I started riding horses at age 4, when I decided to jump on some horses down the road from my childhood home. Some months later, I rode my cousin’s horse at my aunt and uncle’s farm and from that moment on, I was hooked.
I started riding lessons when I was 5 and, since then, I have spent most of my life on the back of a horse. I also happen to be vegan and an animal rights advocate, something I have been practicing for over a decade.
To most people, these things seem like unrelated pieces of information, but to vegans and to some non-vegans, this can present a huge dilemma. From vegans, I’ve gotten anonymous hate mail calling me a traitor and an animal abuser and, from non-vegans, I’ve been called fake and a hypocrite. Pretty intense, no? So here’s my response to all of it:
(1) You’re a hypocrite because boots, chaps, saddles, bridles and most horse riding equipment are made from leather.
You’re right, most horse riding equipment is made from leather. And that totally sucks. There are some alternatives, like nylon, but they offer some major disadvantages. Leather is primarily used because of its strength and its ability to snap. Leather is strong enough to support the weight of a horse, but it will break and set the horse free if something should happen, unlike synthetic fabrics. It’s also easy to clean, long-lasting, durable and more comfortable for the horse.
The use of leather is certainly not vegan and it’s saddening, but until we can come up with a high-quality alternative that is just as safe and durable as leather, it’s the only option we have.
(2) Animals can’t consent to being used for sport, so riding horses is unethical.
Have you ever seen a horse? They outweigh humans about 10-1, so if there’s something a horse doesn’t want to do, they don’t. Trust me. When a horse doesn’t consent, you end up in the dirt. Our horses are not shackled or beaten into submission. They’re not tied down or neglected. It’s a relationship between the two of us — we both work hard and we trust each other to get to the other side.
There’s something special about the relationship between man and horse. Outside of an abusive scenario, both parties have to consent in order for that relationship to exist.
(3) Profiting off of animals is wrong, so riding horses is unethical as a vegan.
People profit off me every single day, and I’m just fine. Every time we get in our cars, go to work, eat out for lunch, purchase products at the grocery story — every time we do most anything, somebody is profiting off of us, and, for the most part, we’re okay. If there was no profit to be made off of horse sports, we couldn’t pay for their feed, shelter or top-quality care.
Also, it bears mentioning that the majority of people who have and ride horses do it for pleasure and don’t profit off of them in any way and actually lose money in the process. It’s definitely a labor of love.
(4) Horses are wild animals and belong in the wild, not being ridden by people.
Maybe wild horses belong in the wild, but the horses I ride most certainly do not. Domesticated horses, horses as you and I know them, wouldn’t survive for 10 minutes in the wild. My first horse lived to the ripe old age of 36, so we must be doing something right.
When it comes to ethics, there’s not much of a difference between having a cat or a dog and having a horse. The real issue here is animal abuse. Abusing horses and making them work until breaking point pulling carts or giving pony rides at carnivals all day long is abusive, but it’s not what my world looks like.
In showjumping, there are strict regulations on medications and there are severe penalties for any reports of abuse. Showjumpers receive monthly visits from both chiropractors and masseuses and many even get acupuncture therapy. We have ice boots for cooling sore tendons, hoof packing to relieve any stinging from their delicate feet, magnetic blankets to pulse any tension out of their muscles — our horses live much better than most people I know.
They’re ridden six days per week, in order to stay fit and healthy for competition, and live in very nice barns with ceiling fans and clean stalls every night. They get turned out for hours to run and play and they are deeply loved by their caregivers.
I don’t see this hot-button issue cooling off with the vegan community any time soon. The best we can do is try to better understand each other and work towards common goals of a more peaceful, loving world.
Taylor Slaughter became a professional rider in 2006 and has made a career of equestrian sports. In addition to other ventures, she currently rides and coaches in the greater Charlotte area.
Photos: Lukas Johnson/Charlotte Observer; Taylor Slaughter