Just imagine it. A little brown envelope with the letters HMRC pops through your letterbox and inside is – you’ve guessed it – a tax demand. Only this time, it’s a tax demand for keeping a horse.
It couldn’t possibly happen, could it? Let’s hope not, because the German equestrian federation is battling proposals by some of its town councils to impose levies of between 250 and 750 euros per horse: that’s the equivalent of just under £200 and nearly £600.
The reasoning behind it is confusing, but most people believe it comes down to the fact that the councillors responsible believe that those who own horses are, by definition, rich. In other words, they could be a nice little earner.
If it wasn’t so appalling, it would be laughable. Fair enough, there are plenty of fabulously wealthy horse owners, but there are an awful lot more who go without luxuries and even things their friends look on as essential to pay for their horses. Holidays? We had one once; my husband still talks about it, in a wistful sort of way.
Then there’s the joke about how to make a small fortune in the horse world. The answer is, of course: start with a bigger one.
So far, there are no signs that the British government has any ideas like this up its sleeve. In fairness, Germany has a different system in that its 16 states or regions can levy taxes on things that are not taxed by its central government. Hopefully, the idea will be ridiculed and overruled.
But behind it, there’s a worrying question of attitude – and that’s something we in the UK also have to be aware of. The view that horse people are all well-heeled and think of ourselves as somehow superior to others persists: one annoying relative persists in asking “How are the horses, tally ho?” in a fake posh accent every time we meet, despite the fact that he’s the one who sports designer gear and I’m the queen of charity shops.
Perhaps we should all try a bit harder to make people realise that we’re ordinary human beings who just happen to love horses. I really don’t think we’re a snobbish lot, but maybe we need to be more pro-active.
A few years ago, a friend and I used to hack past a house where a little girl would run to the gate every time she heard us clip-clopping past. We always waved and she would wave back, very shyly. One day, when her father was with her, we stopped and asked if she’d like to meet the horses.
You’d think I’d offered him a winning lottery ticket and the look on that little girl’s face as she stroked my horse’s shoulder is something I’ve always remembered. We have to keep those who know nothing about horses on our side, because then the division between ‘them and us’ won’t have such potentially frightening repercussions.