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Can athletes be happy?

Laetitia Bataille

Why should a working horse – wether mounted, driven or schooled in hand- be a victim? Certain “extremists” consider any form of equitation to be ethically unacceptable. But let’s not go that far. Horses ca be "broken in" gently and with patientce, some riders do have soft, symapthetic hands, a, riding school horses and ponies are not necessarily slaves…

Even when it comes to competition horses, sensible, progressive and patient training methods exist that are respectful of the physical and mental capacity of the horse. Even ambitious sporting careers can be conducted wisely.

However the high level requirements of competition can also lead to physical and mental demands that are beyond the limits of what the horse can bear. This then may be considered to be real abuse.

The International Equestrian Federation has stated very clearly that the sport horse has to be a "happy athlete." However, at the highest levels of any sport – are athletes really happy? The penalty of pushing the daily effort to the limit is increased physical and mental suffering. In extreme cases this may lead to an “athletic burn out” resulting from an inability to face up to failure or from overtraining.

Humans make these sacrifices consciously since to be a successful athlete it is necessary push oneself to the limit – perhaps even to go beyond certain limits. Sport also has an intellectual component that perhaps could be considered as “mind over matter” – transcendent…

But can one attribute these human characteristics to the horse…

Yet ... Horses run in the wild, they paw the ground, rear up and do piaffe.  Doing these things as part of work may well please him – even if it takes more effort than in nature. He may like to succeed, to win, to be first past the post and to “make us happy”.  Thus it may be reasonable to say that the horse has incentives to excel in sport but without the elitist and conceited approach of humans.

BUT – within limits and with no excessive demands.

And that is what we always have to be aware of. And why Horse Aware – your magazine - has been created.



Front cover photograph : © Tamara Madonini

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Published 22-12-2014

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