by Dr Hiltrud Strasser, DVM, Germany
Presented at the VI World Conference for Holistic Hoof and Horse Care 2014, Prüm, Germany
My lecture will be about the ethical attitude of mankind towards other living creatures, especially in relationship to horses. Still, despite Man’s best knowledge on living organisms, their structural common ground and their very similar ways of functioning — mankind doesn’t look upon itself as “one of the many animal species”, but instead as being one of the highest, “the crown of creation”, as it is taught in Christian Religion, who has the right to treat those allegedly “more primitive kinds” like materials and tools. Not only does it result in never ending animal suffering, but also in mankind setting limitations on its own possibilities, creating more problems, diseases and so on. In view of such handling of horses do I appeal to mankind to inform itself better on the natural needs of the horses so as to render them more peaceful.
Because most people don’t have the time or opportunity to read and follow the contemporary publications of biologists, philosophers, jurists and medics in order to get an overview of mankind’s general knowledge, and this becomes great profit to lobbyists of big corporations. Those corporations who earn (as indeed demonstrated but not generally known) money which is wrongfully obtained by taking specific advantages at the expense of animals, whether it be particular groups or the Earth all together. We live in a time where this situation has escalated to a dramatic point.
Horses suffer especially because of the fact of what lobbyists claim: The horse (or other “livestock animal”) that we people use, is “domesticated” and therefore can no longer pretend to need the same living conditions as the nowadays wildlife forms or feral populations!
This statement is completely false! The claim a living creature has to its environment is resulting from anatomy and physiology (behavior included). Living creatures that coincide with those biological parameters, also have the same environmental needs. And we know that there are no differences between today’s wild horses and those living under Man’s care. It equally applies to the other “livestock animals”. They too want to keep living in their wild form, to stay healthy. It has been widely observed and documented, that so called domesticated livestock animals, take at the latest one or two generations to formally reverse back to their original wild form, living healthier in a more suitable Biotope than in comparison to earlier, when under man’s care.
The world has developed in such ways that it exists in harmony and balance, as has been the case over the course of countless millions of years. This before mankind started to sever other living creatures from his own false habitat, in order to harness their performance, to force them into people’s pastime activities, to the monstrous extent, mostly for people to digest, eating them.
The fact that this conduct of people towards animals and nature is wrongful and it has been expressed and published especially in the last 100 years, but also since thousands of years ago, by great scientists and spiritual role models such as poets and writers. (Platon, Franz von Assisi, Darwin, Nietsche, A. Schweitzer, M. Gandhi, Derrida, Wild — to name a small selection of established critics on the man-animal relationships).
There are 3 different aspects that have to be discussed in connection with modern animal livestock breeding.
1. The global injustice it is associated with
The intensive livestock breeding over many years has damaged the developing countries, and leads to (climatic conditions aside) disasters resulting in famine because their land is misused in favor of the cultivation of animal fodder for cattle, pigs and poultry in Europe, instead of being used for the nourishment of its own population. Furthermore, the world population is growing a painful awareness about its repercussions on the climate, which has been brought about by a handful wealthy people in their insatiable use of resources and their processing for purpose of enrichment and as a means to an end. The CO2 emissions thereby reached the mark of approximately 30 % according to recent estimates in connection with intensive livestock breeding.
2. The immediate injustice towards people
It is known, that the unnatural physical and mental strain imposed on living creatures through their living conditions makes them ill. Veterinarians should be the first to know. But instead of putting an end to unsuitable living conditions which are the cause for illnesses, they let themselves be conned by the pharmaceutical industry’s chemicals, which is then administered to the sick livestock in outrageous amounts in order to reduce symptoms to the point of their eradication. It already results in dramatic situations in hospitals today, because patients are being infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and because those pathogens spread within the walls of the hospitals putting other patients at risk, and even killing them. Especially are at risk, people suffering from a severe illnesses that are, for example, accompanied by a weakening of their immune system! On the other hand, lobbyists of big livestock owners and of the pharmaceutical industry talk the population into consuming specific amounts of meat, eggs, dairy products, leather goods and so on, so as to stay healthy and up-to-date. This too is a fraud because people become sick from those suggested quantities and put their health at risk through the many unhealthy chemical additives contained in those materials, which is being brought to the light in the ever growing amount of scandals being exposed.
3. The injustice towards animals
In schools, whether in general or secondary education, one has learned up to now what has been scientifically proven for decades, that is to say that animals who rely on a nervous system and on defensive behavior, display an active interest in their environment and in living on their own. Flight reflexes, curiosity, avoidance or the seeking out of certain areas, the preference or rejection of certain food types, the mother-child bond, playfulness... prove that animals rely on an individual interest in life, in specific surroundings. Animals aren’t automats, as has been claimed in the past, but sentient, target-driven beings capable of suffering, no different from the animal called “Man”. Where “Blueprints” are the same in principle, one also finds comparable spiritual attributes.
But it isn’t only the so called livestock, who suffers at the hands of mankind’s greed in pursuit of cheap meat, eggs, furs and dairy products, but also the animals used for trials (experiments), luxury horses and many dogs. The latter, who belong to this category of races, whose parts of the body have been deformed for breeding purposes, such as skin, nose and so on, deserve here a special mention. They are really only here for people’s amusement, who only see in them and in their contact with them, a way to pursue their leisure activities, to satisfy their need for prestige or to get rid of frustration. Such selective methods of breeding only originated in the last 100 years and not even in the customary races used for breeding, thus with an expression of abundance and playful instinct on the part of certain people who haven’t found any other way to distinguish themselves, and to whom no limits were given.
Horses have got to be the most admired and beloved animals in the industrialized world. Not many people can afford to own such an animal, or even have one at home. More so, the horse is particularly sought after by children and young women, virtually “idolized”, and equestrian establishments have sprung up like mushrooms from the earth.
Horse riding at a “higher level” (not “pleasure riding”) remains a sport for the financially well-heeled population. It is socially highly respected, whether it is show jumping, dressage, gallop racing or trot racing.
Though, what meaning does this human “sport” carry for the animal horse? It mostly means: inappropriate living space, solitary confinement in cages, loss of natural appetite, restricted movement, painful treatment inflicted by people, boredom, joyless presence, all contained within a short-life expectancy.
Today, horses are needed in the “1 world” by mankind whether it is for individual mobility, or for the transport of goods, essential to survival. Technical equipment exist to fulfill those needs. The only reason horses do still exist in rich countries, is to satisfy people’s desires, and so they can meet their own feelings of power in the face of a creature that is at their mercy, to distinguish themselves through a human beauty ideal corresponding animal.
Most of the horse owners, riders and carriage drivers aren’t in the position to, nor are they willing to, communicate with those animals on friendly terms, where they would make an effort towards the “language” of the horse so they could be understood without violence. Horses are more prone to become dependent on you when you keep them indoors (“Boxes”), in a confined and stale environment where they cannot provide for themselves and barely have any contact with their own kind, but are filled with joy when people nourish them and keep them busy. That is why it is well known that “confinement” in cages has for many reasons pathogenic effects and their feeding falls short of their true needs. In short: it is harmful for animals to be confined (deliberately, and all of this has been sufficiently studied and published) solely for people’s pleasure, that for example manifests itself to an average life expectancy of only about 8.5 years. It is then sold as damaged goods on the market for a cheap price, because this type of horse keeping is a “common practice”.
Horses are required to perform, which only serves people’s interests for pleasure and their need to show themselves, but in no case is it necessary nor useful to the horse. In order to request a specific performance, people use sophisticated instruments that inflict pain to the horses, to smother its animal temper or so they adopt the posture that is sought after, or so they move their limbs according to people’s wishes. A horse would have enough power through a sudden straightening of its head to break its reins, or to tear off a hook and strap. But in order to avoid this and for the horse to remain docile, his mouth is fitted with an ironclad “bit”, that is extremely painful on the sharp bone crest of the under jaw which is coated in sensitive mucous membrane, and that presses against the incisors and the grinders as soon as the reins are pulled, or when the horse tries to stretch his head against a side rein. This leaves the animal with no other choice but to hold his muzzle, depending on how short the reins are held, inclined towards his chest, even though he feels pain in his neck, collar and back; but the pain inflicted by the iron piece in his mouth would be even greater. For every step and vibration while in movement, the “bit” hits against the bone crest — a torture! Though this isn’t where people stop! The agony is perfected, and the iron bar (“the bit”) is now combined of two parts, which articulate relative to one another. By pulling the reins upwards, one obtains a nutcracker effect on the lower jaw (coated with sensitive mucosa) and the hinge of the bit moves against the bony palate (that is coated with sensitive mucosa as well) of the upper jaw. To alleviate the pain, the horse would open his mouth, as is often seen in old representations of the rider and horse. It is today undesirable and one prevents the opening of the jaws, just as one prevents the elimination of pain, through the use of a noseband fitted inches above the nostrils. So now the horse is in no position to be able to hold its head any other way or to move but in the direction the steering person or horse rider would want it to.
I have learned as a riding beginner: “the horse should not make any movement that isn’t initiated by its rider”. There are ideas that have been around for many thousands of years, dictating how a horse should move. The one who, during a tournament, has his horse under control with a snaffle bit, often combined with an additional bridle bit and spurs (also meaning the one who brought his horse to achieve its maximum performance through pain), gets the victory, honor and applause from the audience, the judges, the show veterinarians and the media.
Exceedingly few riders or carriage drivers are concerned about such practices. That is how they have been taught as a child or a beginner, with this one justification only: this is how it has to be done, it is right and necessary. But people love their horses so much and “would do everything for them”, they buy them horse blankets for example that have a harmful effect (they prevent the continuous thermoregulation across the skin; more on horse thermoregulation), and treats, and they take particular care for the saddle cloth to be color-matched to the rider’s outfit!
Because as a civilized people we are able to think on our own, and it is possible for every “horse sportsman” (even if he has been misguided) to look this cruelty in the eye, provided he cares about his horse and not about himself and his sport only.
And the “baby” racing of two year old foals (until the middle of the last century, training hadn’t even started before the age of five, when they reach their physically maturity) at the racecourses, the harmful influences of horse shoeing, spurs and particularly barbaric training methods in “trotter racing”, not once have they been mentioned here.
And what happens to such horses that oppose themselves on a sustained basis to such tortures, when they resist bridling, saddling or the rider or even struggle against a constrained bodily posture? They are “taken out”, put down!! Sometimes a compassionate person comes along and succeeds in saving such a horse. Once, I acquired a horse (so as to avoid him being put down) whose swallowing and heavy breathing reflexes were in conflict, he couldn’t master them and was breathing with a rasping sound. And that is why he had larynx surgery. The road made apparent through his recovery lead to scar formation (visible on the outside) and as the horse subsequently wasn’t able to bend his neck anymore, he struggled against the reins of the rider with determination. In the end, the horse didn’t let anyone come near him anymore. It correspondingly lead to the hooves of the horse being neglected, as he wasn’t allowed to come out of his box anymore because he became too dangerous. It took us a few weeks in free-range husbandry and with a friendly approach, to gain back his trust, and to let us work on his hooves, and even carry a rider across the landscape without any problems — however only with a bitless bridle and through long reining.
What should we think of animal welfare (worldwide), who doesn’t say or do anything against horse cruelty, or doesn’t contribute to bring the matter to the light? Though those hardships have been pointed out for hundreds of years by great thinkers (for example by veterinarian Bracy Clark, UK, J. Swift: “Gulliver’s Travels”, UK; Schiller, D: “Pegasus in Harness” and others.) Prof. Dr. R. Cook, USA, has led scientific research in the field of “metal in the mouth of horses”, and has been widely published on the subject.
Horses are sensitive creatures who are able experience joy, pain, satisfaction, jealousy, hunger, love, affection and rejection and who have the need to behave accordingly. Everyone living with horses, providing and caring for them in a suitable environment knows this. Where is that right taken by people, to deny them those experiences? It is allowed by our laws for animal protection based on exceptions, when a “sensible reason” exists. Is the pleasure of a few people seen as “sensible reason” to allow them to torture animals?
Viewers and the media applaud, veterinarians check the pulse and breathing, and also undertake doping test procedures in international equine sports, to make sure that no blood flows and no horse hurts more on one leg than on the other, in other terms they make sure it isn’t crippled. Because many veterinarians have no clue about the bodily expression of horses, they fail to spot the painful tensions of the whole body or of its particular areas, just as they know nearly nothing about the pain inflicted by the iron in the horse’s mouth and by other “aids”, and they do not undertake anything against it. (Most of them don’t live with horses together and they only know what they have been taught at university: Horses have no needs, only reflexes and instinct.)
One finds horse owners in all parts of the world, who engage in relationships with horses at “eye level”, full of respect and mutual trust without injuring their nature or inflicting pain to his animal partner. But this type of behavior with the horses is not “socially acceptable”, it isn’t recognized by “society” or is dismissed as a “circus act” at best, even though it is the only ethically sensible way to be involved in sport with horses.
I have chosen this subject because I want to appeal to you, people who daily deal with horses and their owners, to not close your eyes to the suffering of animals — especially the suffering of horses — and to enlighten their owners because:
For every injustice that is taking place, it is not only the fault of the one who commits it, but also of the one who doesn’t prevent it from happening. (Erich Kästner, "The Flying Classroom").
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English edit courtesy Jamie Joling, 2014
Photos Berenika Bratny