We tend to admire the classical image of a horse, a princess or a hero mounted on horseback, the traditional image of horse-drawn transport, a working horse, a companion in sporting activities… they are even suggested as an alternative to mechanical vehicles by some environmental groups.
But mares and stallions aren’t born to be mounted by people, to run races or to serve others. They are social animals who can live up to 30 years, form herds, live together with their families, and form relationships amongst themselves. They are mammals who care for their young. In the herd they protect each other from external aggressions and predators, eat, travel, play and look after the young animals. They are individuals which clearly enjoy their lives close to others when they live in freedom.
Their oldest known ancesters were called eohippus, more like foxes than horses. We know very little about the behaviour of horses before they were domesticated and very little about their ancestors because humans were only interested in the ‘useful’ feature of these animals.
Nowadays a stallion or mare is usually born and obligated to serve the interests of a human for life, be it as company, as a form of entertainment, as a business interest, a piece if equipment for practising a sport or even as meat. Most of these forms of use can be harder to recognise and reject than others such as shooting, foxhunting, experimentation etc. But something that the utilisation of horses shares with other areas of animal exploitation is a form of domination which means that the horses’ interests remain subordinate to our own, which causes frustration, helplessness and suffering, and on many occasions death.
Horses can weigh up to 500 kg, but their legs are supported by ankles the size of human ankles. In spite of this, many are pushed to run at high speeds with a human mounted on their back. Horses used in races are slaves, whose common end is euthanasia or a trip to the slaughterhouse. Horses can cost a lot of money, and their 'owners', in the majority of cases, want maximum profit from them. They spend their existence surrounded by trainers, vets, jockeys or in stables, and due to this it is very difficult for them to interact with other horses and enjoy their lives. Race horses tend to travel from country to country, track to track, race to race, with nowhere to call 'home', with nowhere where that feels stable. Those who suffer most are the ones who aren’t 'famous', these are put into lorries, ships, etc. transported long distances in terrible conditions, for the purpose of being 'profitable'.
But it might be the mares used for breeding that suffer the most, like most non-human females involved in animal abuse, they suffer being impregnated to give birth to new horses, they are separated from them and forced to suffer a never-ending cycle of insemination, giving birth and separation which ends with her death by lethal injection or in the slaughterhouse when her 'productivity' ends.
Horses begin their training when their bones are still forming and as such they are too weak to reach certain high speeds, endure hard training or carry a human on their backs. They suffer terribly when they are young because of being separated from their mothers (whom they have strong bonds with) and being unable to behave according to their own natural desires.
Damaged tendons, broken bones, fractures, and all of these often misdiagnosed by the vets, which causes the horses to be forced to run whilst in extreme pain. One in twenty horses is unable to finish the stressful races because of the level of suffering they experience during them. Too often these injuries are incurable or irreversible, even though the horses are submitted to operations which cause them anguish and even more pain so that they can “return to racing”. Those who don’t get better tend to be 'euthanized' (murdered so that the owner avoids ‘unnecessary’ costs).
Few race horses retire to live out their lives on a pasture and die of old age. 'Euthanasia' (which can only really be called euthanasia when its carried out to prevent the animals themselves from permanent and severe suffering) or abattoir slaughter tend to be how the horses meet their end.
Where stallions and mares are really happy is with their own kind in freedom. As such the fairest thing to do is to reject any form of use of these individuals, idyllic as it may seem. Horses suffer when they are made to run against their will, forced to haul weight, confined in stables, deprived of a herd or transported long distances. Let’s just leave them in total freedom.