Why do we live with animals? How would we change our behaviours and practices if we answered that questions honestly?
Over ten years ago, at a large seminar for individuals and their horse companions, a world-famous horseman asked just that: Why do you have horses? Why do you ride them and what drew you to that concept in the first place? He asked this to underline how some enter horsemanship as children who deeply loved horses, wanted to just have fun and play with an animal. Then, he argued, they grew stuck in the mentality that everything had to be done just-so – correctly. Problems grew where they hadn’t in the past. Their time spent with their horses were goal-driven, competitive with others, and if what they were doing with their horses didn’t make them look good, they would likely not do it.
No one at the seminar had answers for his questions – at least none they felt comfortable sharing. Maybe it goes without saying that most of our responses would be rather human-centric. We enjoy living with dogs, for example, because we find their personalities charming, comforting, and shared walks relaxing. Perhaps we ride horses to feel good about ourselves and what we have learned to be able to ask a large animal to do. Is this bad?
In the absence of abusive situations, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. For me, these questions always seem to circle back to the relationship. There are greatly differing opinions about “owning” animals – some find it controlling with animals not having a choice but to spend time with you (true). Others feel that the animals they share their lives with actively seek out their company and that they genuinely care for and like one another, which makes the whole scenario okie-dokie (also true).
Who cares? Well, I hope that critically asking ourselves this question from time to time can help ground us. Maybe it can remind us of why we invest so much time with our animals and whether we have their best intentions in mind or just our own. It is a human-centric question which hopes for animal-centric answers.