During this year’s Maryland Horse Forum, held August 8 at Goucher College, former Maryland Horse Council president and current Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman presented the following speech about the Maryland horse community via a prerecorded video.
“Congratulations to all of my friends who produced the 2019 Maryland Horse Forum. I wish I could be with you in person.
This new job as Anne Arundel County Executive has taken me pretty far away from the horse industry. So far away that I am starting to see horses and horse sports through the eyes of the average Marylander.
I’ve gotten just enough distance that I can confirm what I’ve always suspected. Y’all are crazy.
When your horse has a little stone bruise, you are the one who suffers. You get massage and chiropractic done on your horse, but can’t afford to see your own dentist. You fall off and break bones on a regular basis. Like politicians, you spend more time shoveling shit than you do in the saddle.
The crazy part is that what I’ve just said doesn’t offend you. You are probably chuckling with pride. That’s because the sacrifices that you make for your horses are born of the love that you have for them. The nurturing and the care that you provide to your animals are the essence of horse ownership and horse sports. It fulfills you.
Most people on the outside don’t see any of that. What they see is a powerful creature that obediently serves its master. For most of the last few hundred years that image has been romantic and inspiring. For most people it still is.
But today we have a growing segment of society that see what you do with your horse as manipulation, or even as abuse, of an innocent animal for pleasure. It’s terrible, they say, that people make those horses jump, or make those horses run. And of course you roll your eyes and say, “look at the blisters on my hands from trying to slow the old bugger down.” It’s frustrating. I know, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in politics it’s, before you open your mouth, try to understand the perspective of the person you’re talking to. Actually, horses taught me the same thing. Get into the horse’s mind before trying to have any influence.
So that growing segment of the population that sees a horse with a rider on its back as a victim, is obviously working from a set of assumptions very different from yours. What matters is that just like you, those folks care about horses. They are feeling a bit of the same passion that you feel. They are actually yearning to connect with the horse the way you do.
If you can accept what I just said, then suddenly the horse industry has growth potential beyond what most of us have imagined. We just need to tell the right story.
Here is how I see the story of people and horses. It is the story of relationships. It’s how a human being chooses to listen, to wait, to build trust, to nurture and support. It’s how a powerful beast, a part of nature, accepts a human being into its world. It is how that beast teaches honesty, loyalty, trust, and work ethic to a modern human race that desperately needs to re-learn those lessons. It’s a story we can tell at racetracks, at horse shows, at Discovery Centers, at Fair Hill, in art, in clinics, and on farms. It’s already been told in books and movies, and when it’s told well it sells.
Why bother, I’m sometimes asked. Who cares if the horse industry grows or shrinks? Here is why it matters.
First, a well managed horse pasture is second only to a forest in its ability to filter nutrients from stormwater that will go to our streams and our bay.
Second is simple. Jobs. Thousands and thousands of jobs.
Third is big. Horses make us better people. Whether they are keeping restless teenagers out of trouble, healing veterans who have suffered from PTSD, or setting an example of tenacity and hard work by winning a triple crown, these animals bring out the best in us. So please know that your service to the horses in your care and the industry that supports horses is not only giving meaning to your life, but is also making the world a better place. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to share these thoughts.”