Friday, January 29, 2010
The mere mention of the “F” word sends a shiver up my spine. When I think of the word, I do not envision an athletic horse performing a spin or a beautiful sliding stop, but instead I envision the aftermath of that beautiful horse’s efforts: early break-down. This is obviously indirectly thus related to the future post pertaining to hock injections; so many of the horses who participate in futurities (or the training leading up to futurities) seem to require hock injections and other such maintenance early in their careers and lives, ultimately due to their being pushed beyond their physical capacities at the time.
Why do futurities even exist? They originally came about as breeding/training/competition incentives. For the promotion of particular horses, a way to showcase a horse and to demonstrate its potential. Today they seem to have been twisted into a financial gain that neglects to take into account the welfare of the horse. While it is true these horses are “treated like royalty” when one takes a deeper look, I think for the most part you will find horses who are slowly being pushed towards a doomed fate. Furthermore our definition of "royalty" often very much differs from that of a horse's and many of the training, feeding, management, and husbandry practices employed to create these futurity stars is questionable.
How they work. Essentially, a horse is started as a yearling or 2yo, with the goal of creating a superstar by the age of 3 years. As a 2yo (and some are not even a full 2), the horse starts its campaign: the more shows the horse attends and wins (or does well in) = the more his name is publicized and promoted = the higher the chance of a successful breeding career, the more winnings that horse earns, the more prominent the name of the breeder, owner, trainer. Campaign campaign campaign. In doing so, the horse is exposed and has more breeding potential and value. Though others may exist outside of the futurity world with as much or more talent, because such-and-such-horse’s name has been campaigned to death and everyone is aware of its existence, they then choose to breed to it and seek out its foals rather than no-name over there who could produce just as successfully…which obviously ultimately results in more money in the owners’ pocket. Campaigning a horse is expensive – first there is the value of the horse itself, then one needs a trainer or rider (preferably a big name) to advertise and compete on the horse, then there is the care and upkeep of not only keeping, but showing and hauling the horse…the list continues. So it pays to start the horse young; the younger the horse competes, the sooner the owner gets their investment back. As a result, futurities are essentially allowing the same as what occurs in the racehorse industry; the horse is seen and used almost solely as a financial investment. As such, the horse’s welfare is often forgotten. It becomes okay to overuse a horse because it will be retired by the time it is 4 or so. Arthritis and other such manifestations as a result of the young horse’s burden will likely not become apparent until down the road and at that time, the horse will still be able to breed (or make a name for its farm or parents or trainer) – it is not necessary for it to be competition sound any longer. Read this to understand how a horse matures and thus the physical repercussions of competing these horses so young. Not to mention the mental effects of pushing a young and immature horse...
Why they will stay. Ultimately, individuals themselves will likely not have the self-discipline to wait and allow the horse to mature, to not push the horse into futurities at such a young age – it just does not pay or allow for the same financial gain. Breed and competitive associations, who are ultimately responsible for this, have the power to push futurities to a horse’s 5th or 6th year (or heck, even the 4th would be an improvement). They won’t, however, for monetary reasons. If they push futurities, individuals will be less likely to gain financially and thus will be less likely to participate in the first place. This would ultimately affect the various breed associations as their members' participation and thus fees and the association's income, drops. It does not pay for the associations to regulate futurities in the best interests of the horse.
What should happen. The horse should be put first, above all financial gain. The horse is not a financial investment above all else and its long-term welfare needs to be placed above all else. He is not a vessel for human greed. Unfortunately, this will likely simply remain a “nice thought” rather than a future reality. In the end, it is only the horse who suffers – at our hands, as a result of our greed.
**Please take note the preceding concerns performance futurities for young horses only...other types of futurities are another class altogether and not nearly as (if at all, depending on the situations) worrisome. Please also take note also that I am not involved in futurity competition or such, so if I am missing any points or am misunderstanding to an extent, feel free to comment. The preceding is what I have gleaned from my own associations who are involved in such events and who raise such horses, and from what I myself have observed. The futurity industry obviously leaves much to be desired by the horse.