This week's blog I would like it to be a little bit more personal and straight, in other words,just putting my heart into it . The reason why is very simple, we are all here because we love horses, however, like many classic songs say “Sometimes love ( or too much love) can hurt”, and in the case of such a sensitive and special animal like the horse, the damage, most of the times, is permanent, though, is it permanent means that cannot be healed?
The horse has evolved as a prey animal, their physical abilities have developed to respond just to one norm, the need of survival. The wild horse would spend about 16 hours a day grazing and roaming around a big area of land, a horse can move approximately 25 km a day, and in the majority of the cases, accompanied by a herd. This is a very general information of what we have about horses’ natural behaviour. However, the domestic horse is kept on a single stable with limited space, with fractionated food and getting out to a paddock with a company that they did not choose or to exercise under the commands of a rider. Lots of studies have been undertaken to improve the well-being and welfare of the horse while maintaining a domestic life, and fortunately a great number of horse’s owners are educated and do everything to keep their horse healthy and happy. Unfortunately, a great number is not a 100% and some of these animals suffer the consequences.
Horse’s welfare varies from owner to owner, country to country, sport to sport, etc. Many animal’s behaviourist, horse’s organisations and other entities have tried for years to establish some ground rules to apply when owning, treating or merely interacting with these animals. The British Code of practice added in 2006 five unbreakable rules to the Animal Welfare Act, there are:
While they all speak by themselves, the actual meaning of these rules can get vague and abstract depending on the person, therefore so much education and actual proof of practise is needed. It is not right to keep a horse in a space of 3x3 m2, it is not okay not to provide the right food for your horse, which in the worst case is any, it is not okay to palliate stereotypes behaviours or more known as vices with human inventions like stop-cribbing collars or “V” shape fences on the stable door to prevent pacing, and definitely is not okay to not provide the right treatment in case of injury or disease.
As an equestrian, I have experienced what the absence of these practices do to horses. I have spent over six months in a horse sanctuary with different horses’ cases, with very little information of how they got there, only the proof of what is wrong with that horse. As a horse psychologist trainer, sometimes it is very hard to understand the reason behind the behaviour shown but at the right time, and with the right training, every single layer can be read like an open book.
Of all the horses I worked with, Quarentino was the most challenging one. He was coming from someone that loved him to the moon and back, that’s why I said, sometimes love can hurt very much. He was a crossed thoroughbred, nine years old, lovely creature. He spent most of his life alone in a stable or paddock with barely any human interaction, he was a ridden horse and a mommy’s horse. Before going to the sanctuary, his owner kept him with barely no food, he was only fed straw, and no exercise for two years. That animal was skinny as a skeleton and had a very nasty ulcers problem when he left his home, which he did, like in many cases, by force. Just a trailer, one inoffensive horse and two men yelling and throwing their huge whips on their back to make him go in, probably he did not know what a trailer was before.
That horse was presenting wind-suckling behaviour, probably for the lack of food, and refusing any kind of contact, horse or human. Under the right training, with positive reinforcement, patiente, and understanding, he is now in a way better shape. However, his scars are still in the process of healing, the stereotypic behaviour will not go away ever, and he has a long way to go before recovering his confidence completely.
That is just one of the stories I got to know, and I feel proud that I was his trainer, and he just got better and better. However, with the right education, knowledge and attitude, this horse would have never gone through all of that. From here, I encourage everyone to look at what they are doing with their horses, to think if something can be improved, and if they know about a horse case that can be saved, speak up! Welfare concerns everyone.
Author: Tamara R.
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