I'm not much of one to court controversy in the horse world. I have my opinions, keep them (mostly!) to myself, and try to treat my personal horses in a humane and decent way. I try not to be too judgmental, since over time, my knowledge and understanding of how horses think and should work has evolved quite a bit. I really don't care for the rollkur(riding the horse purposely and strongly behind the vertical) and the forceful riding seen in a lot of competetive dressage right now, many of the show practices of the western breed associations, the massive drug problem in the hunter/jumper world, and of course the awfulness that is the Tennessee Walking Horse. But I really don't get involved.
That said, I always wonder when some terrible video or stills come up on my Facebook page how the enforcement organizations for these various types of competition think these things play with John Q. Public. The general public might not know much about horses, but it is pretty easy to see cranked heads, forceful riding, dead eyed horses, and those awful stacked shoes. Do these organizations not realize that the general public will only have tolerance for horse sports as long as the sport looks like an ok life for the competing horse? With the general move away from people living on farms and much more concern for animal welfare with things like free range meat and cage free eggs, are these governing bodies thinking at all about the long term future of horse sports?
I've been thinking about this a lot this weekend after seeing pictures of a certain event rider at a prominent national event with many pictures posted of the horse with a bloody mouth. The rider was allowed to finish the cross country course, allowed to have a groom towel off the mouth with a black towel before a vet welfare check, and ultimately after show jumping WIN a nation level event. And the kicker is, this rider has been spotted with bloody mouthed horses on multiple occasions at competitions and because she is deeply connected to people in the eventing power structure she keeps getting away with it!
Who the he#€ thinks this is a good idea? Doesn't eventing have enough problems with rider/horse deaths and rotational falls without stuff like this? I don't mean to just pick on eventing either. Dressage has had a massive publicity problem with rollkur. Hunter jumpers have had many drugging scandals that make them look terrible. Various other breeds and competitions have had all sorts problems and videos that have become public. With the advent of the cell phone and the Internet many things have become general knowledge that were kept hidden in the pre-Internet age.
Is anyone even thinking 20-30 years in the future when the general public will probably have no tolerance for even the perception of abuse? Do horse people realize that public opinion can change in a heartbeat, especially in our hyper connected world? Governing organizations seem to be more worried about keeping winners winners and competing on the national and world level. Besides the obvious point that they are supposed to ensure a level playing field for all competitors and the general welfare of the competing horses, shouldn't they be making sure the public will allow horse sports in 20-30 years? Remember, what is now appalling in the Tenessee Walking Horse world was common practice not that long ago. Will the same thing happen to eventing and some of the other more controversial horse sports without some serious intervention? Something to think about.