Orcas, or killer whales, have been kept in captivity since 1961, and there have been books and movies made about them and how cruel it is to use them for our entertainment. As I read Death at SeaWorld (and watched Blackfish), I started to think about the similarities between horses and orcas in “captivity.”
Both are large, potentially dangerous, and used for entertainment and sport. Both have caused injury, both have caused death, and both are highly intelligent and (seem to) experience emotions and moods.
The only difference I see is that horses have been domesticated for 5500 years, which is far more than the 50 or so years that orcas have been kept captive. Somehow, I feel like the domestication, and perhaps usefulness, is what’s saving horses from being “liberated.”
Our horses, like the orcas, are kept cooped up in small stalls, while feral horses can travel 65-80 km daily for food, water, and shelter. To rid their energy before riding, we make our horses run in circles around us in a little pen.
Horses can get “moody” and “off.” Sometimes they’ll refuse jumps, buck for no reason, or refuse to slow down while trotting or cantering. So we blame the rider, trainer, or the weather. Orcas can be like that too, refusing trainer orders or protesting in their guttural language.
After I was flung off my pony and broke my clavicle rather terribly, I couldn’t do much of anything but sit in my room all day. I still can’t ride, but I can lunge and groom as long as I’m careful. The pony that bucked me off didn’t seem crazy, guilty, or dangerous whatsoever, and I felt no fear or trauma while looking at him. I was injured so severely that my bone was in danger of impaling through my shoulder and I required a two-hour surgery, and something like that sticks in your mind.
Huge controversies came up and multiple rules were put into place when the first orca injured its trainer, yet when I was injured by my pony my friend was instructed to keep riding him because he “shouldn’t be allowed off that easy.”
I don’t think my pony’s intentions were to hurt me, just like I think that killer whales don’t really want to kill us. But if I were stuck in a cubicle, working for hours with little to no rewards, I would probably go a little nutty and stir-crazy.