5 Controversial Horse Riding Industry Issues You Should Care About

November 09, 2022 4 min read

5 Controversial Horse Riding Industry Issues You Should Care About

As much as we’d like to think that the horse riding industry is just about people riding horses, there are a lot of serious discussions to be had about it. The industry is massive, and anything that size is bound to have more than a few concerning issues. Some of these are serious enough to be a concern of everyone from your horse trainer to top equestrian riders, and as a horse lover yourself, it might be good to learn more about them.

In this article, you’ll get caught up on some of the more pressing issues in horse riding today, including:

Before you continue, a trigger warning: there will be some discussion on animal cruelty, which might make some readers feel uncomfortable. If you’d rather not read about that topic, feel free to skip the section on slaughterhouses. This article was written as sensitively as possible, however, and makes it clear that animal cruelty in any shape or form is unacceptable. 

This read is a starting point for you to stay informed on some of the serious issues around the horse riding industry; you may want to read up on more details when you find the time.

 

Horse Racing and Overbreeding 

As beloved a sport as horse racing is, it’s not without its bad eggs. For some folks in the racing industry, a horse’s welfare is secondary to their earning potential; owning a horse is an investment rather than a commitment. They’ll exploit these majestic steeds as much as they can to make a buck, and this often leads to health issues, neglect, and overbreeding.

Overbreeding, in particular, is rife with ethical issues. Some problematic owners are breeding more horses than they can handle, hoping to luck into the next great line of champions by sheer numbers. This, however, leads to a huge population of horses that don’t make the cut for competitions and end up being unwanted. These horses are often abandoned or killed because the cost of their care is instead spent on rearing more potential racers.

This aggressive strategy has also led to a unique problem among Thoroughbreds: inbreeding. According to a study in 2020, inbreeding has reached an all-time high as breeders try to produce top athletes. By mating only the horses with high-level racing attributes, they aim to sire the fastest horse possible. Unfortunately, this often results in Thoroughbreds breeding with close relatives, which can lead to a large variety of health problems.

If you care about the great sport of horse racing, you can do your part and make sure that any racing horses you buy come from responsible breeders. The best way to put an end to unethical breeders is to make sure they don’t earn from their practices. These people always follow the money, and if they see that ethical breeding is a lot more viable, they’ll adjust their businesses to let horse people do what they want: buy a horse who is happy, healthy, and given the care and attention they need. If the top equestrian riders in the world can choose to buy ethically, so can you.

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Some behavioral problems stem from medical issues that need attention, so stay on top of your horse's health.

 

Horse Healthcare 

Getting healthcare advice for your horse can be pretty frustrating. It seems like for every promising piece of advice, there’s an expert who recommends the exact opposite. How are you supposed to know which injury recovery treatments are best for your horse when everybody’s telling you to do different things?

The fact of the matter is that there are always going to be debates on horse healthcare. Just like how people might favor holistic treatments over pharmaceutical ones for human problems, there will be folks who recommend one or the other for your horse. That’s perfectly fine—the field of medicine is always evolving, and we learn new things about equine healthcare every day.

What’s important is that you make sure you get your advice from a reliable source. Instead of just relying on someone else’s Facebook post for what sort of pain management medication your horse needs, try consulting a licensed horse veterinarian. If you find an herbal poultice recipe that looks like it might do wonders for your horse’s wounds, check to see if any of the ingredients are potentially toxic, first.

Lastly, make sure you pay attention to the best expert you’ve got available: your horse. They’ll let you know if a treatment is making them feel uncomfortable, or if they’ve got an issue that needs medical attention. You just need to be able to read their body language and figure out your next step from there.

 

Training Debates

There are generally two popular schools of thought when it comes to horse training: traditional training and natural horsemanship. Traditional training uses techniques that are thousands of years old and relies on teaching your horse how to follow your instructions by making things uncomfortable if they don’t. The idea is to use your horse’s flight response as a teaching aid—they will always choose to avoid being uncomfortable and will do whatever it takes to stay happy.

Natural horsemanship, on the other hand, is all about learning how to communicate with your horse. This technique treats your horse as more of a partner than a follower and works on the belief that we can get them to follow our instructions through a combination of nonverbal cues and plenty of trust.

Proponents of traditional training might say that natural horsemanship works too slowly—if at all—whereas people who practice natural horsemanship might find traditional methods to be cruel. Both data-styles, however, have the data and testimonies from people riding horses to back up their effectiveness, so there’s no clear superiority between the two.

The best way to look at the debate is to accept that they could both be effective, and successful training often depends more on the horse trainer than the method itself. Traditional training only becomes cruel if the trainer is cruel, and natural horsemanship is only ineffective if the trainer isn’t able to adapt to their horse. If they’re done right, however, your horse will be an eager learner. Whichever side of the debate you’re leaning towards, it’s always good to keep your horse’s welfare as your chief priority.

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You can help make a difference in the lives of these horses.

 

The Slaughterhouse Dilemma

In 2007, the United States government effectively banned the slaughtering of horses for meat. Before the laws that made this ban possible, more than 100,000 horses were killed for human consumption. Since then a debate has raged on whether or not domestic slaughterhouses should return.

Those who favor their return usually argue that the ban hasn’t stopped the slaughter of horses, and has ironically led to the more inhumane treatment of horses. Tens of thousands of horses are shipped to Mexico and Canada for slaughter every year, and the conditions in some of these slaughterhouses can be incredibly cruel.

At the same time, the pro-slaughter camp says that the ban has also led to a rise in unwanted horses becoming neglected by their owners, as seen in a study conducted by the United States Government Accountability Office. Because owners have fewer options for letting go of sickly, disabled, elderly, or surplus horses, many of them opt to just let the animals die on their own. 

The reason this happens, according to pro-slaughter horse owners, is that heavy regulations on horse burial make euthanasia unfeasible, while there is a limited market for horse adoption. To them, slaughtering wasn’t just an economically viable way of dealing with rising horse populations; it was also the most effective.

Those who are against the return of slaughterhouses, however, question the validity of these arguments. They point to the decreasing yearly number of horses being exported for slaughter as evidence that the ban has slowed down the slaughter industry despite the rise of “kill buying”, the practice of buying a horse specifically as an export for slaughter. They also highlight the fact that more than 90% of the horses exported for slaughter were in “good” condition, meaning these weren’t unwanted horses at risk of neglect. 

Economically, they say that the return of slaughterhouses would cost the country more than it earns since the processing plants typically create pollution issues that are expensive to clean up and lead to lower property values. 

There is no question that horse owners need a way to let go of horses that are liabilities both to their businesses and to the rest of the herd. The dilemma now is in deciding whether or not horse slaughter is the right option, given the different arguments involved. 

Whatever the government decides, we need to make sure that it’s the most humane option possible, and that it preserves the quality of life for horses, their owners, and the communities they live in. Owning a horse means being responsible for them for their entire lives, as well as when they pass.

 

Rescues and Adoption 

As much as we want to rescue horses in need of adoption, the fact of the matter is that horse rescue facilities are often at their limits. Horses require a lot of space, food, and water, which drives up the cost of operating a horse rescue by a huge amount. 

The cost, in turn, makes it so that there are relatively few horse shelters in the United States. There are roughly only 500 horse rescue facilities in the country, and many of them are struggling with supplies and volunteers. A 2017 study found that there are an estimated 200,000 unwanted horses in need of rescue every year, it’s easy to understand why so many shelters are finding themselves stretched thin.

The good news is that that same study also found that there are more than a million homes that both have the resources and are open to owning a horse for rescue. This number would suggest that there are more than enough homes for horses in the country and that the problem with abandonment might just be due to an issue with logistics. It’s possible that the people who are willing to foster horses don’t have the means to rescue them themselves, or that they simply aren’t aware of horses in their area that need rescuing.

If we could find a way to consistently bring unwanted horses into these willing homes, we could lighten the load for rescue facilities and improve the lives of thousands of horses in the process.

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If you have the means, maybe you'd like to adopt a rescue?

These five topics are just a few of the bigger issues that revolve around the horse riding industry today. By learning more about them, we can start to figure out how we can make things better for horses all over the country. Staying informed is one of the best ways we can show how much we care for our equine companions.

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