My Dad always taught me to take care of the animals first, before anything else. This probably came from his farming and ranching background in a time when people really depended on their animals, but I think his thoughts also came from his general fondness for animals.
Unfortunately though, we as a country have generally left our agricultural heritage behind us and in doing so, many people have lost any interdependence with horses. What I mean is this, we do not need our horses for plowing, hauling, transportation etc. They're now "just" for our recreation - which I'm personally very grateful for - but here's the conundrum.....
Horses depend on us for everything even though they only have indirect and subtle effects on our lives these days. What I hear frequently is how much horses contribute to our emotional well being. Now, I'm the first to admit that horses have contributed greatly and positively to my own emotional well being, but somehow, the horses still come out a distant second to many of our own needs.
You can observe this conflict in the way we breed horses, in many training practices and in the way we care for horses. So often, their needs are not truly our number one concern. Examples include barns that are built to be warm and toasty for people but are really breeding grounds for germs that can attack a horse's fragile respiratory system. You see it in mares that are bred at our convenience but foal so early that the resulting filly or colt will often struggle with health issues, lameness issues or have their ability to interact well with humans or even other horses severely stunted. I've seen some barns that were beautiful by human standards but didn't have anything near adequate in the way of turnout or exercise facilities. And, one of my personal pet peeves, you see it in people who rush to ride or show on their busy schedule but without a thought to the down-time the horse might need before he's really ready to show or ride again. And I could go on and on.... but you get the picture.
So, to wrap it up - and my apologies to John F. Kennedy: "Ask not what your horse can do for you, but what you can do for your horse!" Look around to figure out ways you can improve - truly improve - your horse's life. Talk to you next week! JD