Barbara Kay, who writes for the Southam News Group, owned by the same people who own Global Television in Canada, and the National Post Newspaper (one of Canada’s two national newspapers) wrote today (August 18, 2004) why equestrian events should not be financed by the government.
I know a little something about horses, riders, competitions and related costs. Therefore; I feel quite qualified to add my opinion to this discussion.
Barbara Kay says in her article, that competing horses (cross country eventers) in the Mediterranean heat of Greece, is “animal abuse, pure and simple”. She’s right.
Anne (my wife) and I have 4 horses on our 10 acre farm in Alexandria, Ontario, Canada. They’re not competition horses. First and foremost, they’re not even riding horses. Before all else, they’re family.
That’s not to say they don’t have what it takes to compete. Within a couple of years, Anne will probably compete her young horse for fun. But that’s not why we have horses.
When we purchase a horse (over the years we’ve owned 6 – all young), that horse comes into our home where he will live in luxury to the natural end of his days. Anne’s first horse (Kharma) is 22 years old, and just ever so slightly arthritic, but just ever so slightly enough for Anne to more or less retire him.
Most other people would drug him up, and ride him until he can’t be ridden any more, and then send him off to auction for meat. But that’s most other people.
Horses like Kharma, who are pampered, could live into their 40’s. We know several who have.
Not to be without a riding horse, Anne found a gorgeous young (a few weeks less than 3 years old) registered Appendix Quarter Horse (strawberry roan), with whom she fell in love at first sight, and who just as much fell in love with her at first sight.
That’s very often the way it works with horses. You can look forever for the perfect horse, and then all of a sudden, when you least expect it, here’s a horse that makes your heart skip a beat.
At the same time Anne found this horse, she was contemplating buying a Miata sports car; so here was a dilemma for her. Does she spend the money on a second car for herself, or on a horse?
The horse’s name is Miata. I guess that answers that.
It didn’t take much time for two good friends of our’s, Christine Allard Seguin, and her husband Frank, who own and operate a very professional riding stable, to have one of their riding students (a teenage girl), to ever so gently back Miata, and teach him to accept a rider on his back.
And within seconds of the first time Miata had a rider on his back, Anne was next. Getting her off and away from Miata though, was more of a challenge then backing the horse for the first time.
We also have a magnificent jet-black Thoroughbred who we purchased as a yearling, simply because we loved the look in his eye, and that he was in a very dilapidated state and environment. Anne decided to call him Clean Slate because of his color and the fact that he was a baby with no record.
Slate has grown (he’s now 12 years old and 16 hands 2 inches) into a huge monster of a horse with far too much attitude. We paid just $1,000 for him as a yearling, and could now sell him for many tens of thousands of dollars because of his looks, size, agility, smarts and his willingness to jump through fire if asked.
But for our animals. There’s no price. They are indeed invaluable.
The problem with Slate, is that he has become too much of a horse for me. We’ve already had a few heart-stopping moments where I was lucky to have just been badly bruised, opposed to broken or dead.
So; at the same time we bought Miata, we also bought another horse for me to ride. I had no intention of buying a second horse. But I also didn’t want Anne to be riding all by herself. Too many women ride while their husbands are busy doing other things.
We didn’t get married more than 31 years ago (May1, 1973) to live separate lives.
So, out of the clear blue, at Christine and Frank’s place, I saw a beautiful horse more than big enough for me to ride (owned by Christine and Frank) which I bought on the spot, to the total surprise of everyone. Anne and myself included.
This guy’s a three year old registered Quarter Horse Paint, and like Slate, he is also huge. Because he’s just a 3 year old like Miata, he still has another 4 years until he’ll totally finish growing and bulking-up. But his girth is already much larger than Slate’s.
For the uninitiated, horses bone joints don’t join completely until they’re about 5 years old. Therefore, the best one should do with a young horse, is just go out for walks of about an hour or so on good footing.
This will give the horse and rider a great opportunity to bond. And will introduce the horse to a myriad of different situations. What a horse learns that’s good, he’ll remember forever. What a horse learns that’s bad, he’ll also remember forever.
In our case, we take the horses out in traffic on roads, around big farm equipment, on sure-footed wooded trails, and even to a small airfield where planes are constantly taking off and landing, and parachute jumpers land not more than a couple of hundred feet from where we’re standing, with their chutes fluttering and all.
There’s an expression used by horse people to describe the reliability of horses. It’s called bomb-proof.
To Anne and myself, that’s exactly what we want in our horses. We want them to be solid and relaxed under all conditions. This way, we can ride them anywhere in relative safety for ourselves, themselves and others.
By the way. Because of the Paint’s unique colors (white and caramel brown), and his very American heritage, I’ve named him Jeb Stuart, after America’s last great Calvary officer, who led the mounted Confederate troops in the American Civil War.
We treat our horses as if they’re made of glass. But that’s not the way most horses are treated. Most horses, especially in the competition classes are treated horribly. They’re made to jump until their muscles hurt and their bones begin to break-down.
Race horses are run when they’re just 2 years old. And polo horses very often drop dead on the field during a “game”. And eventers; for them, they’re taken over the most perilous jumps on horrible footing in all weather conditions.
I love Christine and Frank’s horse farm (Forever Green Stables). In their world, the horse comes first. At Forever Green Stables, Christine and Frank have a breeding program. They buy and sell horses. Christine trains horses and riders. And she competes in dressage and cross country.
They even operate a summer riding camp where children learn about horses, horse management, riding, and respect for the horses they ride.
Christine and Frank have their own competition grounds; including a dressage ring, jumper ring and a cross country course where mostly young girls dream of doing great things with their horses.
To me, this is the way riding should be. Fun for the horse. And fun for the rider. What happens elsewhere, is not what we learn in the storybook world of horses and riders.
Barbara Kay knows what she was writing about in terms of the competitive horse world. About the con artists, professional trainers who take your money and give back very little for it. She was right about horse cruelty, and the fact that it is ignored because of Olympic medals. Sadly, Barbara Kay hit the nail on the head.
Her other big contention, is that Canada should stop underwriting our international equestrian teams because of the incredible costs and diminishing returns. I somewhat agree.
But I’ll go further than that. Canada should stop financing international sports entirely, and put the money into sport programs in public schools. If the athletes are any good, they’ll find a way to compete. Or they’ll simply stay home.
A nation is not great because it wins medals at the Olympic games. Remember, the biggest medal winners included failed states like East Germany.
A while back, I wrote about not riding Slate because he had too much attitude, and riding him was not worth the aggravation and risk. But every time I ride out on Jeb Stuart, Slate stands in the paddock or pasture and stares with big sad eyes.
About a week ago, I broke down. I saddled the big Black horse, and with disregard to pleas from Anne not to mount up, and with great personal trepidation, I put one foot in the stirrup, fully expecting him to explode before I could get the other foot over his back and into the other stirrup.
To my utter surprise though, he stood like a statue, waiting for me to tell him what to do next. This was the first time he was ridden in a year. Since then, I’ve ridden him again.
If it doesn’t rain today, Anne will saddle up Kharma (the 22 year old). I’ll saddle up Slate. And we’ll take them for a leisurely ride for about an hour or less. It’ll be a treat for the 4 of us.
And that’s what riding should be all about.
My next editorial will deal with John Kerry, and the free ride he’s getting from the Left. Especially from the Left leaning media.
I like writing about horses better.