Opened by HRH The Princess Royal who underlined the many different ways in which horses are valued in today’s society – as sport competitors, as working horses which whole families rely on in impoverished communities overseas, as a much-loved family pet and even valued in the slaughter trade for whatever price they are worth [as reported in the Mail on Sunday 16/11/2014 by a reporter who attended the charity’s conference] – our conference on ‘The Value of Horses’ really got people talking.

*This event was generously sponsored by Betfair for the fourth consecutive year.*

Photo by Luru Wei.

Watch HRH The Princess Royal’s speech.

When Royal Marine Veteran, Jason Hare, stood to explain what a horse’s value meant to him, his tragic but heart-warming story touched the hearts of the audience. The emotional and therapeutic value of the horse remains the value which resonated most with the almost 400 guests including leading figures in sport, media, veterinary medicine, local government, rural organisations, charities and the many other equine experts present. [Image, above, shows Jason Hare]

After being “blown up twice” while serving as a Royal Marine, once by a suicide bomber and once by stepping on an improvised explosive device, Jason lost his left leg, digits to his right hand, his left eye and also suffered severe facial injuries and had to have his nose amputated. “I lost my facial identity,” he said. “And this is what started my road to recovery.”

Once a young boy [aged 19 when he joined the marines] who wanted adventure, to explore and who loved speed, especially motorbikes – to be told that he had to leave the marines and rely on crutches and his wheelchair – “was hard to swallow,” he’d told the room.

It was HorseBack UK, a charity which aids the recovery of servicemen and women who have suffered physical or mental injuries, which found him and challenged his outlook through a life-changing experience that he could never have imagined he’d take part in.

Having never worked with horses before, Jason was nervous: “These horses had four legs, I only had one,” he said.

But as time went on he really did learn the value of horses.

Watch Jason Hare’s Speech

Jason 'Jay' Hare Horseback UK - Horse Welfare Conference Speech

At HorseBack UK, the initial emphasis is on learning the basics, caring for the horses and building a bond of trust with them. Once that trust is established, the groundwork starts. This builds confidence in gentle increments, so that by the time the participants graduate to riding, they are completely at ease with their horse. For veterans, this learning process acts as a bridge from the military to the civilian world whilst still working in the great outdoors, like so many veterans are used to.

“I found working with horses extremely beneficial. It’s hard to be patient when you’re a patient, but working with these animals relaxed me and taught me perseverance. You can’t bully boy horses – they’ll just kick you or run away but you can’t be too passive either or they won’t listen. You have to find a balance, like everything in life. In the Royal Marines we say: you have to improvise, adapt and overcome – it’s the same principal in this role; it might take weeks, months or even a year but this gave me my mobility back – and with dignity.”

Jason now helps other injured servicemen on the road to recovery as team leader at the charity and says that helping others means that he can give something back. “I never thought I would be a horse owner but as I learnt to walk, my horse learnt new skills – we did it together. I get to see every day how horses help injured servicemen, disabled children and even youngsters who have been disengaged from education and have been through the judicial system: the power of horses.”

Other speakers on the day spoke about the many other interpretations of ‘the value of horses’.

Secretary General of the German Equestrian Federation, Soenke Lauterbach, discussed the value of the horse in sport and in leisure. He compared the monetary value of a £100,000 sport horse at the top of its game with a £200 beloved pet – asking why their worth should differ so vastly. He said: “Why is a horse who can win an Olympic medal more valuable than a horse who first teaches you to ride? Without school horses there is no future for our sport in the broader public: they are our first teachers, they need to be calm and friendly, easy to ride and safe – isn’t this more valuable? But he stated that more often than not the value of a horse is based upon its suitability for certain jobs.

Watch Soenke Lauterbach’s speech.

This was followed by Professor Cathy McGowan, from the School of Veterinary Science in Liverpool, who spoke about the functional value of the working horse to impoverished communities overseas. She highlighted that with 50% of the world in poverty, the horse is heavily relied upon as the only transport to enable families to carry out their day-to-day responsibilities like taking their children to school, getting medical assistance, retrieving food and water and even helping in construction by carrying the materials to build roads and houses. Is this not the real value of the horse?

Watch Professor Cathy McGowan’s speech.

Writer and philosopher, Roger Scruton, who spoke eloquently on his own view of the value of horses enlightened us by saying: “The horse is one of the few animals that we entrust ourselves to. When riding a horse, our safety depends entirely on him and his safety likewise entirely on us. We entrust our life to the horse by compelling him to entrust his life to us – there’s no closer bond with an animal than this.”

Talking about the distinctive nature of humans encompassed with our responsibility for horse welfare he said: “We are the species that cares and we can abuse that caring or we can use it to our advantage and that of other species.”

Watch Roger Scruton’s speech.

What is the Value of Horses? – This question was bound to spark debate on what a horses’ value really means to each individual and disagreement was inevitable. That is why this year the Conference hosted two debates, argued by four panellists and discussed by the audience. The motions considered were: ‘Qualifications are essential for good horsemanship’ and ‘Horse welfare would improve if slaughter were banned.’ There were, of course, differing opinions over the two motions but the majority of the audience, at the end of the discussions and questions from the floor, agreed that qualifications were not essential and that indeed experience with horses is held to higher regard. After the ‘for’ and ‘against’ argument was put forward by the panellists on banning horse slaughter – a majority judgement was concluded – that banning slaughter would not improve the welfare of horses.

Chief Executive of the hosting charity, Roly Owers, said as he drew the conference to a close:

“I have been truly amazed by the many different ways we value horses. The value of horses transcends money, utility and sentiment but we should not assume the different values we place on horses need to be in conflict. Focus on one value does not negate others, but if we value any one aspect too highly horse welfare suffers.

“For instance, emotional value can be so high that it clouds an owner’s judgement as to when to say ‘good bye’. Too high a financial value can stop a horse being able to express normal behaviour, due to being stabled 24/7 or being kept from their own species. Functional value is so immensely high in impoverished communities overseas that these horses are often worked hard for over 10 hours each day, every day and not given adequate rest, nutrition or veterinary care. Similarly a horse’s function as a food source seems to have negated any appreciation of their sentience by those who handle them on their journey to the slaughterhouse. Conversely, people feel so strongly about horses that they do not believe they should ever be slaughtered for meat – feeling trumping function. So it’s important to keep any one of these values in check if we want to give our horses the care they deserve. Let’s use the extraordinary gift humans have been given to care for animals and redouble our efforts to protect horse welfare.”

Watch each of the individual sections of the conference, broken up for easy navigation.

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