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Most people who have read the book, or have had it read to them, know Gulliver’s Travels as a story about Lilliput, an island where Gulliver is cast ashore as a shipwreck survivor. The land is inhabited by a race of people who are only around six inches tall. This portion of the tale by Jonathan Swift is only Part One or four parts.

In Part four, Gulliver makes a voyage to the country of the Houyhnhnms. This is a land ruled by horses and in their language, Houyhnhnms describing themselves, means perfection of nature. A horse running free in an open pasture is surely a wonderful awe inspiring sight and close to the belief expressed by the Houyhnhnms.

Australia prides itself as a horse loving nation but like most popular truths, the bare facts are more gray than black and white.  Seven horses landed with the first fleet in 1788. The current number of horses around the country is around one point two million.

Horses contribute significantly to the Australian economy. A now dated study from the year 2000 estimated the economic contribution of sport and recreation, excluding the horse racing industry, generated over three billion dollars for the economy. In comparison, horse racing alone in 1999 generated close to four billion dollars and the equine industry as a whole produced six point three billion dollars. Whilst the data is some what aged, the relative proportion of economic value between all sports and the horse business today should be similar.

The thoroughbred industry in Australia is bigger than the combined size of the industry in France, England and Ireland.

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Mum Ebony and one day old Cinnamon. Note Mums twisted front leg that would usually result in destruction at birth. She gallops as good as any oher horse although is never ridden

 

However, every coin has two sides.

  • There are thirty three knackeries operating in Australia.

 

  • There are two abattoirs processing horse meat for export. In 2007, two thousand tonnes of horsemeat were shipped overseas for human consumption.

 

  • Around forty thousand horses are slaughtered annually. Eight thousand of these are feral horses and eighteen thousand arrive from the horse racing industry.

 

  • A study conducted in 1999 discovered the alarming fact that in Australia around ninety percent of all race horses had stomach ulcers. A similar study conducted in the United States found in their case, the figure was closer to one hundred percent.

 

  • Horse whips are standard weapons in horse racing and yet if any other animal was subjected to such treatment, the perpetrator would be charged.

 

  • A personal survey of a small country town with ten horses in individual paddocks, not one provided any shelter for the horses, not even a tree to escape the heat, the wet or the cold wind. Three had no access to water which was presumably supplied by the owner at alloted times ( one would hope).

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Cinnamon is getting older but no wiser on table manners.

As far as horses being destroyed and used for other things, if the process is humane who really can complain? Whilst there are reports of things not being as most would like it, it is up to the authorities to have the will and resources to ensure they are.

Horses have been eaten by humans since the beginning. It is only in relatively recent history, as horses have been domesticated sufficiently to become companion animals, that some societies have made the practice taboo, at least socially.

The meat is reportedly sweet, tender, low in fat and high in protein.

Over five million horses are consumed world wide every year in virtually every corner of the planet but particularly in Europe and Asia. In the United States where the slaughter of horses for human consumption has been stopped, over two thousand tonnes of horse meat are imported instead.

If it is okay to raise cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, rabbits and poultry for dinner tables, why not so for the horse? It is what happens to the horse on its journey that should be questioned, not the actual consumption.

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Dad Peanuts and son Cinnamon.

There are horse rescue agencies that try to save rejected race horses from slaughter. However, given the breeding and training regimen required for this select group,  temperamentaly they are not often the type that can happily while away the years as a child mount or farm hack. If the horses are not humanely disposed of, where are eighteen thousand horses going to go each year, and every year thereafter? It would be a hard call to stop horse racing in its tracks.

Stomach ulcers in horses are as painful as they would be in humans. They can even kill. They result in the main from the unnatural feed given to race horses to ultimately ensure they win. A horse on a so called natural diet has a balance that does not permit the build up of hydrochloric acid in the stomach the leads to stomach ulceration. If all horses could be provided a natural diet, it might make the race horses slower overall, but surely there would still be winners. The overall time a distance is covered is not as important as getting the nose in front at the post.

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Cinnamon plays with his ball.

The attitude to the whipping of horses has made the Australian Racing council alter the terms for their use. Some jockeys were so incensed by the change, claiming it made their ride more unsafe, they went on strike in protest. However the change has remained in place although calls to ban their use are still as fervent. Again, if the  use of whips was eliminated at race meets across the country, at least everyone would be racing again on the same basis. As Nathan Bazley commented on his Behind the News website on I think   the result of the Melbourne Cup race of 2008;

“In that frantic run to the line, the last one hundred metres of the race, jockeys can only hit their mount seven times. To give you an idea, the winner of last year's Melbourne Cup was hit eleven times in the same distance. It only just held on for the win. But if we replay the vision, you'll notice the horse that challenged it wasn't hit in the last hundred at all.”

The casualisation of pet ownership in general has been and continues to be a topic of some debate. There are attempts to control puppy farms, ban the sale of dog and cat sales from pet shops, to ban the sale of all animals from pet shops and to introduce proper licensing of pets to include whether a person has the knowledge and resources to adequately care for their animal. However, particularly in regional Australia, the ownership of pets is taken as a right.

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Horses are herd animals and enjoy the company of others.One is always on guard whilst the others relax. Trusty Mum is on duty whilst the boys take it easy!

When road rules are so regularly flaunted, when personal beliefs rule over knowledge and reason, the chance of any breakthrough in getting people to correctly care for their animals will not be happening any time soon. Ignorance is a hard condition to treat when tied to bloody mindedness. Luckily there are lots of people who do take pet ownership seriously enough to push the cause of right and serve as examples to others.

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Horses are curious, friendly and fun. Hardly has the car stopped and Cinnamon is up to see what's up.

Knowledge is power. It is only through the efficient telling of the stories on our patches that reaction and successful action and change can result.

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Estimates on how much a horse costs from Jane Duckworth.

Published: Nov 12, 2010 11:09am by shaun.

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