I just finished reading “Chronicles of a Labor of Love, In Service to the Horse” by Susan Nusser. It was a written documentary that delved into the lives of grooms for international competitive riders such as the O’Conner duo of David and Karen and of handlers at a breeding farm for racing Thoroughbreds. Being involved in the same world as them, I felt some sort of camaraderie towards the people Susan wrote about and I nodded my head at their direct quotes. I learned things I hadn’t known from the history of sport horses in America and little fun facts. I laughed at Susan’s own personal opinions when they popped up here and there and found statements that I fully agreed or disagreed with. There were sentences and paragraphs that captured why I am addicted to horses and made for beautiful imagery.
I’d never considered being a groom. After reading this book, I don’t know that I will ever consider it. It’s a lot of what I do here at the farm, but it’s a lot less of riding. I don’t know that I would willingly trade riding and training for grooming at the World Equestrian Games or Olympics. But I don’t know. My mind is certainly more open to it. I do see advantages in making good connections with other notable horse people and I can’t even begin to imagine how enthralled I would be to see horses and riders of such caliber so close up.
I certainly would not handle breeding stallions for live cover. When you compare my size and strength to that of a horse and then add in all those hormones, you can easily see why it would not be a wise choice, merely for the sake of my safety. Breeding is also not something I want to get into. At least not at this particular point in my life. I want to learn about all aspects of it and have the experience under my belt, but I wouldn’t pursue that as my business. Even if the horses were Shetland ponies, I wouldn’t consider it.
During the time that the book was being written, eventing was going through some criticism and was possibly going to be removed from the Olympics. The trickle of this ran down to the grooms and Susan described their outrage at having eventing taken off the list but vaulting still remaining. One groom was quoted saying how she couldn’t imagine how vaulting horses can be happy going in circles with people treading on its back. I imagine myself as a big, easy going horse. I think about how easy it is for me to canter slowly in a large circle. I think about how light and agile my vaulters are and now they flit about in perfect balance. They never kick me with spurs or yank the bit over my gums. The performance isn’t very long. It is simple and my lounger and I do not have a moment of miscommunication. I think I’d be fat and happy as an Olympic vaulting horse. I’m sure the professional eventing horses are happy and having fun, too, but I’m of the opinion that you don’t talk down an equine discipline you know too little about.
Via Tsayles on FlickrEasy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Previously in the same chapter, Susan goes into why eventing is criticized. It is because of the things that go wrong, the missteps that cause a broken leg and euthanasia or a coma and brain damage. I understand that it’s part of all horse sports and life. I won’t preach to you on that just yet. But then she digs in deeper and quotes a director of the MSPCA (Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). “It’s not the eventing horses who have hard lives…it’s all those horses who sit in a field or stall doing nothing…” That is a rather brazen statement to me. I think that 95% of all horses are perfectly happy to sit in field and do nothing IF (and this is the “big if”) they have a sense of security and their physical needs are met. Do you suppose wild horses are unhappy? I think not! What do they have over a horse in a field? They actually have less than that horse. They have a herd, which makes them feel secure. They have space to move around and forage. They probably don’t get as much forage as they’d like, but I think I am safe to say that wild horses live a happy life. They’re certainly not moping around wishing that someone would come along and make them into their next Prix St. George/three foot jumper/national reiner/etc.
Via ValeeHill on Flickr
And already I feel like I am assigning human characteristics to an animal. I don’t think we can truly say when an animal is happy or sad. We are not them! We don’t know what emotions they feel and how deeply they feel them compared to us. We can only research and assume.
Via Melissa_Photos on Flickr
“Oh, I am so unhappy, I wish someone would ride me five days a week until I break a sweat and they’d give me treats and bathe me.”
I personally feel like a horse is equally as happy being a meticulously cared for four star event horse or being in a field rarely being touched by a human. Honestly, we humans care more than the horses do. Think about it.
Horse owner: “I’m going on vacation so I better put my horse in training to keep it in work so he doesn’t just sit in a field.”
95% of horses: “Yay, I get to sit here and eat all day with my friends!”
5% or less of horses: “Hm, no workout today. I kinda miss eating treats.”
And even then, some of those 5% just want human interaction/treats/being scratched, not the riding/working/sweating aspect.
Now if the horse is sitting in a barbed wire field alone, doing nothing, in feces up to its knees and not a blade of grass in sight? That’s a whole ‘nother story. That’s where my idea of security + food/water = happy horse comes in.
Via Vic_206 on Flickr
What I think “the good life” looks like for domesticated horses.
I could pull out more quotes and more of my own opinions, but I won’t, mostly because I didn’t save those places in the book and also because this post is going on for longer than you probably would like it to. (I got really good at going on and on about much of nothing during NaNoWriMo.)
I’m glad to know that I’m not the only person who works with and cares for horses so much that I know all these details that riders and sometimes even owners don’t know. Such as where a horse always poops in its stall, which ones come when you call and which ones will need some form of bribery, which ones will dart out the gate at any chance, they’re individual drinking habits, which treats it prefers, its pecking order in the herd, which horse will kick or bite your head off if you’re not careful, which ones fall asleep in the barn aisle not even tied, which ones will chew through lead ropes if they’re left hanging nearby, which ones will spook at a motorcycle and which ones will walk right past a rolling trash can. I know all of these horses and I am glad to know them in this manner. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I take pride in being their caretaker.