21st December 2005
Horses have long been revered for their embodiment of strength, freedom and nobility. Sadly today despite the place horses hold in the hearts of many Australians they are valued more for what they can achieve for people rather than their intrinsic worth.
Georgia’s story is alas typical of many of these most noble beasts. With a distinct thoroughbred look, we imagine Georgia would have started out life rather well. Her owners having had high hopes that she would be a racetrack sensation, bringing them glitz, glamour and financial rewards. However like many a racehorse Georgia could not live up to such lofty expectations and as no one was forthcoming with an alternate career Georgia found herself awaiting her turn in the knackery yard. Despite humans failing she has retained a gentle trust in man that was to buy her a “get out of jail” card as she endeared herself to her rescuers who serendipitously happened to be at the knackery yard at the right time. What better place to spend the twilight of her years than at Edgar’s Mission.
Back in 1877 a young devout Quaker girl named Anna Sewell was too under the magical spell of equines as she penned what was to be one of the first animal rights novels, “Black Beauty”. At fourteen she sprained her ankle, it healing badly coupled with a bone disease meant that Anna could never walk properly. An inability to get about saw Anna rely heavily on horse and cart as a means of transport. This brought her face to face with horses, seeing the often careless and cruel treatment they received from humans. Anna was particularly appalled by the use of the bearing rein on carriage horses to make them keep their heads up and look pretty. Some horses were forced to work for hours in these devices, including having to try to pull loads uphill. Unfortunately even today there still are dubious devices used on horses to alter their appearance or action. However many practices that cause unnecessary distress, discomfort or pain for animals result more from ignorance or extreme lack of concern than deliberate acts of cruelty.
Anna only wrote this one book which took five years to complete. She died at fifty eight, just months after its publication never knowing the huge impact it would have on encouraging kindness, sympathy and understanding towards the treatment of horses and all animals. She would be proud to know that her central theme of a protest against many of the wrong but accepted practices of the time, lead to the abolition of the cruel bearing rein and in doing so kicked off the animal-rights movement. But Anna’s benevolence did not stop with animals as she also showed sympathy and understanding for the hard-pressed working-man who was forced, through poverty, to push his horse too far. The novel also caused a more humane treatment of London’s human cabbies.
At Anna’s funeral, her mother insisted that the uncomfortable bearing-reins be removed from all the horses in the funeral procession.