Frankly Speaking: Horse First, Me Second

LipChainDiscipline-specific welfare issues – such as the use of lip chains on halter horses – require horsemen to step back and look at the big picture, rather than focusing on self-centered niche interests.At long last, welfare issues have come front and center in the minds of equine organizations.

How do I know? Here’s what I see: Breed registries and competition associations have made sweeping changes to their rule books, all enacted with the horse’s best welfare in mind and heart. Drug rules are being implemented in places where, for decades, there were none. Strict rules regarding equine abuse and equipment are now clearly stated. Penalties – ones with sharp teeth – are in place. Rule violators have been punished and harsh penalties have been levied. Direct statements regarding equine welfare are now included in mission statements, proving to the general public that, indeed, actions do speak louder than committee recommendations.

These changes – ones that are beneficial for the horse – haven’t come easily. There are concerns: the rules are unfair and have, or will have, an adverse effect on the number of entries; interest in competition will wane; the penalties are too harsh and will therefore drive folks to other interests; and, finally, change just isn’t necessary, as it applies to the training, racing or showing of horses. Those voicing those concerns have every right to protest and complain. After all, this is a free country and freedom of speech is always allowed, as long as it is non-violent.

I’ve found that detractors of the new equine welfare rules fall primarily into one of two groups. The first is comprised of those who prefer existing methods of training, racing and showing. Perhaps they rely on shortcuts to expedite the process or generate a bigger profit margin. For those people, new rules mean additional work and a retooling of their existing training programs. One word about a proposed equine welfare rule and those people go straight into self-defense mode. They consider nothing but themselves. For them, the all-important is the final result and how to get there the fastest, cheapest and easiest. In my book, those people are nothing but selfish and shortsighted. They don’t give a hoot about the wellbeing of our horses and how welfare policies impact the public’s perception of our industry. They’ll gladly sacrifice the long-term interests of our industry for a gold trophy next fall.

The second group of detractors includes those who feel as though they had no voice in the writing of the welfare rules. They believe they (or their discipline) are being singled out. Their “ox is being gored,” so to speak. That is simply not the truth! Those who are in charge and are responsible for insuring the wellbeing of our horses put great thought and compassion into the formulation and fair application of equine welfare rules. Let me assure you, no one in a leadership position is setting out to harm any one person, business or discipline. That being said, they also don’t bow to special interests or loud detractors. Always, it’s about doing what is in the best interest of the horse – the same horse that is the reason for our entire industry, our livelihoods and our way of life.

Our horse business has evolved to a discipline-specific world. Unfortunately, it’s become a situation where one niche pays little attention to all the others. If you are a cutter, racer, reiner, halter or pleasure competitor, or a candle-stick maker, you couldn’t give a tinker’s damn for the interests of anyone else. People, you are going to have to step a few paces beyond your little fiefdom! The public is aware and watching everything you do with your horses. The public’s opinion counts, like it or not. If progress, growth and prosperity are to occur, then you have to stop thinking of yourself and be more concerned for the whole.

The more I live, the more convinced I am that selfishness dominates our human condition. We are self-centered. We think “me first” before we pause to consider anyone or anything else. We see selfishness everywhere – from religion and politics to family, business and even our social circles. As it relates to the equine industry, selfishness has created a dichotomy. Deep down in our heart of hearts, we know the right path to follow. But because we’re self-centered, we choose what is best for ourselves at the expense of what is necessary for our future. Barely looking past the tips of our noses, we stand up at the meetings and insist, “Until I have my way, the horse has to take a backseat.”

Look, no one said this was going to be easy. We all, as horsemen, must adapt and embrace these changes. We have no choice but to place the welfare of the horse first, before our self-centered, selfish wants and desires. Our existence, acceptance and growth in equine activity depend on it!

As always, I remain,