We all realize horses have the strength to overpower us and gain their freedom if they so choose. It’s only by the horse’s cooperation that we can ride, drive or even touch him. And when we accept our horse’s willingness to be used, we also accept stewardship of him. Stewardship is different from ownership. When we own an object, it is ours to do with as we please. With stewardship, we are bound to take good care of it, too.
The fact a horse is alive and breathing doesn’t mean he’s well. A true horse-person doesn’t need a course in horse psychology or a battery of lab tests and radiological scans to tell if a horse is mentally and physically well. The look in his eye, the way he carries himself, his interest in his surroundings and his work, and the health of his coat and feet tell the story.
Stewardship isn’t just about feeding and routine health care, although that’s a big part. It’s also about serving the horse’s needs as well as our own. Far too many violations of stewardship occur every day, and they’re not all situations that would fall under the umbrella of obvious abuse. Performance- or personality-altering drugs or tying horses in uncomfortable positions for hours on end before a show to break their spirit, blocking pain to allow a horse with an injury to work and risk injuring himself further, or sending a horse to a killer auction to squeeze those last few hundred dollars out of him are all breaches of stewardship.
The contemporary veterinarian’s oath is a good example of stewardship:“I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills to protect the health and well-being of all nonhuman animals, to relieve pain and suffering in nonhuman animals, to strengthen the understanding of the inherent needs and interests of all nonhuman animals, and to promote the preservation of wildlife and their natural environment.”
Notice there’s nothing in the oath about financial gain or treating the horse to achieve the goals of the owner. We should all take a similar oath and live by it. Our horses don’t owe us. We owe them.
-Eleanor Kellon, VMD