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In August, 2009 a remarkable man passed away. His name was Dr. Gordon Woods. Not only was he the first person successfully to clone an equine, Woods then used his findings to form a wider project aimed at helping better understanding of human diseases. Despite the magnitude of his discoveries, this scientific pioneer’s departure was barely noted in a horse world obsessed with personal achievement, national glory, commercial endorsements and scientific hubris.
A Plea for Knowledge
At the same time the LRG-AF received another plea for academic equestrian assistance. “Isn’t it ironic,” wrote this amateur scholar, “that in this age of information, so much of it is useless. In fact an enormous amount of material available on the Internet is dangerous.” Could a world full of on-line knowledge have lost its equestrian bearings? The answer lay in the year 1908.
The Decline of Horses
William Taft was elected president in 1908 and rode to his inauguration in a horse-drawn carriage. Four years later, his successor Woodrow Wilson chose to travel the same route in an automobile. These two journeys represented the on-coming shift of the 20th century horse world, though few at the time realized what they were witnessing. In 1918 there were an estimated 21,550,000 horses, ponies and mules labouring in the United States alone. They worked on farms, toiled in cities and maintained contact with the remote parts of the country. By 1930 less than a third of these animals remained. The availability of inexpensive automobiles and tractors at the beginning of the 20th century created an unprecedented American equinocide.
The Decline of Knowledge
Mankind lost more than the horse when he replaced the equine with the automobile. Various types of equestrian knowledge, gathered and perfected over five thousand years, died without a whisper between the dawning of the Model T and the advent of the black and white television. The result is that since the birth of the motorized age an increasing sense of global equestrian amnesia has gripped the world. Traditions, practices, cures expired without a trace. Equipment, and the knowledge of how to use it, became extinct.
Hollywood to the rescue
In a deliberate attempt to capitalize on a growing sense of nostalgia, the emergent American television industry created an unprecedented cinematic wave of black and white western programs. This calculated marketing ploy resulted in a record 39 different cowboy shows flooding into American homes during 1959 alone. As the values expressed in this high-calorie diet of Hollywood hot-house cinematic equine fantasy took hold, the first generation of television-watching American children unknowingly become part of the emergence of 20th century post-domestic horse ownership, one wherein horses were increasingly viewed for their emotional rather than practical value.
The Vacuum of Wisdom
Nature abhors an equestrian vacuum. That explains why as hands-on expertise declined, the latter part of the 20th century horse world was increasingly filled with horse hucksters and pseudo-historians. For example, a recent best-selling book claims the Chinese brought horses to North America in 1421. Another says that Spanish horses are descended from equine survivors of Atlantis. Meanwhile, million dollar empires have been created by shamans and showmen who, lacking any credentials, hang out a shingle and claim to be a “horse whisperer.” The worst danger is the increase of hocus-pocus horsemanship. These people, who peddle various equestrian superstitions over the internet and in expensive clinics, urge a departure from rational thought and embrace emotionalism instead. The cumulative effect is the emergence of a 21st horse world which is in danger of being overwhelmed by equestrian superstition and is infected by various equine personality cults, all of which threaten to undermine the intellectual integrity of serious equestrian science.
Scientists Partly to Blame
For the past few decades scientists have wrongly viewed the horse as a nostalgic relic of a pre-industrial age. While there have been recent significant breakthroughs in genetic research, the academic community has played a part in allowing the world’s equestrian heritage to atrophy to the point of intellectual extinction. A lack of scientific ground-breaking research has resulted in pedestrian academics formulating theories based upon speculation, not actual equestrian experience.
Universities also at Fault
In a world dying from inadequate equestrian investigation, a growing number of universities are offering what are known as “Mickey Mouse” degrees which are of dubious academic merit. For example, one hundred British universities spend more than £40 million a year on courses such as “fashion buying” and “pirateology.” Plus, while a student can study the archaeology of sports, food, music and rocks, no university offers a degree in equine based archaeology. Nor are other areas of interest in the equestrian scientific arena being adequately developed. The result is that, with the exception of issues related to equine health, there is a pitiful lack of international equestrian academic leadership.
Magazines a Liability
A recent survey revealed that 76% of the horse owners surveyed no longer purchased monthly equestrian magazines. Why?
Speaking off the record, an editorial insider revealed, “The trouble with horse magazines is instead of giving readers something that would shock, educate or change their perceptions, they are too set on the results of focus groups, readership demographic surveys and chasing the market share. They give the readers what they think they want, repackaged kitsch aimed at the lowest common denominator of reader (and rider).”
In the corporate-dominated magazine world, where finances always come first, meaningful research is passed over in preference to ads for horse blankets and jodhpurs. The result is that for the last fifty years, though the public yearned for something meaningful, there has been almost no cross-community discussion undertaken between academics and equestrian editors.
|Interviews with Equestrian Experts who have participated in the Voices of Authority Project||Suggested reading from the Voices of Authority.|