believe your eyes….”

I don’t especially like El Rey Magnum’s head. It’s discombobulating, like Chucky from Child’s Play. It is partly because his face is not what I am conditioned into thinking is handsome, being a fan of the Thoroughbred, and because his huge nostrils appear too much on the top of his muzzle and remind me of a snout.

But seriously, are we really so anxious to read the next dollop of Twitter-feed nonsense that we haven’t time to just pause and see the “cartoon colt” as the one-off aberration he is? If you look at other adult horses at Orrion, plus Magnum’s sire Basilio CS and dam Cirque du Soleil, for whom Magnum appears to be a first foal, are their heads markedly more dished than horses at the 1000s of other studs who have refined this type of Arabian for eons without incurring our collective wrath and faux concern? No, not really. I bet that even Magnum’s breeders were surprised when he popped out looking like the plastic surgeon got to him in the womb.

Frankly, many of us have no business accusing other folks of extreme breeding. Horses have been bred selectively for hundreds of years to gallop faster and more recently to jump higher, trot in a floaty way and walk funny etc. All this brings with it physical fragilities, notably of the joints and limbs, that are less in-your-face than, well, Magnum’s face. I would rather direct my angst towards people who do nothing to manage those inherent defects with the best interests of the horse at the forefront in whatever athletic activity they use said horse for. The testing of horses to destruction in desert endurance has done more to compromise the Arabian heritage than poor little Magnum has, I am sure of that.

Most of the reported expert opinion revolves around El Rey Magnum’s breathing apparatus, though the jury is also out on that. Some of the vets who have commented on his skull-shape and the possible constraints on his airways are also qualifying their remarks by pointing out they can only go on the pictures, and actual tests should be carried out to be sure. El Rey Magnum will clearly be a paddock ornament, because that is the nature of the micro-horse community he has been born into. Will he even be broken in? I doubt we should worry if he could get enough air in to finish a race.

I am sure people have made those points elsewhere, but it was hard to spot them amidst the onslaught on social media and a frenzied mainstream press. “The practise of breeding pedigree horses with concave faces which leaves them looking like Disney creatures has been labelled ‘horrific’ by veterinary experts,” trilled British tabloid The Sun. The Daily Mail ran a long piece on similar lines, though in their haste to bung it up online managed to illustrate it with a hefty (likely Friesian) horse whose nose is overtly convex, not concave. (We call it the “Daily Fail” this side of the pond).

Note the use of the word “practise” and the plural “them,” “horses” and “faces” as if there were already herds of Magnum lookalikes on the ground. It would be repugnant if the horse world was heading for extreme breeding at the very time parts of the dog world is taking a more enlightened view about squashed faces and other irregular body shapes. But this is not the The Boys from Brazil, there is no mad professor planning to infiltrate the entire equine species with his warped notion of the ideal.

I’d have to admit that it took me about 24 hours before I decided to delve into it in detail. I can’t find which veterinarian actually first used the term “Disney creatures.” Dr Jonathan Pycock, president of the British Equine Veterinary Association and a specialist in equine reproduction, was equally surprised to see himself credited with coining the term “cartoon horse.” That whole notion has probably taken off from someone else having a pithy idea for a headline and then magic-ing up a story to fit.

On Sky News Dr P was certainly not singling out Arabian breeders as extremists. He told me: “As a veterinarian I place the health and welfare of the horse first. To me, it is not about any particular breed, it is about the horse. That is why I have never mentioned any particular breed in my comments. I made the point that one would have to do further diagnostic work to tell what effect, if indeed any, the particular horse that was featured would have its ability to function normally impaired.

“Since I have never mentioned any breed, I do not believe I have condemned any particular breed. I do not wish to get drawn into debating any particular breed and would simply urge all horse breeders to put the welfare of the horse first and not take any risks with that.”

The only thing that’s been extreme is the copying-and-pasting of other peoples’ already copied-and-pasted stuff that is then accepted as fact by readers too busy/lazy to query it. Instead, we leap to Facebook to join in the vilification of Orrion Farms and thus satisfy our inner bully, before forgetting we felt shocked and appalled and moving swiftly on to our next faux outrage.

The sloppiness of many media in lifting unverified material is the blight of publishing these days, though inevitable with tighter budgets and the general frenzy to service 24/7 news feeds and secure as many page views as possible, irrespective of the content’s merit. Only this week a famous Olympic rider was quoted by a major UK news organisation as criticising someone else by name; the paper re-purposed the same rider’s generalised remark made in JUNE about a different matter. That would have been a sack-able offence 30 years ago.

I despair, I really do, and am thankful I am at the end of my media career rather than the start. My heart goes out to young journalist colleagues and the ever crazier demands on their time and talent.

One definition of cartoon is travesty. The cartoon colt is not the main travesty in this instance.