“Can an action be both right and wrong?” The evolving equestrian tidies up my conflicting feelings of the derby aftermath.
Can an action be both right and wrong? Can hitting and jerking on Rich Strike to keep everyone safe have been the wrong, right thing?
I am not condemning the outrider. He did what he felt he needed to do to keep everyone safe. His job was to manage a very difficult situation and we can not like what he did without faulting him for doing it.
I would be remiss not to share my thoughts right now on this incident with Rich Strike because not only has it sparked conversation among people in the horse industry, but the rest of the world is watching too and how we respond matters.
1. Just because that's what it took to control the horse doesn't make it acceptable.
We can accept two things simultaneously: Maybe that's what it took so he had to do it, but it's also not ok. We cannot justify certain actions or practices because they are warranted under extenuating circumstances without evaluating what first led to those circumstances. Maybe there wasn't another option for the outrider in that moment, but what could have been done/or could be done differently in the future to prevent this from happening? For example, is this horse regularly handled with a lip chain and if so maybe implementing a better training plan might help the horse be more controllable all around, because we don't stand a chance in hell of having any resemblance of control when the energy is that high after a race.
2. Every horse was whipped across the finish line. Why do we only classify certain actions that make *us* feel uncomfortable as abuse but not how the horse feels and perceives things from their lived experience? I would say being struck over and over with a whip probably feels as equally uncomfortable as being punched in the face to the horse, but for many we aren't uncomfortable with whips- they're a part of riding, but fists make us flinch, therefore one is not abuse and the other is. Time to reflect on our social conditioning in regards to what is and is not acceptable levels of force or violence in horse sports. (Someone will invariably say that whipping the horse doesn't hurt them. If whipping did not make horses feel uncomfortable, it would not be effective, i.e. the horse would not run faster.)
3. Don't judge the sport by the worst scenarios or the worst of its kind.
Before you jump on the bandwagon to shut down the racing industry, think about what would happen if we cancelled every horse sport based on the worst situations or the worst of its members. Dressage. Cross Country. Reining. Natural Horsemanship. Hell, even trail riding or kids' lessons barns. Instead of cancelling racing or any other discipline, let's promote equine welfare and advocate for reform and more ethical competitions.
We do not need to blame, condemn, or judge to do better. We just need to acknowledge, learn, and change and hold our industry accountable because the blame doesn't fall to any one man.