Is it okay to train an animal just because we can?

So on my trip to Florida I took a day to go to Sea World. I LOVE sea animals and used to dream of being a Sea Lion trainer so I was really looking forward to a great day, and I had one…until I saw the Orca show. I had been to see some of the other shows in the day and had a great time seeing such well trained animals. I also enjoyed watching the “pet the dolphins exhibit” where people were given a fish so they could “pet THEN feed” these amazing creatures. While watching that both of my traveling companions looked at me and said “too bad they don’t have something like this for horses, Gen would be PERFECT at that”. He would happily pose for pictures and go over to strangers and let them pet him for treats all day!

Anyway, one of the shows I did not get to see until the end of the day was the Orca show. I sat down in the splash zone excited to see the beautiful whales up close and was looking forward to the show. When it started though, I began to stop having fun…it was horrible to watch these majestic creatures doing stupid tricks. I sat there paralyzed with a guilt that is hard to describe. Like it was my fault that these beautiful Orcas were humiliating themselves for human pleasure. It was so disgusting that I wanted out of the show and fast.

It got me thinking. Are we just as wrong for training horses? They are wild creatures and we make them do our biding. I know that PETA has come out saying that domesticating horses is wrong. I had always thought that was laughable, until seeing that Orca show. After that PETA didn’t seem quite so crazy.

I left that show wondering what I had done. Who gave me the right to train something so magical? I don’t know any person who has seen a horse running in the wild who has not stopped to take a breath and marvel at their beauty. Is that same feeling of awe there when you watch domesticated horses? I don’t know.

After a little while I was able to justify domesticated horses to myself by reminding myself that my horse would have died 3 and a half years ago if he was out in the wild, and considering he hurt himself running in the field it is not like he would never have gotten hurt. I also feel that my horse has defied the odds and kept his spirit, not something all domesticated horses still have intact.

So what do you think? Is it wrong of us humans to train horses? Do you ever think about how your horse would survive in the wild? Is there any way you can ensure that a horse keeps their spirit?

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7 thoughts on “Is it okay to train an animal just because we can?

  1. For most horse people, I dont think it is wrong to train horses. Hundreds of years ago they were trained because we needed them for farming and transportation. They are now obsolete for these purposes, but we cannot throw them back out in the wild and expect them to survive.
    I feel if you train a horse with kindness and understanding instead of force and fear, the horse will keep their spirit. Just look into Gennyral’s eyes, do you think he would want to live in the wild?!! They train us just as much as we train them 🙂

  2. It is not wrong to train animals. Think about your horse. Would he be happy running free – no! There are too many bugs, it’s too hot, it’s raining. Our horses are NOT wild animals. They are domesticated animals (domestication changes an animals genetics so that they don’t want to be wild – check out the study about foxes who were being “used” for their fur and were then bred for temperment [the definition of domestication] – their coats and even their ear shape changed aside from their demeaner). Most horses like their work and they like the attention. It is not breaking their noble spirit or anything – in fact, it often enhances it. I know many a horse who is proud of himself for doing something well. For example, Fletch loves doing flying changes (and even more doing canter pirouettes to flying change); Speedy is so happy with himself when he jumps.

    Regarding the Orcas, they are NOT humiliated. They don’t feel embarrased. They are being asked to do tricks that are part of their natural behavior. The shows are invaluable to teach children about the beauty of nature, so that they are more likely to support saving the environment. I don’t mind the training. I’m not crazy that these animals are in a tiny tank. They are wild animals and are used to roaming. But I don’t know enough about them to know if they are happy – that’s the key. If the animal is happy, that’s all that matters. Maybe you should do a little more research into it? Go to the Camden Aquarium and see if you can go back stage – they sometimes have tours I think.

  3. Good food for thought. Just because we can, does it mean we should?
    I often think of the very expensive show horses- the ones who are deemed “too valuable” to be turned out. I’ve cared for many of them & most had horrible vices & were medical nightmares to manage. Most would have improved 10 fold had they had a chance to move at will for even 30 min. a day. I remember one vet at a barn I managed prescribed “sunshine & dirt” to a dressage horse because know known cause could be found for his ailments:( The owners never did turn him out.

  4. Depends on the animal. Some have a greater propensity to want to interact with humans. I think most domestic horses, with good humans, enjoy and look forward to interacting with us. After the way Ace nickers at me like crazy every single time I walk into view, you couldn’t convince me its wrong to train him.

    When horses are trained as partners and friends, with solid communication and not punishment, you can tell that they enjoy it. Their ears are pricked, they’re relaxed, and they’re willing. I don’t see anything wrong with that!

  5. I agree with the 3 comments already…except man has domesticated the horse for our use. Today’s horses are domesticated.

    The question you ask should only pertain to those horses born in “captivity”. If you take the dog for example who has been domesticated for how long…it’s not right to release a dog into the wild and expect it to be able to survive on it’s own. The same goes with today’s horses.

    Man has graduated from needing the horse for transportation and work, to wanting it to remain useful to us by other means, ie. hobby. Although there are some left in this world that stilll need the horse for work to gather cows, transportation across terrain not accessable by vehicle and such.

    BUT with that said a horse is still a horse and I don’t agree with taking your “hobby” so far as to not giving the horse what it should have. By that I mean pasture time and time to interact with other horses. I think it’s cruel to be so selfish in wanting ribbons, points or money that you can’t let a horse be a horse and roll in the dirt, kick up it’s heels, and lay in the sunshine in a pasture for fear it will get dirty or grow a winter coat. Some horses truly enjoy having jobs to do…but I never met a horse that didn’t like being just a horse, even in their “off time”. You can turn a horse out and still have that horse do it’s job when under saddle.

  6. our horses are our partners (ideally). They can’t be forced to do our bidding– they must, in some way at least, want to.

    Don’t be guilty. You contribute to Gen’s happiness in the same ways that he contributes to yours.

  7. I think this is a really interesting question to bring up. I personally don’t believe we have taken some thing away from them as we train them for our ‘purpose’.

    I think at the most, we are giving each other a gift. There is no other place where you can share such a unique bond with one another. As we all know, a horses back is it’s vulnerable place. A horse in the wild would immediately throw off anything that touched it’s back predator wise. It is such an amazing thing that we can teach a horse that we are not foe but friends and they accept us as that.

    Now as the flip side. Horses give us the ability to feel something no one else feels. They allowed us on their backs and they show us their ways. You have to be able to communicate with them and them communicate to you. They will let you know when they are unhappy, they will let you know when something is scary. However they will be sure to tell you when everything is all right and they promise to listen to your word.

    I know every rider has felt that at one point. I think that is the fundamental difference. We are not showing them what to do by pointing or using gestures. We are using a language that rider and a horse shares with one another. It’s special, it’s something so unique that only a horse person can understand.

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