The diary of the home-made livery yard: the bad and the ugly in the horse industry

  • My daughter, Ellie, is destined for fame and stardom. My eldest son, Jasper, is showing all the traits of the clever engineers on both sides of his family. So that leaves my youngest son, Monty (pictured), as my only hope of raising an Olympic equestrian.

    I am only having a laugh. I am the least pushy of parents when it comes to riding (well, one of them might get hurt!), and I do not expect any of the kids to take a long term interest in the family business. Horses are really hard work and down right dangerous. If the industry is not your all-consuming passion, there are much easier and more lucrative ways to make a living.

    Then, of course, one of the kids might just fall in love with the sport and the lifestyle, just as I did the first time I ever smelt hoof oil, aged eight. I fell hopelessly head over heels with these majestic beasts and the way that having them in my life makes me constantly strive to be a better person – a more brave, more sporting, more conscientious, knowledgable, principled person.

    And I have to think to myself, is the equine industry one that I would want my children to enter into? In so many ways, yes, it is. It is the most challenging and rewarding field. The highs are euphoric. The lows cut to your core enough to (hopefully) to improve your character.

    On the other hand, sadly, the equine industry can at times be incredibly unfriendly and spurious. We all know how rife gossip, bullying and jealousy is among the world wide horse community. You only have to listen to comments at the competition ring side or look at an equestrian social media page or forum to know that horses can bring out the worst in some people.

    We are all understanding better how to deal with the bad and the ugly in the horse industry:

    • Surround yourself with supportive, positive people
    • Be civil to, but do not entertain, people with poisonous thoughts and tongues
    • ‘Kill with kindness’, ignore or report to the relevant authorities any true bullies or trolls

    On top of this, I would recommend leading by example. Be positive, be kind, be supportive.

    Model the behaviour that you would like to see in others. It really does work. It is becoming something of a habit of mine to interrupt or finish conversations with, ‘…but, we mustn’t judge’.

    One evening this week I was feeling quite so high and mighty as to cobble together a Facebook post on the subject, which I have reproduced below:

    Whether at the yard, at the show ground or online, let’s all be less judgemental and more supportive of each other:

    To the rider who wears budget jodhpurs or tracksuit bottoms and wellies – good for you. You know that your horse couldn’t care less what you are wearing and you know how important it is to be comfortable when riding.

    To the ‘all the gear and no idea’ rider – wow! You look incredible, your horse has everything it could ever wish for and you are keeping equestrian merchants in business. You don’t have to be a grand prix rider to wear matchy-matchy. Go, you!

    To the rider who rides once a week (if they’re lucky) – brilliant! It is so difficult to fit horses in around the rest of our lives. It’s great that you make the time to do the most that you can with your horse.

    To the rider who never rides their horse – no problem. I doubt your horse cares whether it is ridden or not. How lovely for your horse to spend its life being fed, groomed and grazing in the fields, not having to do any work.

    To the rider who rides everyday – go for it! Your dedication is admirable and your horse is benefiting from a great fitness and training regime. Well done.

    To the barefoot fanatic – I admire your passion. Barefoot is the best option for many horses. It is wonderful that you are trying to improve your horse’s comfort and foot health.

    To the owner of the traditionally shod horse – fantastic! Shoes are the best option for many horses. It’s great to know that your horse’s feet are protected from the surfaces that we ask them to work on.

    To the rider who trains with every professional and expert going – brilliant. What a wealth of knowledge and expertise you have access to.

    To the self-taught rider – you must be so proud. What an achievement to have made all those discoveries yourself.

    To the high-achieving rider – you inspire me. Your results and rosettes are impressive. They are not won without hard work, commitment and sacrifice.

    To the rider who has never won anything – who cares?! Rosettes are not the be-all and end-all. As long as you enjoy riding, that is what matters the most.

    If you are trying to win and have not had any luck – keep going. You will get there eventually. The hardest won successes are the sweetest.

    To the owner who keeps their horse spotlessly clean, neatly trimmed and pulled – marvellous! I applaud your attention to detail. Your horse looks beautiful.

    To the owner whose horse is caked in mud and has the odd dread lock here and there – I laugh with you! You know that horses love to roll and if you were to bath your horse today, you would find them in exactly the same mucky state again tomorrow. You know that your horse doesn’t care what they look like at all.

    As long as your horse is happy and healthy, what you do with your horse is nobody else’s business. The only time anybody should interfere is if there is a genuine equine welfare issue, an issue regarding your safety or if you have specifically asked for advice or help. Otherwise, please let’s not judge others. ‘Each to their own,’ and ‘good for you!’ are great mottos to live by.

    Continued below…

    I promise to get back to the light hearted and silly next time.

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