Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What in the World Are We Thinking?

The horse world (at least my small corner of it) is rife with problems. We've got out-of-control breeding, "animal rights" activists wanting to pull the plug on pretty much everything we do with horses, no place for the horses that used to go to slaughter, fuel prices that are cutting our travel in half and doubling our feed costs, and horses of financially bereft owners going begging for decent homes. Wouldn't you think we'd manage to pull together and bring some sanity to this business?

Nope. Not us. We are a free-wheeling, free-thinking bunch of tough-minded citizens who can't seem to get along for five minutes on any topic whatsoever. We should be stood in the corner until we get the picture.

I'm in the mood to enter this rant because 1) I've been on some online horse forums lately, and 2) I live in the land of local horse shows that are sucking the common sense out of decent humans. I'll address the latter first.

Folks, there's nothing worse than a sore loser than a sore winner. There's nothing worse than either of those than a wannabe lurking on the sidelines critiquing what isn't understood. Male, female, old, young . . . you'll see them hanging by the rail at a show or sitting around a boarding farm while one of their significant others (or someone they met at a party, or whoever) indulges in the Horse Thing. They have a lot to say and can easily make an otherwise lovely activity as mean and unhappy as high school phys ed class.

When those folks turn up on the online forums (the other part of my gripe) and other public areas where discussion occurs, there's double danger and more than a little damage done by the unwary who, for no apparent reason, give credence to anything they read online.

Guys! I can go on a forum, come up with a fancy nickname, and announce that I've been a top-level reining horse trainer for fifty years. I'm not. I haven't been. I could post all sorts of suggestions and comments that I'd be pulling out of thin air. I wouldn't do that. I could just as easily write dozens of letters to dozens of legislators about what should be done without one whit of understanding of the realities of the issues. I wouldn't do that either.

Would you? Answer honestly.

What I have done is watched nastiness emerge in my horse world in the form of snarky remarks among total strangers, some of whom may be as horsey as my Aunt Trieste, rest her soul. She wouldn't have known a horse from a hog if she hadn't had the standard Horse With Clock in Stomach on top of her TV, but she'd have been the type to launch an all-out attack against someone who was trying--really trying--to do the right thing and maybe learn something new. She also wouldn't have hesitated to bring whatever pressure she could to bear to affect a change in policies on a subject about which she knew nothing.

So . . . here's the plan.

If you haven't actually done whatever it is you're critiquing, go find a hobby that keeps you off the computer and away from the rails at shows and farms. Learn to knit. Go plant some vegetables. Do anything that requires you to focus elsewhere. If no one asked you, don't volunteer your opinion. If you need to hurt someone, get help; that's a real problem you've got there, and you need to deal with it. If you really believe you have a great idea for solving one of the Big Problems Facing the Horse Business, talk to someone near you who actually is involved in said business and listen to the reaction your idea gets. Then you can go home and knit or garden and forget the thought ever crossed your mind.

If we horse people don't start showing some solidarity and refusing to play the game, our industry--our lifestyle--is going to be gone before we know it. We'll lose our riding lands to development (as if that's not bad enough already!). Funding will be withdrawn for programs in colleges. The farmers who support our habit will be lured into turning hayfields into something we pour into our vehicles. We need to play nice together, and we need to start now. The image of a bitchy show mom (or dad, or aunt, uncle, or cousin) has to die a sudden death. We need to learn everything we can about how our business works, not just where the nearest show barn is located. We need to figure out why we have horses and stick up for our decision in ways that mean something.

We need to do all this before the Painted Ponies are the only horses our grandkids will ever pet.