50 Shades of Cruelty: Gaining Some Perspective
There are a lot of things wrong in our world. These days it seems like there’s more hate than love going around. It saddens me every time I turn on the news to see the atrocities people are committing against each other, animals, and our planet. No one individual can fix everything, and every day I have to face the fact that I’m just one person and there’s only so much I can do. I do the best that I can with limited time and funds for the causes that speak to me most. Believe me, there are many, many causes I champion, but to be most effective, I recognize the need to focus on just a few. I’m a huge advocate for the earth, and consequently I have built my own business around helping and educating people on making their homes and businesses as green, healthy and energy efficient as possible. I grew up on a working farm in Central New Jersey. I do my part to support my local farmers that grow sustainably, humanely and organically. I’m slowly working on growing more things on my own farm each year. And I’m passionate about animals and their welfare, particularly horses, and most especially draft horses. That’s how the Draft Horse Rescue Resource came about. I don’t have the time, money, or know-how (yet) to run an actual rescue. This is my way of contributing to a cause that means a lot to me within the bounds I can currently handle. I certainly hope I’m helping.
I’ve had horses in my life for over 25 years now, and I’ve been both a spectator and participant in the rescue world, since my parents bought me my first horse of my own in my early teens. Calypso had been a New York City carriage horse earlier in his life and he had more personality than any horse I’ve ever come across. We did everything together, from H/J showing to fox hunting to dressing up as characters in a haunted hay ride. I loved that horse more than life itself, and he lived well into his 30’s. Calypso introduced me to both draft horses and the rescue world. That being said, he was not abused, and had no lasting damage from his tenure as a carriage horse, other than being utterly bomb-proof and prone to stealing unattended food that was questionable for horses to eat (he liked ham and cheese sandwiches.) So my next horse, whom I purchased at 19, was an ex-Amish Belgian gelding, whom I still have. I bought him because his owner was considering taking him to auction and I didn’t want to see him sell back to the Amish or for meat. He was only 5 years old and had severe trust issues due to prior abuse. It took me years to get him over most of his issues, and to this day he remains a nervous, neurotic kind of horse, despite the fact that he lives a cushy lifestyle with 24/7 pasture and virtually never gets ridden due to my lack of time.
Since those first two horses, I have rescued and/or fostered numerous others. I have been hired by people to help train their problem horses, particularly those overcoming abuse. Am I the most knowledgeable horse person on the planet? Certainly not. I learn something new every day, and I try to keep an open mind about most everything. I am a perpetual student and a keen observer. And now we come to my point. There are too many issues with the world to count, and I personally feel that many of these problems can be fixed if likeminded people would focus on the core, root causes and the most blatant abuses, and, once those are fixed, move on to fixing the next tier of problems, and so forth and so on. By miring ourselves in squabbles over the minutiae, we divide ourselves hopelessly and lose track of the big picture. We miss the forest for the trees. When it comes specifically to horses, no one is ever going to agree on everything. However, I think we can ALL agree that there are certain abuses that need to be stopped. The following are examples of cruelty I’ve come across in just the last week. These are far from complete lists
Things that ARE abuse:
- Starving a horse until it’s skin and bones.
- Beating a horse with a whip, chain, 2×4…
- Dragging a horse down a road behind a vehicle.
- Packing live horses into crates so tightly they can’t move and Fedexing them to Japan for meat. (Video)
- Soring a horse’s legs and wrapping them in chains to make them step higher purely for show. (Video)
- Neglecting a horse’s feet until they grow into elf shoes and/or the bones warp and rot.
- Keeping a horse locked in a stall 24/7 with no access to exercise, or conversely, keeping them out in all weather with no access to any kind of shelter, be it a shed, barn or trees.
- Turning horses loose on the mines in West Virginia to fend for themselves because you don’t want them anymore. (Video)
Conversely, the following list are things from the last week that are NOT abuse:
- Lightly adhering a piece of duct tape to a horse’s nose to distract them while they have their feet trimmed, get shots, are clipped, etc.
- Letting a horse have a JOB, be it police work, carriage rides, working stock, giving pony rides, professional competition, dude ranch rides, pulling farm equipment, hell, even racing. Horses have had jobs for thousands of years, ever since they were first domesticated. If they couldn’t do jobs, we’d be eating them like cows and pigs! A JOB is not abuse. Mistreating the horse while it does that job IS. For example, drugging a horse so it can run a race or compete, working a horse while it’s injured, or beating it to make it work. Most horses enjoy having something to do.
- Letting a horse stay outside in bad weather. If the horse has the option to go inside, and they choose to stay out in the rain or snow, it’s not abuse. It’s their choice and no one is forcing them to get wet. I generally figure they know what they like better than I do.
- Using a whip as a cue or extension of your arm, be it at liberty, driving in harness, or doing dressage. So long as you’re not beating the horse with it, it’s not abuse. Look at all the big name natural horsemanship trainers. They all have special “sticks” for directing a horse while working with them. Watch this Video and tell me if those horses look afraid of the whip.
And then there are the things that a horrible and need to be stopped, but cannot be classified as “abuse,” including but not limited to dumping entire herds of unhandled pregnant mares and youngsters at feedlots to ship to slaughter and selling a horse at an auction where it is purchased by a kill buyer while signing EID papers when you know the horse had been given plenty of drugs.
Where do we draw the line? How do we pull together all the people who want to help horses and not have them get side-tracked by the tiny things that do nothing but distract and divide the overall cause? I hate it when I see one group of animal rescuers attacking another over differences of opinion on the best way to rescue horses, or any kind of animal. So you don’t like the idea of buying killpen horses? Ok. Don’t buy killpen horses. Put your effort into helping horses coming into rescues from neglect situations. No one is holding a gun to your head and demanding your wallet to purchase a feedlot horse. But is it necessary to attack, smear and shame those who choose to spend their money or put their effort in that direction? It’s utterly counter-productive. We all want to save horses and there are plenty of different situations they need to be rescued from. Go with the one that speaks to you. Don’t waste your time, and everyone else’s, attacking those that are on the same side as you and have the same end goals. It does nothing but harm the overall cause, which is to eliminate as many sources of abuse as possible. Real abuse. Do you really want the police taking your horses away because they’re a couple weeks overdue for a trim or because they had a piece of tape stuck to their nose for 10 minutes? Are stopping those things more important than stopping soring or tripping?
And so I ask everyone to stop and take a step back. Breath. Look at each situation from an objective perspective. Before you forward that picture or youtube video that comes across your wall while screaming bloody murder, look deeper and think about what is going on. Is it really abuse? Or is it something you just personally don’t agree with? I don’t personally like tail docking or scotch-bottom shoes. You do not, however, see me posting about them with flashing neon signs calling it abuse. That’s because there are many more important things to focus on. When the day comes that all slaughter is stopped, when no one over-breeds, when people aren’t causing horses significant pain to win a ribbon, when we’re not finding farms with dozens of dead horses starved to death, then we can focus on phasing out the less desirable aspects of traditional of horsecare. Until that day though, let’s work together. If we do, I have no doubt we can eradicate the real abuses in the horse world. Horse lovers are a powerful group and we’ve accomplished many great things. I look forward to accomplishing many more.