The dark side of performance breeding
Updated: Feb 27, 2018
The idea of breeding performance horses is to create a shining star to wow the world. If such a star is one in a million, then that begs the question: What about the 999,999 horses who don't make the cut?
They were bred for high performance, so as we're often told, they are sensitive and reactive - too much so for the average rider. From a horse welfare perspective, it is kind of scary to think about what happens to all these horses which we're told mere mortals don't have the skill to ride but which - none the less - never really turn up in the FEI rankings.
From a business perspective, it's expensive to create the one star, because you have to feed and care for all the duds until you work out which ones are going to make you the bucks. Conscientious breeders of quality horses will tell you that breaking even is a great result. So to get rich breeding horses, you have to think big. And that's what the Danish horse dealer, John Byrialsen of the Viegaard Stud, did.
Like any savvy manufacturer, he moved part of his production to Poland where salaries are lower and land is cheaper. And like lots of other factory owners who find that it's quite difficult to run a business when you're not there to keep an eye on it, he eventually had to face the fact that the horse operation for which he is ultimately responsible, had turned bad. In 2011, Polish News site, Gazeta.pl reported that police and local animal protection authorities had been called to his farm because horses there were neglected.
At the time, Mr. Byrialsen expressed his surprise and disappointment at the way his horses had been kept by his staff. But now, new footage has emerged, allegedly from Byrialsen's farm in late 2012 and early 2013.
According to the people who have uploaded the video, too little has been done since 2011 to improve the lives of the horses who allegedly continue to die from neglect.
We can't know if Mr. Byrialsen was tricked into thinking that four staff could take care of 300 horses on a shoestring budget, as it is claimed by Gazeta.pl - we don't know anything at all about how things got to be this bad. But we do know that the situation looks an awful lot like the equine equivalent of a puppy mill and why shouldn't it? You see, clueless amateurs are not the only ones who neglect horses. That would be the same as saying that someone who keeps a couple of pet pigs in their garden is more likely to neglect them than someone who keeps thousands of pigs for profit.
It simply makes no sense. It's a lie you are told by an industry who wants you to think that professionals can do no wrong.
Mr. Byrialsen is no nobody. He co-owns Olympic rider Tina Konyot's Calecto V and has produced many other international horses. He has coached the Chinese dressage team to ground breaking results, and at least before the financial crisis, his sport horse auctions turned impressive profits with frenzied buyers telephoning in from all over the globe to get their hands on one of his prospects. Mr. Byrialsen has been deservedly admired as a businessman for taking horse breeding to the next level of efficiency and profitability. He has done it all by playing the numbers and behaving in accordance with the basic principles of industrial production.
But horses -like any other living creature bred for profit - suffer in an intensive farming scenario. Are you a wealthy person with Olympic ambitions? Do you buy free range eggs and organic ham? Well, make sure you do the research and find yourself a horse who's not a product of something like this.
We'll follow up when we know something else about these horses and what is happening to them now.