Eventing makes athletes, not victims
Photo courtesy of Charlie Blanton http://www.louisville.com/content/equestrian-events-inc-producer-rolex-kentucky-and-kentucky-reining-cup-makes-charitable-cont
Throughout history, horses have been used for transportation, aid in agriculture, and leisure. Today many horses have retired their carriages and replaced them with riders. One main category that performance horses can be grouped in is eventing. Eventing is comprised of three different disciplines: dressage, show jumping, and cross-country. Although many see eventing as decadent sport, there are some who deem the sport dangerous to both the horse and the rider. A recent article in Time.com calls equestrian events the “most dangerous sport” in the Olympics, citing a number of rider and horse deaths occurring in competition (Cooke 2012). While the article focuses on the human dangers of riding, various animal rights activists spin stories about animal welfare issues arising from the continuation of these events.
For our project, we were asked to find an issue in the horse industry and disprove those issues with the help of a producer in the industry. We met with Betsy Ball, an eventing horse trainer in Mississippi, and asked her about the eventing community as a whole. While she has not encountered many negative issues in eventing, she could explain to us how important animal welfare is for the industry. She states that “Animal welfare plays a huge part in all of the disciplines that I take part in. The United States Eventing Association has started several groups to monitor the welfare of the horse as well as the rider.” The United States Eventing Association is an educational organization that assists, organizes, and maintains responsible safety standards during an event. Their mission statement explains that they “advance the sport of eventing through education of riders, trainers, officials and organizers, with the health and well-being of the horse of paramount importance” (USEA).
Betsy explained in an interview that the USEA and several other groups have implemented various rules and regulations to ensure the safety of the horse. She states that most people do not realize that these rules are enforced to discourage neglect within the eventing community. She continues by saying, “Every rule in eventing is made for the animal. Everything is about safety and looking out for them… [The rules] encourage people to school their horses to come to the events prepared and be ready to answer the questions that are thrown at them.” There have been some new rules implemented in international competitions that allow stewards to walk around and make sure that horses are looked after. This includes details such as clean stalls, fresh water and hay, and the general healthy appearance of the horse. If any of these are found inadequate, trainers and owners alike can face hefty fines, or even disqualification from the event.
Fitness programs are established for horses in the eventing community to protect their health when they perform. These programs monitor feed intake, energy output, respiration, temperature, and stress levels. Recently, a study was conducted that focused on stress levels in horses that were used in different kinds of work. There was a non-significant increase in stress levels and heart rate after performing more intense work, but was not shown to adversely affect the horse long-term (Fejsakova et al., 2013). Another study proved that horses could adapt to the demands of usual work. When a healthy adult horse is regularly exercised, no abnormalities were found in heart rate, respiratory rate, or temperature (Popescu et al., 2012).
Photo courtesy of Ben Radvanyi http://rk3de.org
Just as an athlete works to perfect his or her sport, so does a trainer and their horse. Experienced trainers know their horses and how they respond to stress. They are diligent in their training so that the horse can get better with time. We asked Betsy to explain how all of the training that horses go through makes them athletes. She said, “There are a lot of horses that are better athletes than the humans that ride them.” She also says that many horses involved in upper level eventing exercise up to six times a week for multiple hours per day. This made us question if people outside of the industry considered horses as athletes. We randomly selected sixty people between the ages of 20-50 and asked them their opinion on if horses should be considered athletes. 60% of them agreed with Betsy and said that horses were indeed athletes, while 40% disagreed.
Some animal rights extremists have attempted to corrupt the eventing industry by accusing them of neglecting the horses. However, most owners and riders in the industry understand that horse welfare is of the utmost concern in any event. The USEA and many other associations constantly monitor the horses during the competitions. They also enforce rules and regulations regarding animal welfare that come with a hefty fine if they feel the horse is being neglected. Horses that compete go through rigorous training so that they are fully prepared for anything that could be given to them during the event. Therefore, horses are treated as athletes and are properly cared for, just like the rider.
Devin Allen, Emily Beaty, Casey Fekete, Kimberly Hardy, Jarrett Isabel, and Melissa Steichen
- Ball, Betsy. “Horse Welfare.” Personal interview. 13 Nov. 2014.
- Fejsakova M., J. Kottferova, Z. Dankulincova, E. Haladova, R. Matos, and I. Mino. 2013. Some possible factors affecting horse welfare assessment. Acta Vet BRNO. 82:447-451.
- Popescu S., E.A. Diugan, and C.I. El Mahdy. 2012. Animal Science and Biotechnologies. 45(2):256-262.
- Time. Sonia van Gilder Cooke. 2012. Equestrian Eventing: The Olympics’ Most Dangerous Sport. http://olympics.time.com/2012/07/28/equestrian-eventing-the-olympics-most-dangerous-sport/. (Accessed 17 Nov 2014).
- USEA. 2014. About Us. http://useventing.com/about. (Accessed 17 Nov 2014).