I reviewed this book from the basis of knowing little of horses apart from Clydesdales, and that was over 50 years ago. Some of the book deals with horse racing, a sport in which I have not the slightest interest. Yet the book was fascinating and explains not only horse welfare issues but the cruelty which some horses have to endure.
The author has great knowledge of horse racing, and is critical of some aspects. He is well aware that annually, thousands of horses that fail to make the grade are destined for the slaughterhouse, and that some horses are probably introduced to racing at too young an age and before their bones are properly formed. He also has concerns about the use of the whip by some jockeys and describes other methods of making a horse run that would certainly be illegal under cruelty legislation. Apart from these instances he is generally satisfied that horse racing is not cruel, and is so passionate about horses that I accept this view.
The treatment of work horses in many countries is discussed. Those who have the horses (and donkeys and mules) require them as beasts of burden to sustain their family. Invariably these people are exceptionally poor and much of the cruelty and neglect appears to emanate from lack of knowledge. The horses are poorly shod, have ill-fitting harness and often have to carry or pull loads that are excessively heavy. I was unaware of – and extremely impressed by – the work carried out by World Horse Welfare (WHW). This organisation has travelled to numerous countries and given training in farriery and harness making, giving almost instant relief to the animals and in effect making them better able to work for their owners.
The United Kingdom is not immune from poor horse welfare and even cruelty, and field officers employed by WHW attend regular concerns about horses, many of which relate to either abandonment or horses being turned out to graze on someone else’s property. I quote that when dealing with some of these concerns ‘It is not unknown for a field officer to be attacked and his car torched.’
My biggest concern, and I think that of the author, is of transporting horses, some from the UK, through Europe to slaughterhouses in Italy in particular. The horses are on the road for long periods without food and water and many have been injured through fights and accidents when they reach their destination. It seems a common sense solution to have the horses slaughtered in their home country and thereafter transported either chilled or frozen to their destination. It is an animal welfare issue inflicted on other livestock as well, in particular sheep.
Coming from a somewhat negative starting point I learned a great deal from this extremely knowledgeable and compassionate author. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who has even the slightest interest in animals and their welfare.
Horse Welfare. Use not Abuse. Christopher Hall. Whittles Publishing, Dunbeath, Caithness, Scotland, KW6 6EG, UK. £18.99