Currently there's a huge debate going on in Germany, dividing riders, horse breeders and other horse people. The last couple of years some groups have begun to campaign against the tradition of branding foals. Recently it all came to a boiling point after this poster was published from a German animal protection organization.
The brand is that of the Hannoveraner, one of the most recognized of the brands. The text over the girls head reads "feel like a horse". This poster is part of a larger campaign, another is this one against castration of piglets without anesthesia:
The discussion regarding branding can be summed up as follows: the German government (more specifically the Agricultural Department), the national Veterinary Organisation(Bundesverband Praktizierender Tierärzte, BPT) and some/many riders want to ban the practice of branding. Some/many riders, the German federation, horse breeders (at least the ones that make themselves heard) and the breeding associations want to keep it.
There are 4 main points that are being discussed: 1) Most importantly, the pain caused (or supposed pain, to those who defend branding) to the horses 2) How to best identitfy horses 3) Marketing 4) Money
1) It seems strange that holding a scorching hot iron to a horse's skin wouldn't cause massive pain. But that is the argument from the breeders/breeding assoc. "If it hurts so bad, why don't the horses defend themselves, or run away?" Three of the major breeding assoc. (the Hannover, Holstein and Trakhener Assoc.) together with the German federation (FN) have made a film to demonstrate how well the foals tolerate the branding, and are also collecting signatures for a letter to the government to reconsider their position on branding. And indeed, the foals seem remarkably unfazed by it all. But how are they after a few hours, or days? Anyone who have ever burn themselves know that it doesn't start to really hurt before the skin starts reacting to the damage that has been done.
2) The reason this debate started was mainly because we now have an alternative to branding; microchips. Inserted into the neck, it's promoted as a pain-free, surefire way to identify horses. A few years back, I had my previous horse chipped, as did many others, and never heard anybody either complain or tell horror stories of what might go wrong. So I keep being surprised by all the things reported by many Germans to be wrong with microchipping. First of all, supposedly many (I haven't seen any numbers) horses develop abcesses where the chip is inserted, or the chip travels in the body of the horse and ends up somewhere else, causing problems or at least hindering it from being read by a scanner. Second, it not pain-free and third, the chips can only be read by special scanners that are not always at hand and differ from country to country, making it difficult to correctly identify horses that have travelled over borders.
Picure from http://www.oldenburger-pferde.com/pferde/63_91.php
3) "Taking the brand away from the horse is like snapping the star off of the Mercedes cars." Sure, it's still a good car, but nobody's going to recognise it as a Mercedes. That's pretty much the argument from the marketing department. And I suspect, the real reason why the breeders are so reluctant to part with the hot iron.
4) Ever since the BPT revealed their support to the ban, it has been said that the ban is just a deal between the government and the vets to earn more money. (A vet has to chip the foal, whereas the branding is done by people from the different breeding assoc.)
My first instinct is to agree with the ban. Why cause unnessesary pain to animals? Even if horses don't experience pain the way humans do (as claimed in the film), I don't believe that it's possible to not experience some degree of pain from branding. These animals feel flies landing on their fur!
But it's interesting that generally speaking, the people most committed to defending the practice are those who have actually seen and experienced it (and also benefit from it for marketing reasons...), and those who despise it are people who usually haven't seen it first hand.
Right now, nobody knows how it'll end, but I have a feeling that the breeders are going to have to live with brand-free horses in the future.
Today is "themeday" on 3sat, a public, advertising-free television network broadcasting mainly within Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The theme? Everything to do with horses! Since 05.00 this morning until tomorrow morning, only horsey programmes are shown (with small newsbreaks in between). I love living in a country that knows to appreciate horses (and the people who love them)!
It got me thinking about another "love Germany"-episode I had. One Saturday last year a busload of vet students went off on an excursion to different farms as part of our animal husbandry lectures.
One of the stops was at a breeder of Trakheners, only a short hour from Hannover. The stable lay next to a great castle and pond;
the stable itself wasn't that impressive, as far as I could see a standard, concrete thing.
As is often the case with older stables here, often buildings that were not originally built as stables, is was pretty dark and with little fresh air, although the boxes were spacious.
Honestly, I was only moderatly motivated; it was freezing, the old, nice man who showed us around was very difficult for a foreigner to understand and my mind was on other things. So I followed the group and looked politely at the many, many 1-,2- and 3-year-olds, beautiful horses all of them.
Cool stable detail: You could spin the plate thingy to show how many kg of hay/horse/meal. In this example, 3 kg per meal.
Then, the pride and joy of the stable was brought out. It took me a minute to catch the name of the horse (as I said, he wasn't easy to understand). It was Kostolany. Now, for non-dressage enthusiasts/nerds, that might not say much, but on this freezing day, we got to see the probably most influencial Trakhener stallion of the past 20 years. He is now enjoying his Lebensabend ("evening of his life" or last days) as the Germans so poetically calls it, at the breeding farm where he was born.
Kostolany is the father of 10 approved stallions. One of them was Gribaldi, who, before passing away last year, competed at Grand Prix-level with Edward Gal of the Netherlands. His most famous offspring is without a doubt Totilas, who under the same rider has become a dressage sensation. Another well-known son is Painted Black (Anky van Grunsven).
Another Kostolany-son is Silvermoon, father of Blue Hors Matiné, 3rd in the Kür at the World Championship in Aachen in 2006 with Andreas Helgstrand (Denmark).
Kostolany at 26, nicely decorated with children and, eh, paper drapes or something...
The stallion and his old man: In 2009, Kostolany was named Trakhener Stallion of the Year. At all Trakhener events you'll be hard pressed to avoid horses with Kostolany somewhere in their breeding (not that you would want to). A recent example is All Inclusive (Gribaldi - Buddenbrock), the 2009 reserve champion of the Trakhener Körung.
For those interested, there's lots more to read about the breeding farm, Kostolany and his many offspring and of course the other horses at the farm at Gestüt Hämelschenburg (in German and English).
I love the fact that you can find these outstanding horses just around the corner, that the horse is so rooted in the nations history and that working with or having horses isn't seen (only) as a "hobby for rich little girls" (as I sometimes get the feeling of at home). Look at the audience in the picture above - a mix of gender and generations, all brought together by the horses.
Fonti had two more bouts of colic in Febuary, the last time he had a high fever as well. I'm still waiting for the results of a blood test that was taken, but probably the cause of his misery is sand. Apparantly he eats sand when he's out in his paddock, which has over time accumulated in his stomach. The last two weeks he's been fine, eating well and looking happier. He's back in work at the moment, but he's not allowed outside in his paddock before we can find a solution for the sandeating. If the bloodwork shows that he has some mineral deficency or the like, then hopefully he'll stop eating sand after he gets what he needs, if not then I don't know how to solve it. If anybody's been in touch with this problem before, I'll be grateful for any tips or info on the subject!