BOOKS: Humane Horse Care For Equine Wellness

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2005:

Humane Horse Care For Equine Wellness
by Andrew F. Fraser

280 pages, paperback. $25.00.

A Guide To Carriage Horse Care & Welfare by the Canadian Farm Animal Care Trust
46 pages, paperback, $10.00.

Both from: Canadian Farm Animal Trust
(22 Commerce Park Drive, Unit C, Suite 306, Barrie, Ontario L4N
8W8), 2003.

CANFACT founder Tom Hughes sent these two very useful manuals
exactly one year ago. I looked them over as thoroughly as I could,
then tried to find a reviewer with appropriate experience in
evaluating horses in normal working and riding condition.
Horse rescuers tend to see the worst of the worst–but the
purpose of these manuals appears to be to enable a humane inspector
to recognize potential problems long before they develop, so as to
put in a few words of preventive advice.

Horse advocates are often more interested in philosophical
and regulatory issues than in basic care. From the perspective of
many animal rights activists, Horse Care For Equine Wellness and A
Guide To Carriage Horse Care & Welfare start off on the wrong hoof by
presupposing that if horses exist anywhere in proximity to humans,
they will be used for something.
Rather than discouraging horse use, including breeding,
veterinarian Andrew Fraser and the other contributors emphasize that
good care brings better performance.
Veterinarians might have brought to Horse Care For Equine
Wellness and A Guide To Carriage Horse Care & Welfare more advanced
prior knowledge than the intended users will usually possess.
Meanwhile, ANIMAL PEOPLE visited eastern Europe, where
workhorses may still outnumber tractors. Certainly they do in
Romania. I took the opportunity there to observe the distinct
differences between how gypsies and other Romanians handle their
teams, partially informed by Horse Care For Equine Wellness and A
Guide To Carriage Horse Care & Welfare.
In general, the gypsy horses seemed to be more lightly
built, quicker on the road, and much more responsive to voice
command. Many gypsy drivers scarcely used their reins at all.
Gypsy horses seemed to get more time off. Of course I could
not know exactly how long each horse I saw had been working, but I
could see some gypsy horses wandering while others worked, and
sometimes saw gypsy men changing teams in mid-day. Others seemed to
use only one team, with no horses not working if any worked.
But others tended to use horses with more pulling power, who
maybe needed less rest.
Few Romanian horses I saw seemed to be mistreated or
neglected. Horses appeared to be at least as much valued by those
who had them as motor vehicles–and this was consistent with my
observation, long ago, of some of the last men who farmed with
horses in rural Quebec. The suffering horses I have seen were mostly
either victims of complete neglect, or were rented riding horses,
handled by different people all day every day, rather than by one
person whose livelihood depended not just on using the horse but upon
establishing a cooperative relationship with the horse, day in and
day out.
Back home, I seldom see a horse–just our two big California
desert jackasses, adopted in 1998 after Wild Burro Rescue saved them
from being shot by the National Park Service. They “work” sometimes
at dismantling fences and digging up septic fields, but have never
been harnessed or trained. Helping me to review Horse Care For
Equine Wellness and A Guide To Carriage Horse Care & Welfare was not
part of their job description.
Months passed with both books on my desk. Every time I
picked them up, I read something I didn’t previously know, even
though horses have been part of my news beat for 28 years. But only
once could I remember having urgent need of the information. That
was the time I was called to evaluate a horse in distress, when
neither a veterinarian nor an official humane investigator could be
I checked his teeth, his hooves, his coat, the bones that
showed, and his limping gait. An adolescent girl had been told he
was 18 when she bought him from a local riding stable for a price
that sounded much too low. I guessed he was a hard-used 23. He
appeared to me to have chronic stress fractures of both hind legs,
possibly as a legacy of excessive riding by someone who was too
heavy. He was ambulatory, but just barely. Eventually, I
recommended to the weeping girl that he should be euthanized.
The girl’s father insisted on waiting for a veterinary
opinion. Late that afternoon a vet dispatched the horse with a
captive bolt gun. The horse was 30-plus, we learned, and had spent
most of his life plodding in circles to turn a carousel.
Local horse rescuers were irate with me later. They said the
horse could have been saved.
Maybe. I’d have felt more comfortable saying so.
Horse Care For Equine Wellness, in the right hands at the right
time, might have prevented the whole miserable incident.

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