The quote above is as true for the horse world as it is everywhere else-- and that's why you need to educate yourself. Are you paying a trainer who thinks harsh bits are acceptable? Then, whether you use those kinds of bits or not, you're supporting their use. Read on to learn more about the most dangerous issues in the horse world.
Just like with cats and dogs, there is an over-population problem in the horse world. Every year, tens of thousands of healthy horses are sent to slaughter. These horses are usually "grade" horses (mixed breeds or just unregistered horses) bred by people who did not think about the long-term consequences of bringing a life into the world. It is absolutely common for grade yearlings to sell at auction for $20-$150, and broke adult horses to sell for $500 or less. Yet people still risk the health of their mares to bring more foals into the world. Many times, these "backyard breeders" are choosing to breed poor quality horses that have no record of being a good riding horse and have poor conformation.
Instead of breeding, consider:
Adopt a mustang for $125.00, delivered to an area near you for free. Online mustang auction here.
"Nurse foals" are taken from their mothers, so the mare's milk can be used for other purposes. The foals are usually killed. Consider adopting a nurse foal from Last Chance Corral-- the babies are often purebred Thoroughbreds, gaited horses, or Standardbreds.
Adopt a horse from a Wisconsin Horse Rescue. Real rescues are not sellers or breeders, and their only goal is to find a good forever home for the horses in their care. Thus, they will be very honest with you about each horse's level of training, any health issues, etc. Many wonderful, sound, broke horses end up at rescues every year.
The conformation of a horse is the way its body is put together. Conformation is inherited from a horse's parents and their ancestors. A horse's conformation is the biggest factor in whether it will stay sound and healthy, as well as how well it will perform in any given discipline. Many people pay absolutely no attention to conformation when breeding, and produce animals of inferior quality that break down quickly, are uncomfortable to ride, and don't do well in any sport. These breeders are often breeding only to get horses of the currently fashionable color. Other times, major faults in conformation are sometimes deliberately bred for because they are currently considered fashionable in the show ring, despite the danger. See below.
This horse has tiny, tiny feet under a huge body, and will probably become consistently lame before age 10, developing arthritis, laminitis or both. The horse is also carrying the HYPP gene.
Any horse can inherit this potentially lethal genetic disease which originated with the stallion Impressive. You may not know about it until your horse has an episode, collapses and crushes you. Even horses that are "not symptomatic" can have a once-in-a-lifetime deadly episode. Do NOT breed or buy a horse with stock-type or uknown ancestry without getting this test. Some people deliberately breed HYPP horses because the seizure-like muscle tremors in some of them produce heavy muscling that looks good in the show ring. These muscle tremors are painful and stressful for horses. Learn more here.
This is a genetic disease found in stock horses, especially cutting horses. It began with the famous stallion Poco Bueno. HERDA causes a horse's collagen to be fragile from birth, leading to thin heart valves, weak tendons and ligaments, inner eye problems, and massive skin tearing. Many horses don't show signs until 2 years of age. As the horse is worked, their fragile skin begins to tear off wherever there is pressure (like that of a saddle or even a pad), eventually leaving large wounds and ugly scars. Heat and other environmental changes can also cause this to happen. Most horses with HERDA must be euthanized-- the alternative is a life of having their bodies literally pull apart. There are more HERDA carrier horses in the cutting world than there are HYPP carriers in the halter world. You can read more here and here. The HERDA gene is easily found with a $100 lab test, but breeders and stallion owners often don't bother to do the test, and don't tell buyers about the risk.
Other Genetic Diseases
There are dozens of genetic diseases that negatively affect horses. Many of them are the direct result of poor breeding practices. Whether it's dwarfism in mini ponies, Lethal White in paints, HERDA in stock horses, EPSM in drafts, SCID in Arabians, DSLD in all horses, or any of the other genetic diseases found in all breeds, YOU are responsible for helping to end genetic disease. If you are not careful in your breeding and buying, you are directly supporting those who produce these animals. Research the lineage of the horse you are buying or breeding to. Have genetic tests done. Do not breed random horses just to get a "cute baby!"
Why you should NOT take Premarin.
Every year thousands of doctors prescribe this drug to menopausal women without telling them where it comes from: the urine of pregnant mares. These mares are kept strapped to hoses in tiny stalls for six months or more, deprived of water and prevented from laying down or moving. Their foals are sent to slaughter. Talk to your doctor about alternatives to Premarin, and boycott companies that make or sell it. More info here.
Soring & Stacked Shoes
Soring is a despicable, torturous method of causing pain to horses, especially gaited horses, to make them prance. They lift their sore feet as quickly as possible to try to flee the pain. Stacked shoes, while not quite as torturous as soring, are also common. Soring and stacked shoes result in not only immediate pain, but long-term health problems. These practices still continue, despite public outrage, because some people believe that artificially high-gaited horses are "beautiful." Boycott events where soring is practiced! Refuse to enter shows under judges that tolerate soring! More info here and here. You can watch an unnaturally gaited, sored horse here. Notice the weighted front shoes, and how the horse attempts to keep his body weight so far off of his painful front feet that his hocks angle towards the ground. Now watch a naturally gaited TWH here.
This is the practice of blocking nerves in a horse's tail, so that it can't wring its tail in pain or frustration. It's often used in the Western show ring to allow riders to continue to use harsh bits or tiedowns and cruel reining techniques. Even "temporary" tail blocking can result in permanent nerve damage, skin sloughing, abscesses, and a horse that will never be able to swat flies again. Don't do it, and boycott trainers and breeders who do.
99% of the time, a "stronger" bit is simply a nasty shortcut. Riders who haven't bothered to train their horses use pain and force to get a desired response from their horses instead. Tie-downs, complex longing systems, harsh nosebands and other devices do the same thing. Usually, these shortcuts aren't even as effective as good riding and good training, and they make horses sour and resistant. The best riders can do anything on a horse with absoulutely no tack whatsoever. Don't believe it? Watch this amazing video. Do not use, or support those who use, harsh tack and mechanical gimmicks in place of proper training.
Riding Young Horses
Very often, breeders and trainers start to ride horses at inappropriately young ages. While a horse's bones are not finished growing until age 4-6, many horses are ridden heavily at age 2 and sometimes younger. Breeders and trainers do this in order to race, show or sell horses quickly. It often results in health problems for the horse, such as arthritis and joint problems at an early age. Despite the fact that racehorses frequently break down or are permanently injured, people justify riding young horses by pointing to the fact that it is common in the racing world. Do not support breeders and trainer who do this. Do not buy a horse that was broken too early. Remember that a two year old horse is comparable to a 10-15 year old human child-- they are not yet ready to do grownup labor! This article by a veterinarian with a PhD, gives a more in-depth explanation. You can also read more here.
Rolkur is the process of yanking a horse's head so far back, his chin nearly touches his chest. Normal collection is not nearly so extreme. Obviously painful for the horse, this practice also makes it hard for him to see, swallow and breathe. It can also result in long-term health problems like abnormal bone growths in the neck. Those who use Rolkur are using this abusive practice as a shortcut for properly training a horse to move in a "rounded" and collected frame. Those who argue that it looks "elegant" should strap their chins down to their chests and then run around for 40 minutes. Read more here. Learn about real collection and rounding in this video.
Barbed Wire & Uncapped T-Posts
Barbed wire and horses SHOULD NOT MIX. Barbed wire was invented to fence in the tough cattle of the old west, where owners had no wood, thousands of acres to fence, and didn't care if one or two cows died or were permanently scarred. "Bob wire" does not break easily, it inflicts terrible wounds, and it tends to horribly entangle anything caught in it, creating rips in flesh that may be lethal.
T-posts present less of a danger, but one that shouldn't be ignored. Horses have suffered horrific deaths by running full speed into posts, impaling themselves on the metal stakes. Use plastic T-post caps to prevent this, and whenever possible, use posts of appropriate heights.
This horse from Oklahoma, named Rudy, got his head trapped in a barbed wire fence overnight. Coyotes came and ate his ears and half of his face off. DO NOT USE BARBED WIRE. Story here.
Horse Slaughter: An Unbiased Look
Click on this link to read more.