A little while ago, I was sent The Life of Malé by Sabrina Ballentine to review. I’ve been incredibly slow at working my way through my bookshelf recently, but I just read it on my holiday and finished it in less than 2 days!
Described as a modern day Black Beauty with a real lens on the welfare of horses in equestrian sport. I think this is pretty spot on. It follows a thoroughbred called Malé from his birth throughout his life. Son of a Grand National winner, he was bred to race. But his owner chooses a different path for him.
Throughout the story, you get an insight of what life could be like for racehorses and sports horses. I think the author does a good job of showing how much people who work with horses typically love the horses and want what is best for them. But she also highlights how what is best can be overlooked by what is going to make them the most money or get the best results.
On the whole, I felt the author did a good job of highlighting this issue within all horse sport. Pointing out that we could be doing more to make our horses happier and healthier. This is something all equine sport needs to consider and make steps to improve.
Do our horses need to be stabled 24/7? If we are worried about safe turnout, are we doing everything we can to improve their time in the stable? Are we over medicating our horses rather than giving the time they need to develop or recover? Are we pushing them in sports they just don’t enjoy when we should be letting them move onto something else? Do we need to clip them and rug them? Is this always what is best for them?
Questioning these things doesn’t mean they are wrong, or that they are potential welfare issues. But questioning them helps ground us and actually think about what we are doing. Are we doing it because it’s what is best for the horse? Or are we doing it because it’s just what people do? It might be the best thing for some horses but not others. Making more natural choices for our horses where we can is probably a good thing.
However, I also felt that the author pushed her own views, especially those of barefoot, a bit too much. I agree that barefoot can be a great option for some horses. But I felt like the author tackled it as a black and white issue, barefoot is always better. It isn’t.
There was a comment made about a revolutionary racing yard where all their horses were barefoot. In the UK horses HAVE to be shod while racing. This is due to there being a higher risk of slipping in unshod horses, which is incredibly dangerous at those speeds. There was also a recurring theme of if your horse had an ongoing lameness, then bringing them back to a natural lifestyle and barefoot will fix it. I think this is a dangerous message to put out there.
Most owners love their horses and want to do what is best for them. Unfortunately, I have seen a few cases in recent years where horses have been desperately uncomfortable natural & barefoot. To the point where the barefoot trimmer and vet are trying to convince the owner to get the farrier to put shoes back on. But they believe the line that barefoot is always best.
I think the book does a great job of highlighting some definite issues in the horse world. I just wish the author had taken a slightly softer approach to her views. More of a “this is a great alternative” rather than “this is the best thing for your horse” would have made it the perfect book for horsey teenagers. As they are realistically the future of our sport!
It was a great book for holiday reading. It had likeable and irritating characters. It had highs and lows. It was easy, enjoyable reading. And most importantly, it does have a great message, just a bit too strong of one for my liking. It’s available on Amazon.
Would love to hear what your thought of it!
Last Updated on 11/08/2023