Walking the Line in Our Use of the Horse

Those of us who enjoy horses outside of their natural habitat often encounter a dilemma: Is the discipline or use we’ve selected for them “what is good for the horse”?
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Those of us who enjoy horses outside of their natural habitat often encounter a dilemma: Is the discipline or use we’ve selected for them “what is good for the horse”?

Equine deaths during the Calgary Stampede and the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Nevada wild horse roundup bring this quandary to mind. In the former, four horses died out of 700 participating in the chuckwagon races. These deaths shocked competitors and fans alike. Many individuals, veterinarians included, remarked on the excellent care such horses get (most of them Thoroughbreds that were unsuccessful as racehorses) before, during, and after the competitions, as well as their exemplary level of fitness. Veterinary examinations and drug testing are standard practice during the competition, so deaths such as these are puzzling.

The circumstances surrounding the BLM’s effort to drive dehydrated horses from a water-starved range by way of helicopter does as much to draw attention to the tragedy of the ever-increasing number of unwanted horses in this country as any other recent event. Of the 1,224 horses gathered in the Tuscarora area this summer, 34 horses died or were humanely euthanized: 13 animals died due to water starvation/dehydration-related complications; 12 animals had pre-existing life-threatening injuries or conditions; four horses died or were euthanized as a result of gather-related injuries; and five animals died from assorted causes after transportation to the short-term holding facility. The management of 38,000 plus horses that continue to grow in exponential numbers on restricted land presents daunting welfare challenge.

Both science and society have a role in deciding what constitutes an appropriate level of animal welfare and the appropriate use of the horse. While science can determine what type or degree of animal welfare risk exists under specific circumstances, it cannot determine what type or degree of risk is acceptable–that is the question society answers

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Written by:

Midge Leitch, VMD, Dipl. ACVS, was a performance horse veterinarian, a member of the Section of Sports Medicine and Imaging at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet), and served as the Clinician in Radiology at Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square. She died in 2014 after battling cancer.

9 Responses

  1. re: Walking the Line in Our Use of the Horse

    This is a debate between people who love the "idea" of the horse versus people who love horses. Horses love a job, and they love competition, and they understand it better than their human counterparts. The BLM needs to drop the M from their

  2. re: Walking the Line in Our Use of the Horse

    I,m agree with Chris, our speed events horses very well taking care off, I want’t say we love them more because they earn some money and you do not just grub any horse for that porpose, you have to fined wich one like to do it and enjoing it as much as

  3. re: Walking the Line in Our Use of the Horse

    The author equivocates here—invoking her authority as a vet without taking a stand on what’s happening. Of course horses die in competition—but how they die is of great interest both to the horse people (of which I am one) and the public at large. Driv

  4. re: Walking the Line in Our Use of the Horse

    Julie & Ann – you are on the outside looking in.  You have no idea of the care that goes into competition horses.  Until you have competed on a national, top tier level – do not judge.  

  5. re: Walking the Line (Our Appropriate–or Inappropriate–Use of the Horse)

    Four horses died…of what? That number comprises 1/2 a percent of the 700 that competed.  A little more information for those of us who like to think for ourselves rather than eat the pablum from the spoon.

  6. re: Walking the Line (Our Appropriate–or Inappropriate–Use of the Horse)

    I find that the disciplines that we use horses for have been getting more and more extreme. Especially the timed ones. It is one thing to use your body for these extreme sports but another to use an animal and ‘waste’ it for your two seconds of fame an

  7. re: Walking the Line (Our Appropriate–or Inappropriate–Use of the Horse)

    This comment, "The management of 38,000 plus horses that continue to grow in exponential numbers on restricted land presents daunting welfare challenge." is a distorted view promoted by the Big Ag that seeks to completely eliminate the Mustan

  8. re: Walking the Line (Our Appropriate–or Inappropriate–Use of the Horse)

    I have a small non-profit that rehabilitates, retrains and places unwanted equines into good homes.  I’ve had many coversations with well-meaning horse advocates who indeed believe we have no right to use them.  Hay right now is $20/bale plus

  9. re: Walking the Line (Our Appropriate–or Inappropriate–Use of the Horse)

    This is a tricky issue, isn’t it? First, what’s their "natural habitat"? The steppes of Mongolia, maybe? And, how humane is that? Is that what we’re comparing things to?

    I’m not sure how you decide what’s in the best interest of the ho

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