When there is an unpleasant reputation around something, one way to reshape public perception is by changing the common terminology used. For example, when West Side business people of New York City wanted to erase the rough and crime-ridden reputation of the historic neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, they declared it should be known as “Clinton.”
This effort followed a double murder in 1959 in the neighborhood. Over the next decades, some adopted Clinton, but Hell’s Kitchen largely remains the neighborhood’s common name among residents.
There is a movement in the equine industry pushing for a public relations name-makeover with unwanted horses.
The American Horse Council (AHC), the equine industry’s largest trade organization and lobby group, is substituting the terms “horses in transition and at-risk horses” for “unwanted horses.” The AHC has renamed and refocused the Unwanted Horse Coalition, its wing dedicated to the issue, the “United Horse Coalition” and has begun by urging equine media to adopt the new terminology.
What’s in a Name
No thorough qualifications have been given to what the two terms mean. I’m not sure if this is their intention, but a horse in transition isn’t unwanted. In fact, I would argue transition is the stage in which there is a previous career followed by a new role. I would think of the flexibility of Thoroughbreds that move from the track to a sport horse discipline or backyard companion. Definitely wanted, just going through a career change.
“At-risk horses” could be the broad term for horses unwanted by an owner or already out of an owner’s possession. There are a myriad of reasons, including financial, failed expectations and poor management. These could be feral horses or those whose value has fallen so much that they are exported for slaughter.
How should we view the residents of rescue farms awaiting adoption — at risk or in transition? I’m curious whether there are more at-risk horses in the feral herds managed by the Bureau of Land Management or in the barns of owners who lack the resources to care for them.
Farrier Work with These Horses
I’m sure most farriers will question how changing the name amounts to anything in addressing the industry impact with unwanted horses. What will change with the American Horse Council’s coordination or guidance in addressing the issue?
Rescue horse accounts do benefit some farriers: students at shoeing schools, young farriers just starting out and seasoned farriers looking for a charitable tax benefit by servicing these accounts.
There seems to be no shortage of horse rescues, but how many facilities have the means to support their intake? The same would go for the well-intended owner who acquires horses destined for slaughter, but prolongs or increases the animals’ suffering by providing inadequate care.
When resources are lacking, the result is that a horse becomes way out of schedule (presenting a variety of issues for the farrier to tackle) or eventually requalifing as a horse in need of rescue from owner inattentiveness. Often the expectation is for farriers to subsidize this horse ownership or a failure to pay the farrier altogether.
Despite the decades-long efforts, Hell’s Kitchen remains the popular term for the West Side New York neighborhood. I suspect the same will go for the term “unwanted horses” and farriers. This isn’t an industry that prefers sugar-coating. “Unwanted” is simple and straightforward.
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