Equestrian Hunger Games

May 12, 2017 - 8:59 AM

“There’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.”  -Ronald Reagan or Winston Churchill or someone else, the internet isn’t really quite sure

Then why is it that horses seem to eventually make monsters of us all? I have seldom encountered a group of people more critical of one another than horse people, with maybe the exception of young mothers (who are savages).

What is it about the animals or this industry, or possibly the type of human both attract, that makes equestrian Siskel and Eberts out of us? Yes, most of us will give the shirt off our backs, or more accurately the belt off our britches, to someone in need. Though inevitably, once the belt has turned into a stirrup leather and everyone has safely re-mounted, we’ll grumble something like “annnnd that’s why we clean our tack…”

The mounts themselves aren’t even safe from scrutiny—it seems they are either too young or old, too heavy, or too light and if body condition is impossible to condemn, “that clip though, really? A drunken toddler could do that.” I once had a lesson kid tell me her fellow student “rode like a stripper.” She was 5.

It seems that every equestrian will have a different opinion about literally everything pertaining to horses. I’ve put a lot of thought into why that is, and have come up with a few theories.

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First: No other sport has as many disciplines. Think football/soccer/rugby as compared to western and english, broken down further into subcategories like pleasure, dressage or saddle seat, racing, eventing, hunter/jumpers, roping, barrels, endurance, fox hunting… the list goes on. All that before breaking down the subcategories into their own specific branches.

For example, the subcategory of racing branches out into flat, hurdles, timber, turf, endurance and harness, etc. No other sport has so many individuals practicing completely unique versions of the same core subject. It’s no wonder that all of these conflicting approaches to horsemanship result in abject chaos. Herein lies the conflict: we all tend to consider our discipline superior to the next, and many of us *cough* consider ourselves to be experts in our field.

Unfortunately for the experts, the undeniable fact that horses can’t physically tell their humans, “Hey jerk, it’s not kissing spine, you’re just fat.” Leaves too much room for interpretation. In other words, it’s not an exact science. Far from it.

Practicing horse vets, when called to the same case, will come up with completely different prognoses. I’ve witnessed it time and time again and can only come up with one viable conclusion—the reason for all the debate, opinions, scrutiny and criticism stems from the simple fact that none of us really know ANYTHING, for sure.

The fact of the matter is, horse science and ecology are fairly young subjects, though technology and animal science have exploded in recent years, we are just beginning to learn how these creatures tick, how they break, and how best to fix them. We are still in the experimental phases where old tried and true traditions are forged with scientific analysis to produce a better result.

And even if multiple veterinarians agree on one prognosis, more often than not, they will have differing opinions where treatment is concerned. Farriers similarly will treat conditions of the hoof with basic knowledge and practices, but each seems to add their own twist to tradition. Talk with any good farrier or vet and they will tell you that the key to superior care is continued education. They constantly attend clinics, conventions and classes in order to stay abreast of the rapidly progressive science of horse medicine. Every year new studies provide titanic advancements in the field.

So, for anyone to claim to be an all-knowing horse entity is basically crap.

Another theory is that it’s not the shaky science behind horses to blame—it’s the breed of human they attract. Let’s be honest here, it takes a special kind of stupid to want to ride a 1,200+ lb. wild animal capable of killing a human with a single well placed kick and ripping flesh from bone with oversized teeth. Then go ahead and nail some steel shoes on that death machine to better murder you with.

If it hasn’t managed to kill you yet, mimic natural horse predators by leaping onto their backs, cougar style, and expect them not to lose their proverbial s#@%. 1,998 lbs of natural instinct vs. 2 lbs of brain matter. You do the math. 2+…= OK, let’s ride it!

What the hell, man, who does that?… We do.

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In other words you have to have a huge ego to even entertain the idea of sitting atop such a beast. It can be argued that equestrians like myself, who were indoctrinated into the cult as small children, hadn’t the time yet to develop such an ego. This is crap, because if you’re crazy enough to continue to do it, somewhere along the line, your wart of an ego became malignant.

Combine oversized egos with being either very brave, or very stupid and you’ll have yourself a horseman/woman. Throwing together groups of passionately opinionated people with clashing beliefs, strong wills, and even stronger personalities, could be the ultimate culprit behind the proud equestrian tradition of judgmental hyper-criticism.

There is a reason that people use horses in rehabilitation. You will never feel as empowered or able while riding as in the moment when you, for the first time, ask something of a horse and have that question understood and answered.

Something in the ability to effectively communicate with these powerful beings conjures the notion that you might be capable of anything. Something as simple as successfully asking your horse to bend to the left becomes a champagne-worthy feat. All that ego stroking can be therapeutic. Too much can make you a monster.

Sometimes I snort laugh when I hear about addicts being sent to ranches for rehab—great. Let’s replace one addiction with another just as likely to get them killed. The question remains, where will they send us horsemen and women?

A third theory is the possibility that the snobbishness was inherited from generations before us—we took the abuse from horse elders when we were coming up, so feel it’s our snob-given right to haze the next generation like prospective Phi Kappa Psi, sans paddle, add crop.

Maybe it’s our way of weeding out the weak from the herd, maybe this becomes habitual after years of criticism from our equestrian peers. Somewhere along the way, you just learned to be judgmental as hell. Maybe you were born with it, maybe you’re just a brat.

Whatever the case, it falls to our generation to break the cycle.

Instead of criticizing and discouraging these struggling fledglings, shouldn’t we advise and encourage them? Surely as with young horses, young people/new horse people flourish when positive reinforcement is applied? Share your wisdom, not your two cents.

Maybe I’m completely missing the point and we’re actually doing the horse world a great service by being pretentious turds… If this IS the case, I encourage all you little equestrian Darwinists to punt those weak little owlet horse people right out of their owl nests, leave only the strongest alive. By playing horse person evolution we can ensure a superior crop of future equestrians to carry on our legacy…kick on judgmental jerks, kick on.

All equestrian hunger games aside, horse people to me, despite all their pretension, are indisputably the best people. Never have I witnessed such a devoted group of strong and remarkable human beings. A horse person thinks nothing of a cold night spent on the concrete floor of a barn to better keep an eye on a good friend who seems under the weather.

They don’t think twice about staying up for 14 days straight waiting on the birth of a new baby. Broken bones and fractured egos are par for the course. I’ve watched hearts actually break at the loss of a beloved companion. Our time with them is shockingly brief. We sacrifice our bodies, our hearts and occasionally our minds to be close to these animals. Being a horseman/woman means hard work, tireless hours, and unparalleled perseverance.

Maybe that’s why it takes complete jerks like us to do it…

Maybe Mr. Reagan and Mr. Churchill and whoever else said that quote weren’t totally full of cow excrement—horse people have goodness where it counts. If we can’t always be good to each other, at least we are exceedingly good to our horses. And those who are not so good to their horses, are held exceedingly accountable by those who are.

I guess I’d rather be treated poorly by a human, then have them mistreat their horse. Ever notice the saltiest horse people have the happiest horses? It’s because they’ve used up all their goodness for the day and don’t have any left over for you.

When I begin to feel my own pretension burbling up from the dark depths of my cynical horse person soul, my natural instinct is to shove food in my face. When stifling my voice with pizza fails, I internally repeat the following affirmation:

“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” -R.J. Palacio

Alice Peirce was raised as a self-described “feral horse farm child” in Howard County, Md. She’s made efforts to leave the horse world over the years but always comes back and has worked for a number of people in various disciplines. Currently she’s riding young racehorses and training foxhunters in Monkton, Md., where she hunts with the Elkridge-Harford Hunt.

Read all of Alice’s COTH blogs. 

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