I love reading – anyone who knows me, knows how I can get utterly absorbed. I have a very eclectic taste, from fiction, biographies, philosophy, art, neurology, movement and many more. Apologies in advance, the first few paragraphs of this blog may upset some people, but there is a point, I promise. If you can, bear with me… I came across a list of the 20 most powerful political books in the past 50 years, and one title intrigued me – Every 12 Seconds. It’s written by political scientist Timothy Pachirat, and it’s about his undercover working in a commercial slaughterhouse in Great Plains, America. It’s a large setup, where 2,500 cattle are killed a day, or one every 12 seconds.
Now, I debated this long and hard for two reasons – one, politics isn’t something that I spend a great deal of time sitting with. I do follow it to a degree, but to read a great long textbook about it? And really, the whole slaughterhouse scene. I’m vegetarian, have been for a long time, but shouldn’t I actually be prepared to put my money where my mouth is? It’s like visiting a zoo when I’m always saying that I don’t like them – really, take time to look. Do I buy it, do I not? Yes, no, yes, no. Eventually I did, and it sat on my kindle, untouched for a few more weeks. Finally, during COVID and having time, I opened the can of worms… I’m very glad I did, it’s a great book.
Was it a challenge? Oh yes. Mentally, emotionally, intellectually, it was tough at times. Has it changed my perspective and turned me into a meat eater? No, and I think there would be more vegetarians if the book was required reading. But Tim Pachirat’s insights really intrigued me, and I’m so glad that I read it. I keep turning it back to the multi billion euro / dollar / pound industry that I work in.
He says, anything unpleasant, disgusting, unsettling, is hidden in plain sight. And, as we as a culture / species have evolved, we have hidden more, in plain sight. Back in the caveman days the mighty warrior would go out and hunt down a wild beasty, and it was hauled back in full view, everyone celebrating as it was hacked into bits to be spread around the group. The hunter who dispatched it was the hero of the hour. Roll on a few generations, and the killing was a little more hidden, maybe the whole beast was cut into pieces before the general public saw it. Now, we don’t see an animal, or a head or a hoof, but a small piece of produce, wrapped in plastic and put on display in the supermarket fridge. It’s become a product, we have removed the origins from our mind. The kill floor is politically correctly known as the harvesting plant and it takes less than an hour for a living, breathing, sentient animal to go from “steer” to “steak”. We wouldn’t like the conversation “What’s for dinner tonight?” to be answered with “dead cow butt” when “rump steak” sounds so much less offensive.
At the same time, we have covered our bodies with clothing to hide our nudity in plain sight – we all know what is under our clothes, but, it’s less vulgar to be hidden. We have private bathrooms, to hide the nasty, and eat with a knife and fork, rather than ripping our food up with our hands. Anything “dirty” is removed or hidden from the view. We want to see pretty, not pollution or ugliness.
The kill plant hired 121 people, and each person was hidden from the view of most of the rest. This is how the system truly works – only about 5 people actually see the cow die, and its this that keeps everyone working. Who is to blame for the whole meat industry? Who is the reason the cow died? Is it the “Knocker” who actually delivers the blow? Many workers in the plant thought that. They were innocent bystanders, the only bad guy was the knocker. Can you blame all 121 workers? They work at the slaughterhouse, right? It’s their fault… Not in many of their eyes. Can you blame the farmers who supplying the raw product? Or, do you blame the average family and little Johnny sitting down to his roast beef dinner? All, are part of the chain. From the farmer who bred the cow, to the staff who looked after it, to the truckers who hauled it, to the slaughterhouse staff who processed it, to the supermarket who stocked it, to the consumer who ate it. Each is responsible, but because not many people see the whole process, it’s easier to stomach. Hidden in plain sight.
OK, lets switch to the horse industry.
We watch Joe Bloggs ride in some big competition yanking his horse into rolkur, kicking and spurring, and (most of us) say Urggg, that’s awful – Joe Bloggs is a bad man and horrid to his horse. He’s the one responsible. Should we include his trainer in the blame? OK, yes, the trainer is bad too. What about breeder, who bred a horse with legs too long for him, putting his body out of balance, because that stamp of horse sell at a higher value? Or, the judging system that made this weak, alien horse worth more? Maybe we should blame the judges for rewarding bad riding. While there, shall we blame the groom for silently cranking the noseband tighter and tighter… Or the saddler who invented crank nosebands? (just why?) Let’s blame the farrier who added more and more corrective shoeing to keep this “athlete” sound, and the vet for offering more joint injections for his sore legs and back. How about laying the blame at the feet of people like me – the teachers of teachers and trainers of the grass root riders. If little Johnny is taught from his first lesson that this thing he’s sitting on is a four legged bicycle, that to make it go is about kicking more (add more leg!) and that if it’s not totally submissive and under his power, its defective and needs replacing.
If you buy that saddle pad because it has a famous rider’s name, and you know how cruel she is, you are a part of the problem. What about if you shop from a saddler who stocks all manner of gadgets and pulleys, draw reins, chains, stronger bits and accessories? Or use a farrier who is known to knock horses around. Or go to an instructor who trains every one of their pupils to have their horses behind the vertical, or all in draw reins.
A while ago, I was talking to a farrier, who shod the horses at a very famous person’s yard. He said that the junior riders who “schooled” the young ones, would take a horse into the indoor and an hour later it would come out bloody, stressed and lathered. The competition rider who owns the yard is somewhat suspect, but how much was hidden in plain sight, by fancy top hats and tail coats, sponsor’s lunches and first place ribbons. How much should those junior riders be blamed too? And all the accompanying trades alongside. He didn’t stay shoeing there for long, simply couldn’t stomach it.
The equine industry is in more trouble than ever. But recently I heard an awesome term – to be welfare attentive….. What happens at your yard? Is it best not to go into the indoor when a certain rider is sitting on her horse? Are the draw reins tucked in a drawer? Would you fling open all the doors, make your walls of glass and be seen, or are there murky areas that hide things in plain sight? Come on, let’s all let the light in – there are lots of awesome yards, doing amazing things, let’s let the horses live and work in a way that nothing needs to be hidden… Are you up for the challenge?
“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
― Albert Einstein