Thursday, 16 October 2008

Horse Race, Horse Racism

In theory muggers and their victims are equally knowledgable about violence, so, as an Old Etonian I should be pretty well educated on social exclusion, but I spent 8 years working with ponies and horses before I realised the British Equestrian Establishment was founded on, and driven by, institutional racism. It wasn't a huge Eureka moment, "wow those guys are really racist!" but a creeping and rather scary awareness that something really odd, and nasty was the basis for one of the favourite activities of this country's ruling elite.

A few months ago I wrote a slightly tongue in cheek rant about the inherent snobbery in the British Equestrian Establishment which shall henceforth be described as BEE, thus allowing people to say I have a BEE in my leather colonial hat. (It is a sad fact that you cannot do Natural Horsemanship without a hat that looks like a refugee from a Marlboro advert). The article became Class Race Horse as I realised that racism was in there somewhere, but it wasn't easy to spot where. It is rather like trying to spot the danger in the middle of a desert. The danger is the fact you are in the middle of a desert. Everything is the danger. With the BEE, everything is racism, or to be pedantic, racialism.

I was reading, as you do, a Reader on Theories of Racism, edited by Les Black and John Solomos, and came on an article by Tzvetan Todorov on race and racism, which at first glance appeared to exactly describe the BEE form of racism. After re reading endlessly, it still describes the racialism inherent in the BEE.

We need to go back brielfy to where the racism is in the BEE. It is not a crude, or even a subtle attempt to exclude people of colour from equestrian activities. It is the whole philosophy that underpins the last two hundred and fifty years of horsemanship as practised by the BEE. Breeds, bloodlines, pedigrees and studbooks have taken over horsemanship. And it is easy to prove. The winner of the first St Leger wasn't a Thoroughbred, because the breed hadn't been invented yet and probably wasn't called Allahbaculia. It was 65 years after the event that the filly was given a name to avoid a gap in the record. Today's St leger winner won't just be the first horse across the line, it will have to prove five or so generations of undiluted upper class blood before it can even go to the start line. Why?

Even working class animals have been wrecked by this upper class pedigree fetish. The Fell Pony developed on the Fells (surprise surprise) of Cumbria where it was used as a pack animal for shifting ore, wool or whatever the locals could sell. Although rural, they weren't stupid and tended to breed the best stallion to the best mare as this seemed to give the best foal. Because they were interested in packing heavy weights, they tended to produce pack horses not flghty racehorses. So the Fell looks good at its job, or did.

After the 2nd war almost no Fells were left and in an attempt to save the breed, they bred father daughter, brother sister and stuck with a closed gene pool because they now had a fell Pony Breed Society "whose aim is to aim is to foster and keep pure the old breed of pony which has roamed the northern fells for years." What has purity to do with a semi wild native pony population anyway, but now their closed gene pool has the result that one foal in ever ten will die a miserable lingering death from a genetic condition call Fell Foal Syndrome. All to keep the breed pure.

Stupid yes, snobbish yes, possibley cruel, but where is the racism?

Todorov splits racism in two. Personal or group dislike of another person or group because they are different, is racism, and needs no philosophy. The differences are by definition obvious, and enough to justify the dislike by the racist.

Racialism is a doctrine of racism, and Todorov states that "the form of racism that is rooted in racialism produces particularly catastrophic results: this is precisely the cause of Nazism." He continues "Racialism is a movement of ideas born in Western Europe whose period of flowering extends from the mid eighteenth century to the mid twentieth."
Racialist doctrine can be presented as a coherent set of propositions. They are all found in the "ideal" type...These propositions may be reduced to five."

If you substitute "horse breed" for "race" in all his five propositions, you have a perfect match. The horse breeding philosophy of the British Establishment from 1750 through to the present day exactly matches the "racialist doctrine".

Todorov's first proposition states that a racialist must believe in "the existence of races. The first thesis obviously consists in affirming that there are such things as races, that is, human groupings whose members possess common physical characteristics; or rather (for the differences themselves are self evident) it consists in affirming the relevance and significance of that notion."

Horse breeders believe in the concept of different breeds, and believe those different breeds are relevant in themselves. I quite understand wanting a fast horse as a race horse, and a strong one like a Fell pony to carry lead as a pack horse. Preserving the outward characteristics when the use has disappeared and insisting on the purity of the blood of the Fells when the breed is riddled with congenital problems, is odd. Odder still is to insist that your race horse is not just fast, but has unblemished descent from a specific breed, the Thoroughbred.
The BEE fulfill Todorov's first proposition.

His second proposition is "Continuity between physical type and character. Races are not simply groups of individuals who look alike (if this had been the case, the stakes would have been trivial). The racialist postulates that physical and moral characteristics are interdependent"
Courage is endlessly quoted as an attribute of the Thoroughbred and the Arab. The Shetland on the other hand is described as "probably the strongest equine relative to its size, yet even the stallions are gentle and docile." This description is from the Oklahoma State University Breed Page. So the second proposition is demonstrated.

The third proposition is "The action of the group on the individual. ...the behaviour of the individual depends to a very large extent, on the racio-cultural (or ethnic) group to which he or she belongs."
This is inherent in the whole breed philosophy. A Thoroughbred is tricky to ride because it is a Thoroughbred, while a Highland pony is sure footed and steady. The whole concept of "blood" horses ties character to race. Breeds were bred for a purpose, so their character fits that purpose. Again a perfect match, breed for race.

The fourth is the most important. "The unique hierarchy of values. The racialist is not content to assert that races differ; he also believes that some are superior to others."
I could quote endlessly from the Thoroughbred enthusiasts, about their "blood" horses and their courage and fire, but I will concentrate on a gratuitous insult to the English native ponies from the British Horse Society, Complete Manual of Stable Management 1998 "the native ponies are far better converters of food than their aristocratic cousins." Aristocratic cousins. What sort of arrogant nonsense is that? But it proves the fourth proposition.

I keep hoping I can find a flaw in the fifth proposition. Todorov heads the fifth "Knowledge-based politics. The four propositions listed so far take the form of descriptions of the world, factual observations. They lead to a conclusion that constitutes the fifth and last doctrinal proposition- namely, the need to embark on a political course that brings the world into harmony with the description provided. Having established the facts, the racialist draws from them a moral judgement and a political ideal. Thus the subordination of inferior races or even their elimination can be justified by accumulated knowledge on the subject of race."

Let us start with the subordination of inferior races. The Derby, Epsom or Kentucky, is not for the fastest horse, it is for the fastest horse who belongs to the aristocratic Thoroughbred breed and has 5 generations of unadulterated blood to prove. The Thoroughbred is known to be the fastest breed becuase nothing ever beats it, but then nothing else is allowed to race against them.......I know, it doesn't make sense to me either.

All the breed societies are devoted to keeping "true" to the breed. They arrange matings, sterilise the unsuitable and put down the unsound to keep the breed standard flying. And they will stick to purity of the blood even at the cost of the sufferings of their animals. The genetic condition Fell Foal Syndrome is the result of breeding from a small closed gene pool, yet the purity of the race justifies the suffering and lingering death of 10% of foals.

With this background racialist doctrine underpinning everything the British Equestrian Establishment do, you can see why it is the natural habitat of the English upper classes and why remarkably few people of colour venture onto the hallowed turf. If purity of blood, and breed, and known ancestry are the minimum requirement for the animals, it is going to make those people who aren't in Debretts or Burke feel uncomfortable.

Why did this remarkably pointless theory ever take hold in the first place? England was losing her colonies and the Continent was revolting. Emphasising the factors that made England great and powerful made total sense, but unfortunately they ignored trade, agriculture, industry, shipping and decided to promote a class system based exclusively on who Mummy and Daddy were. Since this was obviously of critical importance, it was applied to horses and has since infected dogs, cats and even llamas, when owned as pets by the establishment. I think the Peruvians judge them on a different basis.
Despite having a perfectly good revolution, the US of A fell for this pedigree nonsense hook line and sinker and while their horseracing was developing throughout the country it flowered as a remarkably egalitarian, but highly competitive sport. Tragically within a few years of US horses and jockeys winning in the UK, the infection had travelled across the pond and racism took a mixed sport away from the incredibly successful African Americans and reserved it for the whites.

The true story of the Forward Seat and Willie Simms follows next.

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