In the news, there has been a high profile case of potential horse abuse in the equestrian industry. There is a rider who has been accused of using electric spurs on his horses. An electric spur is a spur connected to a wire that runs up the riders leg, over their back, and down their arm to a device they hold in their hand. The device in their hand has a button on the top. When they press this button, they deliver a shock to the horse’s side through the spur. These devices are banned by the USEF (United States Equestrian Federation) and the FEI (The Federation Equestrian Internationale) in all competition as they represent a form of horse abuse. The rider who has been accused of using the electric spurs on his horses was caught with photographic evidence of him using them on multiple different horses in different competitions. He is a high profile U.S. show jumping rider who has represented the U.S. in many international competitions. He is a leader in the sport due to the fact that he has many young riders who looked up to him and a large team of employees/riders working underneath him. His unethical treatment of his horses has implications beyond those of the welfare of his horses, which has been damaged by his actions, to the welfare of other horses whom are ridden and cared for by people who looked up to him. This situation emphasizes the responsibility leaders have to behave in an ethical manner due to the influence they have over their followers; in this case, both those who directly work for this rider and all of those who looked up to him due to his status as an international representative of the U.S. show jumping team.
Leadership is defined as “a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (Northouse, 2016, pg. 6). This definition emphasizes the relationship between leadership and influence. This relationship is one of the reasons that ethics plays such a large role in the discussion of leadership and the role of leaders. “Leadership puts [leaders] in a special position in which they have a greater opportunity to influence others in significant ways” (Northouse, 2016, pg. 337). Due to this fact, leaders have an especially large responsibility to be ethical role models for their followers. Due to this fact, this rider has failed as a leader in the equestrian industry. His public position has put him in the ability to influence other riders. His behavior needs to set an example of ethical and moral behavior. However, his behavior has had the opposite effect. Instead of using the influence that his position as a community leader has provided him to bring good to the community and help his followers/admirers become better horseman, and people in general, he has used his position in a negative way. He has shown the many people that look up to him that it is worth it to cheat and act in an immoral way towards your horses if it means you will win and succeed professionally. In addition to this, he has shown all the people who looked up to him that it is okay to cheat, break rules, and act immorally if you think you can get away with it – which he appears to have done for many years. He appears to have abused his horses and broken USEF and FEI rules in all the competitions in which he has used this illegal device. This is an example of a situation in which someone did not use their power of influence over others in a positive way. Instead, he demonstrated the dangers that immoral leaders can present to society and all those who follow them.
I work as an equestrian professional and, while I work in a different discipline that this rider did, I knew him and have worked with him in the past. I was not aware that any of this was going on when I was working in the same program that he was. However, working with him in the past emphasizes the dangers and irresponsibleness of his actions to me now. Momentarily looking past the most obvious and egregious consequence of his actions; the fact that he abused and mistreated his horses, to focus on the leadership principles at play in this situation, I see the dangers that someone who misuses their influence can have. The horse industry is a difficult industry. There is a lot of money at stake, the pressure is high, and horses are living animals, who can be unpredictable and injured. Because of this, professionals face a lot of pressure to win no matter the cost. The actions of this rider create a dangerous precedent if others were to look to his example to model their actions. They would say that such actions, though completely immoral and unethical, are okay if you need to do that to win. He is definitely not the first person to be caught abusing horses and, hopefully, he will be punished for this. He is being investigated by the USEF and the FEI and, if their investigations prove the accusations, he will probably be pursued in criminal court. This situation emphasizes the responsibility that leaders have to be good ethical and moral leaders for their followers. It is not important to lead followers to financial or social success if it means sacrificing the moral and ethical standards that we all must uphold to be good and decent people, both in our minds and in the mind of society.
Northouse, P. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.