There have been a lot of conversations lately about the direction the horse business has gone, and what needs to be done to keep things from getting out of hand. But the horse industry is like popcorn kernels. Once they all puff up and explode you can’t get it back into the same jar.

Rules, Rules, Rules

Since the horse industry is made up of many segments, making the public aware of problems is a good thing because we have a tendency to become isolated in our own niche.  But trying to cause change in the masses is extremely difficult. Rules are only effective with rules followers. Guilt and emotional pleas only work with people who have permeable consciences. And integrity is only important to honest people.

We can make more drug rules, have ethics committees, and make restrictions within each association. And the government can enforce cruelty and other laws. But honestly, rules only effect the person who chooses to abide by them.  The people who choose to work outside the rules and laws will continue to do so. If they can skirt them, they will, and if they can bend them, they’ll do that as well. Cheaters will continue to cheat. That’s why they’re called cheaters.

The Real Issue

I could elaborate and discuss how this is the result of the current human condition, and how self-centered and materialistic our culture has become, how we live for instant gratification. I don’t think too many would argue. But the real issue is how to change things, how to improve our industry, because even with all of the flaws connected to our equestrian society, the benefits still outweigh the problems.

I’m all for rules and rule enforcement in the equestrian federations and breed associations even though many times they seem like a band-aide trying to cover a gaping wound. And kudos to the publications, such as Chronicle of the Horse, and the individuals who speak out on controversial and distasteful issues.


I really dislike cheaters. Cheaters are thieves and liars stealing opportunities from deserving individuals. But even worse, cheaters in the horse business are cruel to horses, pumping substances into animals to fog their minds into submission instead of training the animal so it can do its job. Or giving it a job it can do. But don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s only the drug pushers who are a problem.

One day I happened to drive past the stable of a locally well-known western trainer and wondered why there were multiple horses in his yard with their heads tied high in the trees. I got my answer the following day when the same horses performed in western pleasure classes jogging and loping with admirably low head carriages. Legally he hadn’t broken a single rule, but making those horses neck muscles so sore they didn’t try to raise their heads was definitely cruel.

What About You?

But what are you doing to improve the horse business? Yes, I said you, because  change has to come from inside the industry. It has to come from every trainer and instructor, or rules will always be a band-aide fix. If there’s one person in the world you can influence, it’s yourself. We need to  examine our own integrity and motives, and make certain they’re good. Then as instructors and trainers we can pass those standards to our students and the people we mentor. Reproduce your good qualities in your students and when they become instructors encourage them to do the same. Set a standard for conduct, business dealings, horse care, and sportsmanship, and insist that your clients follow your examples. Be the shiny star hovering over the murky water.

Are you a shining star? I’d love to read your thoughts on how to improve the horse business.

Barbara Ellin Fox

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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
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