it sucks to be a horse

1. ordinary everyday suckage

They love to live in big groups and move around and graze for twenty hours a day, so we split them up and put them in 12×12 stalls and give them a handful of big meals. Eighty percent of show horses have ulcers. We give them grain to build up their muscle; the protein and carbs can make them colic or founder. Horses can’t throw up, so colic is often fatal. Founder is toxic buildup inside the hoofs, where the inflamed tissue can’t swell but must press against the hoof wall. It’s agonizing.

Showjumping champion and USET president William Steinkraus says we keep them like prisoners in solitary confinement.

Just sitting on their backs is bad enough; that’s where a big cat would jump on them to break their necks. The vast majority of us, myself absolutely included, ride badly and jab their mouths, kick their ribs and flop around on their backs.

And this is just the beginning.

2. advanced suckage in many diabolical forms

These are only the English sports, that I know reasonably well.

In dressage, aficionados of rollkur fill the horse’s mouth with bondage equipment that would not disgrace an Inquisition torturer, and force the animal to walk, trot and canter with its chin to its chest.

In showjumping, lazy trainers will have assistants lift the top pole of the fence to hit a jumping horse on the sensitive coronet band, a practice known as rapping or poling. It’s supposed to teach the horse to be more careful. What I think it teaches the horse is that neither its own best judgment nor the sense and goodwill of its rider are to be trusted.

Almost unbelievably, showjumping was also the sport where an unknown but large number of big-name trainers paid a hit man to electrocute their horses for the insurance money.

Eventing may be the ultimate test of horsemanship. It’s the sport I used to watch on TV with my dad, the one I always dreamed of competing in. It combines dressage and showjumping with a thrilling, gruelling cross-country course over fixed fences. In showjumping, if you hit a fence, the fence falls. In cross-country, you fall.

1997 was supposed to be a bad year for the sport. Three top riders died. But the bad year never ended. In the ten years that followed, thirty-seven more people have been killed. That’s not including the catastrophic injuries to riders, or the dead horses. Mike Winter’s Kingpin died at Kentucky Rolex this year. His heart exploded. Phillip Dutton’s Bailey Wick died at Jersey Fresh on the weekend. His pelvis broke and opened an artery. These days it’s considered a good upper-level 3DE if no horse or rider is killed or maimed.

I love eventing, but here’s a prediction so blindingly obvious at this point that it’s practically just an observation. If the sport doesn’t stop slaughtering its own athletes it won’t exist in another ten years.

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