The Amish are known for their refusal of many modern conveniences, including the use of cars. While somewhat similar to Mennonites, the Amish are a distinct branch of Christianity that embraces simplicity above all else in the pursuit of spiritual purity.
This also relates to common Amish occupations. The Amish are perhaps best known as farmers in the areas where they live and work, including Lancaster County.
However, regardless of whether they farm, Amish families almost all travel long distances by the same method — horse and buggy.
This means that an Amish family commonly owns at least one horse.
So that begs the question — how do the Amish treat their horses?
We’ll answer that question (plus a few more) in this blog post.
First, let’s start with the question itself.
Do the Amish Treat Their Horses Well?
Generally speaking, yes, the Amish treat their horses well.
This is for a few reasons.
First, as we mentioned above, horses are the most common form of long-distance transportation for an Amish family. “Long-distance” may only be a town or two away in this context, but it’s still important to recognize that horses take Amish families further than walking or scooters.
Second, horses are expensive. While Amish families may not be below the poverty line, investing in a horse is a serious purchase that could require years to pay in full. So if you have a horse, you want to make sure it’s healthy for as long as possible.
Third, horses are temperamental. Horses can take a while to “break” — the word used to describe a horse becoming responsive to human commands — and exceptionally stubborn horses can outright refuse to do things. When you have a horse that’s accepting verbal and physical commands, it’s crucial to keep the horse in that state of mind.
Fourth, there are laws concerning the treatment of all animals, including draft animals, that even the Amish are compelled to follow. Whether they follow them strictly is another question, but mistreating a horse is considered animal cruelty in the same way as mistreating a dog, cat, or other pet.
But this final point mentions and important detail. Horses may be animals, but they’re not pets. This means that they’re not treated the same way as your family dog.
It means they’re treated like draft animals.
That’s an entirely different kind of treatment than how you’d treat, say, a rabbit.
Here’s why the Amish treat horses like vehicles instead of pets.
Treating Horses as Draft Animals (Not Pets)
The idea of owning a horse as a pet is a very bourgeois idea.
It’s the kind of idea that requires a ton of money and coordination to ensure a horse is kept healthy and in good spirits.
The Amish don’t look at horses like that.
Horses aren’t pampered when they’re in an Amish stable. They’re kept healthy and alive, and they’re kept active so that their muscles are ready for work.
They may not be whipped or cut, but it’s common for Amish horses to be lashed, reined, and partially blindfolded.
The Amish can do this because horses have thick hides, meaning they don’t feel a lash from a leather rein the same way that a person does.
In fact, a lash that would otherwise scar a human being would be felt as a firm suggestion by a horse, particularly on its hind quarters where its muscles are largest.
In that respect, it’s easy for someone to see an Amish family “encouraging” a horse to tow a buggy up a hill and interpret it as animal abuse.
But for the horse, it’s getting the message that it needs to keep moving.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to see a horse being lashed over and over again. It’s also worth noting that you can “overdo it” when lashing a horse, and it can also cause pain to the animal with enough strength and repetition.
Still, most Amish understand that lashing a horse out of frustration is a dead end in terms of getting it to do what they want. More often than not, if a horse is suddenly not listening to its master, there may be an external factor affecting its ability to work.
That could include high heat, high humidity, fatigue, exhaustion, or even illness.
While high heat and humidity are all but impossible to avoid, fatigue, exhaustion, and illness may not always be easy to spot.
Fatigue happens whenever a horse is overworked. This takes a lot of time and harsh use, but it’s still possible.
Exhaustion happens one step further, where a horse is barely able to move or stand because of how hard it’s been worked.
Illness is a separate issue, though any manner of insect-borne ailments can impact a horse’s ability to work at its physical best.
As we said before, the Amish have a vested interest in keeping their horses healthy. But even then, it can still be possible for the horses’ work to catch up with them in negative ways.
With that in mind, let’s talk about one more thing.
Up until now, we’ve provided a number of reasons that compel any Amish family to treat its horses well.
But we’d be stupid to believe that there aren’t exceptions to these reasons.
So let’s talk about something that’s unpleasant, but undoubtedly real.
Some Amish people do, in fact, abuse their horses.
The Mistreatment of Horses by the Amish
First of all, there are a couple of things to understand about the general keeping of horses.
Horses have to have places to walk, eat, cool off, congregate, and seek shelter from the weather. In this context, “weather” also means sunlight.
In other words, horses need space and a place to sleep (even though they sleep standing up).
This is important because one of the most common complaints against the Amish is how they treat horses when it’s hot outside.
Signs of an overworked, overly-hot horse include a tongue hanging out to one side, a strained gait, heavy breathing, and the appearance of “zoning out” when commands are given.
It’s a common sight during summer in Lancaster (and other Amish-filled areas) to see a buggy with a horse at its head, tongue hanging out, taking deep and drawn-out breaths as it goes up a hill.
It’s equally common to see an angry Amish person with the reins slapping the horse’s rear to get it to move.
This, obviously, is not fair or positive treatment of a horse. If a horse is flagging because of heat, it’s not going to magically move faster because someone is striking it.
Aside from overwork, you can also detect a mistreated horse from bruises, lesions, cuts, or lacerations on its skin. At no point during a horse’s regular work should wounds appear on its body except through accident or deliberate abuse.
In addition, there’s a third sign of abuse that is almost never discussed openly in public — sunburn.
Like any animal with exposed skin, it’s completely possible for a horse’s hide to become sunburned. Sunburns may first appear on the muzzle or face of a horse, where the flesh will be pink, red, and / or blistered as a result of a lack of shelter.
More severe sunburns may appear on the horse’s body and haunches, where the skin may also blister and swell.
Exceptionally bad sunburns could result in a horse’s eyes swelling shut, a sharp increase in aggression, and an avoidance of touch.
These are the kinds of warning signs that can show mistreatment — whether it’s malicious or negligent — in horses, particularly among the Amish.
However, even for this mistreated horses, there’s still hope in the form of horse rescues.
Amish Horses & Horse Rescues
There’s a big question that every horse owner encounters when a horse is getting old — do you keep it until death or sell it to slaughter?
Believe it or not, horse meat is fairly common in meat processing plants outside of the United States. That means there’s a market for aging horses that can no longer do their daily work.
The Amish — and other horse owners — know that, and it’s a way that they can make a final bit of money on a horse before they lost it forever.
This is why the Amish may choose to auction their horses to the highest bidder. Once they get their cash, they bid farewell to the horse and move on with their lives.
But the horse has its life otherwise cut short.
This is why horse rescues — particularly in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania — have an increasing interest in Amish horses.
Instead of selling the horses, these rescues are attempting to give the horses green pastures, adequate shelter, and a happy place to live out their golden years.
Do the Amish horse owners get one final cash buyout for their livestock in this situation? No.
But remember, a horse is an investment for an Amish family. Whatever they paid for the horse originally, they recouped that cost in travel, work, and more many times over.
This is why some of the more empathic and compassionate Amish families opt to work with horse rescues, giving their aging livestock a place to frolic before they pass away.
It’s also why many Amish continue to auction off their old horses, interested in one big cashout that gives them some extra walking-around money.
Is it against the law for the Amish to auction off their livestock? No.
Are there more compassionate alternatives? Yes.
But regardless, these are the main options available to an Amish horse-owner as the horse itself nears the end of its life.
Interested in More about the Amish?
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