Thursday, 20 November 2014
• VOLUME 46 • © HORSES For LIFE™ Magazine

Welfare issues alive and well in show jumping.

The horse-human relationship from past to present.

Horses have been used since early times to aid and assist human endeavours; they have been used to pull loads, as transportation during war and even as a food source. In many societies, horses have been used in competition, as sport is a common feature of human culture. Competition winners are rewarded with accolades and held in high esteem by others. However, important ethical questions arise from the use of horses in present-day sport when welfare is compromised, regardless of whether actions are considered 'deliberate abuse’.

Recently, discussion on classical principles versus the modern competitive requirements in dressage has gathered momentum worldwide. In recent years, hyper-flexion - or Rollkür - where the horse’s head and neck is flexed in toward the chest purportedly ‘to raise the horse’s back and bring it through’, has split people’s views on whether this may not help, but actually harm the horse. Valuable insights from biomechanical specialists and veterinarians have been forthcoming. Some experts suggest that physical harm is done, while others are concerned that the horse’s trained learned responses are compromised when contradicting aids are used.

Concerns have also arisen around eventing – particularly the unacceptably high number of horse and rider deaths and horse injuries. Although previously flying underneath the radar, however, the sport of show jumping requires attention if horse mental and physical welfare are to reach an acceptable level.

The ‘Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare’

Show jumping needs to reconsider currently accepted training methods and gadgetry because, as the general public becomes increasingly educated and vocal, it will be recognised how frequently show jumping riders are contravening four of the five freedoms of animal welfare. The five freedoms are the internationally accepted basic welfare elements originally developed by the (then) British Farm Animal Welfare Council concerning production animals, principles now accepted as the optimum standards for domestic animals.

The five freedoms of animal welfare are as follows:
1. Freedom from thirst and hunger
2. Freedom from discomfort
3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
4. Freedom to express normal behaviour
5. Freedom from fear and distress
With these freedoms in mind, please read on.

A European Horse Show 2008

An international show I attended last year raised questions in my mind of aspects of horse welfare. The show was one in which, among other equitation forms, international show jumpers competed for large sums of money.

The photos that follow were taken predominantly in the warm-up enclosure, and one was taken in the main competition ring. There was a time when I naively thought photos like these were captured selectively, that people had tried hard to find subjects riding in these ways. Unfortunately, I now know this is not true - the horses were ridden as in the photos as a rule, not an exception.

Figure 1. Horse is unable to escape the pressure on the mouth being produced in 4 ways: (1) a Pelham bit (the lower part is a lever, a chain acts in the horse’s chin groove); (2) the Pelham is being acted on by a running martingale which itself increases the leverage on the horse’s cervical vertebrae; (3) Draw-reins, going from the horse’s girth, through the bit to the rider’s hands, apply leverage to horse’s head and cervical vertebrae; (4) the tight Hanoverian or ‘flash’ noseband holds the horse’s mouth shut, so he is unable to escape the pressures applied to the bit. The rider is driving the horse forward with spurs, into a restricted ability to move forward, his only option is to contract, tighten and shorten his neck.

Figure 2. This horse, on feeling excess pressure on his tongue, retracts it up inside his mouth. When a horse can no longer sustain this retraction, it flops out of the mouth, as can be seen in the left of the photo. The rider is using a Hanoverian noseband to keep the horse’s mouth shut.

Figure 3. A mechanical hackamore (the hackamore has high leverage ability operational on the horse’s nose and poll through the mechanical effects of the arms). Both the hackamore and the snaffle rein are passing through a running martingale applying more pressure to the horse’s poll. This pressure has been known to tear ligaments from bone and can lead to bone ossification.

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• © HORSES For LIFE™ Magazine