Horses Are Not For Us To Ride
|Horses Are Not For Us|
I am 22, began classic English riding lessons at the age of 4. I joined riding centres across East Anglia and wherever else I was allowed to ride on Holiday - I loved it. I 'loved' horses, I loved the feeling of the extended ability they gave (able to go faster and jump etc).
Up until a few months before I went vegan, approximately 2 years ago, I had training in riding/behaviour methods other than traditional English, such as western and natural horsemanship (under a Monty Roberts IHRT).
Across all of my experiences, even when young, I noticed horses were berated for certain actions. It is clear to me now, that the undesirable behaviour which I never questioned is the horse trying to say "no". Nor did I question why no one was wondering why the horse was saying "no".
Watch any equestrian event and they're there. Ears back, tail swishing, tense faces, chomping at the bit. All these examples are paired with justifications, but they ignore the real reason, because the real reason would mean continuing is wrong and no one wants to have to give up something they enjoy/profit from. (And some people really don't get it, I truly believe they love their horses but just cannot see the situation from the horses perspective.)
Rejection of directions (stalling at jumps, unwillinging to enter the starting gate) are considered bad behaviour and negative reinforcement/positive punishment are justified in their use to force the horse to perform the desired action. (Whips/kicks to get the horse over the jump/in the starting gate.)
Horses from birth are commonly conditioned into learned helplessness. This refers to when the horse has an inability to affect their environment and can occur when a horse tries to say no, only to have aversive techniques used to hush their attempts to change their situation. For example a horse may "plant" themselves upon entering the training arena. For whatever reason they do not wish to partake, it is ignored and they're kicked on. The horse increases their "no" and throws a buck, the rider is handed a whip. You get the idea. The reason why the horse doesn't wish to partake is either not questioned or not cared about.
It is when I was working at a riding center that I began to properly question the actions I once perceived to be naughty and I realized we had no right to unnecessarily ask this of horses.
I mare arrived, I loved riding her because she was unlike the other horses, she was interested in her environment and was sensitive to cues. I left and returned a year later to visit. This same mare was "moody", had become one of the worst horses to tack up and had become a "boring" ride. Didn't respond to cues, and had become like the others.
(This example of my experience may be to some, a normality of trail horses and they're right, however it still relates to all horses.)
And I just looked at her and it hit me. The reasons why, I looked at the other horses, I thought about the ponies I trained on, the show horses I had prepared, the polo ponies, the race horses and my own.
From that moment, I stopped riding. Wrong! I denied it. My horse had never liked her girth being done up. But her back had been checked, her feet were great, I even got her a fluffy girth cover! She had no reason to not want me to put the saddle on and climb on top- she was being stubborn. And slowly slowly, I couldn't pretend and ignore how I was negatively impacting her life.
I saw the way she had been trained, and how my actions reinforced that training from a new perspective. She had every reason not to want to be ridden - she's not a bike.