I’m currently staying in a hotel in Malaysia. It’s a bit of an odd one – I think the building started life as an office block, before becoming a hotel. It’s very square, which means one issue – if you pay top dollar and book a room on the outside of the building, you get a window. But if you get a standard room that is in the middle – there are no windows.
The first time I stayed here, I didn’t realise. I checked in at night, went up to my room, opened the door, wheeled luggage inside, close door – bed, check. Bathroom, check. Hanging rail / shelf, check. TV, check. Aircon unit, check. What’s missing? Something is not right… Ah, there is no curtain, there is no window. Never mind, I thought, it’s only three nights, and I’ll only be in here at night, I don’t need a room with a view, the curtains will be closed anyway… Do you know how awful those nights were?
Now, I’m not claustrophobic. I’ve been down mines, stuck in lift, scuba dive through shipwrecks. It takes a lot to rattle my cage. But, sleep in a room with no windows? Hmmm. And, I love (NEED) my time alone to recharge, especially when I’m busy teaching, and with people all day, and talking, and explaining and interacting – I love what I do, but it’s blissful and essential that I can close my door and the world out in the evening. I need a good 12 hours of time without seeing another soul. And yet – sleeping in a room with no windows…. Hmmm.
We humans need some form of interaction. We need light, movement, to see things, or sights, or at least whether or not it’s raining, sunny, day or night.
This trip I’m very, very happy, I have a window. Not only that, I have a minute little balcony. It’s hot and humid out there, and I’m really only here at night, but having a door and access to outside, excellent.
Recently there was a video going around Facebook. This one actually –
And, it really upset me.
There are loads of comments about hahaha, there is always a “special” horse around. Horses, even more than humans, need social interaction. They are “designed”, – hardwired – to be outdoors, walking, walking, walking. They should be grazing 16 hours a day, and much of that time is spent wandering along, nose on the ground, following the best trails of grass. They need to be interacting with other horses, or at least other animals. They groom each other, they form close bonds. If spending three nights without a window bothered me, imagine what living in a closed in box does to a horse. I suspect that the rails that these two horses are talking through enclose the stables on all four sides, and that these horses have no time to actually interact with another horse in any other way. If you turned these two out together, they’d probably be grooming each other. And, if they can’t be turned out together, how about at least creating a window for them? If they could stick their heads through a gap and “talk” without bars, I bet you this “funny” behaviour would disappear. I don’t see this as cute, funny or entertaining. I see it as a horse who is desperate to interact, having to have made a plan… If you see a tiger pacing up and down the front of his zoo cage, is it cute? If you see a horse windsucking, is it funny? If you see a person pacing and pulling at their hair, is it entertaining? Not really. So, why is this horse’s stress being seen as anything other than the stress behaviour that it is?
My “holiday” a couple of months ago, was a quick flip back to Gili, which many people know holds a special place in my world. I have written several times in the past about the Gili Cart Ponies, and some of those blogs and articles can be found here….
Last year, the Gili islands and Lombok suffered from a series of devasting earthquakes and I wanted to see for myself how the island was recovering. Lombok, the biggest island in the area was hardest hit, with over 500 people dying, many more injured and still there are thousands of people living homeless in tents.
The staff on the three Gili islands are mostly from Lombok, they either commute daily (it’s only 10 minutes by boat) or have moved onto the smaller islands, but their families often remain at home in Lombok. Because of this, when the earthquake hit Lombok in such a devasting way, most staff returned home immediately. This included drivers and caregivers of the cart ponies. Fortunately, some people remained on the Gili islands, such as
Chaos ensued for many months – a shortage of food and water, looting, local crime, the total ban of all tourists, devasting losses of human and animal life. When the drivers fled Gili, most of them opened the pony’s stables and left them free to fend for themselves. The majority of the cart ponies are stallions, so a couple of hundred loose stallions running wild on the island. And, those still in their stables had to be found and fed and watered.
The islands are only now, really coming back to life. Tourism is picking up and life is beginning to return to normal. As I wandered around the island, there is still a lot of damage, deserted restaurants and hotels, piles of rubble and rebuilding, but there is definitely a feel of hope and a new start. Luckily, the reefs seem relatively unharmed, and the stunning marine life is healthy and doing well. (Yes, my holiday had to include a few dives, of course…)
And, part of my reason to visit, was to see the new Horses of Gili stable yard and vet clinic. There has been no full-time vet on the islands, but now, through the dedication of Tori Taylor, (of Horses of Gili, and Lutwala dive) a new 8 horse barn is being built, along with a small vet surgery, housing for a vet, a farrier workshop and a charity shop. Interviews are being held for a full-time vet, whose wages will be covered through donations. The stables will be occupied by rescues who need some TLC while recovering from injury or illness. This is a massive undertaking, and Tori desperately needs help with funding the project. As ever, donations of tack and equipment are also most welcome…
Two other things that I was so excited about – one, the condition of the rubbish / garbage collecting ponies. In the past, these ponies have suffered the hardest life, really being the bottom of the pecking order. Now, thanks to www.animalaidabroad.com and www.giliecotrucst.co.id these ponies are fat, well, bright and living in clean, solid, well ventilated stables. They are being shod with good quality shoes, have new harness, and the governing bodies of the island have allowed a few motorised golf carts to assist in the collection of recycling, so making the ponies jobs a lot easier.
The other thing was something I was carrying – socks! A fabulous supporter, Michelle Harrison, together with Raymond Peterson of www.socksforhorses.com organised the donation of 6 sets of their amazing socks! These Silver Whinny socks are fabric that is treated with silver and allow legs to breathe while helping to heal some really nasty diseases and injuries. For those who have been following Horses of Gili for a while, you will remember Miracle, the little chidoma mare who had her entire leg degloved due to an accident. It took well over a year to heal, but she is 100% now, and that is certainly thanks in part to her Silver Whinny socks as well as all of the TLC that she received.
It’s awesome when people such as Michelle, Raymond and companies like Socks for Horses get involved in projects like this, thank you!
It happens after every Grand National, doesn’t it? Ban horse racing. And, I’m pro horses, so I should be pro the ban, right? Well, not really. Let me explain my view – it’s a complicated, emotional subject with so many shades of grey.
Many years ago, I went for a week long interview to become a work rider at a very big name yard. Oooh, I thought, the chance to ride some amazing horses, some of them have values into the millions, and the trainer – famous name. How exciting. Off I trotted…. The first day, a rider was cantering a young filly. She was tied down in running reins and was obviously not very balanced. And, out of the blue – the rider punched her over the head. And again. And again. A watching young rider asked a senior rider, “why is he doing that?”. The older rider’s reply? “I don’t know, because he can? Maybe he had a fight with his girlfriend. Maybe the filly pulled. Maybe she lifted her head. Just concentrate on your own horse”. A couple of days later, a horse who wasn’t being careful enough while jump schooling was pinned in a corner and beaten by two trainers on the ground with lunge whips and the rider on his back, until he was literally wetting himself in terror, before being released from the corner and tearing around the jumps again in panic. The horses lived in squalor, small dark, cramped, damp stables with leaking rooves and disgusting bedding. The grooms were short-handed, grumpy, over worked and had a job, no connection to these horses, so the horses were shoved around with no thought. And, as a work rider, I was given my own bridle and saddle that must be used on every horse I rode, fit or not. As you can imagine, I didn’t even last the week, and when I said I’m leaving NOW, they said oh, really? We were preparing your contract, to stay for a year. Hmmm… So, this must have been a racing yard, since this is about racing? No, it was an elite horse dealing and producing competition yard. I was riding mainly dressage horses, but the other barn was all jumpers. And the price tag on these horses started at 30,000 Euro. Of course, the prospective buyers didn’t see behind the scenes, but oh, what went on. This must have happened in China, or one of the remote, possibly dodgy countries I travel to, yes? No, it is in a highly respected, mainland European country.
Another yard where I went to visit, I was warned that people there had had to sign a confidentiality contract as to what was happening on site. Hmm, I thought, that’s odd. Oh yes, I could see why those contracts were in place. Wires, chains, whips. I ran away very fast. So, this must have been racing? No, it was the slightly removed section of the yard for a team of stunt horse trainers, training the ponies for a film company, who were filming an international blockbuster, out of sight, out of mind, in a country where they could get away with cutting corners. Why train a horse to fake fall, when you can just gallop it at a trip wire? It doesn’t matter if it breaks it’s neck, we have spares. And yes, a lot of horse people watch this series because its an epic horse production. But that’s ok, right? It must have been a more minor film company from a bad country? No, it was one of Britain’s biggest name film studios, filming in a far-off land, so they wouldn’t be tied down by welfare issues.
Any industry involving animals can be wonderful. And can be appalling. I’ve been in riding schools where the happy ponies are treated like royalty with 24/7 turnout in herds, awesome feeding and care, body work, experts in for hoof care, dental care, vet care. And, I’ve been in elite yards that made me want to cry. I’ve spent time in racing yards where the lads and lasses who take care of the horses obviously adore them, the care is again fit for royalty, with careful, science based nutrition, fittening, blood work ups, in house vets, where the horses are happy and relaxed. In many, the one thing lacking is turn out, but this is changing in many places, and more and more good trainers are letting their horses live out in herds and taking on the mental aspect. I’ve seen working horses who are fit, shiny, well, happy in their work, and I’ve seen paddock ponies, who are in theory in bliss because they are not expected to work for a living, and are living out in herds, all natural – in horrendous states because of laminitis from unrestricted grass, or skin and bone and on death’s door.
“I adore my horse, he is my life, and we do dressage in pink matchy matchy saddle pads…” As I plonk on a badly fitting dressage saddle (because I like riding in it), tighten my flash noseband so he can’t breath, slap on the draw reins and take selfies in the mirror. And when he’s naughty, he’s disposed of, or sent to bootcamp with the trainer who will ”fix him”. And when he’s not good enough, he’ll get passed onto a junior rider, who’ll add lethal spurs because the horse is tired and shut down and the new rider’s legs aren’t long enough to keep kicking everytime the trainer yells, “legs, legs, more leg, more leg, legs, kick”. And being a dressage horse, he can live this happy life for 20 years, because it’s dressage, which is good, right?
“He’s a racehorse in training, here to provide sport and entertainment and hopefully some financial reward”. And he has a lad looking after him who adores him, and who is a light weight with good hands who walks him up the heath track where he gallops with his head up, not being held down in rolkur. Professional riders, professional care. Yes, he must work, but we understand the science of good nutrition, and he has the best of health and dental care. And, if he’s unlucky, he’ll break a leg and won’t know anything a few minutes later. Or be sold on. But he’ll only be a race horse for a short time. Yes, it’s in the “he’s sold on” that the biggest issues arise.
In 2018, Deathwatch (coalition for the protection of race horses) says 119 race horses died on training or race tracks in Australia, mostly from front leg fractures.
More than 30,000 horses were exported live from Canada to Japan between 2013 and 2017, so that they could be slaughtered fresh for a speciality sashimi called basashi. But, internationally, approximately 10,000 Thoroughbreds are slaughtered annually, which is the bigger issue?
Premarin is produced as a hormone replacement for menopausal woman. Take this, says the doctor, it’ll make you feel so much better… Who knew that PRE MAR IN is short hand for PREgnant MARe urINe? But that’s ok, it’s medicine. And we just slaughter the waste product foals.
If we “use” horses for entertainment (and yes, ALL of us are using horses for entertainment, even if it is just watching them mow the lawn in the paddock), we can do it well, or badly. We can promote metal and physical well being or we can harm them. The outcry about racing? We SEE a horse die in front of us. We can’t pretend we don’t know.
“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”
― Paul McCartney
Luckily for most competition riders, only racing has glass windows, the rest are safely hidden behind brick walls of ignorance and pretending that it isn’t there…