by Linda Chamberlain
Twelve days old and her feet and her body are in perfect health. She is full of promise, has a fantastic home with other horses and an owner who understands her needs.
But what about other foals not in such caring homes? Shouldn’t they be protected from harm? What laws exist to safeguard their rights as sentient beings?
What court will listen if they end up in a bad home and are beaten? Or made to work too hard? Ridden and shod too young when their bones are not fully formed? Or if they are kept in conditions that are so alien to their species that they become sick with worry and stress?
Clementine’s perfect, promising hooves (above) have inspired me to take a look at the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to see how it might apply to the domestic horse. I make no apology if that sounds a little too much. It can be routine for the horse to be whipped, spurred, pulled on his delicate mouth, isolated for long hours in a stable and have metal shoes nailed to his feet. Do we make such demands on any other animal?
The US is the only one of the signatory countries that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child – it has not been made law. The UK government ratified it in 1992, six years after outlawing corporal punishment in state schools. So you see, it is not long since our children had much less legal status than they do today. It’s not that long ago that their legal rights were little greater than those afforded the horse. In the 90s, the idea that children should be given rights was ridiculed in some quarters.
Perhaps I’m not asking for such a great leap of faith to apply some of this protection to our beloved equines…!
He suffers more interference from humans than any other domestic animal – perhaps it’s time for a treaty for the horse.
So taking a lead from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, let’s consider the following rights…let them be our goal.
You have the right to play and rest.
These two get plenty of time to be horses! They have made their own pool in a sandy area and enjoy a roll and a dip. They are allowed to play together but not all horses are afforded such freedom.
Too many horses are stabled 24/7 especially in winter. There are bars to stop them touching each other due to the fear of fighting. Their only exercise is when they are ridden or worked and that cannot be described as play. The need to socialise isn’t enshrined in law. In the UK, many horses only enjoy turnout for a few hours a day. Is that good enough?
You will be protected from work that harms you or makes you ill.
Children work long hours in many parts of the world and the UN seeks to limit the harm caused. The equine has his own equivalent. He is backed and trained to enter horse racing as a two year old and many are ruined as a result. Animal Aid says more than 1500 have died on race courses in the last ten years in the UK. Sports horses are frequently competing at the age of four but their bodies are not fully developed until the age of seven. Take a look at the excellent charity Horses4Homes to see how many well-bred horses are looking for retirement homes in their prime. In the developing world, the horse has a lot of work to do and welfare charities strive to encourage better treatment. In the US there has been uproar about the plight of the Tennessee Walking Horse who is made to stride in an exaggerated fashion with the barbaric use of soring (above pic) – defined as chemical or physical means to make the horse lift his leg higher. An attempt to end the practice was put on hold by President Trump in his first day in office. Protection from harmful work would have a massive impact on all of these sports. Shouldn’t it be law?
No one is allowed to punish you in a cruel or harmful way.
Corporal punishment in UK state schools was outlawed in 1986 but family domestic punishment is legal in many countries around the world, so children are still mistreated. Excessive use of the whip is not always frowned on in equestrian sport but governing bodies in racing have the right to suspend and fine riders who go too far – deemed at seven uses of the whip in flat racing, eight over jumps. Otherwise, the horse’s only legal protection in the UK is from anti-cruelty legislation. Is there any other domestic animal that is whipped in a sport we watch for our pleasure? Other means of control can be painful for the animal – spurs, tight nosebands, strong bits – all can cause harm but are endemic. There are calls for such riding ‘equipment’ to be replaced by better training methods. Shouldn’t they be listened to?
You have the right to help if you have been hurt, neglected or mistreated.
Countries with child protection laws will intervene if parents mistreat their children. Vast sums are spent in the developed world monitoring and supporting families that are struggling and children will be rehomed as a last resort. The hard-pressed RSPCA in the UK and Australia will sometimes intervene in cases of reported cruelty or neglect against animals. Both spend a lot of money educating owners and the public. Horses and other animals are rehomed; prosecutions against cruel owners have been brought. Most countries have no welfare charities and the horse is not protected.
Your education should help you develop your abilities and talents.
Not every child in the world is lucky enough to get an education. In the west it is considered a birth right and is compulsory. Every domestic horse will need training but the nature of that has begun to change in the last few decades. Equine training is still called breaking in by some but the description starting a horse is more reflective of new and progressive ways of preparing a horse.
This is Indiana being trained by Liane Rhodes (right). Shouldn’t every horse have this softer start?
You have the right to have safe water to drink and nutritious food to eat.
Perhaps this is one of the most poignant rights in the Convention. With so many children hungry around the world or having to drink water that is contaminated, can we spare a thought for the equines who are underfed? Or those who work in the blistering heat but rarely get something to drink? Ironically, in our richer countries the horse can suffer from the opposite problem – obesity and a high sugar diet. The Convention rightly concentrates on children who face starvation on a daily basis.
You have the right to give your opinion and for humans to listen and take you seriously.
I included this in all seriousness although I have substituted adults as stated in the Convention with humans. It is part of the Children’s Convention with good reason because their lives in the past could be decided by local authorities or courts without them being consulted. It is not many decades since the practice of sending UK orphans to live (and work) with families in Australia or Canada was ended. The unhappy stories of such children shipped abroad by our leading charities sounded like modern-day slavery when I wrote about the issue as a young journalist. In the equestrian world there is a relatively new buzz word – listen to your horse! It’s an interesting one and encourages us to consider the reason if we are having problems with a horse we ride. So often ‘naughty’ behaviour from the horse was regarded as a reason for stronger training methods. Enlightened equestrians now strive to find out what might be causing problem behaviour. In other words, a buck might be caused by back pain. The horse, like a child, needs to be heard.
You will be protected from harmful drugs.
An important one for our children but should we have this for the horse? They don’t indulge in recreational drugs, of course. No one is trying to lure them into addictive habits that cost a fortune and wreck lives.
You have the right to choose your own friends.
Perhaps, for the horse, we should simply say he must be allowed to have some friends. This takes us back to the beginning and the right to play, the right to have turnout with other equines. It is quite distressing to see so many livery yards advertising their expensive facilities which include large and airy stables and individual turnout. Surely this ignores the horse as a herd animal. How heartening to see so many new-style yards providing all-weather surfaces on tracks and large, open barns for shelter rather than stables so that horses can live together, where they are happy. Shouldn’t such facilities become the norm?
You have the right to a safe place to live.
We want such a thing for every child but this could be terribly misconstrued for the horse. So many owners consider a stable as the warm and safe place for the horse to live and yet long hours of incarceration cause stress habits such as weaving and cribbing. Accidents still happen in a 12 x 12 box of course but what would the horse instinctively choose? A stable, or cave? No, this would not be sought in the wild. It’s more likely that a slight hill would be favoured with good visibility. Safety would be with the herd.
Isn’t it time we thought about all the strange things we do to horses? Things that are so against the animal’s nature.
Isn’t it time we talked about their rights?
Thank you to Catherine Fahy, Liane Rhodes and Sundi Reagan Anderson for photos.
UPDATE ON OUR TRACK
My track system in the woods has had an extension! We now have about a mile of tracks and trails for the horses to get their bare hooves in top notch condition. Sophie’s laminitis appears to be a distant memory and she is enjoying being ridden once more. It’s been interesting to see how much more the horses move now that the track is a complete circuit. Here is Sophie with Charlie Brown enjoying the new space. As you can see it’s quite an open area with a little bit of grass and gorse, an awful lot of bracken and plenty of birch trees. The strimmer has been busy at work on the bracken, trees have been thinned and the horses are making their own tracks without the need for me to direct them with lots of electric fencing. They spend a lot of time there but, judging by my daily, shoveling chore, they are clocking up miles around the whole place.
I’m a writer and journalist who loves horses. My own horses’ shoes were removed about 17 years ago as soon as I realised the harm they were causing. My non-fiction book – A Barefoot Journey – tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. Mistakes, falls and triumphs are recorded against the background of a divided equine world which was defending the tradition of shoeing…with prosecutions. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p.
‘The author wrote from the heart and with great conviction. It read as a fiction type book, but was also being informative without you realizing it! It gives me hope with my own ‘Carrie’. I totally recommend this book to anyone….my only complaint is that it wasn’t long enough!! – Amazon reader.
‘ Required reading for anyone thinking of taking their horse’s shoes off’ – Horsemanship Magazine.
‘I loved reading this intelligently written book. It’s so good I think every hoof trimmer should hand this book out to clients who are going barefoot for the first time’ – Natural Horse Management magazine.
My historical novel, The First Vet, is inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago but was mocked by the veterinary establishment. His battle motivated me to stretch my writing skills from journalism to novel writing and took me to the British Library and the Royal Veterinary College for years of research. Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society.
‘Fantastic read, well researched, authentic voice, and a recognition of the correlation of our best slaves- horses- with the role of women throughout history. If you are into history, barefoot horses, and the feminine coming of age story, then this book is a must read’ – Amazon US reader.
If you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this blog or find me on Facebook…Another historical, horsey novel has been completed, ready for editing. I am being inspired by a famous equestrian campaigner from the past who quietly made such a difference to horses. So many people have asked me to write a sequel to The First Vet but I think I should feature one of Bracy Clark’s colleagues. And have I told you about the Very Bad Princess? The one who rode horses, swore a lot and tried to keep a London park all to herself…not a current-day princess…more soon…xxx