Ethics in the Horse Industry

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.

Photos as Art

I know it is a bit early and a bit off topic, but…

HandoutA photographer friend is having her second exhibit of photos taken during a horse-themed tour of Brazil, and I called to wish her much success. Exhibit Poster-webDuring our conversation, Ceci mentioned that someone had purchased one of her photos on canvas for the person’s farrier as a Christmas gift. Yes, the client was definitely thinking ahead, and yes, it is certainly a great gift idea for a farrier.

With These Hands -7051With these Hands

In case you have a horsey person deserving of a special gift – Christmas, birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, anniversary, just because, etc. – check out Ceci’s work. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with treating one’s self to a present now and again, right?

wall 1If you are tough to buy for, why not start a collection, so that friends and family can add to it, knowing in advance that you will approve of the choices?

wall 2wall 3

Vaquiero -0849I’m told this photo is particularly lovely on canvas…


Every year around this time – after the World Cup Finals in Dressage and Jumping and after Rolex and Badminton – I write bloodline articles. I write about the pedigrees of the top horses and point out patterns.

While doing the research I also notice whether the pedigrees of horses I have selected or recommended over the years have gotten stronger due to the success of their relatives. It is a great way to test one’s accuracy. This year I was pleased to see that earlier predictions are either coming true or are holding true.

About 15 years ago I recommended the purchase of a Donnerhall son as a stallion, and I am pleased to see that there is still a strong Donnerhall presence in dressage, primarily through his sons and grandsons.

Rolex and Badminton provided excellent feedback regarding the Thoroughbreds I have selected for sport breeding programs, and I am particularly thrilled with how strong the pedigree of Hero’s Tribute is in regards to current horses. I’m also glad that several of the mares he has in his harem also carry strong sport influences.

Aside from the bloodlines, I quite like how Hero stamps his offspring – Thoroughbred and Warmblood – adding lightness of the forehand, refinement and an excellent work ethic.

The only sad part is that I suspect he will be gone by the time he becomes popular based on the results of his offspring in sport.

It is nice to be appreciated.

Today I received two compliments – one via email and one as a comment on this site and both were unsolicited. I was also informed that another individual recommended one of my books to a noted trainer.

1 – I have learned a great deal from you and your books, and I am no longer navigating the stormy waters of horse purchasing without an excellent compass! Thank you so much for your practical physics and math based approach to functional conformation. Knowledge is power!

2 – I learned from the clinic I took with you that like all living things we are all built with certain strengths and weaknesses. All one has to do is look at the worlds better long distance runners. They are lean and have very long legs, (thighs). It is not usual to see the short dumpy people in these events. Nor is it usual to see those in the racing world doing well in weight lifting. I look forward to taking another clinic with you.

Thank you very much for taking the time to write to me regarding your views. And thank you for recommending my work to others.


To Be or Not To Be Quoted

That is the question.

Every so often I google myself, which, despite sounding rather strange, can be informative for me. It is nice to read unsolicited comments.


I often find that I am quoted incorrectly or that I am used as the proof to someone’s opinion even though that ‘proof’ is inaccurate. I have found that this is particularly evident in various forums.

For instance: I have never declared that sprinters are built downhill, and most certainly have not studied racehorses with that ‘view’ in mind. In fact, I have often asked people to define ‘downhill’ in general (not racing specific) and asked for examples. Of the examples presented to me with a description of ‘butt higher than withers’, all of the mature ones have actually measured higher in the withers than at the croup…at least so far.

Maybe the next time someone points out a horse that is built downhill, you can measure it and see if it really is or whether it is an optical illusion.

One of the goals I hold dear is to be objective and to not mislead. Therefore, I try to avoid falling prey to optical illusions. In my PowerPoints, one of the first things I do is show how optical illusions can fool our eyes. Some of you may recall looking at photos right side up and then up side down. And remember, my first book was entitled Ten Conformation Myths.

As to the comments that I expect all horses to compete at the top level of a particular sport or discipline, all I can say is that one has to set the bar somewhere when trying to help people understand how conformation affects function. One way is to use the world’s best horses in order to demonstrate how they function so well in their sport/discipline and how they differ from horses in other sports/disciplines. They are used as ideals or points for comparison – and perhaps as goals for breeders and/or competitive riders and coaches – not as the only acceptable type.

Do I believe that all horses need to be built to be the best in the world? No, but I do believe that we humans need to understand that just because our horse is by Famous Stallion and from Champion bloodlines through the dam, it may not be built to meet human expectations. By showing how far a horse is from championship form (functional conformation) or from the ideal for a certain sport/discipline (functional conformation) , we should be able to set realistic expectations for that individual and keep it happy and sound within its own comfort zone. That is my sincerest wish for every horse, and it has been for a long time.

Those who have emailed me within the past couple of decades or so may well have noticed the following quote in my replies:

"My goal - as always - has been to do well by the horse. 
That usually is in the best interests of horsemen as well, 
though I know that what I say and do is not always (hardly ever!) 
appreciated in the short run." James Rooney, DVM

A Blip or Two

Sorry to have been so long between posts on this site, but I had to deal with some health irregularities. Happily, they have been remedied and I am now working my way back to the norm…ok…my norm, whatever that is.

In the interim, I’m glad to report that book sales have been moving along with sales to clients in Germany, South Africa, Australia, Ireland, Canada and the United States in the last few months. And I also did some online evaluations – pre-purchase advice, breeding recommendations, etc. – for clients in a few different countries.

The Future

There’s talk of a clinic/seminar near Temecula in Riverside County in California in the coming months, so stay tuned for specific dates. The organizers are thinking sooner rather than later.

If interested in attending as an observer and/or as a participant, please express your interest by the end of February, and please include your discipline(s) of interest.
Contact Cynthia Godby:

The agenda is not yet set, but there is a possibly of a mixed session (various breeds and disciplines) on Saturday and a dressage-specific session on Sunday. So far the audience is likely to include jousters, eventers, barrel racers, dressage riders and trainers.

Who knows? If this one is well received, perhaps we can do another in late October or early November when I am in the general area covering the Breeders’ Cup horse races at Santa Anita.

In the meantime, I will continue to give some thought to the next e-book. I’m leaning towards doing one on Athleticism, Soundness and Longevity that is not breed or discipline specific.

What say you?

Upcoming Clinic in Alberta


November 21/22 @ Birch Bay Ranch
Day 1 –Conformation and Function PowerPoint plus Hands-on Session
Day 2 – Riding Your Horse for How it is Built
Register with Shirley: (780) 662-4747 or

It has been a while…

I could list several excuses, but the truth is that I simply lacked the motivation to post much of anything on this site. That is something that came to a head – or saturation point – after the WEG experience last year. Other happenings within the horse industry as well as with some of the magazines in which I am published did nothing to improve the situation.

But any lack of motivation is on me. It is up to me to get over it or move in other directions. I have done some of the latter as of late.
Watching the ParaPan Am Games on TV reminded me that mindset plays a huge roll in what one can accomplish and what one can overcome with a willingness to adapt.
Recently, I have been watching the IAAF championships in track and field with an eye towards the bone structures most suited for the various sports. There are correlations between the mechanics of certain human sports and the mechanics of various equine sports. Therefore, I consider the time spent as research and not purely enjoyment.
Usain Bolt is a prime example. No doubt he is an ideal sprinter given his record, but, at one time, he was considered too tall to be a sprinter and was steered towards middle distance running. Aside from his height, he is, to my eye, built exactly like a sprinter when it comes to bone structure and proportions.
This serves as a lesson regarding how we determine in which direction to send a horse. I seem to recall that Gifted at nearly 18 hands was considered to be too tall for dressage and that Touch of Class at just over 15 hands was considered too small for jumping. Hickstead had several knocks against him, including his height, but he won Olympic gold anyway.
So…guarding against making inaccurate assumptions should be important, right? I hope that is the case with the recent Young Horse competitions, but I find the lack of objective measures to still be a hurdle to accurately predicting future excellence and, more importantly, long term soundness. I think using more objective measures would benefit the horses, the breeders and the buyers. In addition, the Young Horse programs would benefit through an increase in more precise predictions.
It is important to remember that maintaining the status quo is usually a human decision. Nothing stays stagnant in nature. Some people have positions to protect, some have egos to guard and so on, but if you think using objective measures is a better idea, it is up to you (singly and cooperatively) to affect the required changes.