In 1902, my great great grandparents took a horse-drawn journey from Ashland, Oregon to Long Beach California. The trip was over 700 miles and took nearly five weeks. Along the way, Dan and Kate Glenn easily found hay, feed, water, stables, and fellow travelers with their own horses and wagons. When they encountered a car, it merited mention in their diaries because it was so out of the ordinary.
Fast forward to today when the opposite is the case. Cars are common modes of transport, and equines on long distance journeys are seldom encountered. Hay, feed, water for equines, and stabling would be much more challenging to find whereas, of course, filling stations for autos are ubiquitous. People today are accustomed to cars and not at all accustomed to horses.
An article in Equus magazine highlighted this last fact. It discussed a 2013 Connecticut Supreme Court case in which horses were classed as ‘mischievous or vicious” and capable of doing harm by biting. The particulars involved a man visiting a retail establishment and taking his young son in his arms to the fence to see the horses pastured next door. He petted one of the horses, and the horse reached out and nipped his son on the cheek, causing permanent injury. (1)
Karen Elizabeth Baril, the author of the article, made several important points:
- “So many people in the world today do not understand horses or how to approach them safely.”
- “As horse owners we tend to focus on the mistakes [the father] made that exposed his son to danger, but how easily could you have been the one in [the boarding facility’s] shoes [who was sued]?”
- “At a bare minimum, I believe horse owners need to educate themselves on the liability laws in their own state, and then they need to take steps to ensure they’ve secured their fences and barns and posted appropriate warning signs. Training our horses to behave well around people is another given, along with taking reasonable precautions to keep everyone safe. And, of course, we must be vigilant.”
- “Another thing we can do is help people learn about horses.”
I was particularly struck by that last statement. Because I spend a significant part of everyday around my ponies, it’s easy for me to take for granted what I know about them and to forget how few people encounter an equine on a daily basis. Unlike in my great-great grandparents’ time when everyone was around them nearly daily, now it’s a small minority of the population that encounters an equine at all frequently.
I wrote an article for Rural Heritage magazine about my great-great grandparents’ journey from Oregon to southern California (click here for more information). Readers of that magazine are likely around equines on a regular basis, so I didn’t do much there to ‘help people learn about horses.’ However, I was able to share that article with members of my family. I am the only member of my family who is involved with equines, but since the article was about a common ancestor, my family members found the article interesting. It was much more accessible to them than most of my writing, so it is one thing I have done that ‘helps people learn about horses.’ I’ll keep the importance of that goal more at the top of my mind since reading Baril’s article.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015
- Baril, Karen Elizabeth. “The case of the ‘vicious’ horse,” Equus #448, January 2015, p. 33.