Is Anna Sewell’s fact based Novel still ahead of its time?
A little over one hundred and twenty years ago, Anna Sewell penned the novel Black Beauty based on her personal experiences, and the cruelty of horses that she witnessed at the hands of their handlers.
Forcing the head up was fashionable in the carriage horse in those days. These days, it is common to see the head placed wherever the rider feels it is appropriate for ultimate control and effect.
Although many of us have ditched outdated traditions and beliefs as we become more aware and open to the sentient status of horses and their conscious awareness, there are those who continue with the beliefs and traditions they grew up with.
My equestrian guide- Horse Riding in the 21st Century was once likened to the novel Black Beauty because the content, based on my own experiences and of witnessing human dominance over the horse, has echoes of that penned by Anna Sewell all those years ago.
Ignore scientific research
The equestrian governing bodies are painfully slow in their acknowledgement and acceptance of scientific research that confirms the detriment to horses through the use of harsh bits, overly tight nosebands, spurs, and whips, and of course our brute strength. I would go so far as to say that the gadgets used now are far harsher and debilitating to the horse than they ever were.
Back in 2014, I and my colleagues, as part of the CHOICE campaign (a campaign for the choice to ride bitless in competition), attended a meeting at the BHS Headquarters that included delegates from the British Horse Society, British Dressage, the FEI, and WHW.
In spite of having requested a meeting due to the welfare concerns of bitted horses, the FEI delegate strongly advised that we did not mention the word ‘welfare’, to do so would bring the meeting to an end; he made it clear that the meeting was based on choice and nothing more.The same delegate also advised our attending campaign team that he could choose to ignore scientific evidence of any strength if he wished to do so. I guess the silence of his colleagues was confirmation of their agreement with him.
Are they so steeped in tradition and outdated beliefs that they’re afraid of change?
Research is vital to our understanding of animals. Scientific evidence has proven their sentient status as beings who have the ability to think, feel – physically and emotionally, and, suffer pain just like humans.
Why do researchers spend time, effort and finance on helping humans to grow in their knowledge of animals if we can whimsically cherry pick the fruits of their labours, particularly when it affects the plight of horses and the learning processes of humans? I am not talking about an inanimate object that may or may not improve the quality of our lives; I am talking about living, breathing, feeling animals whose lives and well-being are at our mercy.
It is the responsibility of all humans who share their lives with animals to leave 20th-century perceptions and ideals behind and to embrace the science and knowledge that sits at our fingertips. Yet here we are, years later with continuing debates on bitting and deciding the level at which the pressure of the noseband constitutes a welfare concern.
Is scientific evidence not worth the paper it is written on?
I recently read the British Horse magazine article about the BHS welfare discussion at this year’s Royal International Horse Show regarding the fitting of bits and nosebands. The panel included many industry experts from a variety of areas. It appears to me that concern was more about asking the question, “What can riders actually get away with before it becomes an equine welfare issue?” Doesn’t the scientific research already out there expose the point at which it becomes a welfare issue? Research continues; however, the results so far are surely a cause for concern?
At this point, I would like to show my appreciation to Milly Shand of The Concordia Connection – Thoughtful Equestrians, for her valuable presence at the meeting on my behalf and that of thousands of others.
Here’s an extract from the notes of Nigel Coupe’s input from the BHS welfare discussion … “We also did a lot of testing without a noseband and the minute you take the noseband off, you lose part of your control. At the top level you need the control, otherwise you can’t be safe and then it becomes a welfare issue for the rider as well as the horse. Sometimes things get taken out of context -you wouldn’t necessarily ride with that bit or noseband if you were just riding around the lanes, but if you’re competing in Rio you need that extra level of control.
So, my question is – “To what extent will competitors go to ensure their safety and CONTROL above the horse’s welfare as they are pushed further and further?”
The subject of education and training was discussed. Yogi Breisner – trainer and coach said – “In my opinion, the problem comes at the lower levels, where horses can quite happily perform to what those riders want, even when they are in a little bit of pain. It is at this level where the need for education comes in. As coaches, it is our responsibility to ensure that a horse’s tack fits and it is sound. I think the BHS, together with the other BEF member bodies, has a responsibility to address this.”
I fully agree where the responsibility lies. My concern is that trainers, coaches, teachers can deliver only the knowledge they possess. The knowledge acquired at the lower levels will have usually been passed down from those teachers who are at least on the first rung of the ladder. The knowledge they pass down is the same knowledge they have gleaned from those of ‘higher rank’.
Much of the BHS teaching is out of date and is proving to be more and more detrimental to horses as the open-minded among us learn more about them.
I am under no illusion that the meeting is a massive step for those who have sheltered under traditionalism and I am fully aware of the meaning – ‘from small acorns grow..’
I accept that the discussion was specifically focused on bits and nosebands. However, it is crucial that the topic – as with other areas that tend to be dissected within their own niche, is no longer treated as a separate entity. Ill fitting bits and nosebands do not only have the ability to inflict pain and physical injury, they have the potential to cause deep set emotional issues that if left unaddressed, can result in physical ailments which are then very often misdiagnosed as behavioural and health issues.
Merely showing someone how to ‘correctly’ fit a bit or a noseband may lessen the discomfort; giving an in-depth explanation of the reasons behind it that goes even deeper than the physical detriment aspects is crucial. We now know that there is far more to horses (and all other animals) than the physical animal who stands before us; they are energetic beings – just like us. Regrettably only the open-minded currently acknowledge and embrace the existence of the energetic horse.
Re-education must, therefore, begin at the top level – coaches, teachers, trainers and riders.
However, the re-education would necessitate outside influence with strong emphasis on humans and horses as energetic beings.
Make the unfamiliar, familiar
Those steeped in traditional ways and beliefs will consider its existence too way out there. Positive changes will come about only when the educators of the equestrian governing bodies are willing to enhance their own knowledge by embracing the existence of the innate internal energy systems of humans and animals. How we affect those energy systems is of great importance in the training and care of horses.
It is often difficult for the human mind to become familiar with the unfamiliar because its job is to keep the human safe. It is our job as humans to grow in our knowledge. We have a duty to embrace ways that may be new to us but are a natural part of us and all animals.
REIKI – now a household name. It is accepted in mainstream medicine. Yet, in 2012 when I qualified as a Reiki Master Teacher, science had not yet officially recognised its existence. It was still pretty hush hush in many areas. Only those who were susceptible to its energy recognised the gift in it.
More and more of us are opening up to new ways. It has been a long time coming, but its here, and its here to stay. We embrace who we and our horses truly are and move forward into better relationships, deeper bonds, and willing horses, or we fear and ridicule the unknown and get left behind.
Horse riding in the 21st Century
Meanwhile.. the equestrian guide, ‘Horse Riding in the 21st Century’ – discover the route to your success’, created in 2015, and reprinted in August 2017 with new and updated science evidenced information will empower the reader to consider a mindful and holistic approach to riding and caring for horses that will allow them to remain in the saddle of a pain and fear free horse. Check it out on my website https://www.avissenior.com or on Amazon where it has a ‘read inside me facility’.
Review by Jenny Rolfe – Classical Dressage Trainer:
“I found Horse Riding in the 21st Century to be a book which covers a vast field of information to assist every rider to better understand their horse. There is a chapter on tack and tack fitting which is clearly explained to help the rider from every level.
The importance of balance for the rider and how this may be achieved is also described very well.
From the beginning of the book, Avis makes it clear that our awareness, communication, and power to listen and observe our horses are at the heart of our relationship. There is a wealth of help here, within this book for the reader to more fully understand how they will affect their horse on every level.
This is really a great book which asks the reader to dig deep from within and become more thoughtful within every aspect of training. This book gives a deep insight and a thoughtful perspective, which is much needed today.
I am so pleased that Horse Riding in the 21st Century is proving so valuable.”