The Horse in Society
Where does the horse fit in a modern civilization?
Out of 331 million people in the U.S., about 7 million people ride, and 700,000 folks are employed by the equine industry. The equine industry brings in more money than the garment industry. Horses have always been an important part of the American economy, but the role of the horse in the United States has shifted dramatically in the last 200 years from agriculture to industry and technology. Almost everyone in the country either had a horse or knew how to ride. They knew how to be around the horse and what their needs were. People were familiar with horses and knew how to engage with a horse.
The year is 2020, and the population of horses has gone down, and they are not everywhere the way they used to be. Imagine people being afraid of cars the way they are of horses now. The streets of New York City and all across the country were teaming with horses and people. People adjusted how they crossed the street to avoiding the horses or cross where there would be a plank that might be above the manure. Men carried women from the carriages to the sidewalk so they wouldn't get dirty. Flash forward to now and people up in arms because of the manure on a state forest trail in the woods! If a horse owner happens to ride on a paved road in order to get to a trail and the horse poops, home owners are disgusted. The majestic horse once crucial to individuals and empires, is now tossed aside for cattle and sold for slaughter. Even the racehorse, the sport for kings, is given up after they no longer make money. The world for horses has certainly shifted.
My world has always had horses in it. Beginning with my neighbor's horse, Shalimar, I could never get enough horsey time. Horse camp, western, hunt seat, fox hunting, jumping, trail riding, show team, I was consumed by horses. My high school yearbook prophecy was that I became the first female centaur. I was a 6th grader when my parents built a barn and I could have a horse at home. That was in addition to the many other horses in the neighborhood. When my father passed away and I moved in with my elderly mother, I brought my horse to live in the barn there from when I was in 6th grade. My father had kept up the barn over the years, so it didn't need much to get up to par for my off-track thoroughbred. Only now, 30 years later. he is the only horse in the neighborhood. I'm lucky because my neighbors all love him.
The common person has misconceptions about horses because they have never had interactions with them. They only know what they see in media. How do we reconcile the vastly changing role of horses in our modern world and maintain their nature and lifestyle?. House lots are postage stamps compared to what they used to be with just enough room for a house never mind animals. Horses on roads are unexpected whereas it used to be their turf! The connotation now is that if you are involved with horses, you are rich. Horses aren't doing anything they didn't do 200 hundred years ago, it's people and the environment that have changed.
Because I live in New England, I see the world of the horse become smaller and smaller. They are confined to 12' x12' boxes with a few hours of turn-out. Fresh grass is a luxury they rarely have access to. The western states have more space, but horses need to compete with other livestock for grazing lands. So the western wild horse is rounded up and put in pens in large groups. People have made taking care of horses more work than it needs to be by trying to force the horse into a human's environment. This anthropomorphism is evidenced by blanketing, thinking the horse sleeps all night (better in a stall), and giving a horse more complex thinking than they really have. People have made horses complicated unnecessarily. A horse's day should be something close to 18 hours grazing and roaming, 4 hours sleeping (Not all at once! 20-40 minute snippets at a time), 2 hours socializing. That's it.
So let's go back to the question: How can horses thrive in the year 2020 and beyond? The clear answer is that the humans involved with horses currently are the impulsion of the change needed to ensure that horses can live in concert with humans successfully in an industrial and technological world. Horse people have a tendency to isolate to their own riding discipline corners. What's happened though is that class size at horse shows has gone WAY down, so it's more economically and practically feasible to have open, multi-discipline horse shows, and with current trends, fewer and fewer horse shows. And even fewer horse owners want to show. It's too expensive when the show requires membership in 2-4 organizations. Clinics are educational and a great way for equestrians to share their knowledge that doesn't include a competitive aspect. Hunter paces, trails, riding clubs, are other non-competitive riding events. This is great to share ideas between current equestrians, but these events need to include an aspect for non-riders as well.
As a group, let's support equine organizations and professionals that promote the positive aspects of horses. It's not just a rich man's sport and recreation. The benefits of horses in society go beyond farming, transportation and warfare. Horse owners know the the therapeutic benefits a horse can provide, and now this benefit is being realized by prisons, PTSD sufferers, and occupational therapists around the world to build trust, patience, empathy and come to terms with emotional trauma. People can learn so much about themselves and relationships just by observing wild horse interactions. The lessons horses teach society will never go out of style. The drastic drop from the majestic pedestal horses were once on saddens me. My heart is full of empathy for the tossed aside horses, for the misunderstood horses and the mishandled horses. It tears at me when I think of the sensitive emotional horse in peril. My hope is that the equine industry comes together to turn the tide so we can responsibly ensure a positive and healthy future for the horse. They are at our mercy.