Using Someone

Over the last couple of weeks the news has been full of the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody in the US. The protests have been organised by Black Lives Matter, an international human rights organisation which campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people. The focus then shifted to slavery and statues around the country have been torn down and vandalised because of their links with slavery and/or racism. This all got me thinking about the similarity between slavery and exploitation. The definitions of each word, in the Cambridge dictionary read like this:

Slavery: ‘the condition of being legally owned by someone else and forced to work for or obey them’

Exploitation: ‘ the act of using someone unfairly for your own advantage’

Aren’t those the same thing? Using someone unfairly. Whether or not they are owned by you seems to me the only difference.

So then I’m thinking about all the  exploitation and yes, slavery that goes on, not only legally but acceptably. I am, of course, talking about animal exploitation. We all are only too aware of the exploitation and slavery that is animal agriculture but what about animals ‘owned’  by non-farmers? Specifically I’m thinking of probably the most enslaved animal after farmed animals, horses.

Most horse owners purchase a horse or pony to be ridden or driven and maybe competed. Is this not exploitation? With no thought about what’s best for the horse, these people put a saddle or harness on their back and a piece of metal in their mouth to make the animal work for and obey them. Sound familiar? Look again at the definition of slavery.

Don’t get me wrong, most of these people would say they love their horses but when the child outgrows  the pony or the horse isn’t as good at the person’s chosen discipline, they just sell them on. Horses are sensitive animals who form lifelong bonds with each other. Changing their home environment and changing their companions affects them emotionally, sometimes for the rest of their life.

What about the horse racing industry? Well, they take horses that are little more than foals, put grown men on their backs and force them to race before their vertebrae are even fused! Then, when their bodies break down, they are slaughtered, often no older than 5 years old! Is this not legal slavery? They keep the horses in completely unnatural conditions; confined in a stable for up to 22 hours a day and denied the opportunity to display natural behaviours like grooming each other, play and rolling outside.

Up to 90% of racehorses and 60% of competition horses, as well as non-performance horses and even foals have gastric ulcers. These are caused by stress: physical and emotional stress.

When I heard that police horses had been attacked by so-called protesters; although I would call them something else, I was sickened and so, so angry. Not just at the thugs who attacked these poor animals: one horse was hit in the face with a brick which broke their nose and others had bicycles thrown at them. I was angry that these peaceful, cooperative animals had been put in this position. These horses are trained to not react in loud and violent situations when their every instinct is telling them to run. All horses, as herd and prey animals avoid conflict and are cooperative by their very nature and everything people do with horses exploits this. Horses aren’t designed to be ridden let alone be in the middle of a violent protest!

I have 3 horses. Yes, I am ashamed to admit that I bought my first horse to ride but when she tried to tell me that she didn’t enjoy being ridden and that new situations terrified her, fortunately I learnt to listen. My other 2 were unwanted by their owners, for exactly the reasons I stated earlier: child had outgrown one and the other didn’t do what the owner wanted him to do. They are a very happy little herd, with as natural a life as is possible in domestication and I am grateful that I can give them this. All I ask of them is cuddles!

As vegans we avoid the exploitation of animals but I wonder how many vegans ride horses….