Anna Sewell once wrote a book called Black Beauty in which she pointed out how cruelly horses were being treated. And while things have improved for horses they have not totally changed, as our view of the horse is still often utilitarian in part rather than totally seeing them as pets or companion animals.
Although loved people throughout history have also used horses as beasts of burdens. Long before the car we used horses as transportation, long before the tractor, we used horses to pull plows. Even today horses are being used, although perhaps the users do not see the connection.
Years ago I had a stunning gray Arabian gelding. He was a true pleasure to ride, but I also wanted to compete with him and show him off. He did very well in English Pleasure, and even won a Park class at the Regional show. He was a winning “machine”, my tool to get ribbons and accolades.
My machine broke down at one show. We were in the warm-up ring, a practice area. This was a huge show and many other horse and rider pairs were also in the ring at the time. My horse never did like standing still, but standing still is something the horses do after their class as they wait to announce the winners. I was done riding and was just finishing by having him stand in the center of the arena, he objected and went straight into the air, and I came off. My machine broke down, it was not having a good time.
Years later, at another all-breed show where I was not competing I saw a child riding a beautiful gray Arabian, I watched them in a couple of classes, her horse looked happy. Later in the day however, it was clear the horse was not having a good time. The rider had entered every class they could, both English and western. Her winning machine was breaking down, not sore, but clearly not happy.
We have used the horse in the role for our own needs, be they real needs, such as pulling a cart, or vanity needs, such a winning a ribbon. Horses, are not always “pets”.
Indeed many other animals are taken to shows for the purposes of ribbons and trophies. Cats, dogs, and even chickens and cattle, are regularly taken to shows by their owners. Typically this is done to demonstrate the fine quality of the animal for breeding purposes. Nonetheless the fact is that these animals are not pets alone.
The racehorse industry is another area where horses are used as machines, driven to earn money, or fame, for their owner. Although some are well cared for, most are discarded if they fail to produce enough wins, just like one would do if a race car were not fast enough.
Horses are not often kept in the same manner that cats and dogs are. While it is often said that a “Pet is a lifetime commitment” this is generally not true for horses, who are frequently sold if they do not perform for their owner, or are “sadly outgrown”.
One of the reasons horses are not typical pets is because of the comparatively high expense in keeping them. Although a few horses live their entire lives as pretty lawn ornaments, most serve their owners in one way or another. We feel that their must be some personal reward to justify the expense of ownership. Indeed horses are no longer necessities, but they are now luxury animals in most parts of the world.
The role of horses has not changed all that much, they are still a utilitarian animal, and if we relate them to our autos we clearly see that some people admire cars just as much as others admire equines. People trade in their cars, or trade in their horses. People even love their cars, and clearly many horse owners do love their horses. History has not yet elevated the horse from machine to pet status, in the same way cats and dogs are often strictly pets.
Neither right, nor wrong, the horse is often treated more as a machine, or tool, and less as a pet. Our views of horses come from a long history of them serving us, and is clearly influenced by the expense of owning them.
We need to remember to replenish our horse’s body and soul. We need to allow it time to be a horse, and play in the pature, or we can simply go for a trail ride, or take our horse for a walk down the lane to graze.
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