Sunday, January 22, 2012

apropos of nothing, really, a reposting of my appeal for humane and connected horsemanship

an appeal for humane and connected horsemanship

Seventeen years ago I was given a book by William Sears, M.D., called The Baby Book, in which Dr. Sears talked about his theory of parenting, referred to as attachment parenting.

Dr. Sears' theory of attachment parenting (often called AP), calls for developing a secure bond with our children, the goal being a secure, connected child who grows into an empathetic, connected adult.

Attachment Parenting International offers the following guiding principles, which facilitate strong, nurturing connections between children and their parents:
  1. preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting
  2. feeding with love and respect
  3. responding with sensitivity
  4. using nurturing touch
  5. ensuring safe sleep, physically and emotionally
  6. providing consistent and loving care
  7. practicing positive discipline
  8. striving for balance in personal and family life

With only a few tweaks of language, all of the above could easily be set forth as guiding principles for living humanely and in connection with horses (and donkeys, and all equines).

Last week it was Pat Parelli and Catwalk.

This week I have read an article about a miniature donkey strapped into a harness against her will and parasailed up and down a beach in the name of "publicity." The donkey was terrified, landed quite roughly, and apparently was in such distress while in the air, left many children crying in upset confusion. And yet, after a public outcry when the owner was finally located and the donkey examined by a veterinarian, there will apparently be no charges of abuse or cruelty because the donkey sustained no physical injuries.

In the smaller circle of equine community, I have read a post on a forum about the need to keep working our horses, despite the heat, because of the need to maintain a training schedule. Heat indexes where I live have ranged from 112-119 degrees for the past week. It's easy enough to see that extreme heat affects horses more quickly and more seriously than it does the average, healthy human. They have hair covering their entire bodies. Their digestive tracts rely on regular intake of forage and water to remain functional. When we ride them, they are not only working, but carrying our weight.

I received an email informing me of things to do to haul horses safely in heat, in advance of Pony Club National Championships coming up next weekend in Virginia. Nationals are held in Kentucky and Virginia on alternate years, always in late July/early August. Why schedule something that involves hauling horses and ponies from all over the US during the hottest time of year?

I read a Facebook entry referring to a pony as a "butthead" because he didn't want to go into the ring for a show class, tried to leave, and bucked. Has the pony been checked for physical pain? Bit fit, saddle fit, muscle soreness, feet checked, chiropractic issues? The pony's behavior is indicative of something being wrong, either physically or emotionally. How else can he express it? My guess is that if he didn't want to go into the ring to jump, and that was paid attention to, he wouldn't have then needed to buck to get his point across. And yet no one listened. He was a "butthead."

Is there no end to the narcissism, self-centeredness, and downright ignorance of human beings? I can't think of any reason save an emergency trip to the vet school that would call for loading any horse or donkey into a trailer at this time of year, in this heat, with the expectation that the horse/donkey stand in a strange stall, hot, stressed, and yet ready and willing to perform strenuous work in a competitive setting.

I can't imagine having hauled any of my horses to any event this week and being remotely capable of disparaging them because they resisted being ridden.

And I could no more strap Rafer Johnson or Redford in a harness and drag them through the air for the sake of making a little money than I could one of my human children.

What in the world are we thinking when we expect animals to serve as vehicles for our bank accounts, our egos, and our apparently desperate need for external validation?

Alice Miller wrote a number of books about parents who expect these things of their children. She describes in great psychological detail what this does to children, and how the effects ripple into adulthood.  It's time someone wrote a similar treatise on people and their horses. There is no ribbon on earth, no amount of money, and no genuine self-gratification worth the cost of treating animals like objects, with no feelings, no rights, and little effort on our parts toward creating, nurturing, and maintaining a deeper relationship.

When we ignore the deeper, unspoken needs of the equines we ride and use for our own purposes, there is a cost. Not dollars and cents, although certainly we may end up with broken down horses and big vet bills at some point down the road. The cost I refer to is a psychic, soul-deep cost that I'm not sure we even know the consequences of incurring. It's a cost to humanity and to growth as human beings.

 I know this sounds serious. I believe it to be true.

I'm not opposed to competitive horse sport, but the reward of competition should be based in the maturing of the rider's increasingly connected relationship with the horse, and in the making of sound, safe decisions based on the needs of the horse, who can't leave a voicemail saying "oh, by the way, I really don't feel like carrying you over jumps in 90+ degree heat - how about we do it another time?"

As much as our children rely on us to intuit and meet their needs when they're too young to do it for themselves, our horses and our donkeys (and our cats and dogs and birds and all the other wonderful animals we surround ourselves with) need us to be their biggest, most thoughtful advocates and partners.

And I can say with certainty borne of experience, when we say NO to "smack him harder," when we say NO to "that noseband needs to be TIGHT," when we say IT'S TOO HOT TO HAUL, WE WON'T BE THERE when we get the email asking about the upcoming horse show, and when we say "I'll do what it takes to find out why you bucked in that last class" - what we get in return is something far more valuable than a training schedule checked off, a thumbs up from an unenlightened trainer, a few new clients for our company, or a fistful of cheap show ribbons.

We get connection. We get devotion. We get to participate in the magical relationship that is the amazing and most genuine gift horses and donkeys offer humans.

And more than that, I think we elevate ourselves as humans. We raise the bar for our own species. Instead of expecting more of them, how about we expect more of ourselves?

10 comments:

Matthew said...

Thank you for writing this. Again.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Agreed. :)

Barbara said...

Nice post.
I have found in a lifetime around horses that you can break down the people involved into 2 major categories. There are those who strive all of their lives to be fair, and to learn all the time. Most strive to be 'one with the horse' because it is the way to truly competitive, fulfilling rides, win or lose.
The other group seems to find satisfaction in dominating such a big and powerful animal. I know several 'trainers' who cannot get on a horse without picking a fight and beating it into submission. These people would be better off with a motorcycle, but it would not feed their ego.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Great post. You and I think alike on how to treat horses with respect and caring. If we are not advocates for our horses and others who will raise the questions that need answering. It always amazes me how people can put their egos before the welfare of their animals.

I've seen first hand the trainers, clients, students etc. who act like Barbara described. My question has always been why bother to have or ride a horse if you care nothing for it except as a way to further your twisted goals.

Máire said...

That's a great post. In the case of that poor donkey, it is high time that trauma in animals is recognised. I am convinced it exists, just as it exists in humans.

Kate said...

Yes, yes, and yes again - thank you!

mrscravitz said...

Very Well Said! I agree 110%.

billie said...

Thank you, Mrs. Cravitz - glad you stopped by!

Victoria Cummings said...

You are so right, and unfortunately, the ones who need to read this probably never will. I am amazed every day by the cruelty and stupidity of some of the people who claim they love horses. Hopefully, there will be a karmic payback someday for them. I know a woman who locked her trainer in the horse trailer and drove him around corners going 50 mph just to teach him to slow down when he took her horses to shows. He got the message.

billie said...

Victoria, I love the bit about the trainer in the trailer. There are a few people I would like to bridle with a harsh bit, crank their head down with side reins, and use whips and spurts as I drive them forward around an arena. That is wired with electric fencing turned up high so if they bump into it they get a big fat shock.