Some days I wonder just how the horse industry survives. Over the last few decades, I have observed a few things that I would consider unethical, but, either I am becoming more observant or the rate of occurrence has increased.
Some long-standing traditions within the industry have always puzzled me. How is it not a conflict of interest for an agent to take a percentage when he/she buys a horse for a client? Are they not tempted to buy the most expensive horse? In certain circles – racing for one – this has been the norm for ages.
Nowadays, that isn’t good enough for some. Now the agent, who is frequently the person who will train the horse, coach the rider and/or house the animal, is often bold enough to demand a commission from the seller too. When this tactic has been presented to me, I have simply told the agents that I will tell their client they are taking a commission off both ends. Not advised if you need to sell, but definitely advisable if you want to look at yourself in the mirror.
It is now not uncommon to hear people turned off because a stable owner, trainer, agent or coach ripped them off. Shame on all these people; they deter newcomers to the industry and make it more difficult for the rest of us.
Have you noticed that many horse publications, especially the online versions are just amalgamations of press and media releases sent from various competitions? Some releases are even produced by entities with one or more vested interest and they are published as news, not the advertorials they truly are.
And, in case you think that you get information that is more balanced by reading articles that were written by journalists, know that they are often asked to slant their writing to suit the advertisers. I have actually been told (in emails, so I can prove this) that “our readers do not have that opinion.” How could they have that (or any informed) opinion if no one ever tells them another side to things?
I have had my articles edited to the point that the whole article has a different meaning. I asked for my name to be removed from one such piece as I did not agree with the publisher’s edited version. My name was not on it when it was published, but it was placed amid several other pieces by me, with no indication that it was written by the publisher instead of yours truly. My response? I quit writing for that publisher and all three of her publications. That same publisher has recently lost another journalist for ethical reasons, but there are lots of releases to fill the pages and satisfy advertisers, I guess. I shake my head in sadness.
Have you noticed that in most coverage of equestrian competitions it is more about the humans and their degree of celebrity and that very little is said about the horse? I recall a time when I learned that this horse was related to that horse or about some backstory that made the horse the hero when either watching or reading about a competition.
As horse people we all know that horses have personalities. What do you know about the individual personality of the top horses in any of the disciplines? We don’t even know a horse’s favorite treat, unless a sponsor is involved. And even then, we are led to assume that the sponsor’s product is the horse’s fave because the rider/owner/trainer is pictured with the product or is quoted in the ad.
Would you rather know that the person likes chicken curry and cheese crackers or that the horse does? Do you care what annoys or pleases a particular human or what annoys or pleases a particular horse?
Fortunately, because I charge either a flat rate or an hourly rate, I have not had to avoid mirrors on ethical grounds. But I do miss the days when I could write an article describing a famous horse, quirks and all, and actually have it published. Or when I could talk about my observations without having them go through the sponsorship screen before being published.
If you want a different product or a different industry, it is up to you to demand it. If you are reading this, you have access to the internet and can send messages to media outlets or to regulatory bodies or to sponsors, since they all have an internet presence, making your views known. Or…you can do nothing, except maybe complain.