When I was a new vegan, a co-worker who was interested in vegetarianism asked me what seemed like an interesting question with regards to animal exploitation, and what he saw as partnerships.
The question was along the lines of: If you ask an animal to perform work, such as helping you plow the field, and in return you provide food, water, and protection, is that exploitation, or is it partnership?
At the time, having never thought about the hypotheticals beyond the tired but never retired “If you were on a desert island…”, it seemed like a thoughtful and thought-provoking question.
Now, it seems obvious. The partnership could not be a real partnership. The non-human animal is given no real choice in the contract, and furthermore, everything provided in return for services are things that he could have provided for himself, most likely with much less effort.
Perhaps in lean times, there is more benefit to the non-human animal in the partnership, but the reality is that if the times get too lean, the partnership is dissolved by means of slaughter.
Sometimes we are so used to seeing animals in certain roles that we forget to question them. Horses are to be ridden, right? Well, as animal rights activists, we wouldn’t think that way, but it is possible people have doubts as to what the horses themselves think.
So. Do they want to be ridden? Have they perhaps been so domesticated over the years that they’re dependent on humans even for exercise and need this interaction?
The bits, the stirrups, the reins…are these means of communication between the horse and the rider, or are they means of control? I’d say control, not communication, and I think the horses would agree.
Terry of Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary told me that many years ago, when they first rescued the horses that live there, they continued to ride them. They probably had some doubts, but the horses needed exercise, and I can see how easy it would be to view the riding as a bonding experience, if you were intent on making something positive of it. Terry couldn’t help but to think about it more, as I’m sure dedicating her life to rescuing animals made her think about these things in more depth than she had before. Eventually she admitted to herself that the only way you could get the bridles and bits and whatever else onto the horses was to trick them.
If you have to trick them, that’s a pretty clear sign that they’re not interested.
And so they stopped riding the horses. The horses get a lot of exercise on their own, as they wander the many acres at the sanctuary, doing things that horses do naturally. It was clear to Terry really quickly that the horses were a lot happier when they didn’t have to deal with being ridden.
Even when we have the best intentions in the world, we don’t always see things clearly, we don’t always make the full connections. It isn’t easy being honest with ourselves, but it should still be a goal.