This week I received an e-mail from the director of a nonprofit equine educational site, http://www.blixxhorses.org, https://www.facebook.com/pages/BlixxHorses/110755562336251, that said her mission statement was inspired by something I wrote 12 years ago. It was staggering that something I wrote that long ago would have such a lasting impression. At the same time, it reminded me how strongly I felt about this. In that spirit, I would like to repeat the unedited version of that statement here.
The definition of stewardship has not changed since 1913 – “responsibility for taking good care of resources entrusted to one”. We have the responsibility of stewardship for our children, our heritage, our natural resources, and also our horses.
There is no question that any horse choosing to do so could overpower a human and gain his/her freedom. It is only by the horse’s cooperation that we can ride, drive, even touch a horse. When we accept the horse’s willingness to be used, we also accept stewardship.
This is a very different thing from ownership. When we own an object, it is ours to do with as we please. With stewardship, we are bound to take good care.
Legislation covering animal welfare certainly recognizes the stewardship of owners, trainers and caretakers. It only covers cases of flagrant abuse though. True stewardship extends far beyond that. It’s both very complicated and very simple. Stewardship demands that you provide for the horse in a manner that keeps him both mentally happy and physically well.
The fact a horse is alive and breathing does not mean he is happy and well. A true horseperson doesn’t need a course in horse psychology or a battery of lab tests and CAT scans to tell if a horse is mentally and physically well. The look in his eye, the way he carries himself, his interest in his surroundings and his work, the health of his coat and feet tell the story.
Stewardship isn’t just about feeding and routine health care, although that is a major part.
It’s also about serving the horse’s needs as well as our own. There are far too many violations of stewardship happening every day, and they’re not all situations that would fall under the umbrella of obvious abuse. Performance or personality altering drugs, bleeding horses or tying them in uncomfortable positions for hours on end before a show to break their spirit, blocking pain to allow a horse with an injury to work and risk injuring himself further, sending a horse that has served faithfully all his life to a killer auction to squeeze those last few hundred dollars out of him are all breaches of stewardship.
The contemporary veterinarian’s oath is a good example of stewardship. It states:
I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills to protect the health and well-being of all nonhuman animals, to relieve pain and suffering in nonhuman animals, to strengthen the understanding of the inherent needs and interests of all nonhuman animals, and to promote the preservation of wildlife and their natural environment.
Notice there is nothing in there about treating the horse to achieve a set profit margin, or treating the horse to achieve the goals of the owner. Owners, trainers, anyone dealing with horses should take a similar oath, and live by it. Stewardship is a concept that could stand some resurrection. Our horses don’t owe us anything – we owe them.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD