Are our actions with horses ethical?


People have asked me what I feel is abusive to horses or how I look at different trainings as being ethical or not…

Those questions are personal judgments and they will differ depending on the person, the horse, and the intentions.

The whole idea of being ethical or training ethically is so personal as it encompasses a person’s worldview, religious background, and beliefs, so it is hard to pin down what is ethical on a global scope.

As a general rule, I believe abuse should be judged by the horse. If the horse cowers, is in fear or pain, or feels threatened than YES, it is abuse because the horse feels it is abusive to him or her.

However, regardless of the horse’s reaction, anything that causes a horse to bleed or end up injured is obviously abuse.

“No blood, no bruises, and no broken bones.”

That’s what an old trainer told me to look out for many, many years ago when watching for people who were abusive to their horses. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a very low bar to set.

“No drama, no trauma,” is my personal view.

As we are fast approaching the Holiday Season, people tend to take a step back and really consider how they treat their fellow human beings and as a result are generally more thoughtful, considerate, and yes, ethical.

I’m sure most people try to think like this the entire year, but a bit like New Year’s Resolutions, this time of year always comes round as a reminder.

I love the feeling of joy, happiness, togetherness, and love that it brings out in people, it’s beautiful to see.

My business partner Mark was telling me about the warm feeling he experienced after he gave a down-on-his-luck guy some money to buy some food outside a supermarket.

That’s the kind of thing the holiday season does to people.

Jazz, Apollo and Dartagnan in the snow

So I hope people not only reflect on their actions towards others but also towards their horses.

After doing some research on the “ethical” treatment of horses in a general sense, I found some really good questions that you can ask yourself about your relationship with your horse to see if it is as “ethically sound” as you hope.

These questions are not meant to point any fingers or make any judgments. They are purely for you and your own personal use to help you reflect on the questions that people have asked me.

The authors and articles that I researched suggest using some key moral questions that can be used as baseline indicators for assessing whether your interactions with horses are ethical.

The questions are:

  1. Does this practice cause my horse short-term pain or discomfort?
  2. Does this practice cause my horse long-term pain or discomfort?
  3. Is there a way I can modify this practice to ensure less negative impact on the horse?
  4. Can I train a horse to be a safe, reliable mount if I don’t do this?
  5. Is this practice done with a view to intimidating the horse?
  6. Am I asking the horse to do something he/she is physically/mentally not capable of doing?
  7. Is there an alternative practice that can achieve approximately the same result?
  8. Is the practice ‘fair’ to the horse?
  9. Am I being timely in my reinforcements?
  10. Does the horse have the option of making a ‘correct’ choice?
  11. By engaging in this practice, am I subjecting my horse to a reduced state of welfare?
  12. By engaging in this practice, am I breaking the law?
  13. Am I breaking a direct rule of the equine governing association?
  14. Am I breaking an implied rule or code of conduct of the governing association?
  15. Is my initial reaction to this practice when first exposed to it a negative one?

These are just a few of the general questions to review when thinking about the ethical treatment of horses. Your relationship with your horse is of course a personal one and should be kept sacred between the two of you.

How many did you score?

Let me know in the comments below. If you have any other questions or comments, I’d love to read and respond to them too!

Please Share

  • Bebee Wallace says:

    I really enjoyed the questions

  • One of the reasons i have become interested in your website because i believe in ethical treatment of horses

  • Moira Pemberton says:

    I really love the way you approach everything about horses. May sound a bit biblical but Do unto others as you would be done by, covers it all. So enjoy my horses choosing to be with me and interact without worry. Thank you for making people think about their feelings x

    • That is exactly what I was thinking when I wrote the blog. 🙂 Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

  • I really love your articles, and yes this all makes so much sense. I can relate to your story and how frustrated you were when you came home from the hospital. I’m recovering from brain surgery and am at that point of reconnecting & learning the horse. Thank you for your posts.

    • Thank you. I wish you a speedy and full recovery. Just take your time and reconnect with nature first. That will help you reconnect back to the world as well.

  • Yes, the above questions make sense as I never would expect my horses to do anymore then I expected. I will answer more later on. As always I enjoy your writings and thank you

  • Your viewpoint is so appreciated, partly because I’ve heard and seen too many horse people with very different viewpoints. Thank you for standing up for the horses!

  • Some very good questions. Thought provoking. Somethings to ponder and consider. Thank you

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