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Domestication Of Horses – Is It Mutually Beneficial?

By Jeffrey Rolo

Note: This is the conclusion to the discussion about the merits of horse domestication, so if you haven't already read Domesticated Horses – Are They Natural? then I recommend you do so first before we continue our look at the benefits of the domestication of horses.

Horse Domestication Leads To Greater Evils (Such As Sporting Events)

Citing injuries obtained during various horse sports (i.e., rodeo, racing, jumping, etc.) as a byproduct of horse domestication does provide legitimate food for thought. One doesn't necessarily have to believe that horses are an equal species to reserve some skepticism about using them in sports that may place them in harm's way.

The notion that horses are always unwilling victims to humanity's selfish desires when used in horse events is an uninformed one.

Since my teen years, I have ridden, trained and/or owned horses that wanted to let loose and barrel race. Horses that wanted to jump. Horses that wanted to show-off in an arena and delight the crowds. I've also owned horses that wanted to be left alone to eat in a pasture, or be kept far away from the spotlight of the arena.

The reality is that horses are just as much the individuals as we are. Some are shy, some are lazy, some are energetic, and some are social butterflies. The notion that every horse that is asked to chase cattle in a rodeo or leap over obstacles in a jumping event is an unwilling victim is untrue.

Okay… but even if some horses enjoy such events, what about the ones that don't? Is it fair to force them to participate? Well, pushing aside the servant versus equal argument, I will point out that I believe it's not fairly common to see a horse perform in an event if he hates it. Why? Because that horse would be a very poor performer!

When I took part in horse shows or demonstrations, I brought out the flashy social butterflies that enjoyed performing for and interacting with humans. Why would I want to force my shy ones to perform? They would have been miserable and their performance would have been terrible, so I left them at home. I strongly suspect the same theory holds true in most horse events and sports – athleticism alone does not breed a performer or champion. A horse needs drive and desire to excel, just as a professional football or basketball player does. They need a fire in their belly.

Irrespective of the desire argument, yes, horses can get injured during sporting events. But here's another reality: horses can get injured in nature too. And unlike during a sporting event, a horse injured in nature doesn't have a veterinarian on-hand to care for the injury afterwards. In nature, it's every man – or horse – for yourself.

When a horse finishes performing in an event, they return to a home where they typically experience everything from full body massages and grooming to lush pastures, sweet feed and clean water. Domesticated horses, especially those that perform in events, are typically treated extremely well. Wild horses? Not so much. They must constantly worry about potential threats, deal with no protection from painful pests like horseflies, and in some regions or seasons deal with a lack of food.

Domestication Leads To Horse Overpopulation

I have heard this argument used repeatedly, and not only against horse breeders. Animal activists would have you believe that if only the evil dog or cat breeders would stop their selfish ways, we'd never have to worry about animal overpopulation again!

Anyone that believes the domestication of horses leads to overpopulation clearly hasn't given the topic much thought. First, horses aren't like mice or rabbits – they can't pop a new foal out almost as quickly as they can blink. No… like humans, an active dam will average one foal every year or so even under an aggressive breeding program. But you know what? It's actually irrelevant how much foals a horse – or any animal for that matter – can produce in a single year. You know why? Because animals are driven to breed.

Horses, if left to gather in the wild, will breed even more furiously than they would in captivity. When domesticated, horses typically have to adapt to our schedules, and if they aren't meant to be used as brood stock, then a horse may live a chaste life from cradle to grave. Place that same horse out in the wilds and nothing will stop him from breeding when he wants to (provided he finds a willing partner!). Domestication of horses does not induce overpopulation – if anything, it reduces it.

Some regions of the Midwest and Pacific Northwest have indeed suffered from horse overpopulation: wild horse overpopulation. Somehow even when you take those pesky humans out of the equation, horses continue to breed, even to the point where it places stress upon the surrounding lands and causes wild horses to slowly starve due to overpopulation and lack of available food. Who'd have thought? (Well, actually, many of us – the BLM Adoption Program was developed to help fight this very problem.)

Sure, sometimes horse owners make an irresponsible decision when deciding to breed their horse, but the domestication of horses certainly doesn't increase the overpopulation problem, and if anything it actually slows it down. Some animal activists would counter that claim by suggesting that anyone with interest in owning a horse should adopt a wild one to reduce the breeding of domesticated horses, but although I think it's wonderful to adopt a wild horse if you are well-equipped to, suggesting that those new to horses take on such a challenge is irresponsible.

In summary, it's no coincidence that those that believe the domestication of horses is immoral or harmful are also those with the least actual working experience and knowledge of horses. It's easy to sit within an ivory tower and speculate about what is best for horses, but unless opponents of horse domestication have actually worked with horses for decades, their beliefs are closer to guesswork, not firsthand practical knowledge of the challenges of nature, the benefits of domestication, or the desires and emotional well-being of a horse.



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