Ever since humans domesticated the horse some 5000 years ago, a horse’s well-being was in the hand of his owner, for better, for worse, their fates were intertwined. A tribe’s survival might have been dependent on their horses, or the outcome of a war between countries might have been determined by the quality of the warhorses. Horses pulled loads, ploughed fields and worked in coal mines until they outlived their use. In more recent history, horses were replaced by cars and trucks, by tractors and by tanks. In the 1950ies, the job description of the horse changed from working-horse to leisure horse. These days, in the Western world, most people ride for pleasure as our livelihoods no longer depend on the horse. We ride for fun, and yes, even if we are so-called professionals, we still ride because we can, not because we have to. In previous centuries horses were commonly treated without empathy because the thought of a horse being a sentient being was not widely entertained. At times, horses were starved or otherwise ill-treated out of mere necessity. Nowadays, horse welfare issues arise mainly due to a lack of knowledge of the horse’s physiological and psychological needs, or because of the indifference to those needs.
In the 21st Century, the sentience of non-human mammals has been proved to be a scientific fact, and the concepts of submission, of kicking, of whipping, of spurring, of overwork, inappropriate living conditions and the use of force, all need to be consigned to history. Compassion and science can now be happy bedfellows that promote partnerships where both horse and human can work together with respect.