Do Right by Our Horses

We have to take responsibility for equine welfare.

From America's Horse

Editor’s Note: Jim Heird, an AQHA judge for more than 30 years who is executive professor and coordinator of the equine initiative at Texas A&M University, spoke on animal welfare in the “Judges’ Responsibility” portion of the 2009 AQHA Judges Conference in Dallas. An except from his speech follows:

I have never known our industry to face as many challenges as it does today. The present economic crisis has been devastating. People interested in our industry have less money to spend and are more careful where they spend it. Our youth are pursuing more activities during their free time, and these activities take away from the time they can spend with horses. Many in our industry will tell you that the most important issue facing our industry is unwanted horses and the slaughter of horses for human consumption. There are other issues challenging us as well: competition for trails and public land, keeping our livestock designation, high fuel prices, alternative medicine, the use of drugs and medicines in competition horses, compounding of pharmaceuticals and many others.

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However, the greatest danger to our industry is the inhumane treatment of our horses during their training and their subsequent appearance in the show ring.

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As an industry, we need to make certain that we are not violating societal ethics. People love horses; they see them as noble, kind and majestic animals. I suspect most of us involved in the industry started out our love affairs with horses feeling exactly the same way. However, as we became more deeply entrenched in showing and winning, some of us lost contact with why we entered the industry and shifted our emphasis to winning rather than the well-being of the horse. The descriptive term for this is “habituation,” which prevents us from seeing that some of our actions and techniques are counter to our responsibility of protecting the horse and its dignity. We have begun to ignore the societal ethics with which we were reared because we see successful people doing so. Worse, we ignore what we see happening because we are afraid of being embarrassed and ostracized for speaking out.

If a portion of society ignores societal ethics long enough, these violations will come to the attention of people who are looking for a cause. This is where we are with animal welfare, especially equine welfare. We have a small window of time to stop our inhumane practices before those in society that are offended by our practices begin to fix them for us.

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I believe it is time for us as AQHA judges to take on the responsibility of protecting our horse, the American Quarter Horse – the animal that we loved and respected enough to get into this industry. We can start now. We can start by refusing to reward intimidation, regardless of who is showing. As leaders of our breed, we can choose not to accept, defend or, more importantly, practice actions that are inhumane. As judges, we can do what we have been asked by the AQHA Executive Committee and judges committee to do. We can do what our members as a whole want us to do – we can do the right thing for the benefit of the horse.

The American Quarter Horse has been good to each of us; let’s make sure we are good to him in return. Let’s do the right thing for our horse.

You can read the full speech in the February 2010 issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal.

Make an Impact
Want to make a positive change in the equine industry? AQHA members have the ability to submit rule change suggestions as topics to be discussed at convention each year. The 2011 AQHA Convention is March 4-7 in Dallas, TX. AQHA members have until December 31 to submit items for the Convention.