As well as writing for this publication, I edit the English language website for of a European-based equestrian media outlet. It is primarily about equestrian sports news. Much of the content comes to me from Europe and not always in English, so sometimes it takes a bit of time to establish exactly what the news is. Recently, I have published a couple of articles on it and read one or two others elsewhere, the reaction to which has made me wonder if there is any future for equestrian journalism or if we should all just stick safely to show reports and pretend events we don’t care for ever happen.
Then today, I went to the World Horse Welfare Conference in London, where the subject was the so-called Invisible Horse. Sometimes abused horses are invisible because they are stashed away in barns or stables or worse, where we can’t easily see them. Sometimes those horses are hidden from us at shows or in competition collecting rings away from public view. It isn’t just the poor creatures on their way to slaughter who might be mistreated. It is sadly true that abuse can take many forms and be found in many places. However, sometimes these invisible horses are that way because we choose not to see them. Or we see them and choose not to act.
The media, I believe, have a duty to report on what they see when out and about. It is no good ignoring issues because it might not be good for the sport, which is a commonly heard excuse when asking why a horse or rider accident (or worse) is sanitised, glossed over or not mentioned at all. What will be less good for equestrian sport is the general public gaining the perception that riders and trainers don’t care about their horses, that they are only commodities for winning prizes.
There will always be ghouls looking for the worst and I am not suggesting we encourage them by giving out every tiny detail and filling reports with speculation, but I have mentioned in a previous blog, how small the FEI disciplinary list is for horse abuse, and the law of averages says horses getting kicked or whipped or worse must happen more frequently than it appears on this list, why is that?
When I found a story in Europe, which was printed on four different websites in three different languages in four separate countries, including the show organisers, I wrote the English version of what was being said. I was quite clear that it was allegations, but a horse died and that merits investigation. I have, subsequently, received some vicious mail, but at least I can still sleep at night.
Why did I bother? Because horses put up with a lot and give us all sorts of pleasure I, think we owe them. When the mighty Hickstead collapsed and died in the ring in Verona, almost exactly five years ago to the day, he did so in front of a sell out crowd, in a class that was live on both FEI TV and the local Italian stations. There was no question of abuse. The horse jumped a lovely round and then pretty much just buckled over. I was ten feet away, so I had a damn good view and then I helped write the official press release afterwards. But even that horse death, so clearly NOT the fault of his rider was investigated and an autopsy performed. Why then, would anyone think that a mysterious death not even in competition would not merit the investigation the FEI announced today? All horse deaths should be investigated and the quality horse people know this. The hysteria that surrounds the appearance of small grazes or bitten lips is deemed acceptable, but ask for an investigation into a dead horse and that is out of order?
No horse should be invisible because we just choose not to see. A bleeding mouth might not be life threatening and horses bite their tongues sometimes, but many riders go through their whole lives without seeing one on a horse they own. Is it our duty then to investigate riders whose horses constantly exhibit this issue? Of course it is. Should the media highlight such cases or are we just whipping up a public frenzy over nothing at the possible expense of a rider’s career? I do because I think what really makes abused horses invisible is apathy, and all of us can make a difference to that.