Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Whose Job is This?

Not All Horses Are Created Equal

I love Denny Emerson.  If he were a horse, I'd have already bought him and bred him to some spectacular mare.  But now and then I have a bone to pick with him, and this is one of those times.

When did competition--any athletic competition--become a "job"?  And why does "athlete" have to mean top-echelon competitor?  I'm an athlete in all my saggy, aging glory.  My horses are athletes despite not all being blue-ribbon stars.  Riding isn't our "job", it's our sport.  That's all it is and that's enough.

It definitely happened.  As far back as I can remember, there have been professional whatevers in the sports arena for whom a sport was their raison d'etre, their career and lifeblood.  Anyone with an ear and at least one eye knows that pro sports figures are the idols young children want to emulate and old children want to pretend they could have been (if only...).  It's a nice source of pride and entertainment, the whole pro sports thing.  But a job..?

So you decided to go pro as a horse rider (I'm excluding trainers, breeders, and other support professionals), and naturally your horse, without a vote in the deal, had to go pro with you.  Now you've got a job you love, and he's got...well...a job.  Love it or not, you've handed it to him as a fait accompli.  A done deal.  Your choice, not his.
If anything could be wrong about a horse's
conformation, Fancy embraced it.  But
she loved her job as a low-level show horse.

To add insult to injury, you might also, by default, be on board with the idea that breeding for additional subjugated athletes is not only a good thing, but a must, an absolute imperative, because without suitable equine athlete partners, the human athlete who's chosen riding as his career, has no career.  At least not at the current levels of expectation.

I agree to the extent that careful breeding (since we humans can't resist monkeying with nature) is a good thing no matter the type of horse being bred.  I've seen in person some particularly bizarre offspring of backyard horse pairings that would never have survived in their natural environment.  Choosing stallions and mares wisely before allowing them dinner and drinks and privacy is always preferable to throwing caution to the wind just to make a few dollars or to maintain farm status for your property or out of some emotional blinding of the sense of reality.  But to say that finding homes for horses that are never going to be top-flight competitors is a waste of time and money, and that breeding for the competitive qualities somehow makes right the throwaways that happen as a by-product is to toss aspersions on an entire, huge segment of the equine and equestrian populations.

Should a horse have a "job"?  Sure.  It behooves all of us to find something for our horses to do to earn the ridiculous cost of their upkeep, even if their job is to be petted by the neighborhood kids.  And the more horses we give jobs to, the fewer unwanted horses there will be.  But does a horse have to be perfect in every way in order to be of value?  And does that value have to include the by-product horses that are "probably only good for, say, a 4-H kid's project"?  I hate hearing equestrisnobs say, that, but there it is.

Sorry, but no.  All kids can learn to love a horse with a hinky gallop or the one with the head that isn't quite the model of its breed, and so can 90% of the riding class of adult folks.  Most of us can enjoy a nice hack along a gorgeous road without having to feel that we're less than worthy because our mount isn't papered.  I definitely believe that when we stop trying to force animals without innate ability to try disciplines at which they'll fail and which  might be injurious to their bodies, we're making Mr. Emerson's point in spades.  Horses are not created equal.  They're created horses.

Mr. Emerson needs a high-end, hyper-talented mount.  No doubt.  He gets paid to need that.  His horse doesn't get anything other than the same rations the rest of us feed and maybe a little better vet care. As far as I know, horses aren't impressed by brass finials on their stall doors, not nearly as much as they are by having play time with their buddies whenever they want it.

Working horses
deserve respect

To those of you aspiring to go pro, good luck with that.  I wish you great horses and all the ribbons you can find room to hang.  And if you're lucky, you'll take in some hefty purses along the way to justify giving up your day job.  Or, like some of my favorites, you'll pocket those purses on the weekends and keep your day job to keep you grounded.  I hope it all turns out the way you expected and your dreams are fulfilled.

Your horses, meanwhile, no matter who their Daddy was, want nothing more than a good scratch under the chin (even Olypians get fly bites) and maybe a flake of that expensive alfalfa mix. Mostly they want to be out running around, not breeding, not working, not facing a hefty regimen of exercise when they're not stall-bound.

I'm sure some of my readers are seething right now with anger at my ignorance and my ability to overlook how vitally important it is for our kids to have someone to look up to and goals to which to aspire.  How about giving them that?  Show them that kindness and mercy and hard work and realistic expectations are what makes the world go 'round.  If the high-end competitions were to stop dead tomorrow, we'd still have a fine crop up humans around us to fill the space with joy and compassion.
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