Horses may feel more pain than humans
Have you heard the news? A new study has found that horses have a thinner top layer of skin with more nerve endings and sensory fibers than humans. This finding leads scientists to believe horses may actually feel more pain than humans.
The study was done by Dr. Lydia Tong, a veterinary pathologist and forensics researcher at the request of Australian ABC show, Catalyst. The study was meant to determine skin thickness and pain sensation in horses versus humans. The Catalyst show focused on the use of whips in racing but the study paints a new picture regarding all horses.
When asked if something that would hurt a human would hurt a horse, Dr. Tong said we should assume it’s likely to be painful. Although Australian Racing Board chief executive Peter McGauran said with a straight face during the Catalyst interview that he does not believe a whip inflicts pain on a horse, I have to believe that most people didn’t need a study to tell them that being whipped is painful.
I will now predict the future and say without hesitation that it is simply a matter of time before more studies show that bridles, bits, saddles, spurs and the weight of the rider are also causing horses pain, maybe even more pain than a human would feel under similar circumstances. It seems useless to explore further questions on the topic until we can answer, “How much pain is acceptable to expect horses to experience to feed our human desire for speed, freedom and mastery?”
The problem with asking this question is that everyone has a different answer. Some people believe horses should not be subjected to any pain for human pleasure and others believe we are entitled to do whatever we want to horses, for example in horse tripping and the consumption of horse meat. All riding and use of horses for work or entertainment falls somewhere between these two extremes.
As a culture, perhaps the fact that these studies are being done is evidence that many do want to move together with little steps towards a more humane future for horses. As more studies are published, people who make rules for horse sports will undoubtedly spend time weighing current public sentiment with the “tradition” of their sport and opinions of current trainers and competitors. They will likely make changes that will help their sport survive this awakening of humanity as long as possible. The next step I predict is we will learn how to consult with horses and other animals so we can make choices that allow us to live in balance on a clean and abundant earth, treating each other as we would like to be treated.
It might seem that one person’s opinion of what’s best for horses and humans won’t make much of a difference but I know it does. I am thankful to Margaret Mead for saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I am also thankful to you who must care enough about horses and our world to be open to learning more and experiencing different perspectives. Let’s enjoy this ride!
Stormy May is the producer of the documentary “The Path of the Horse” and author of the book of the same name.