What is Natural?

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Someone posts a video on Facebook of a young and unridden western pleasure bred quarter horse loping in a round pen. The caption boasts about its “awesome” movement, claiming that it proves those who say it is ‘not natural’ and ‘forced’ are wrong. The comments start to fill with the usual bickering that is to be expected by now. What is and isn’t right, and what they like in a horse’s movement. “People will just never understand the pleasure horse”, some say. Some others say they like it but it is still very different to what they see in the ring. Amongst it all, one comment catches my eye; they point out the problem with posts claiming “natural movement”, when virtually every performance horse is man-made.

What really is ‘natural’? The straight legged, slow gait of a pleasure horse may come naturally to it, but only because we have bred it that way. Its conformation dictates its movement, and we have chosen what to breed for. Of course it isn’t just western pleasure horses; reining horses, ranch horses, halter horses, western horses, show jumpers, dressage horses, eventer show horses, race horses…the list goes on.

We can all see that certain horses move in a way that comes ‘naturally’ to them. They are untouched, in so far as they are untrained, unridden and gadget free. It’s okay to say that they move that way because its ‘natural’, they do it in the field! We aren’t forcing them to do it. But we have bred them to. Through generations of selective breeding we have created a horse that moves like this. To move how we want it to. Maybe it was to do a certain job (at least initially), such as, chase cattle and pull carts. Some, however, are bred simply to compete, and to win.

Is this so wrong? Not always, I suppose. Some horses are bred to be sounder, stronger, last longer - not all of them, though. For some, their movement or characteristics will be to their detriment. It will limit their soundness, and their longevity; this is more problematic to us as horsemen and horsewomen. We see this in other animals too, for example, dogs bred to look a certain way, but it comes at the price of a range of health problems.

What do I think about this? I don’t really know. Personally, I have competed horses in a range of disciplines and events, albeit not to a high level. If there is a place for competing horses, then this is a conversation for a different day. Can we use the idea that a horse is/moves a certain way when untouched to justify it, when we are still really the reason it does so? It isn’t really ‘natural’…is it? These aren’t the horses of the Mongolian steppe in ages gone by. To use this reasoning, especially to defend something that may be causing a problem to the health or well being of a horse, isn’t really sound in itself. We do need to accept responsibility at some point.

What do you think?

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