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Horses For Hire: Advocating Against Unnecessary Abuses
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Horses For Hire: Advocating Against Unnecessary Abuses

I have a thing about horses. Notice I didn’t say “for horses,” as if I really loved horses, I said about horses. Here’s the thing: I can’t look at a horse without getting all misty-eyed and feeling my heart break in my chest. It’s very difficult for me to be around horses, or to watch a movie featuring horses (and please don’t tell me to see War Horse unless are you trying to kill me). I have tried equine therapy, took a class in horsemanship, even tried to take up riding, but all to no avail. I become a blithering idiot when I’m around horses.

When I first learned about how they get horses to fall down in all those Western movies and war movies, I was devastated. To think that someone would deliberately put piano wire in the path of a running horse to make it fall down caused me a whole lot of distress. But it gets worse. In 1980, a monster by the name of Michael Cimino wrote and directed a Western film called “Heaven’s Gate.” The accusations of animal cruelty were rampant and the American Human Association was not allowed on the set. Horses had their necks cut so their blood could be spread on human actors. Naturally, no painkillers were given. Four horses were killed, one of which was actually blown up by dynamite and the scene appears in the film. Many horses suffered painful injuries all for the sake of a realistic war scene. Thank God for the computer generated graphics used today to accomplish the same goal.

A lawsuit brought by the owner of one of the horses hired for the movie alleged her gelding was deprived of proper care, resulting in the horse’s “severe physical and behavioral trauma and disfigurement." To avoid further bad press, the case settled. Cockfights were allegedly held on the grounds during the movie, and chickens were decapitated for entertainment. Cows were disemboweled “to provide fake intestines for the actors.”

Naturally, the AHA went ballistic and organized protests and picket lines all across America where the movie was being released. Of course, “Heaven’s Gate” is not the only film to be accused of animal cruelty, but it was responsible for igniting a cinematic animal rights movement and the now famous "No animals were harmed..." disclaimer and stringent guidelines.

So that’s one thing that haunts me nights. The other is the fact that I lobbied on Capital Hill along with other TAFA attendees to make horse slaughter in the United States illegal only to learn that our efforts simply made things worse for horses. Now, instead of being slaughtered in the U.S., where humane laws exist, they are being shipped in cattle cars (very uncomfortable for an animal that stands taller than the average cow) to Mexico where “kill men” force them into a box and stab them to death. Nice. The HSUS is working on remedying that situation but I can’t get that image horses being killed that way out of my head.

Then there are all the entertainment industry abuses: horse racing, carriage horses, circus stallions, pony rides, rodeos, mundane trail rides (by the way, you "hire" a horse, you don't "rent" one but really, try not to do either), barrel racing and so much more. There’re probably even some activities I don’t know about. And don’t get me started on the Premarin horses. Then there’s soring, the practice of deliberately injuring a horse’s feet in order to make her prance a certain way. There was a time when cowboys, hell bent on stealing a foal from his mother, would cut the mother’s Achilles’ tendon so she couldn’t give chase and defend her baby. I hope there is a special place in hell for people who do such monstrous things to animals.

When I hear a beautiful composition by Joann Sebastian Bach or Ludwig Beethoven or that song by Sarah McLaughlin that accompanies the ASPCA commercials I cry. I weep at the beauty of the melody and the lyrics. When I see an animal, any animal, I always pause to appreciate the creatures’ natural beauty. There is truly no more beautiful animal than a horse. The fact that horses have been around man, helping humans and furthering the human agenda makes it all the more reprehensible that they are treated so inhumanely. They have been our partners, our friends and our inspiration for centuries, and this is how we repay them. No wonder I can’t look a horse in the eye.

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Michelle A. Rivera is the author of several books including HOSPICE HOUNDS, Animals and Healing at the Borders of Death (Lantern Books); CANINES IN THE CLASSROOM, Raising Humane Children through Interactions with Animals;(Lantern Books) DO DOGS HAVE BELLY BUTTONS? 100 Questions and Answers about Dogs(Adams Media); THE SIMPLE LITTLE VEGAN SLOW COOKER and THE SIMPLE LITTLE VEGAN DOG BOOK(Book Publishers, Inc.) and ON DOGS AND DYING (Purdue University Press). She is also an essayist and has been published in the vegetarian essay book “Voices from the Garden.” She is a freelance writer/editor and along with her Certified Therapy Dogs, a Humane Educator and R.E.A.D tutor. Michelle is a past blogger for and a writer for several online publications including eHow, Livestrong, Rachel Ray, The Daily Puppy, USA Today, Cracked and others. She has two Certified Delta Society Therapy Dogs: Murphy, a Golden Retriever, and Tabitha, a Standard Poodle; and two cats. All are rescued animals. Michelle lives in South Florida with her husband, John, an attorney, and is the proud grandmother of three lovely children, Austin, Alexander and Adrienne.

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