Olympic Summer by Nina Heller

It is an Olympic summer for equestrians.  Once upon a time, this would have been the focal point of the summer for me, watching the equestrian events, relishing every moment of the excitement.  In just the last 4 years though, something has drastically shifted for me and I am not alone!

For the last few days i have read hundreds of comments from all over the world regarding the games, on all sorts of different pages.  People are using words like "disgusted,” "appalled,” "horrified" when describing the equestrian events.  Those that are using terms like "beautiful,” "amazing,” and "wonderful" are beginning to seem either completely undereducated, totally brainwashed, or steeped in denial.  From the excessive use of force, punishment methods like Rollkur, all of the spur blood and the whip welts, this is not equestrian sport, this is blood sport!

This sport was my sport, and I feel ashamed and saddened that while we call ourselves horse lovers, we allow the pinnacle of our sport, the Olympic games - something the entire planet can view - that this is what we want to represent to the world?  Cruelty, inhumanity, and the overly obvious exploitation of the horse.  If its one thing this Olympics has made abundantly clear, is that these games, and equestrian sport in general, are in desperate need of a complete overhaul.

For almost 40 years I was a typical rider, living in denial of my actions, one that was easily led by those "more knowledgeable" to use force, and sometimes even what I now recognize as brutality in the training of my horses.  But, something has happened to me.  I am waking up from the great slumber of denial that was limiting my growth and evolution.  If I, a card carrying, show-addicted, points and awards crazed equestrian can see the reality, and start over with my ways, if I can put my self gratification and ego driven desires in perspective with the needs of my horses, then I believe that anyone can at least try.

My life has only been enhanced by this evolution.  Oh, but you

Say, “You are a trainer, and you might lose your livelihood.”  Well, I have been running my school for over 20 years, and for any student who I may have lost to the "transition to humanity,” two new ones appeared.  And, I am sorry, but I will say it, better students, more caring and empathetic.  My business has changed, but has not suffered, and the horses are happy and healthy.

What is there to fear?  The loss of a national title? Is this what it comes down to?  Is that what floats this massive ship of trickle down barbarism?  To be able to be granted an award in exchange for losing sight of why we involve ourselves with horses in the first place - for the love of the horse???

I have a few national titles, and all they brought with them was a fleeting joy.  Nothing in comparison to the joy I feel now, each day, just working with the horses and humans in a more humane approach, one that has no place for bits or spurs, oppressive nose bands or draw reins.  No Rollkur.  No beatings.  Just that same love that drives us here in the first place.  Using that love along with a deep respect for our equine friends should be a solid road map to assist any rider to make the correct turns on this journey.

Below is a picture of me with Joe, AKA Platinum Plus.  He is 22 now, and after a successful racing career, and over a decade of successful competition, he is finally bitless, barefoot, and ridden without a saddle, spurs, or a whip.  I post our 2008 victory photo to show you who I was, and where I came from, that I am probably someone just like you.  Going bitless was a gift i thought i was giving to my horses, but the gift turned out to be one of the greatest gifts that i personally have ever received.  It is the gift that keeps on giving.  Please, consider change, even baby steps, take out your bit, loosen your noseband, forget your spurs, or just help in keeping the conversation alive.  We must keep trying to make people aware of the positive change they can make for their horses and for themselves when they seek a more humane approach to training and riding.  In an Olympic year, with so many eyes and ears on the equine community, is a great forum to do so!


Nina & Joe

Nina & Joe