Nadja Maria Bieler: "When the Money Decides and the Horse is Forgotten"

Mon, 11/27/2023 - 10:48
Nadja Maria Bieler and her Lusitano stallion Vitorino, aged 18, just a few months before they had their debut in Grand Prix :: Photo © ABR Fotografia

Nadja Maria Bieler is a Danish dressage rider and Lusitano horse breeder who has lived and worked in Portugal for 8 years before returning home to Denmark to run a stud farm. She has competed Lusitanos up to Grand Prix level and rode professionally for Portuguese team rider Daniel Pinto. She breeds, rears, and trains her own dressage horses. 

"When the Money Decides and the Horse is Forgotten"

While most of the horse world online is busy distancing themselves from violence, abuse and tough training methods, pushing horses to perform beyond free will, I'm puzzled.

Most of the prominent riders in the above mentioned group, along so many others, are at the same time liking, uhh'ing and wow'ing post of 4-5 years olds looking Grand Prix ready, showing piaffe and passage, tempi changes and an overall posture fit for a horse twice their age.

I'm sorry, but calling the Helgstrand Empire out on their complete loss of direction in standards, moral and ethics isn't going to change anything. That's a low hanging fruit to pick.

Neither the Danish Riding Association (DRF) or FEI are willing to take any significant stance. A temporary pause in activities is what it amounted to from DRF, while Helgstrand's father is on a leave from his position as Chairman of the Board.

Imagine that. They already know he will be invited back in. It all looks like a theater to me

If the posts about "self reflection on personal training", saying no to abusive behaviour against horses, and only training and riding with the welfare of the horse as the highest priority are to become anything but empty words on social Media, in a quick witchlike hunt and thorough washing of ones own hands (!), action needs to follow those words.

I'm a breeder. I look at my young horses every day and basically think of them as "babies" until around 6 years of age. Especially my young stallions. While they are currently living in free range stables in herds, the rising 3 year olds would have had to be started under saddle now, to be able to present under saddle for the first week of March at the Danish Warmblood stallion licensing. Maybe now is even a bit late. They would already have received a lot of training. Fortunately they are Lusitanos, and not allowed to present at that age.

When the arenas in Herning will fill again in March, with spectators who applaud and cheer for the barely 3-year old horses looking Medium Tour ready, you are all applauding part of the problem. It was money who made that call. The sooner they can present the better the value.

And by all means, I know what it's like to make ends meet as a breeder. I just can't agree to running a business based on pushing horses beyond their capacity. You can't work with horses if you aim to make a business with a capital fund, exit strategies, and billions in profit. Because then the money will decide, and the horse will be forgotten.

When you post, share and like videos and images of horses not even fully developed in their bones, performing exercises they haven't even lived long enough to be strong enough to perform, you like the cause of the problem. Could you argue they are strong enough by muscle? Maybe. But joints, ligaments and bones aren't. You don't see the harm on the x-rays of a 5 year old. But they appear after the horse is sold....

We know that we strengthen bone by slowly increasing load on it. But tell me, why is the average insured horse in Denmark then with an expected lifespan of 9 years? Yes, horses are on average put down due to injury at 9 years of age.

There are not many of us above the age where the internet wasn't there before we turned 20 years old, who haven't done, or ridden a horse in a way the today we would never. We didn't know better.

However.... We know better today. Research is abundant. Other methods are available. We know the harm some methods can oppose on our horses. So we (most of us) stopped doing them when we found out.

Except... some found out they could make money by pushing the horses through the stages of training. The sport became more and more lucrative. Prices on horses performing at certain levels went sky high. So some lost their moral compass down the road.

We all know the Helgstrand Empire isn't a unique story. It's not something that only happens there. It happens everywhere. To a smaller or higher degree, but what it comes down to is a frustrated way of trying to push horses in a new system that only a few decades ago would have been a dishonourable way of riding.

You see, riding used to be an artform. It used to be respected. It used to be a world where humans carefully developed horses into a sublime co-existence, and where showing the School/airs above the ground on a 25 year old horse was normal.

So when I hear journalists in this hot-potato debate ask "Is it even possible to take a horse to the highest level without abuse?" I am appalled. How did that even become a question to ask? Have we already forgotten what horses used to do and be for us??

If the sport dies because the governing bodies won't take sufficient measures against those who abuse, if the breeding associations won't change the age levels for showing horses under saddle, and the level of performance required to even hope for a nice score, then so be it. The sport has no raison d'être - no purpose, no right to exist, if it cannot live without horses suffering, mentally or physically.

It's so easy to post how everyone want to teach and train horses on their premisses. I'll be more impressed when I see all those riders "distancing themselves" from mean methods, stay home with their 3, 4 and 5 year olds, building them slowly and correctly, making them strong in body and mind. As we all know, the only reason to go is prestige and monetary value.

The thing is, if nobody shows up with a 3-year old stallion for a grading or breeding approval - odds are things will change. If the governing bodies don't take the first step - maybe all the riders who post how they need to distance themselves from hard methods should keep their babies at home and teach the horse-owners that horses are living, sentient beings, just like the dog sleeping on your sofa. Would anyone do to their dog, what we see done to our horses? My guess is no.

DRF, FEI, Danish Warmblood. We are looking at you now. What will it be?

If the horse world stands together, we can make the change. With or without the governing bodies. #takethesportback

- Nadja Maria Bieler