Whilst watching some reruns of QI I learnt that there is such a thing as a “half life of a fact”. Which is the belief that what is now a fact will be disproved and considered to be untrue within twenty years. This is because science and technology are always advancing so experiments will be more accurate and take smaller measurements. Take for example, the commonly known recent change in space science. Pluto is no longer classified as a planet, but is now a dwarf planet. This is because scientists can now study Pluto and the surrounding Kuiper Belt in more detail, which lead to the discovery of several similar sized objects and the term “planet” was redefined in 2006, meaning that Pluto is no longer a planet.
Which means the rhyme we learnt at school is wrong.
Moving onto my original reason for writing this blog. My Mum left me some equine books that she had when she was a child. Now that I’m spending quite a lot of time sat down feeding and cuddling Mallory, I’ve had chance to flick through the first of the books, wondering how much has changed. This book was published in 1972.
The first thing which jumped out at me was an example of a receipt which valued a 15hh, sound, vice-free, quiet to ride six year old at £300. Yes, I know it’s not an actual horse, but it would be a fairly accurate guesstimate and just goes to show the effect of inflation. The book was published after decimalisation so that isn’t a complication in the issue. Nowadays you’d be looking at £3000 for a similar stamp of horse. And if a horse was for sale for £300 you’d be asking what’s wrong with it!
In all honesty, the chapter about teeth and ageing horses was as accurate (although we know it to be an inaccurate art) as the way the BHS still teach today. Of course I’d say that our knowledge of the horse’s mouth has improved ten fold, but the lay man’s method of ageing hasn’t changed.
The next chapter is all about stables and fittings. Now, I know that our expectations of stables has changed because we now have purpose built facilities and equestrians are generally more affluent (at least before they purchase a horse). But I didn’t expect to read the sentence “asbestos is good (as a roofing material) from the point of view of reducing fire risks and extremes of temperature, but it cracks easily.” And is carcinogenic, but that link wasn’t discovered until the 1980s.
However, the general consensus about the building materials, stable size and minimising stable fittings, still rings true today. The book favours stables made from brick, stone or concrete, ideally with a slate or tiled roof. It emphasises the importance of ventilation without being draughty, and considering drainage carefully. Having as few a fittings as possible that the horse can injure themselves on is discussed, as well as the hygiene implications of different mangers. The book dislikes hay racks because of the risk of seeds falling into a horse’s eye. Of course now we know the respiratory impact of using hay racks which further supports the book’s standpoint.
There’s also a chapter on stable routines, which is similar to what I’d expect in the army. It would be impossible to maintain this routine with a full time job – I think the book assumes you have a full time groom. Furthermore, the book doesn’t reflect the natural lifestyle of the horse (in the suggested routine the horse was stabled permanently) and nowadays horse owners place a lot more value on the psychological welfare of horses; for example, maximising turnout and providing company.
Perhaps one area in which a horse’s stable has really changed is the bedding. In the 1970s straw was the only recommended option, with peat a close second. However advances in sawmills and an increased demand by the equine industry means that shavings are now dust free, absorbent and of high quality, compared to the shavings described in the book – “shavings are not very absorbent … large chips of wood may be found in them … at best a poor substitute.” We are spoiled for choice with the variety of shavings, wood pellets, straw, paper, or flax to name a few.
There’s also a big change in the contents of our grooming kits. Nowadays you can get brushes of every colour for every part of the body, and various shampoos, whiteners and detanglers to help keep our horses in tip top condition. In the ’70s there was only the dandy brush, body brush and water brush (not forgetting the infamous and vicious metal curry comb) and you relied on a wisp and good old elbow grease to put a shine on your horse’s coat.
Believe it or not, I’m not even halfway through the book – I’ve not reached the breed pictures marking the midpoint of the book. However, as far as I can see, the basic aims and regimes of horse care hasn’t changed much, and although increased knowledge and science and technology has led to some changes in the way we care for our horse (don’t mention feeding and nutrition as I haven’t reached that chapter yet but I know it’s changed) the general knowledge and reasoning behind horse care was the same in the 1970s as it is now.
I will leave it here because little person needs putting to bed, but expect another comparison post in the near future. In the meantime, a question for the older riders among you. What do you think are the biggest changes in horse care between when you were a child and now?