A new competition being introduced into the UK has recently come to our attention. It is based on the colt starting competitions seen in America, where teams of trainers compete for prizes using young horses and all in the name of ‘entertainment.’
We asked several respected horse people for their opinions on such competitions.
Suzanne Rogers, qualified behaviourist and former equine welfare officer for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA):
“One of the key elements for good equine welfare is ‘freedom from fear and distress.’ Sadly the often subtle signs of fear, distress and anxiety in horses are little-known and often misinterpreted resulting in empty assurances and welfare standards that are not upheld.
The often subtle signs of fear, distress and anxiety in horses are little-known and often misinterpreted resulting in empty assurances and welfare standards that are not upheld. We would not expect to be able to learn Chinese just by being around Chinese people our whole lives yet many practitioners of natural horsemanship profess to understanding equine body language purely from experience. Without an appropriate understanding of ethology the true emotional state of the horse is misinterpreted and their distress is not recognized
Modern day horse training is concerned with the welfare of the horse yet this event is concerning on many levels. Compassionate training is a gradual process in which trust is built up between horse and human through positive experiences. Young horses will still be getting used to new places, travelling, being away from their herds, new people and so on. The desire for a quick method to start young horses is purely showmanship without due concern for the well-being of the animals
Taking young horses to a competition such as this one goes against everything we know about how horses learn to cope with new situations.
Methods such as the ones advertised might ‘work’ but not for the reasons claimed. Many natural horsemanship methods are based on the erroneous assumption that horses need to be ‘dominated’ in some way to reflect how horses communicate with each other. The ‘obedient’ horse at the end of such training has learnt that if he/she doesn’t do what the human requires something bad will happen and in some instances they ‘give up’ because they are so fearful for their survival. This is not compassionate training and has no place in the modern world.
An unfamiliar trainer and all the sights and sounds associated with the competition arena are not an appropriate setting in which to train a horse.”
Animal communicator and HorseConscious Advisory Board Member, Margrit Coates:
“I find it unbelievable that in the 21st Century humans have not fully understood how to be with horses, and therefore an event like this is being introduced to the UK. A considerate horse-focussed trainer will surely know that calm, quiet handling of a youngster is how to start a horse, away from the stress of a public ‘show.’ In my experience, when a person has an open mind you can tune in to common sense about horses and their needs. It’s when the mind is closed that the horse’s communications and sufferings gets missed, and the human ego is revered above all else.
I consider the type of event advertised to be about human entertainment, rather than consideration of the horses’ sensitive mental/emotional/physical well-being.”
This from UK horse trainer Ben Hart:
“This is not the way to start a horse, which should be done from birth and slowly over the next 4-6 years. There is simply no need to show starting, it is a step backwards and something we really don’t need.
Unfortunately at the core of the event you have something that is not a celebration of the horse but a celebration of the trainers. Horsemanship is in evolution and one day I hope the competitors and organisers will look back on this event and know it was an unnecessary exploitation of the horses true and wonderful nature.
A competition is not an advancement in horsemanship and I have not heard of any credible equine behavioural scientist endorsing this type of event.”
They are pretty unanimous in their opinion. What’s yours? Please let us know in the comments below.[For more details on who is behind this competition, type “colt starting competition uk” into Google]