OK, the headline is unusually harsh, even for a blogger who examines every detail of horsemanship with skepticism. A little sensational, you say? Yes, I agree. But, read on, if you can.
"Sometimes things don’t have to have a point - they just have to make you smile." And these images of horses with hair extensions do just that.
Award winning advertising photographer Julian Wolkenstein was chatting with a fellow advertising friend when he hit upon the idea of experimenting with horses’ hair to make supermodels of the equine world.
"The idea for these images came from a discussion with a friend who said, ‘Hey wouldn’t it be fun to shoot horses with big hair?'"
Julian worked with hair-stylist Acacio da Silva to whip the horses into shape.
"'Each horse took around four hours to groom, with hair extensions being added by Acacio, and then when they were presented in front of the camera’s and lights they would shake their heads, give a neigh and then ruffle up their hair,’ said Julian - with a somewhat forced grin."
It is said that the horses loved the grooming, but were less enthusiastic about the lights and camera.
This made me think of the procedures horse people put our horses through to make them “look nice” and to meet whatever standard we adhere to for our various equestrian endeavors. Many of us undertake these tasks without ever thinking whether or not they are necessary, or even harmful.
Of course, the first example that comes to mind is the soring and insanely damaging shoeing style of the Tennessee Walker, designed to enhance its distinctive walk, The Big Lick.
I’m not going into all the details of this procedure or the reasons TWH people think it’s necessary. They are not evil people intent on harming the horses they so obviously love. They really believe in what they are doing. This is often the case with how we manage our horses. Mindfulness is sometimes hard to come by when passion looms large. We believe what we do is necessary until we are forced to stop and think.
It’s a slippery slope, with just about everything we do for our horses falling somewhere on a continuum from allowing them to be as natural as possible given the barest constraints of domestication to living in box stalls 24/7, sporting slinkies and booties, eating only pelleted feed and supplements.
Please correct me if I’m wrong, or feel free to add to this idea in anyway. I’m wondering if the reasons we metaphorically curl our horses hair boil down to vanity, convenience and ignorance. Upon reading the remainder of this, some readers will write in with the reasons for which many of these procedures are done. But there are always reasons. I’m interested in pointing out the base human needs that create them. I believe they arise from a lack of mindfulness.
I confess that I know little of the historical origin of braiding manes. I do know that, during one of the most strenuous and dangerous horseback riding events in modern times, fox hunting, braiding the mane serves little purpose. Anyone who tells you braiding keeps the mane clear of brush and debirs is fooling either you or themselves. A few braids at the base of the mane serve well as a grip for jumps and rough terrain, but they serve the rider rather than the horse. You can argue safety all day long, but in the end, it’s an issue of the use of horses (some would say exploitation) as opposed to the coexistence with horses that it boils down to.
I know horses who stand quietly for the seemingly interminable task of braiding, heedless of the pulling. I also know horses who seem to hate every separation of the mane and banding or sewing.
Pulling manes has often been an issue for me, as I have always boarded at traditional barns where you are looked down upon if you don’t keep your horses “looking their best.” Who is to say what this really is? If I allow my horses’ manes to grow long during the summer to protect them from flies and sun, or long in the winter for added warmth, I hear a lot of oblique criticism from those who would never allow such a thing. (I have to agree with them that it’s more maintenance and if you don’t comb it out every day your horse ends up looking like a wild orphan of the range.) No one can tell me that horses do not feel their hair being yanked out of their necks. All you need is a basic anatomy class to show you that there ARE nerves in the crest. Mane pulling is done for the vanity of owners. For uniformity in the hunt field. To look pretty in the show ring. I completely understand pride of presentation and professionalism. There are ways of achieving this pride and presentation with a natural horse. Take a look at the manes of Western Pleasure horses. No one has tortured them in the name of neatness (at least, not their manes).
Everyone has seen the legion teenage girls who bathe and groom their horses obsessively. The horses seem to like all the attention. I just wonder if their skin and coats like all the detergent. Mother nature did not send the horse into the world with a lifetime supply of Super Sparkle Mane and Tail. Is it strictly necessary to use it weekly? Wild horses seem to do just fine without shampoo.
[I always dreamed of running a facility for the natural good of all the horses. Water would be on the ground around the low water troughs , to nourish and soften hooves, outdoor shelters would be cooled by breezes (and fans if necessary), and horses who aren't ill or injured would live outdoors, 24/7. Grass would comprise the bulk of the diet, weather permitting. Forage in winter. Hooves would be trimmed, not shod. I'd love it if readers would chime in on what features would complete this fantasy natural barn. Like fantasy baseball, I do fantasy stabling.]
It’s possible to take this unthinking mindset to the other extreme and go too far in the direction of “respecting the horse’s natural condition.” The Strasser trim comes immediately to mind. Not necessarily the trim itself, but for the way it is often immediately implemented, leaving a previously shod horse painfully lame, to grow sole, bars and wall over the course of months.
Sticking to any horse care doctrine/regime without really thinking about where it came from, why it may or may not work, and how it applies to our personal horses can get us into trouble. Sometimes we don’t even realize it. Holding fast to the middle of a continuum of care, and remaining aware of the reasons for and implications of our choices, should be a goal for all horse people. I realize that many do as they’re taught. But sooner or later, we have to start thinking, and seeing the horse as an animal rather than as an extension of our own egos or as a tool for accomplishment.
I can’t help thinking that the glitter girls, tail extension people and braiding addicts might enjoy the company of their horses more if they saw them for who and what they really are instead of trying to alter them to meet some arcane, arbitrary breed or performance standard. You can’t really love someone until you know who they are. You can’t love someone if you’re constantly trying to change them, adapt them, use them.
Horses are naturally hairy and often dirty. They roll in the mud, often immediately after a bath, and they seem to like getting unicorn horns of brambles in their forelocks. That’s who horses are. While it’s fun and amusing to dream of them wearing braids and beads, it’s even better to know them as they are, brambles, mud and all.