Unsportsmanlike Conduct - The Horse Industry vs The Horse

"It is not if you win or lose, it's how you play the game that counts." I remember this being told to me as a kid by my dad in Little League. It is the rule by which all competitions should be governed - especially in the world of horse competitions.

How is it that so many competitors have forgotten this fundamental law? How has judging come so far from expecting nothing less than 'playing fair' and 'doing one's best' and 'good sportsmanship' and 'teamwork'? Is it because horses are dispensable? (We'll just buy another horse...) Is it because we are putting more emphasis on the importance of 'the horse industry' than 'the horse'? Why do we have judges who pin on only a superficial 'result' or 'appearance', which is often based on human preference rather than sound horsemanship? Why do we not have an 'unsportsmanlike conduct' rule by which a horse competitor who 'abuses' his or her team member (the horse) can be disqualified?

Have we forgotten that good horsemanship is what competition is all about? Have we forgotten that without the horse there would be no horse industry?

To the horse, how we play the game is really what counts. Playing fair means doing one's best and going the extra mile to insure that one's competitive horse is fully, properly and safely trained in a way that enlists reliable cooperation from the horse (as opposed to the horse merely succumbing to forced control through a harsh bit, tie-downs, tight nosebands, draw-reins, martingales, or fear-training tactics, and in some cases a horse being so 'spoiled' that it has been inadvertently taught to be dangerous).

Playing fair means going the extra mile to nutritionally support the horse with a variety of balanced, natural, healthy, fresh and preservative-free foods. It means caring properly for the horse's teeth. It means providing a natural-as-possible habitat to reduce stress and provide balance to the horse's lifestyle.

It means learning about the best care for the hooves, and rather than shoeing, which takes its toll on the horse in the short and long run, let the horse go barefoot. Take the time to go through the transition to barefoot (after all, the horse took the brunt of it all this time getting INTO the shape that shoes have put him). Take the time to accustom him to different terrains so his hooves can regain their natural resiliency and take the stress and strain off the limbs. Take the time to allow him to 'wreck around' on his new feet and legs, with and without a rider, and to work him up to that competitive level with true soundness.

It means taking the time to allow an injury to heal rather than masking the problem with drugs.

It means taking the time to be responsible for our horse's well-fare.

It also means taking the time to give 'feedback' to regulatory agencies. Those who are in control of regulations that require vaccinations need to be educated on titers and immunizations (some vaccinations CAN be detrimental to the horse's health and they should consider other alternatives). The use of certain drugs being allowed, while the use of essential oils or nutritional herbs are not, should be addressed. Let the officials know what you the competitors want for your horses. Regulating and judging can be changed, and that is up to the competitors, so put in some formal requests, FOR the HORSE. (Look at the detrimental low-head-carriage that judges had been pinning in western classes; that has been changed.)

The world of horse competition is a place where there is a lot to learn - many have sadly adapted the sport horse to be not much more than a high-performance vehicle that we 'use' when we want, keep in the 'garage', pump fuel into it, see that it never gets so much as a scratch, keep it shined up on the outside while being less careful of the insides, dress it up like WE like, and get what we want out of it then trade it in for a newer model after a few years. If we want a 'ride' like that, we should get a sports car.

We, our horses, and the industry would be much better off and much sounder and healthier if we give the horse what he needs, not what we 'want' him to have. We need to put more emphasis on 'the horse' and 'how we play the game'. Competition can be a great way to enhance the horse-human relationship; most horses love running and playing games, and they enjoy and benefit from fitness. But the price they too often pay in today's competitive world is cruel and unjust.

The sportsmen who have gone those extra miles and proven that they and their horses are teams, with mutual respect and support for each other, are real winners. They have put 'how they play the game' above 'winning and losing' and are the real champions.