Janet Rising © 2022
Have you ever wondered in what direction the horse world is going? Janet Rising, author of My Horsy Life, looks into the future in this story, and sees something radically different. I have to say I have some sympathy with turning out horses as much as possible, though that’s not necessarily easy on an island with not much space, but as for everything else … It’s only too easy to imagine some of these things happening. What do you think?
‘Mr Chaseman?’ asked the man in the grey suit, extending his right hand as he carefully circumnavigated a pile of steaming dung recently expelled from one of the riding school’s ponies on its way in from the field.
Gerald Chaseman, proprietor of Chaseman’s Riding School, nodded and shook the offered hand. ‘Mr Gooding, is it?’
‘Please, call me Dave. This is my associate, Skye Smith, the Ministry’s consultant on these matters, one of our new, vegan/climate/youth-centric/gender-choice/person-in-the-street/finger-on-the-pulse specialists, and a total whiz-kid as far as social media is concerned,’ Dave added, with a conspiratorial wink.
‘Oh, right,’ said Gerald, not quite comprehending how all those things added up to a job description.
Handshakes and introductions over, Mr call-me-Dave Gooding took a deep breath and stuck out his chin. ‘So! You received my email regarding our visit?’
‘Yes, replied Gerald with a sigh. ‘A new era of equestrian sport, it said, new initiatives, new regulations. I’m not sure how it concerns my establishment. I can assure you we’re fully up-to-date with all the latest health and safety procedures. Our horses passed their inspection only last month, all my staff are highly qualified and we achieved a much-higher-than satisfactory rating.’
‘Hmmmm,’ murmured Skye Smith, scrolling down her hand-held tablet. ‘I have the report here…’
Gerald marvelled at how someone who looked as though they might still be in school could load her voice with so much disappointment.
‘Quite, quite,’ interjected call-me-Dave, ‘very impressive. But these new regulations are just advisory for now – they won’t fully come into force until 2024. We thought it only fair to get riding school proprietors fully up-to-speed before then, to allow them to get ahead of the curve, so to speak, before everyone needs to be fully compliant. Ministry policy dictates that personal visits such as these might pave the way and allow for questions, so everyone fully understands the implications of the changes, that sort of thing.’
‘Oh yes?’ agreed Gerald, his heart sinking. He had enough paperwork to deal with now, more than enough red tape and form-filling with which he had to comply. ‘So what more can we possibly be expected to do?’ he asked. ‘I mean, we’re stretched to the limit now. You people don’t seem to realise how difficult it is to run a riding school these days. There are all the health and safety procedures, insurance, crippling business rates, staff wages – not to mention the ravages of Covid and lockdowns. I barely make a living as it is.’
‘We quite understand,’ said call-me-Dave, soothingly. ‘But the new initiatives, approved by the committee, mainly concern animal welfare, and I am sure they will work in your favour in the long term. The public is very conscious of how we keep and use our animals, you know, especially in today’s ever-shrinking world of social media scrutiny.’
‘No worries there,’ explained Gerald, confidently. ‘We have a very well-supported Facebook page, and our horses work a maximum of two hours a day, five days a week.’
‘Oh dear,’ sighed Skye Smith. ‘From 2024 this will need to change.’ She smiled rather insincerely. ‘New regulations will insist that no horse works for more than an hour a day – and none at all on Sundays.’
‘No, not at all,’ continued Skye Smith, peering into the barn where two bays, a chestnut and a grey all tugged at their haynets, knee-deep in their spotless beds. ‘And, of course, equine living accommodation regulations are due for a complete overhaul.’
‘Living accommodation?’ asked Gerald Chaseman, following her gaze. All our horses have their own looseboxes and are turned out several times a week in winter, every night in summer.’
‘Hmmm. Well that, of course, will need updating. Going forward, horses will need to spend at least twenty-one hours a day in the field with other horses – unless it’s raining, of course. Or a bit windy. Or quite hot. They are, of course, wild animals.’
‘Domestic,’ corrected Gerald.
‘Excuse me?’ said Skye Smith, one eye twitching at being corrected.
‘Domestic animals. Not wild. They’ve been domesticated for thousands of years, they’re not bloody polar bears.’
‘That’s not how the man on the street sees them!’ exclaimed Skye Smith, visibly bristling. ‘Public opinion is very much in favour of returning horses to their natural state, of almost re-releasing them into the wild as far as possible, whilst ensuring they are safe and warm, of course, with access to veterinary intervention.’
Gerald glanced beyond the stable yard to his topped and regularly harrowed fields, wondering exactly how much they resembled ‘the wild’.
Call-me-Dave nodded in agreement. ‘All our research has indicated that the public demands horses live a more natural lifestyle, albeit with modern, 21st century upgrades. We need to demonstrate a caring, empathic attitude, you see.’
‘Plus, when they do come in to their stables they will need’ – here, Skye Smith lifted one hand to mime quote marks with her first two fingers – ‘to be housed in pairs,’ she finished, reading verbatim from her screen.
‘Pairs?’ asked Gerald Chaseman, explosively. ‘They’ll kick seven bells out of each other!’
‘Oh, surely not, horses are herd creatures!’ Skye Smith said brightly, in the manner of a bossy mother telling their child not to be so silly.
‘And that’s another thing,’ said call-me-Dave, ruefully. ‘Shoes.’
‘What about shoes?’ asked Gerald, failing to keep his voice civil.
‘Well, social media went bananas when people learnt that horses keep their shoes on all the time,’ explained Skye Smith, raising her eyebrows as though he, Gerald, was personally responsible for the practice.
‘Who told them?’ asked Gerald, narrowing his eyes.
‘Um… well, that’s not important,’ said Skye Smith, her cheeks puce. ‘The point is, there’s a lot of ill-feeling out there about it. People are outraged. So, from 2024, all shoes will need to be removed at night. After all, we don’t go to bed in our shoes, do we?’
‘But they’re nailed on!’ exclaimed Gerald. ‘Did you tell them that?’
‘We did…’ said call-me-Dave, staring into the middle distance like a wistful beagle and nodding.
‘…and that’s when it really kicked off!’ concluded Skye Smith, her eyes wide.
‘Do you actually know anything about horses?’ asked Gerald, desperately trying to keep a lid on his temper.
‘You’re not the first person to ask that question,’ smiled Skye Smith in an indulgent way. ‘I think I can stem any doubts on that score, having gained 1.1 for my thesis entitled Horse: from Slavery to Freedom, a Vision of Equine Utopia. You can, of course, read my blog on my website, www.thefighttoequinefreedom.com.’
Call-me-Dave nodded again, his head at an angle, eyebrows raised, a smile on his lips, as though his colleague had coyly admitted to winning a Nobel Prize.
Gerald Chaseman wondered what the strange thudding feeling in his chest might be. He seemed to be having difficulty drawing breath.
‘Now! Saddlery!’ cried call-me-Dave, anxious to move on.
‘You won’t find any problems with our tack,’ said Gerald through gritted teeth, folding his arms defiantly against his chest and the thudding within. Call-me-Dave carried on regardless.
‘We’re looking into a two-person – tandem if you like – saddle to enable beginners to go up in front of their instructors,’ explained call-me-Dave. ‘We – and I must say many parents have expressed concern regarding this point – are worried about children being expected to ride a horse or pony, a wild creature, independently. Alone. Instructors who ride up behind them will, naturally, be subjected to rigorous checks, and be expected to pass an additional exam.’
‘Of course, these saddles will only be worn by the larger horses, weight limits will be strictly enforced,’ continued Skye Smith, scrolling merrily. ‘We suggest riding schools invest in some of the breeds on the endangered list – Suffolk Punches, Clydesdales, that sort of thing. The additional expense will be balanced by negating the need for ponies.’
‘You have got to be kidding me.’
‘No, no, perfectly serious. Quite honestly, Mr Chaseman, I don’t know how the industry has got away with being so lax about all these things for so long,’ sighed Skye Smith, shaking her head. ‘Of course, it will only be for the short term, the interim before…’
‘In the meantime, you might like to consider our recommendations for alternative riding,’ suggested call-me-Dave, interrupting his colleague with a warning glance.
‘We already offer side-saddle and Western riding lessons,’ said Gerald, faintly, wondering why he was finding it so hard to swallow.
Call-me-Dave and Skye Smith exchanged an eye-meet, the corners of their lips lifting in unison.
‘Let me explain,’ said Skye Smith. ‘We’re talking mechanical horses, an innovation of which the Ministry heartily approves. These are, you won’t be surprised to learn, on the Ministry’s recommended improvements list. In fact, we are looking to roll out grants in order for proprietors to increase their ratio of mechanical to real horses in establishments all over the country, so that’s something to think about.’
‘Oh is it, indeed!’ spat Gerald, narrowing his eyes.
‘As for lessons in horse care,’ interrupted call-me-Dave, sensing an atmosphere developing and keen to nip it in the bud before things got out of hand as they had at the last two riding schools they had visited, and hoping to avoid a repeat of the outcome – he wasn’t up to making another run for it, and Gerald Chaseman looked fit for his age – ‘we really don’t think they will be necessary at all beyond 2026. I mean, apart from the safety concerns, between you and me we expect picking-up hooves and tacking-up horses by clientele to be banned by 2024, as well as all contact with equine waste matter. We don’t really see how it will be relevant, going forward.’
‘Going forward? What do you mean, going forward?’
‘We anticipate that riding real horses, and even mechanical ones will be phased out completely by 2030,’ said Skye Smith, in the satisfied manner of one reaching their ultimate goal. ‘The ones left can then live happily in their fields or be taken care of in their stables without being exploited by us.’
‘Oh, and what do you expect my clients to learn on?’
‘Well, this is the exciting bit!’ said call-me-Dave, beaming and clapping his hands together as though they were all mates who might like to go to the pub for a pint. ‘We anticipate that Virtual Riding will be the thing by then, with plenty of promotion, naturally, backed by the Ministry. Much safer, less messy, more hygienic – people will be able to simply pop on a headset in the comfort of their living rooms and off they go! We see a big future in equestrian gaming – dressage, jumping, eventing – that sort of thing – all without the public having to put themselves in danger, or exploitation of the equine species, to say nothing of the expense it will save regarding international competitions, flying horses abroad and so on. In the present climate, transporting horses is considered unnecessary and quite cruel, not to mention the climate factor. It’s all explained on our website. You can download the PDF for full details, as well as all the Ministry’s new guidelines.’
Gerald Chaseman felt quite unwell. Not only did his chest hurt, but he could feel a tingling in one arm and he quite fancied lying down in a dark room for a while. ‘And what about my business?’ he asked faintly, sitting down heavily one of the benches on the yard.
‘Well, there will be some casualties, of course, they’re only to be expected…’ agreed call-me-Dave ruefully, pursing his lips. ‘You might like to apply to the government for compensation or for a grant to re-train, although I can’t guarantee success, naturally.’
‘But you can’t stop progress!’ stated Skye Smith, ‘and you must see that the changes will be for the better, to the benefit of everyone!’ She snapped her tablet shut and smiled broadly before rearranging her features into those of some concern as she watched the riding school proprietor sink lower on the bench, his eyelids fluttering. ‘Mr Chaseman, are you all right?’ she asked. Really, she thought, these horsy people were so terribly emotional…
This story is a work of fiction and the characters involved bear no relation to anyone living or dead. Any coincidences are purely accidental – not to mention depressing.