Social distancing and the equestrian world
Social distancing has effected everyone worldwide in the past months, and everyone will have experienced different versions of it, along with different perceptions of how this affected you.
Returning to horses after 3 weeks of complete lockdown, and more weeks of social distancing, I started to wonder if riders are taking anything from this time?
Is anything changing in the equestrian world?
Are riders and horse owners relating their own experience to how they keep their horses?
Or do we not even see the link?
What really got me thinking was the discussion yesterday with a non-horse friend and the questions about why riders are not able to see the reality?
What makes it right to keep horses all their lives in social isolation from their peers, locked up often in dark stalls, many without windows, and without the freedom to move?
Unfortunately this is a reality still in many countries, and interestingly, more in the developed world where horses are pricey possessions and expensive to keep.
Yet, if we value our horses so much, why do we deny them their most essential needs?
And why do we feel it is an imposition if others ask to stay home and isolate from our friends, yet feel it is absolutely acceptable to ask the same of our "best friends" and "partners"?
Excuses that justify social distancing for horses
The "reasons" riders will give you why their specific horse really cannot live in a herd are various and need to be subject to "social distancing" under all circumstances.
The range goes from
- monetary - "this sports horse is worth thousands, I could not possibly risk it getting injured" to
- space - sorry but there are very few places that really do not have the space... with a little bit of creativity, even small spaces can be turned into great paddock paradises with long alleys and narrow pathways. And in the majority of stables I have seen, space is rather used for other means, but not for the horses
- weather - it is too hot, too cold, too rainy, my horse needs air conditioning... well, again, with a little bit of brainwork, it is easy to build paddock trails with shelter from extreme weather. As long as horses are given a choice and different options (do they want to stand in the sun or the shade, in the rain or under the roof) most horses can withstand even extreme weathers. Yes, the UAE is very hot in the summer months, but even here some creative stables have found possibilities - where there is a will, there is a way, is the saying that applies here. Don't compare horses to humans - they are tougher than you think, if you treat them right.
And to the question
- Ignorance - "my horse is happy, look, he even walks into the stall on his own. He is grumpy and does not like other horses." Unfortunately, the personality of this prey animal makes it way too easy for us to overlook the subtle signs and neglect their needs. Horses do not make any noise when they are in pain, and I am often astonished at how ignorant some riders are towards the signs their horses are trying to send them. They can only use their body language to communicate, and it is your responsibility to watch, observe and learn their body language.
- change is difficult and the horse society is very old school. Things are done a certain way because that is how we learned it 30 years ago, the same wisdom is just passed on to the next generation without scrutinizing. Being an innovator and advocate of change is difficult in the equestrian world, social pressure is high, and I think this is indeed a big problem. It requires a strong personality to stand up for the animal and go against what everyone else around you tells you.
I could get much more into details, but would rather focus on raising awareness, and give ideas of what is possible and why it is important that horse owners wake up and start listening to their own instincts and to our horses!!!
You know what is right
Unless you have gone through severe trauma in your own childhood, deep down within you know what is right.
Most humans are very compassionate, and seeing the truth is fairly easy.
Can you listen to yourself and your own instincts rather to what other people tell you?
Next time you go to the stable, please try to adapt an outsiders mind, and look at everything with a critical eye.
I know myself that we tend to get used to things if we are seeing them every day, and then start to ignore the obvious.
For some eye opening videos, have a look at the Youtube Channel from Rick Gore - not everyone's cup of tea probably as he can be very direct, but that's exactly what I like about him. This is not only about social distancing and herd behaviour. No BS, he simply tells you what the horses see and think in different situations, and if we can start seeing things a bit more from their perspective, you will quickly notice that social distancing is really not what these herd animals were made for....
- Research into what is possible on your current yard - can you increase turnout for your horse? Can you find him a friend to socialize with whilst out on the pasture?
- Research into the options available in your area - how are other stables keeping their horses? Drive around and visit them, speak to other riders - if you are open and honestly looking to learn, any rider who cares about horses will happily show you what they are doing.
- Research online and in books what is possible - maybe you don't have to change location, can you improve the horse's life in your current stable? A great read is all the info from Jaime Jackson and how to create a paddock paradise no matter where you are, for healthier horses, mentally and physically.
No social creature can strive under social distancing.
We don't want it for us, don't force your horse to live that way.
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