Years ago when I was but a horse loving sprite with no interest in rum, heels or money, I remember going to Smithfield market with a woman I worked for at the time. She was looking to sell a three-quarter bred gelding and buy two sturdy cobs in his stead. I was loath to part with the gelding, he was coal-black with one white sock and his greatest trick was to go backwards at speed whenever he felt like doing so. Entertaining to be sure for the experienced rider, but of little use to the pack of gombs who called every weekend to the establishment where I worked. Cobs, with their sturdy feathered legs, easy-going personalities and robust build would be a much better addition to the yard it was decided ( they did sour in the end of course, even the most noble animal cannot suffer fools indefinitely, the gelding was on to something).
And so the morning of the market I plaited up the gelding, brushed him until he shone, oiled his hooves, fed him his last chunk of Mars bar and off we set.
For those of you who don’t know it, Smithfield Market is held on the first Sunday of every month. Horses and ponies and traders from far and wide converge on the square just off the quays. The Dublin County Council is trying to get it closed and has been for a while now, leading naturally to the usual squawks of ‘whataboudeculture’, to which I can only think ‘fuck you and the horse you rode in on.’
An awful lot of cruelty in this country is sanctioned under the guise of ‘culture.’ Hare coursing, fox-hunting, stag hunting, shooting pheasants, lamping, dog fighting ( illegal, but existing, culture innit), the greyhound industry, the horse racing industry, refusing to neuter or spay pups or kittens, docking of perfectly good tails. All manner of suffering and most of it swept under the carpet of ‘just the way we’ve always done it.’
Even back when I was a slip of a thing Smithfield was a hell-hole. Ah sure you could buy a decent hunter if you knew what to look for, and a few good cobs, but for an awful lot of horses Smithfield was the last chance saloon, final destination, where after years of service and over breeding, poor decrepit broken animals could be sold off for next to nothing to anyone and I mean ANYONE with a few quid in their pockets. Don’t believe me? Head on down take a look. You can stand opposite the cobbles and watch gangs of young fellas buy skinny ponies, throw on an ill-fitting bridle, and ‘jockey’ their way bare back to the Phoenix Park.
It used to sicken me watching the poor terrified animals, eyes rolling, sweating heavily, most without shoes having their mouths sawed by cruel hands, as the youth rode bareback, toes pointed to the ground, getting ready to race underfed creatures they had bought for pittance around the parkland for their own amusement. Har-di-har, but no worse than what the average punter pretends he doesn’t see at the Galway races, better equipment maybe, better bred animal for sure, no better outcome.
So now, here we are 2009, rolling ever closer to 2010, and after a decade of greed and avarice, animals, and in this case, horses, bear the brunt of our humanity once again.
Does it surprise me to read of animals, being dumped, starving, injured, in agony, left to rot in fields with no shelter? No, it does not. because we as a ‘cultured people’ are a shower of ill-informed narcissistic fuckers when it comes to animal welfare. You couldn’t swing a feral cat for Connemara ponies and Irish Drafts a couple of years ago, cobs were big business, quality hunters and point-to-pointers could nearly demand a star on their dressing room and ask for their bran to be sweetened with ambrosia.
But here’s the rub. Horses you see are large animals, they are large animals that are expensive to run if you want them to achieve optimal health. They need grazing land in summer, and in winter when the nutrients in grass is about the same as packet of chewing gum they need their diet to be subsidized by hay, beet pulp and bran, with some oats in there for the working animal. These items are not available from the feed fairy, you’ve got to buy them.
A horse, though he will grow in a winter coat, will need shelter from rain, frost, sun, sleet, snow and wind. This place ought to be called a stable. This stable will require fresh water, fresh bedding, shavings or straw, and must be cleaned out daily.
If out grazing, you should buy a rug for your animal, one that fits snugly and is checked regularly. If you have bought a young horse be prepared for them to grow, if it is wearing a head collar this item needs to be checked regularly and changed when it becomes too tight( I watched horrified last year an Irish programme where more than one poor yearling had to have a head collar CUT off as it had fused to the poor little thing’s face, and I saw plenty of scars in real life from the same stupid neglect).
If you plan to ride your animal it will need shoes and hoof care. You will need a farrier for this, farriers don’t come cheap and are generally not charitable. Horses hooves grow constantly, like our nails. They need to be pared back and re-shod regularly.
You will need equipment that fits, a good bridle, preferably with a simple snaffle bit that you have measured and that you have allowed your animal time to get to know. You will need a numna, a saddle-again one that fits or you run into a whole other host of problems with sores and blisters. You may need bandages and brushing boots, you will need a hoof pick, curry comb, brushes of various shapes. You will need STUFF, expensive stuff. And when all of that stuff is acquired you will then need somewhere to keep it, like a yard or stable, y’know, somewhere the expensive vet can call when you need him for injuries, colic, worming, sudden inexplicable lameness, weird coughs and teeth checks.
If you think ‘jockying’ is riding, you will need lessons. These are not cheap either. In fact, NOTHING about owning a horse is cheap. Nothing about owning any animal is cheap, * glares at Puddy*. If you don’t have the money, time and commitment don’t get a large time-consuming expensive animal.
This is not rocket science, it’s not even science. Animals are dying on the side of the road, ponies and horses sold for pence at an outdated horror show for animals, puppy farms, donedeal.ie breeders, dogs of every description dying in our pounds, or being thrown into rivers, through no fault of their own. This is Ireland, this is Ireland in 2009. It’s disgusting.
For marmalade’s sake, let’s try make 2010 a better place for our fellow creatures. Animals are not just for Christmas, they’re not even for the good times, if you take one on, be prepared for the expense, the time, the longevity. Treat them with a bit of dignity, treat them with a modicum of respect, and when you look around you and see fear and cruelty, speak up.
Smithfield Market, I am against you, and your culture is not my culture and never will be.