Friday, November 09, 2007

Hey, hey, hey, who's running this deal!

Our stallion Fergus, with his son and apprentice, James.

After having been in the US for a month and watched how they keep their horses, being concerned in the way we are about the environment we keep them in and so on, does make me wonder if we maybe sometimes go a bit over the top. A horse property in the mid-west is any house with enough room in the garden for a small pen to keep horses in. It is a common sight to see several horses penned together in 30' to 40' corals. Feeding is bunging them cakes of hay twice a day. It is quite rare to actually see horses out in fields.

The whole attitude towards the horses is quite different here in the UK. In the US the working culture is still very present in the way the horses are looked after, even though nowadays there isn't so much real horsework being done. Get your horse, go do your work, put him back; and when the horse can no longer do the job, move him on. This really shows up in the horsemanship too. So there's a problem with your horse, well sort it out. Your horse won't stand still, well, don't go around the houses, don't have loads of theories, just tell the horse to stand still. One of the best things I heard said was when a horse just walked off with his rider, the rider just said, 'hey hey hey, who's running this deal'. He pulled the horse up and it was absolutely clear, absolutely no doubt what was wanted, the thought in the horse was changed, the timing was perfect, and the horse just got on with it. It was exactly what a kid would have done, or what happens in most yards, except in this case the timing and understanding from the rider was perfect and so the horse understood.

So when I got home and went around the stock, I was really conscious of all the things we do to make things as natural as we can for our horses. I was really questioning how important it all is. We keep our stallion with his herd, and we keep our herds mixed age. We are obsessed with grass and space, and to be honest all our horses are too fat. If we have to keep a horse on box rest it is a huge stressful event, but in the US that's just how it is for loads of horses. Quite a lot of horses are left penned up all day in the blazing sun, they go hours with nothing to eat. I heard one girl from the UK say 'My God, if I kept my horse like this she would go mad' - some of mine too, I thought.

So what am I saying - well as usual, nothing much. Just that I am fascinated by the different attitudes. If you watch the rodeo you can see that the attitude there is 'these animals are here for us to use'. In the UK it's swung around to 'these animals have rights, they are equal to us', or even 'oh horse, let me be your servant'. I am not making any judgements here OK, just writing.


  1. Every horse deserves a minion.

    I actually think that with the natural living and the space and everything else we're doing something really right for the horses and if you look at how they live in bigger ranches, where they get turned out in a big old herd on huge amounts of land for winter, that's very natural indeed.

    My view on this is unashamedly influenced by having read Marthe Kiley-Worthington (as I suspect yours is) and it certainly seems to me that the problems we avoid by keeping them more naturally are worth the work involved. Also, I really hate mucking out stables so it works for me in that respect.

    From what I recall, in the southern states the grazing ratios we use here don't really work so well because there isn't so much grass so they end up feeding hay pretty much all year round so you don't need to worry so much about 2 acres for each horse or whatever.

  2. tom!

    i'm not a horse person but i bet your horses feel happier about their lives.

  3. The horses I have seen kept differently tend to accept their lot whatever it is, even the ones tied by the roadside, isn't that pretty much the nature of horses? (except Freddie). But you have the time and ability to gives yours a nicer more natural existence that probably makes you feel better as well as them.

  4. Thank you for your comments, and hello FN, sorry I haven't been round so much lately. I agree with you all that surely the horses prefer more space - they would obvously choose it if offered. But what I am really saying is, actually it doesn't seem to show through in the performance. And actually, the attitude that goes with treating the horse more humanely can sometimes be detrimental to the training. So many horses are so confused by people trying to own and work horses in a 'kind, unconfrontational way'. I'm just thinking we need to be careful not to lose sight of 'who is in charge of this deal', that's all. And by the way, I'm not saying we all need to get nasty, just be clear.

  5. I find it helps me to feel justified in saying "look, you live the absolute life of bloody riley for 23 hours of the day, it won't kill you to do what you're asked for that one hour..."

  6. Yeah, but I don't think it's fair to call a horse James. That is not a natural name for a horse.

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