Defining ‘ethical’ is a tricky job to do. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while, and it seems appropriate to try and write something down for the Ethical Horse Products! The Collins English Dictionary has a fairly clear definition; “if you describe something as ethical, you mean that it is morally right or morally acceptable.” I don’t think any of us would argue with that. But it is SO hard to pin down what exactly IS morally right with horses, as opinion varies so widely; and so what is considered ‘ethical’ becomes a bit of a moveable feast. For example, I do work for two riding schools, one on a more traditional model but with an emphasis on correct schooling and using biomechanics in teaching, whilst the other one is transitioning to using clicker training with the ponies. But BOTH of them would say they try to work ethically, and both try to use as little force as possible.
There are many people within the horse world who would like to take ethical to what seems its natural conclusion, and use NO pressure at all, relying on positive reinforcement and allowing the horse to choose whether it participates in any training activities at all. And others try to work within the LIMA framework; trying to find the Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive techniques to communicate with horses. Some swear by classical training techniques, whilst horses within the racing industry are often described as being treated like kings. A current debate within the equestrian world, which I’m sure many of you will have read about, is about the tightness of nosebands. On any Facebook post discussing this you will find people extolling the virtues of no noseband, loose nosebands, drop nosebands or grackles, and bitless bridles, ALL as being the most ethical and most successful.
Judging what IS ethical is becoming harder, as different opinions become more widely known. And what may be right for one horse and handler may be wrong for another, as long as force, pain, neglect and punishment are excluded. Perhaps the best approach is to keep an open mind, and try to separate the opinion from the science. Research is constantly being done into training techniques and tools, behaviour, developing detailed species ethograms, and developing tools like the Grimace Scale to judge pain levels. I’m sure what we all want is just to do our best!
With thanks to guest blogger Amy Craske. Don’t miss out on more great articles, sign up to our newsletter today!