"Daddy, can I have a ******* for Christmas." Fill in the blanks from stick insect to giraffe, but for most people it will be the tried and tested mouse, gerbil, hamster, guinea pig, ferret, rabbit (because the ferret needs a toy)....... you get the drift. Endlessly repeated conversations, ghastly magazines featuring excessively fluffy examples of the species which, being magazines, don't feature the smell. You get all the promises to tidy rooms, do homework, get up at five in the morning, lick road clean with tongue.
So you crack and you get the pet, and the equipment, and just how much equipment a small rodent that you would have to pay HireaKiller a complete fortune to eradicate, apparently costs to keep alive, is frightening. You survey this mound of overpriced junk, and the sheer range of equipment is mind boggling, but you can reasonably predict what won't be there. Bondage equipment, whips and other torture related paraphernalia. This is necessary equipment for a pet. Who buys a pet for their sweet little child, and then gives that child a whip with which to hit said pet?
Horsey People, of course.
Because in today's "horsey set" to do horsemanship without a whip, bit, spurs and the full range of bondage accoutrements is so irredeemably lower class. It wasn't always thus. Here is classic description of a small boy and a pony in 1839.
"Half a dozen laden waggons" says Sir George Head "are dragged along the railroad to the particular drop then at work, by a stout cob, which is then ridden carelessly back again, barebacked by a small boy, at a shambling trot; notwithstanding that the interstices between the planks below admit, here and there, full two inches of daylight. However the pony proceeeds, clattering on unconcernedly, otherwise than by holding his snout close to the floor, the better and more cautiously to observe where to place his feet at every step.
.............The beast when I witnessed his performance, had only a halter on his head, without winkers, or any harness except collar and light rope traces. As soon as the boy had fastened the lock of the trace to the foremost waggon, the pony invariably turned round his head, as if to enquire whether all was ready,and then, exactly at the proper moment, commenced his march, the load, meanwhile, rumbling after him: arrived at the drop, the carriages being detached, he here stood jammed close to the wall; shewing perfect cognizance as the carriages passed him, of the degree of attention due to the various noises and manoevres going forward, and not only being aware when it was proper to step out of the way, but how long precisely it was safe to stand still."
Look what is being described. This is skill and courage and true horsemanship. A small boy working a cob is shifting fifteen tons of coal on each trip, in the Drops, huge buildings on stilts over the Middlesborough mudflats to load coal on keels at all states of the tide. The coal industry is notoriously dangerous, from 1873 to 1953 there were only 4 years when hauling coal didn't kill over 100 people in the UK. Some years it killed 300 and never less than 88. The boy and cob are working as a team, trusting each other for their survival.
In an era when cruelty was normal and bear baiting had only just been banned, this kid is working without a whip, without a bit and without reins, yet the perfect working bond is clear to an observer. One hundred and eighty years later, the Pony Club still make it compulsory for any child advancing past the D Test, suggested for 10 year olds, to show they can "Hold the reins correctly and carry a whip in either hand."
Why? We are talking about a small child with a pet. What is it about the horse that justifies this insane attitude. Children can control ponies without hitting them. You have just read the evidence. Children can control ponies in areas where the pony's obedience is vital to safety. Sir George Head says "how long precisely it was safe to stand still." If either party got it wrong 15 tons plus rolled into them. A working class kid surrounded by danger, can work without whips and bits and spurs, but the Pony Club in 2007 hasn't learned how to communicate with an animal without hitting it.
Surely they have read Black Beauty, written 40 years after the description of this kid. Merrylegs, Black Beauty's small pony friend, is interesting on the subject of whips.
"The other children had ridden me about for nearly two hours, and then the boys thought it was their turn, and so it was, and I was quite agreeable. They rode me by turns, and I galloped them about, up and down the fields and all about the orchard, for a good hour. They had each cut a great hazel stick for a riding- whip, and laid it on a little too hard; but I took it in good part, till at last I thought we had had enough, so I stopped two or three times by way of a hint. Boys, you see, think a horse or pony is like a steam- engine or a thrashing-machine, and can go on as long and as fast as they please; they never think that a pony can get tired, or have any feelings; so as the one who was whipping me could not understand I just rose up on my hind legs and let him slip off behind—that was all. He mounted me again, and I did the same. Then the other boy got up, and as soon as he began to use his stick I laid him on the grass, and so on, till they were able to understand—that was all. They are not bad boys; they don’t wish to be cruel. I like them very well; but you see I had to give them a lesson. When they brought me to James and told him I think he was very angry to see such big sticks. He said they were only fit for drovers or gypsies, and not for young gentlemen.”
Only fit for drovers and Gypsies, not for young gentlemen.
Sir George Head was describing a small boy driving an animal for a living in the coal mining industry. Of the three descriptions open, he might have been a Gypsy, you could call him a drover, but I don't think anyone would call him a young gentlemen. He didn't use a whip, yet for the Pony Club's young gentlemen it is compulsory.
The Pony Club only insist that 10 years olds should carry a whip. They aren't specifically required to use it, but that gentle approach doesn't last for long. By the time they do the A test, they'd better be competent, and enthusiastic with a whip. Here is the opening three lines of the instruction for the Pony Cub's top test.
HINTS FOR TAKING THE TEST * Dress tidily and cleanly, wear gloves and carry a stick or whip. * Arrive at the Test centre in plenty of time to walk the Cross Country and Show Jumping Courses.
Now here are the sample questions for the Pony Club top level test and the Pony Club's suggested answer.
Avoid the ‘pat' or ‘book' answer. Don't try to display all your knowledge. Instead, think seriously about the horse and then in the simplest terms possible, explain what faults there are and how you would go about overcoming them. For example:
* Q. What do you think about the way the horse is going?
o A. He is on his forehand and lazy.
* Q. How would you go about improving him?
o A. The real problem is laziness; he doesn't respond to my leg aids.
o This is the first thing I would correct. I would re-inforce my leg aids with my stick until he became obedient. When he learns to go with more energy , I can expect more activity from his hindlegs and hind-quarters; he should then become a more balanced ride. It should then be possible to work to improve him.
* The ‘pat' reply might have been:
o A. He needs more schooling. I would do a lot of turns, circles and transitions. Riding over undulating country might help.
So the unsatisfactory "pat" reply suggests suppling exercise and a bit of variety, but this is the Pony Club. You'ld better beat enthusiasm into the animal if you want to pass..
This is Copyright 2008 taken from the Pony Club website
What would Anna Sewell, the author of Black Beauty, say, what would Black Beauty and Merrylegs say? Probably not a lot, they would have learned from the whip to do what is required without question.
But you are an intelligent human being. Just ask yourself, when you buy a whip for a horse mad youngster, would you let them use this on any other pet. And if you wouldn't, as a Christmas present to all the other horses and ponies out there, just ask what the ponies and horses have done to deserve all these whips?