Oh dear. What a tangled web we (humans) weave. If we can make something complicated we will, especially when it comes to money and ownership.
After three years of ongoing ownership issues, the former British Olympic, history-making, gold-medal-team horse and breeding stallion Uthopia is now to be sold at auction — with no reserve.
The auction is linked to a bankruptcy and the resulting sale of assets to raise funds. And, sadly, in the business world Uthopia is an asset.
Once, he was a very valuable asset indeed, although after not a lot to show for four years in terms of competition and breeding – both of which may have been affected by the legal dispute – he is most certainly nothing like as valuable as he once was.
It would also seem that his ridden and competing days are over. Uthopia is now 15 and, reading between the lines, it would appear that he currently has a soundness problem. Plus, we are at the bottom of the Olympic cycle and he would be too old for the next, so, in a sensible world, it is unlikely he will be snapped up for silly money by one of the wealthy nations.
He does, however, have a value as a breeding stallion, which is more difficult to equate. On the one hand, his pedigree is not fashionable, he has few offspring to prove him as a sire and few stallions have more than 20 mares a year anyway; on the other, he did win an Olympic gold medal and he does have a nice young stallion son. This case, which has attracted much media attention, might give him a boost in popularity. He looks affordable.
Already money has been pledged, some people have recommended setting up a syndicate and, in a popular modern initiative, a crowdfunding project has also been suggested. Five hundred people giving £200 would raise £100,000 or every member of British Dressage giving £10 would raise £150,000 for example. Another supporter put forward a plan to ensure that Carl Hester was the only bidder.Sadly, in an auction situation there is absolutely no guarantee that any of these initiatives would work. It only takes one.
To those of us in the horse world, however, Uthopia is a horse. And not just a horse but a stallion with personality, habits, routines and peculiarities, all of which have been accommodated at Hester’s yard, where Uthopia has lived for 11 years, and this is the reason why the announcement of the auction has created such an emotive response from around the world.
“Uthopia is not the first equine ‘asset’ to be sold due to bankruptcy, but perhaps we ought to make sure he is one of the last”
Which is why, ultimately, common sense really should prevail. Is it right that the welfare of an animal be potentially compromised? Moving home, to a different stable with different smells, handlers and companions — a different country, even — after such a long time in one place and for a stallion especially, can be damaging to health and well-being — they can become depressed and even infertile.
Uthopia is not the first equine ‘asset’ to be sold due to bankruptcy – it happens quite often. But perhaps we ought to make sure he is one of the last.
Last year, New Zealand passed an amendment to their welfare act stating that animals are ‘sentient beings’ — that is, they can experience positive and negative emotions, including pain and distress. At the time, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stated that “a declaration of sentience was required considering most New Zealand law treats animals as things and objects rather than living creatures”.
At the moment, most UK law also treats animals as things and objects. So we really should be following the example of New Zealand and driving for the law that would ensure a horse — or any other animal — is not simply an asset or object to be sold off to the highest bidder.
In the meantime, I really hope that, through mediation, a solution can be found to ensure that Uti stays in the home he knows, to be looked after by people he knows, for the rest of his life.