Part of what I have always loved about having a life and career with horses is that so much of working with these glorious animals relied on good common sense. Whether it be in the training of them, the care of them, the barn management or show management, common sense has always been a guiding principal of any older, wise horseman or woman.
These days, however, I feel like while I was asleep one night, maybe starting two or three years ago, we started kicking common sense out the door.
What really struck me in black and white the other day was that I was sitting at my bar six in the morning enjoying my coffee before my kid woke up and I had to start the ‘off to school’ drill, and naturally I was flicking through Facebook and came across the widely circulated Chronicle of the Horse article titled, ‘Winning by Withdrawing: Kaitlin Hartford Shows Sportsmanship At Its Finest At RRP Makeover.’ If you haven’t read it I can summarize it here:
Young lady enters the Retired Racehorse Project and does an outstanding job on day one and goes into day two in second place. Young lady’s horse is sadly limping lame on day two. She can’t get it to stop limping, so she limps it into the ring, puts her hand up and retires while explaining to the judges that her horse is lame so she has to retire. This story is then followed up by the typical Facebook bravado of myriads of comments like, ‘WOW! What an incredible lady!’ or ‘MAN ALIVE! What a bright future that one will have!’ or ‘EGADS! What a complete inspiration.’
I think I dribbled some coffee out of my hanging jaw at that point and part of me inside died just a little bit.
Let me tell you a few tiny out takes of my day yesterday.
I rode a few horses, one of which I was hacking ever so lovingly up to my back jump field, kind of on the buckle, kinda looking out to the world around me and thinking how blessed we are with the weather and the view and what a glorious world we live in when out of nowhere, the horse planted, stared at a cow miles away, audibly sighed like he just couldn’t be bothered to ‘adult’ today, threw his head in the air, reared in a halfhearted attempt to damage my nose, spun to the right towards the barn and tried to bolt. Can you believe I didn’t pick up my stick and whack it like a mole at the fair on its neck or even jab it with my spurs! No! I simply took ahold of the left rein and sat there while it decompressed and decided to turn left and go to the field. I don’t think I even let a four letter word slip!
That afternoon, I had to call our health insurance company as they had not paid for something that was standard issue. This was the fourth time I had to call. The fourth time I waited on hold for over 15 minutes, got passed around from person to person, got told to send stuff in that I have already sent in three times and the fourth time I had been told that surely it was the doc’s fault. Again, can you believe I didn’t even let a four letter word slip? I held my tongue until it was almost severed from my mouth since what I wanted to tell the person on the other end was how incredibly mind numbing, leg pumping, dumb and useless they were and no wonder our health system sucks so bad in this country, that they probably couldn’t organize a piss up in a brewery, that it was no wonder that even though I paid them over $800 a month I still had to babysit and monitor their every job. But I didn’t say any of that! Imagine!
OK. Here is the sad thing. At least as far as I know, NO ONE to date has written an article about how amazing I am and what a bright future I am going to have. But clearly they should because my behaviour from these two instances are far more herculean than a girl not competing her lame horse.
When did it become news that someone actually does the right thing? The common sense, good horsemanship, morally correct, thing? When did we have to start applauding civil behaviour? Have we gone off the deep end that badly? When I pick up our son from school I don’t take him for ice cream because he managed not to disrespect a teacher, kiss a girl or beat up a boy. No, I EXPECT that from him and if he does otherwise there would be hell to pay, as he knows. I just find life so confusing sometimes it appears we have gone into a topsy turvey world.
So we have this example on the one hand and then on the direct other we have all these extreme FEI rules now. The blood rule and now this noseband rule.
Bertram Allen. What a complete disaster that was at Olympia in 2015. What a total sham and what a total shame for everyone involved in that horse and rider’s program. A nick on its side and disqualified. A NICK. A NICK is not a ‘horse welfare’ issue, I’m sorry. Even those riders that got bumped up because of his disqualification went public saying how wrong it was and how embarrassed they were to be ranked higher when Bertram had won fair and square. Forget the massive financial investment, what about all the hours and hours of time and the emotional and mental investment that went into that win from all aspects of their team only to be disqualified for a nick on a chestnut’s side? And why did this happen? Because of the FEI’s rule of zero blood tolerance. And why do we have this rule? Because we have lost our common sense so we find it hard to distinguish between horse welfare issues and a nick on a sensitive chestnut’s side and so the FEI then tries to legislate to guard against stupidity but as we all know as a society, you can legislate against idiots. Stupidity will always find a way to leak through any rules or laws.
And now the latest noseband rule. Because some idiots crank their nosebands to the point where you can visibly see the horse straining to breath and the skin literally swelling up under the tightness, now we have to have an instrument to gauge everyone’s noseband because we can’t rely on Steward’s to make the right call between unethical and snug nosebands.
All this because we have lost our common sense. We can no longer believe that people can differentiate between inhumane treatment and what may be a nose band fitted in a way that a horse requires it. This is going to suck, as no doubt, just like a horse with the skills of a professional to bloat when doing up the girth, I can have a noseband on my horse that won’t in the first five minutes I am on them meet the criteria and will appear too tight, but let me tell you, 10 minutes later my horse will have their mouth open like an alligator an inch with that same noseband, or their jaw crossed or whatever. Some horses require tighter nosebands than others and to send someone out on xc with a noseband not correct for their horse could actually be quite dangerous and no, I am not talking tight like in those horrid photos we all have seen but, snug enough.
I really grieve for our loss of common sense. No doubt in the upcoming years more ‘legislation for dummies’ will arise, but rules like the above I believe can do more harm than good in some cases and I am sad that we can no longer rely on having good stewards/judges/etc to make the right calls in specific instances. I have seen blood in horses’ mouths, and spur rubs, where in both cases, zero horse welfare issues were concerned and I have seen perfectly blood free, rub free, horses going around warm up areas where they have been free to compete and complete when in actual fact the rider should be yanked off, their hands chopped off and never allowed to sit on another horse for so long as they lived.
I mean let’s be real here for a second can we? All one needs to do is walk into a riding school where a group of kids or amateurs are learning to jump in their first year and one will see more horse abuse going on there in a one hour lesson than one will ever see in any of Bertram Allen or Steffan Peters’ competition rides over the last five years.
Rules, rules and more rules trying to protect our horses from our lack of common sense meanwhile I keep reading Pippa Cuckson’s stories about Sheik horses dropping dead or being flogged half to death in endurance races, but thanks be to god we saved Legolas’ side from the torture that is Mr. Peters’ leg.
I think as riders, vets, farriers, show organizers, judges, course designers, every last one of us, we need to be mindful of this current epidemic of loss of common sense and try to get back a bit to the way things were, or I feel we will legislate ourselves into almost paralysis of good riding and meanwhile like I said, the idiots are going to find ways to slip through the cracks no matter what we do.