“If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what are the five most important things you would want people to know about horses?”
This question was recently posed to me by my business development mentor. And, after thinking carefully about my answer, I was struck with the realization that I learned each of these five things the hard way – so I’m going to call them “my truths”. I learned these truths the hard way because no one I encountered in the traditional horse industry during my formative years ever acknowledged them.
But I choose to be different.
I choose to put the wellbeing of horses first not only by providing what my own herd needs to be healthy and happy but also by publicly acknowledging that all horses could benefit if more humans were committed to these five truths. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to provide what our horses need, but the bad news is that it can be challenging – especially for those who don’t keep their horses at home – because of prevailing industry standards which too often work in direct opposition to what’s best for the horse.
I’m about to share a summary of “my five truths”, but I’m not going to stop there. Even as I write this I’m beginning to put together a series of videos that will dive deeper into each topic. In these videos I will debunk common myths horse owners are taught to believe and provide viable options for a better way to steward the lives of our equine partners. Now though, I humbly present what I’ve learned and in so doing I hope to help others avoid having to learn any of it the hard way themselves.
My Truth #1: In order for my horses to maintain optimum health over a lifetime, they need all of the following:
- Freedom of movement 24 hours per day
- Constant access to free-choice forage
- A rich social life including long-term friendships with other horses
- A balanced barefoot trim that allows for proper hoof mechanism and joint support
My Truth #2: Horses have a strong natural drive to partner and cooperate but I must always remember they are sentient beings, not machines. The only outlet my horses have to communicate their needs, desires and fears to me is through their body language and behavior. When I don’t take the time to learn the language my horses speak or to listen to what they are trying to tell me, I leave them with no reasonable option but to try yelling louder. When my horses yell at me, this does not mean they are “behaving badly” or that they need discipline or correction. When a horse yells at me with its behavior it means I am not listening.
My Truth #3: The way many domestic horses are kept and treated, in my mind, is best likened to slavery. Lest anyone need a reminder, here is the official definition of a slave, with the word “person” replaced by the word “animal”: an animal that is the legal property of another and forced to obey them. An animal that is excessively dependent upon or controlled by something/someone. An animal who works very hard without proper remuneration or appreciation.
Most domestic horses have little to no control over anything in their lives, from where they live to when/what they eat to who they are allowed to interact with to when/how they are groomed and clipped to how much daylight and exercise they get… and everything in between. Given our horses’ complete lack of control over pretty much anything that happens to them in their domestic lives, I have come to the realization that attitudes of domination, force and manipulation have no place in the type of ethical relationships I want to have with my horses. The least I can do is afford them as much free-will as is reasonably possible in their day-to-day lives and the right to express their opinions without punishment.
My Truth #4: Riding and training are the least important (or valuable) aspects of having horses in my life. The greatest gifts my horses offer are found in what they so patiently teach me about myself and about how I can become a better version of that self. And I have yet to meet another horse owner who would disagree with the statement, “I am a better person, by far, because of my horse’s influence in my life.” Horses naturally exemplify positive traits including trust, heart, forgiveness, try, spirit and unconditional love… just to name a few. Even if I stopped training/riding mine entirely I would still benefit deeply from sharing my life with them.
My Truth #5: No one else in the (human) world will ever know or love “my” horses as much as I do. This makes it my responsibility to be an advocate for them in all situations. Horses form deep and lasting bonds with their human custodians which should mean that making a life-long commitment to a horse is the norm, not the exception. In my opinion, this is where the equine industry has gone the most tragically wrong. I run into equestrians regularly who have been urged (or worse yet, told it’s actually the “right” thing to do) to discard older horses or those that have suffered physical or emotional injuries trying to live up to our impossible expectations of them. Even though it’s well known (and documented) that the majority of these “no longer wanted” horses end up in dire situations, breeders work hard to ensure a steady stream of “well bred youngsters full of potential” to entice aspiring competitors and perpetuate the cycle.
But we can choose to make different choices in our lives, and to set a different example for the next generation of horse owners. I am, and it feels fantastic!
“When I tell the truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those that do.” –William Blake
Note: If anything I’ve said here resonates with you, please feel free to share this post. And, if you would like to be notified when the first video in my upcoming series is available please email me at email@example.com or visit www.unbridled.guru and sign up for my mailing list.