A post in support of those who have made the right decision for themselves either to ride, or not to ride.
As the lockdown continues, the rage of the social-media exercise-police gathers momentum. There are no specific rulings from the government as to how we take our permitted exercise, other than we should avoid high-risk activities which are likely to put further strain on the NHS, and that we should practise social-distancing at all times. The latter is an extremely easy business to achieve on the back of a horse. The rest of it is proving to be something of a grey area, and provoking considerable hostility, especially through social-media where people are lightning quick to sit in judgment on someone they don’t actually know, let alone the world of equitation – and, where any one individual sits within that sphere. Anger is high towards those still able to continue with some of the activities they’ve always done. Families are grounded at home, and not only is this encouraging lots of on-line activity, but I’m wondering if the accidents on quad bikes and trampolines over the easter bank holidays could potentially outweigh those of low-key horse-riding!
At the time of writing the UK government, quite rightly, recognises the fact that exercise is vital for mental and physical health. And the need for it to continue is also relevant in order to keep the population fit, and to avoid a whole range of problems for future NHS services. Those who exercise regularly already know the benefits and understand the reasons for doing so. But these waters have become muddied by hoards of people taking exercise together, or hanging-out in the park and for some reason, the lone rider or cyclist, or walker, is an easy target for fear and anger. Some situations need to be understood in context. Someone walking, cycling or horse-riding from their back door in the Welsh hills and covering 10 or more miles, is virtually no risk compared to a guy attempting the same activities in a highly populated city.
If your horse is kept on a public livery yard then the decision may already have been taken out of your hands. If you have to travel a long distance to ride your horse, then its probably not a good idea either, unless the issue is also the fact that you need to feed, water, and do all the things necessary to maintain basic welfare requirements. But if you choose to ride, how do you evaluate the risk factor? It’s obviously down to the individual horse, your own confidence and ability, and the type of riding available to you. If your horse is only used to competing in an indoor school and this is now unavailable, is your horse safe to hack out in your designated area? And if you don’t ride your horse at all, how safe will he be once you decide to get back into the saddle?
I am currently riding a 17 year old 12.2 pony and able to ride mostly off-road – not that the roads are a problem, there’s never been a safer time to use our country roads! I hack at a steady pace and consider my activities to be as low-risk as they possibly could be. Compare this scenario to that of riding a young thoroughbred and perhaps schooling at home over jumps. I would evaluate both the horse and the activity to be pretty high-risk. There are a million permutations in-between these two extremes. This is why riders should be allowed to make their own, honest judgement in deciding whether they should or could be riding at this time, or not. And without fear of reprisal or guilt.
A response from someone who works in an NHS emergency department.
” We’ve had 2 trauma calls in the last few weeks. They were both RTAs. We’ve had around 20 large bone fractures. There were a couple of cyclists, but mainly elderly falling in their own gardens and 1 drunk person on a hover-board in their house. I have seen zero horse injuries. Zero sport injuries. People really are listening in this respect and we’ve been very thankful for the lack of this work whilst the respiratory work increases daily. I think the key is low risk. You know your horse and local area. You know whats an easy ride Vs challenge. We trust you to make good decisions, and if you don’t, that’s called autonomy and we’ll still be there with open doors to help if needed.
You still need to enjoy life, responsibly.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, its mental health and domestic violence we’ve seen rises in.
Personally if going for a gentle ride in a remote place stops your mental health declining, I’d rather you did that.”
Feeding the World and Saving the Planet.
1. There are many opinions about how our food is produced and how the countryside should be managed, but some of the arguments are wildly inaccurate. When did we get so far removed from reality? For some people, the lack of exposure to nature is causing depressions and other mental health issues. Keeping hens and bees, growing food from seed and looking after the land and our animals is not only something we need to understand and protect, but is of tremendous benefit to our overall health.
2. Farm animals are not slaughtered for their skins to make leather handbags, in the same way that sheep are not slaughtered for their fleece. The wool is a by-product of the meat industry and is vastly underused and undervalued. For some breeds of sheep, not shearing can bring great misery and even death via parasites. But the fleece has become almost worthless, and so understandable that some farmers cannot afford to shear. Those breeds which don’t need shearing are not always able to survive winter conditions on a traditional hill farm.
3. It seems out of kilter in these planet conscious days that man-made fibres have overtaken the more traditional materials such as wool. Maybe we should get back to what is, after all a more natural product and helps to sustain the farming industry. As it stands, cheap imports rely on materials which are not always planet friendly and may even contain plastics. If the animal is bred for the food chain, then it makes ethical sense to use every part of that animal.
4. Farming and food production gets unfairly singled out for the mass destruction of animals. Extreme vegan activists are concerned about the exploitation of sentient beings. This is an admirable cause, but we are all guilty of the claims made against non-vegans by merely existing and going about our business. I don’t believe it’s tenable to take the food chain argument down to extreme levels. We kill animals when we drive cars, fly in planes, build railway tracks, farm grain, grow apples, hunt for pleasure, or mine sand. We alter ecosystems when we put up new housing developments and ship lentils across the world. We push native animals out of their environments all the time and being vegan doesn’t alter these facts. Being vegan doesn’t make you a paragon of virtue in relation to saving the planet. We all need to consider planning smaller families, recycling and repairing, taking less long-haul trips and driving smaller cars.
5. It’s good to have diversity in the food we produce. If the population was all entirely vegan and reliant on a short list of ingredients, it would create yet another set of problems in trying to feed millions of people on legumes, nuts, and flax; and artificial meat substitutes produced in a factory. The entire countryside would be given over to vast swathes of specific crops. Controlling those areas set aside for growing crops such as peas, creates a need to control other animals eating or destroying that crop because to grow anything on a vast scale invariably means that something else is compromised. Over a five year period up to 2013 rice farmers in NSW killed 200,000 ducks in order to protect the crop.
6. As an aside, I think we do eat too much protein, especially red and processed meat, and probably not enough vegetables and fruit. Meat is not good for us in big quantities – but then, neither is anything else, including peas, beans and lentils. All things in moderation is a cliche for a reason. It makes sense to eat foods in season and produced locally so why not spend a little more and buy local, grass-fed meat, but eat it less often? Natural, sustainable, and local to the area where we live surely creates the right balance and is likely to be more suited to the land. Massive carbon emissions are created by long haul flights bringing out of season foods to the UK, invariably wrapped in plastic.
7. I’m not vegan or vegetarian, but that doesn’t mean I have no empathy for animals reared for the table. What we should be doing is looking to improve animal welfare ie: not importing animals thousands of miles in crates and lorries to meet their demise in another country, or supporting those products which are mass produced, such as eggs from battery hens. Eggs are cheap anyway so take a moment to read the labels, and buy local, free range.
8. Our world population is too high – the root of all our problems – to restrict food production to a single type. The key to finding harmony between all the arguments, moral or otherwise, is respect and education. I think it’s great that some of the population are vegetarian or vegan, but it’s just as worthy of acceptance that the rest of us choose to eat meat, fish, and dairy.
A nation of animal lovers?
In 2018 more than 47,500 dogs were abandoned by their owners in the UK. The animals all ended up in council pounds and more than 5,000 were later put down, according to the Dog’s Trust annual survey of 345 local authorities. It is estimated that around 20,000 dogs are put down in the UK every year. Why do we continue to breed dogs? I guess the answer is that we want specific breeds, fashionable breeds, breeds that don’t shed hair, breeds that look cute on Instagram. Maybe we should stop breeding dogs until all the shelters are empty?
Overbreeding and puppy factories have been blamed for the rise in stray dogs. Breeding dogs this way should carry a massive fine and a lifetime ban on owning animals. As an aside, I think all dogs should be identity chipped and licensed. The license to own a dog should enforce responsibilities such as training and exercising the dog appropriate to its breed.
Don’t have a dog if there’s no one home all day. Most dogs are likely to become fractious, bored, obese, and naughty. Dogs are pack animals and need exercise, company, stimulation; and to be socialised with other dogs. Above all, don’t have a dog if you dislike walking, especially walking on dark winter mornings combined with cold rain. Most dogs need walking twice a day, not just at the weekend or when you feel like it. Using a ball-launcher instead is not a good idea. Consider how hard and fast your dog is running, turning, and leaping to catch that ball and then read about all the joint injuries this activity can cause. Walk the dog.
Dog mess. More people do pick it up, but then they leave it hooked over a gate or discarded on the path in a plastic bag! Think about the implications to our environment.
If your dog is loose and there are other dogs in the vicinity on leads, you must call your dog to heel or put it back on the lead. The dog already on the lead may feel vulnerable if a loose dog bounds up uninvited, no matter how friendly you think your beloved Rex is. The dog on the lead may be sick, old, not trained to recall, or blind, and the owner is trying to be responsible. When our elderly Labrador lost his sight he became nervous around other dogs and exercise meant lead walks only, but I’ve lost count of the amount of other dog-walkers who deliberately thwacked balls in our direction, and claimed that their big bouncy dog just wanted to play with him. Retractable leads can be just as useless in these situations. Not only do they break quite easily, but it’s common sense not to use them fully extended where there are roads, pedestrians, and other dogs, as essentially you are not in control – basically you have a semi-loose dog which can still run sideways, and barge too far ahead of you.
Dogs respond quite readily to simple voice commands and body language, so teach your dog to understand what NO means. And practise some recall obedience before you let the dog run free in a public space to be a nuisance to other people and their dogs, or attack livestock. Train the dog to walk to heel and/or buy a stop-pull harness – please don’t buy a choker chain. Reward the dog when he returns to you, rather than rant that it took too long or express what a naughty boy he is. He’ll be loathe to return at all next time!
Dogs are pack animals and are happier and less likely to become a problem if they feel secure in the family pack, ie: they know their place. If you allow the dog to eat from your plate and sleep in your bed, you are granting special privileges in the canine pecking order. This may or may not become a behavioural problem… but if it does become a problem, are you going to blame the dog?
Why do some dog owners feel the need to dress their dog? Another social media spin-off? I’m not talking the odd hat or a quirky necktie for fun. Our Labrador looked especially dapper in a bow tie on special occasions, but he’d draw the line at being trussed up like a surrogate child, and so would I. Respect the fact that Rex is a dog and would prefer to be treated as a dog because that is what he understands. By the same token, children should be taught to respect Rex as a dog. When Rex is sleeping – preferably in his own bed – because then the message is crystal clear. But if Rex reacts adversely to being suddenly jumped on, are you going to blame the dog? If so, we’ve arrived full circle back to bullet point 1 in that an unhealthy proportion of abandoned dogs in rescue shelters have arrived there through behavioural problems created by their owners.