The horse's significance in our present-day society
It's hardly necessary here to go into detail on how the horse has developed as a partner for human beings in sporting and leisure activities over the past 25 to 30 years. The almost incredible success story of the Equitana in this period is evidence enough. From an exhibition predominantly regional in character at the beginning of the 70s, the Equitana has indeed evolved into an equestrian exhibition of global status, nowadays of acknowledged importance for almost every country on Earth.
A few statistics will suffice to indicate the significance of equestrian sporting and leisure activities in present-day Germany. With around 750,000 members in almost 7,000 riding and coaching clubs, the German Equestrian Federation (FN), the umbrella organisation for equestrianism and horse-breeding in Germany, is the seventh-largest member association in the German Sport Federation (DSB). And not only that. Among the ten largest associations in the DSB, the FN has the highest growth rate, with membership increasing at two per cent each year. Assuredly twice as many more people than the 750,000 members of the FN ride, coach, or perform horseback acrobatics in Germany without being organised in a club. According to surveys, as many people again would like to indulge in sport and leisure activities with horses if they had the opportunity.
Whereas in the early 60s horses had almost vanished from the scene in this country, more of a candidate for the "Red list" of endangered species, their numbers have meanwhile almost quadrupled, with a conservative estimate of well over 800,000 for the horse and pony population. Reputable experts are even suggesting one million equids in Germany. If you know that three to four horses mean one job, it's easy to calculate that at least 200,000 to 250,000 people in Germany have the horse to thank for their income. In the Equestrian Enterprise Project developed by the FN alone, around 2,500 equestrian firms have been organised within a mere three years.
According to extremely conservative estimates (the real figures are probably much higher), turnover in Germany from equestrianism in its broadest sense comes to more than ten billon marks a year. The economic importance of this fact cannot be overrated. Especially when it is remembered that these jobs, in contrast to some other sectors of the economy, do not require any subsidies, but (in agriculture, for example) actually help to save billions in subsidies.
An aspect which the Federal Ministry of Finance might to well to take on board sometime.
It's not only since the times of the BSE crisis that numerous farmers threatened with financial ruin see renting out stable space for horses or cultivating horse fodder or producing litter as a genuine economic alternative. But it's not only the economic aspects of horse-keeping that are of interest. In ecological terms, too, the horse has a lot to offer. Using green fields for pasturing horses, for instance, requires incomparably smaller amounts of mineral fertilisers. Herbicides and fungicides are not needed at all if the pasturage is properly managed. So the demands being raised in some German states to restrict the opportunities for keeping horses in areas of outstanding natural beauty or nature reserves, or to prohibit this altogether, are a sign not of any special ecological awareness, but rather of indoctrinated prejudices. After all, the horse has been a constituent part of this country's eco-system for millennia, in farmland and wild countryside alike.
Important though these economic and ecological statements are, some other considerations on what horses and equestrianism have to offer us should not be ignored. Dealing with horses, as competitive sport or for recreation, is a sport and a hobby conducted in and with the natural environment. Perhaps this is the reason why more and more people are turning to horses, because they're looking for a contrast to our increasingly technology-dominated and artificial world.
People in our present-day society have more leisure options than any generation in history. For millions of them, making sensible use of this leisure time is one of their greatest problems. A problem unknown to people who devote their leisure time to horses. Almost no other pastime is so fulfilling, so multifaceted and so enjoyably complex as equestrianism. One of the greatest, if not the greatest, of all benefits which the horse has to offer, however, is the immense pedagogic value which the horse provides for young people in particular. Of course, people shape horses as well by what they do. But the pedagogic value of the horse for the human being must surely be far greater, since the horse and equestrianism are far more intensively educative for us humans. The development of responsibility, the readiness to look after others, the ability to criticise and discipline oneself, all these are values and ethical concepts whose disappearance in our present-day society is increasingly deplored. But all of them are also precisely the values which horses and equestrianism are ideal in communicating to humans, and to young people above all. Perhaps, too, one of the reasons why the "Riding as a School Sport" project developed by the FN has become increasingly popular over recent years.
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