Time to help unwanted horses.
In Marion County, Florida, “the horse capital of the world”, we must come to grips with the awful truth that we humans are failing in our duty towards these wonderful creatures, creatures that we cause to be bred and, when they don’t measure up at the track, rodeo or elsewhere, we routinely neglect or injure, often fatally so. Putting it bluntly, we view and deal with them as commodities that merit favorable treatment should they provide us a profit, or cruelty and death should they not. To say this is wrong is nowhere near a strong enough condemnation of human perfidy as regards these magnificent animals. We must do better. Following are some ideas for remediation of the situation, for partially assuaging the guilt we should feel when contemplating our malignant indifference to their suffering.
First let’s review what our philosophy towards life, all life including equine, should be, then we’ll review some basic standards for breeders before closing with some specific actions that can be taken here. Our ethos will start with an injunction, broaden to incorporate baseline precepts, then arrive at the over-arching principle that is to guide all behavior as regards all life.
The injunction? First do no harm, taken from the Hippocratic Oath, or the idea of non-maleficence. If we can do nothing else for horses, at a minimum let us at least avoid harming them.
But that is the minimum. The next higher layer of our behavior towards animals is The Five Freedoms. We must ensure that all animals under our care or cognizance have the following:
- Freedom from hunger or thirst
Freedom from discomfort
Freedom from pain, injury or disease
Freedom to express normal behavior
Freedom from fear and distress
And yet even the Five Freedoms outline only a floor for our moral behavior, not a ceiling. So while useful, a broader sense of obligation towards animals and all life is needed, and that is found in Albert Schweitzer’s reverence for life:” A man is ethical, only where life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help.” In other words, we owe a duty of care and stewardship to all lives, particularly those for whose birth we are responsible. Let us then adopt a reverence for life as our all-encompassing standard for dealing with animals, in this case horses.
All right. With a reverence for life as our ethos, we need some basic standards to help reduce the number of unwanted horses and to provide better care for those that are bred.
Again, breeders must first agree that animals are not commodities, but rather are lives worthy of reverence and compassionate stewardship, meaning that horses shall be bred for companionship only and only when their proper care is assured. We must have further restrictions on breeding, which restrictions include at a minimum casual breeding licenses, a strict limit on the number of times a mare can be bred, veterinarian oversight and certification of the breeding process, and a license provision permitting county animal control officials to inspect the mother and offspring and facilities wherein breeding is taking place should those officials have reason to suspect the horses are not in good health or otherwise not humanely cared for.
While we push for an end to horse racing and thereby breeding for horse racing (one of the chief causes of the unwanted horse population), due to money and memes a reversal of the status quo is unlikely soon, so let’s work for some achievable results. There are tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of unwanted horses from racing and rodeo that end up slaughtered. Many more are neglected or otherwise maltreated before being moved on from the industries that brought them into being. Far too many horses, those bred for racing and in general, end up unloved and neglected. Horses are costly, so once they become money losers many are slaughtered, abandoned or otherwise barely cared for, if at all.
Again, these are creatures brought into the world by and large due to human volition and action, so, at the very least, we owe something to the creatures we have created for our own needs and then abandoned when those needs were no longer met. Part of the license fee for breeding horses must include a sizable amount payable to the county where the horses are kept to pay for a horse sanctuary. This place would afford all those horses who are no longer wanted, for whatever reason, a place of safety and compassion where they can live out their lives. The license fee would also help pay for vet and farrier care, food, and sanctuary upkeep. Those horses that could be adopted out should be given that opportunity (with proper safeguards to ensure the adopting party will care for the horse lovingly and not ship it directly to the slaughterhouse), but any abandoned horse will be welcomed and tended to.
A look around any part of the world, or our beautiful state, will confirm that we humans live in a throw away society When an item is no longer useful or pleasurable, we discard it with scant heed to the consequences. Sadly this philosophy pervades our dealings with horses. These animals are viewed as things to be used and then discarded when no longer useful. We must start seeing these creatures as lives with their own intrinsic value, and because of that possessing under natural law a right to exist, to be cared for, and to live their lives to the fullest. As it is we humans who have brought these horses into this world, we owe them that and so much more. Under the aegis of a reverence for life, let us treat these horses with compassion and stewardship all through their lives. Schweitzer said it best: “
Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces
all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.”
Or to cite St Francis:
“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission — to be of service to them wherever they require it.”
They require it now. Please help!