Reply from Horseman's Calling
Two days ago, Stephanie Oliver, the marketing coordinator for Horseman's Calling, contacted us through Facebook. She was not very happy about our report from the show. She felt it did not properly reflect how spectators, organisers and participants had experienced the event. It was "full of opinion and no fact." We asked Ms. Oliver whether she disagreed that the horses in our footage looked frightened, but she declined to answer.
You can read Ms Oliver's comments on our Facebook page here.
Today, Horseman's Calling officially released a statement - an "open letter" - in response to the blog about their show. Below are their comments and my answers. I have not corrected
Ms Oliver's grammar or spelling. Anyway, here we go.
"Open Letter to Julie Taylor, Epona TV."
Wow, my first open letter. I feel so important.
”We at Horseman’s Calling having read your blog thought that perhaps a response with the facts was in order.”
Perhaps it was. There is more video to be released, though, so I was going to wait and ask you after I was done. Anyway, facts are always good.
”Please be clear we refuse to get drawn into a prolonged online debate with regards to training methods.”
Understood. Feel free to refuse. See how that works?
”When introducing horses from the field into the modern world it is imperative for the safety of both horse and rider that horses are desensitised.”
So it is believed. However, the fact that horses need to be desensitised to scary objects in order to function as riding horses is only relevant to this discussion if your way is the only way. The fact that there are many ways to teach horses about scary objects – only one of which is to do it in two sessions in front of an audience, away from the horse's familiar surroundings and with a strange trainer – makes this part of your letter irrelevant.
”Our choice to use a humane system of pressure and then release..”
My view is that your system of choice is not humane.
”...to do so is wholly appropriate and successful in helping horses effectively and without violence overcome all manner of phobias.”
I am starting to think you have a different understanding of the term "facts" to the one I have. What you have stated above is known as an opinion.
Firstly, appropriate and succesful are not the same thing. Flooding may be effective under certain circumstances, but that does not automatically make it appropriate.
”Naturally you’re going to get mummers of ‘look at all the pressure they are putting on that horse’ if you do not show the fact that there is always a release and unfortunately the way you have edited your video in removing the trainers moments of release.”
You should be more specific if you want to be understood. I have included the release in many if not most of the cuts. Which one are you talking about? In any case, the fact that there is a release at the end of it does not automatically render a level of pressure acceptable. If it did, we could justify all kinds of horrible interventions as long as they eventually ceased.
”....and not showing the end result of the training has simply given a false impression of what actually happened.”
Firstly, I did include the end result in both the Snippet and the loading video. Secondly, unless you think that the end justifies the means, whether I did so is not relevant to my coverage. Not if you care about the horse's experience.
”In your blog you claim that the horses looked afraid the entire time they were on display, but we’re not sure you were at the same event we were at or in fact a couple of hundred other people attended, not to mention the horse’s owners who were sat at the side of each round pen. Pictures and videos will be available very soon, but please do feel free to read other spectators and owners comments.”
Quiet is not the same as not afraid. I think I mentioned this already, but it bears repeating. I have no doubt that you will release lots of pictures of horses looking sleepy – all of which will have been taken during times when the pressure was not piled on and none of which mitigate what is shown in my footage.
”All of our trainers whether performing in the competition or demonstrating in the outer ring have well-earned reputations for their excellent work, very few of which have expensive marketing budgets and therefore their reputations are earned very much through word of mouth i.e. one owner telling another owner what a good job they have done with their horse. These owners range from those of us that ride or own horses for enjoyment to those whose livelihoods are very much invested in the performance of their horse and compete at a high level. All of our trainers take on horses where other trainers fear to tread with positive results.”
Yes. As mentioned in my blog, I don't question the abilities of your trainers. They seemed very skilled. I question the ethics of your competiton format.
”We note that you profess that the trainers you work with could be much more effective with these horses, however this is very much in the same vain that the opposition party in any Government lay claim to being able to run the country in a much more proficient manner and would suggest that talk is cheap.”
Really? You seriously don't believe that a horse can get used to tarpaulin in a quieter and less stressful way than by being chased around a round pen with a piece of tarpaulin? You think I'm making it up? Luckily, lots of people - amateurs and professionals alike - have sent us their pictures and videos of how they deal with such issues without exacerbating any fear that is there in the first place. You can see these on Facebook by clicking right here.
”As Horseman’s Calling was set out to be an educational event, in the spirit of good will and our inherent belief that we can all learn from one another and that there is NO one prescriptive method ”
Who is saying there is one prescriptive method? Not me. I am saying your way is bad. I am not saying that only one way is good. There are lots of good ways. Yours just isn't one of them.
”...we would like to invite you to come and demonstrate and talk about the methods you promote at our next event.”
Thank you very much. Perhaps this is the time to repeat that I disagree with your event format and would not participate in something like that. However, if you kidnap me, shut me in a cage and chase me with a whip, perhaps I will reconsider.
”You make an allegation that the mare Angel started by one of our trainers had physical problems”
No I don't. I point out that the behaviour displayed by the mare was consistent with symptoms of pain. In other words, your vets – however qualified - could not possibly have ruled out pain without doing a clinical exam.
”....however unless we are mistaken we do not believe that you possess the relevant equine medical qualifications that would allow you to quantify this statement.”
That's right. That's why what I wrote in my blog was:
”We can't know if Angel was in pain. But considering how this was an ”educational” event and ”for the good of the horse”, it sure was strange to see a clearly very unhappy horse being worked in quite an aggressive manner with no mention at all of how it might have been prudent to put the horse through a clinical exam before proceeding.”
What exactly are you disputing here? That Angel was looking unhappy? If so, may I suggest attending some kind of educational event about equine body language?
”There were two renowned Equine Vets with nearly 80 years of practice between them observing her movement from 5 metres away, those in question were certainly not afraid to voice their concerns should they have had any, which was witnessed when Hermione was pulled from the ring after only 5 minutes when they felt she was not moving quite right.”
Good point. By the way, how did a lame horse get so far as entering into the ring in the first place? I thought you had these horses vet checked before accepting them as demo horses?
”You use the word ‘terrorise’ and ‘abuse’ freely in your blog”
The word abuse does not appear a single time in my blog, which I can tell by now you have read very carefully.
”....and openly criticise the trainer’s methods and the owners acceptance of this and yet when the floor was opened to the audience to ask questions, you did not feel the need to stand by your principles in person face-to-face and question the trainer’s at this point.”
I was there to observe and document. Not participate. Also, I had no questions to ask. It was all pretty obvious to me what was going on. I read all the natural horsemanship theories about 15 years ago when they were only slightly outdated. I understand fully what you were trying to teach people. I just can't believe you still think these methods are humane or even natural.
”No question asked by any member of the audience was turned away or refused.”
Right. But anyone voicing concern over the methods used was told they were wrong and that the horses were not being stressed.
”So we have to ask the question why you did not raise your concerns when you were given the opportunity. ”
Because this is a much better opportunity with a much bigger audience.
”This very much feels that in going home, editing your video, sensationalising your blog and promoting your propaganda you hoped to draw more attention to your agenda whatever that may be.”
That's right. I always examine the evidence before making up my mind and speaking it.
”Furthermore you look to criticise and question both Jenny Rudall and Richard Maxwell for their commentary.”
I do. I really do. I will probably do it some more as I get through more of the material.
”Jenny related all questions raised by the audience and Richard answered in full and explained in depth each trainer’s reasons behind their actions using his vast wealth of knowledge gained from helping countless horses and owners over 20 years.”
Well, no. Richard Maxwell was billed as a ”behaviourist” which kind of promises that he knows about the science of behaviour. But he was answering questions based on natural horsemanship folklore, which served to misinform the audience.
”We would also suggest that you refer to other spectator’s comments on Jenny and Richard’s excellent and informative commentary over the weekend as the consensus seems to be very much different to your own as to its engaging and educational value”
That's because I am probably the only person with a basic knowledge of equine behaviour who would pay money to attend your show.
”...and as we know no one person’s opinion is paramount to any others.”
Actually, I don't know that. I think some people's opinions are a lot more important than other people's opinions.
”Somebody wrote recently…‘To be acted upon is to have your opinions and basic integrity steam rolled by the selfish or well meaning agenda of someone else. It is to be treated as if you have no mind of your own as if you couldn’t possibly know what you want and as if what you say is of no consequence. People who act upon you basically don’t care how you feel. They might think or say they do but really, they don’t. We at Horseman’s Calling feel unfortunately that this is exactly the tact that you choose to take. For those of you that are not familiar with the statement above, these are the words of Julie Taylor of Epona TV.”
It's true – I wrote that. It was in a blog post about objectification of horses. I urge anyone who doesn't get what's wrong with colt starting competitions to go and read it.
”As stated previously we refuse to be drawn into a prolonged online debate about training methods”
It's already feeling a bit prolonged to me, actually.
”Our stance on this is clear by the very nature of all the different training methods represented at our event – NO one method fits all.”
I agree. No one method fits all. I never said it did. I said some methods don't fit anyone, which is not the same as saying that one method fits all.
”In time Horseman’s Calling will air on television and we would sincerely hope that people will make their own choices based on their own observations.”
I hope so too and I look forward to checking that you have not edited out any of the incredibly ugly and distressing experiences you put those horses through. Or sugar coated the stress of the horses to further misinform your audience about what a scared equine looks like.
”We are now more determined than ever to host another Horseman’s Calling next year and as proposed earlier, please know that you are more than welcome to not only come and demonstrate your methods...”
I would say thank you. But your attempt to seem open minded is not very convincing when I think about all the critical comments you have deleted from your facebook page during the last six months and the impressive lineup of qualified behaviour specialists you have actually blocked because you could not answer their concerns.
”...but also to talk first hand to our organisers, trainers and commentary team about their work.”
"Kindest regards Horseman’s Calling"