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How Did Horses Become a Luxury?

How Did Horses Become a Luxury?

No. 7-8, Sep.-Dec. 2017 » Bridging News

Horses were domesticated in ancient times and the history of our companionship rivals that of civilization itself. The bond has been celebrated throughout all forms of art. Horses have been used as tillers, as war machines, as means of transportation, as athletes or actors, but also as faithful companions. We even know of famous horse from history – Alexander the Great’s horse Bucephalus, Caligula’s horse – Incitatus – whom he had planned to name consul, El Cid’s Babieca, Napoleon’s Marengo and recently Sergeant Reckless (a small Mongolian mare, that was an actual US Marine sergeant, trained to be a pack-horse during the Korean War and awarded several honors), or Roy Rogers’ Trigger – underscoring the proverbial and proven loyalty of horses and their need for respectful handling.

In modern times, horses have delighted crowned heads, presidents, officials and the public (with their performances at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna) and made some particular alliances possible: for instance, in his attempts to save the Lipizzaner stallions from Vienna, during World War II, Colonel Alois Podhajsky (Director of the Spanish Riding School) turned for help to US General George S. Patton and ended up saving 350 horses and prisoners of war form a farm in former Czechoslovakia, from where the horses were meant to be sent to the USSR as horsemeat and the prisoners killed. This was possible with the help of a Nazi Intelligence Captain, proving that, even during a war, the saving of such a “national treasure” prevailed over many other interests.

Today, horses are mainly athletes, competing at the Olympic Games or other Championships, or used for therapeutic purposes, allowing the development of an industry that is far beyond one’s imagination. Basically, I, personally, would state that “horses create jobs” in myriad ways. Horses need to be trained, so a rider and a trainer team up, followed by veterinarians, farriers, saddle-makers, tack-developers and even transportation companies (for example Boeing 777 airplanes are used), architects that design stables, or companies that provide special bedding for allergic horses (dust-free), special UV-lamps for comforting muscles. One might think that this evolution concerns only the people that are directly linked to horse industry (mainly agriculture and leather industry), but one would be wrong.

Currently, there are 272,000 horses entered into the FEI database, 102,000 competitors, 9,300 FEI Officials (meaning judges, course designers, technical delegates, stewards and veterinarians) and a total of 133 National Federations.

The IT sector is no stranger to this industry, because, in competitions, electronic tableboards are used, that give the results in real time and are based on specially created software, while stables use CCTV to monitor horses and handlers. For competition purposes, judges and stewards are required and trained, regulations have been developed and each country has a National Federation that obeys the rulebook issued by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI). However, one has to keep in mind that not all horses and riders are alike, so personalized training programs have been developed. Saddles are custom-fit for the horse’s back (and according to the discipline it competes in, or the way a horse is used), special bridles have been developed, alongside lounging systems that have been invented, not to mention that some of the horses require special horseshoes, whereas a balanced nutrition plan supervised by a veterinarian is compulsory, in order to deliver their best performance during a competition. There are special hospitals for horses, with medical equipment and trained personnel that take care of injuries and the most feared condition of them all: colic. There are SPA-centers for horses to recover after competitions, or traumas, with the help of specially trained staff. There are insurance companies that work together with breeders, or owners, providing them the best financial instruments that fit their needs. These are all vocational jobs and all work together as a team, for the benefit of the horses, whose purchasing price has been rising. This is all a glimpse into the industry of competition horses, but equines are used also as therapeutic tools, to soothe afflictions such as ADHD or provide therapy for those with Down Syndrome or psychological disorders. In these cases, psychologists team up with equestrian trained staff and with the horse, providing the best personalized service possible, with positive outcomes for the beneficiaries.

Currently, there are 272,000 horses entered into the FEI database, 102,000 competitors, 9,300 FEI Officials (meaning judges, course designers, technical delegates, stewards and veterinarians) and a total of 133 National Federations.

Horses create venues. Not only has there been an increased number of equestrian Olympic sporting events worldwide and charity events (such as Charlotte Casiraghi’s Pro-Am Cup), but horses compete also in races (the most famous being the Royal Ascot in UK and the Kentucky Derby in the USA), and new disciplines, such as Working Equitation, have emerged. Organizing such events means, from an economic point of view, investors and sponsors and, from a technical point of view, teams of owners, trainers, riders, technical delegates, veterinarians and of course, horses. At international level, fairs and auctions are held, where breeders sell valuable horses (even foals) and the equine trade has known an ascending trend pricewise, but also with regard to improved genetics. The breeding is strictly monitored, and there is a huge variety of races that can satisfy even the pickiest buyer’s need.

There are National Riding Schools (such as Warendorf in Germany) that train riders but provide also continued education for equine professionals at the highest level. There are associations, such as EAGALA (USA), that provide training programs for people that are interested in equine assisted therapy and leadership with horses (where employees of transnational companies interact with horses and get an evaluation that helps their HR Department) as a new career option.

To put it in a nutshell, the horse industry has been developed on a fast-forward speed, influencing new areas and sustaining the economic development of a country. And equestrianism is not just a hobby, it has become a lifestyle.

 
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