Some months ago, I received my copy of Julie Taylor’s recent book ‘I can’t watch anymore’ The case for dropping Equestrian from the Olympic Games: An Open Letter to the International Olympic Committee.
I picked it up intending to browse and ended up reading it from cover to cover.
Why? I have been in the ‘I can’t watch anymore’ camp for over a decade, and thought I was fairly familiar with the arguments. What kept me reading was:
- Realising I didn’t know the half of it.
- Feeling that I should know.
- The clarity and thoroughness of the arguments presented.
For several years, I have been hopeful that life was improving for top level competition horses; more comfortable tack, better arena surfaces, consideration of their needs beyond physical comfort and so on. Although I felt that the bigger questions – relating to the use of horses in competition – were not being adequately addressed, I consoled myself that at least conditions were improving.
This book provides convincing evidence that my hopes were wildly optimistic. Many important topics are discussed; doping, denerving, rollkur, the gap between rules and practice and transparency to name a few.
It brings you to an inescapable realisation - that when another picture of a horse in clear distress is shown (as on the book cover), or a photo is published of a horse with blood on their side after competing, or a report is given of a de-nerved horse participating in high level competition - the response from regulatory bodies may well not be to act to improve equine welfare.
Instead, we see within this book too many cases where the response is instead to relax regulation in the troublesome area, or concentrate on how to make the issue either more palatable or less accessible to the public. For example:
- The removal of the ban on riding de-nerved horses (FEI, 2013)
- Shifting the definitions of prohibited substances and relaxing penalties when horses test positive for them (I was astonished to hear of a horse jumping in the Olympics whilst testing positive for a local anaesthetic - authorised by the FEI Veterinary Commission on the day)
- Downgrading the 'blood rule' to a chapter on 'eliminations' - a consequence most often arising from a mistake, rather than it's former classification as an issue of abuse of the horse.
Whatever your opinion about competing on horseback (in whatever form), all horse lovers can agree that at the very least ‘good enough’ welfare of these horses must be maintained, and the bodies responsible for monitoring this standard should be scrutinised. This book scrutinises. And should, I feel, be read by anyone who wants to make an informed decision about whether they want to watch, or participate, anymore.https://www.trybooking.co.uk/BVPZ. You could join us and learn more. Or, if you are reading this after the 16th, contact me at email@example.com to access the recording.
I close with a few quotes from the book, which I wholeheartedly agree with.
‘The Olympic disciplines, especially dressage, commemorate the fact that, in past centuries, we involved one of the most peaceful species in the world in our own violent conflicts, forcing them to carry us to war; to starve, to be blown up and shot at and to be slaughtered and eaten when we ran out of rations. To keep that dream alive, we continue to ship horses around the world on lorries and aeroplanes, in order to make them do tricks, the purpose of which they cannot possibly comprehend. It is a truly bizarre habit, the time for which has surely passed.
Humankind stands at a crossroads regarding our relationship with each other and with the rest of the living planet. We should be looking forward to a more peaceful, reciprocally respectful coexistence. Not back in time at our own glorified violence and domination.’
‘NSAIDs are not considered performance enhancing when taken by human athletes because the human athlete is both the one who wants to win and the one whose body has to work through the pain. In Equestrian, the athlete wants to win and the horse wants to be elsewhere, doing horse things with other horses.’
‘If you have ever watched dressage on TV or in person and wondered what is was for, don’t feel bad. Not even the judges know what it’s about. They are expected to award scores for things which are not happening, so they are likely to be as confused as you are.’