"Wooo, ooo, oooooo...Wooo, ooo, ooooooo. Oh, a storm is threat'ning..." Metaphorically, I've have recently been hiding under a rock--my head and heart throbbing with the haunting rhythms of the Rolling Stones' anthemic "Gimme Shelter".
In the shadowed shelter of my lichen covered rock, I can process all the confusion and disappointment I feel in so much of the activities of mankind.
Because I feel a special kinship with horses that goes even deeper than the distinct unity I feel for the rest of creation, these days a confluence of darkness has gripped me where they are concerned.
I will share with readers the reasons for my gloomy funk:
Our Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve's efforts to enhance the severely inbred, nearly extinct genetics of the Iberian Sorraia by bringing together a purebred Sorraia stallion and North American mustang mares of Sorraia type, providing them a wilderness habitat where they can live a virtually autonomous life, generating offspring with enhanced genetic variability and rich physical and mental vitality (well balanced bodies and minds) has been an exquisitely beautiful success story--one which many people seem to enjoy reading about. However, as we prepare for this year's foals to arrive, there has not been an overwhelming desire expressed by other people to acquire Altamiro's offspring. In fact we have not sold or adopted out any Sorraia youngsters at all, and so far this year have no prospects presenting themselves. This complicates things in ways we never imagined.
Kevin and are I in agreement that Ravenseyrie should not be chopped up into separate holding paddocks and limited pastures. Putting severe restrictions on our free range horses would be physically and mentally disruptive for them, one could even say it would be cruel to take away such freedoms which are rightfully theirs and to which they have become accustomed. We think Altamiro would go crazy if we put him in a separate pasture where he had to watch the rest of the world (which was once all his) go by. We don't think any one of our horses, whether primitive or domestic, would feel good being kept in a smaller area, unable to participate in the full world of Ravenseyrie. We do think the youngsters who have already been pushed out of the family band would adjust beautifully if moved to a different setting under the right human care.
Though I was never presented with any literature that stated the Science and Conservation Center would not provide PZP to organizations which continued to breed and sell horses I have been now been informed that this is against their principles and policy. If we agree to halt breeding altogether and never sell horses, and manage Ravenseyrie as a "sanctuary" rather than a "selective breeding preserve", they will then happily sell us the PZP. Until then, the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve is considered a "commercial enterprise" so we are told in a letter from Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, (director of the Science and Conservation Center and creator of the PZP vaccine) Dr. Kirkpatrick also relayed that regardless of our good intentions Kevin and I are participating in the "traffic of horses" during a time when the world is faced with an epidemic of unwanted equines. Could it be that Dr. Kirkpatrick would not feel a pang of sadness should the Sorraia horses eventually disappear all together?
I went into a deeper hiding spot under my rock trying to get over his palpable disapproval of what we are trying to achieve here at Ravenseyrie. In his book "The Four Agreements", don Miguel Ruiz reminds us "Don't take things personally"...at first I failed my prior training and did take Dr. Kirkpatrick's comments as a personal condemnation, but, the magic of the Ravenseyrie rocks helped me eventually suspend such unhelpful thinking.
In truth, I wasn't all that disappointed that we had in the end been denied the use of this equine contraceptive. PZP (porcine zona pellucida) is formulated by manipulating a vaccine out of pig ovaries which when injected into a mare causes an immune system response that inhibits fertilization of her eggs. These pig ovaries are a by-product from a commercial slaughterhouse in Iowa which processes factory farmed pigs for human consumption. I had been considering the PZP a necessary evil that we would use so that we would not have to separate Altamiro from his mares and disrupt their family dynamics in order to temporarily prevent pregnancies. But I never felt it was the right thing to do, to use this type of science and impose it on our mares who would have no choice but to accept our darting them with this drug. The reverse decision handed down by The Science and Conservation Center saved me from once again going against my intuition. I actually feel amazingly relieved!
While Dr. Kirkpatrick and others may feel that selling horses is some form of deplorable, unethical activity, we do not (if the right kind of people can be found), and it remains now our best option--though it is obvious that we may have to find buyers who do not necessarily have an interest in breeding Sorraias or Sorraia Mustangs as a preservation effort.
Herein lies another disquieting element that one ponders gloomily while under a rock shelter: can we find the right people for these wonderful young horses? More and more individuals are coming to look upon horses as companions and friends rather than as livestock slaves or disposable sport tools. More and more people are realizing that horses are happier and healthier when provided a natural lifestyle on varied acreage, rather than being kept in stables and dirt paddocks. How do we find these people? Here we are on an island in northern Canada...are we too far away from the right network of kindly people?
Another huge concern for Kevin and I is how can we be sure that none of Altamiro's offspring are subjected to abusive handling? Abuse comes in pervasive forms, moreso from a wrong perception of horses than ignorance.
A recent flurry of outrage circling online equestrian sites has been brought to my attention demonstrating that "kinder, gentler" training is not necessarily so. While I always had my doubts concerning the perception many popular "Natural Horsemanship" trainers have for horses and how they have crafted their different training techniques in order to serve humans more than to serve the best interests of the horses, I always felt that they were nonetheless more devoted to "making the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy" and so refrained from methods of painful coercion. I always felt that any rough handling that was done in the name of Natural Horsemanship was due to the misunderstanding of students applying the techniques.
Several excerpts from a Level 1 Parelli training dvd which have been put up on YouTube have opened my eyes that at least one school of Natural Horsemanship uses intimidation, harassment and pain at the foundation level of their training, and it is being taught from the originators themselves. One segment shows a nervous, one-eyed Thoroughbred horse being trained in a manner designed to (in Linda Parelli's statement upholding the value of this technique) "change his dangerous habits and give him the confidence in the leadership of a human."
Another segment shows Mrs. Parelli teaching this same horse's owner how to develop his feel of using the "phase 4 interrupt"--which made me feel just as sick to my stomach as the other excerpt, especially to hear Mrs. Parelli praise her student for getting in a "good clunk" on the horse's lower jaw with that large metal clip on the specially designed Parelli lead line.
Would you want your friend treated this way?
There are better ways to be with horses, and I want to dedicate myself to finding people who are already engaged in better ways or are looking to exchange old concepts for new ones, concepts that see these noble horses as friends and companions...these are the only types of people I want to place the Ravenseyrie youngsters with.
We humans need to stop believing that horses have to be intimidated, dominated and punished in order to be safe to be around! I turned away from this belief years ago and discovered how much better it is to be with horses who have not been coerced into being with me. I, myself, would not treat a criminal the way this horse was being treated at the Parelli training center, and yet people so readily rough up their horses and call it a necessary feature of the horse's education. It's not necessary and its shameful behavior to relate with horses or humans or any entity in this manner.
My head is spinning, thinking about the way we humans treat horses, the environment, each other...and it's not just the present polices coldly and methodically reducing the wild herds of North American mustangs that has contributed to my weeping blue funk--these polices simply reflect a prevailing mindset held by rule makers who don't find value in these horses and so craft bills which turn the hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands over to unsustainable, unethical economic interests buoyed by political croneyism. No, it is also about the overall disservice we humans continue doing to horses, even as we profess to love them. And its about the separatism we uphold between our human selves and the rest of creation. This belief that human consciousness has evolved us into something more advanced than plants and animals has done little to create a well-spring of enlightened behavior--rather such superioristic beliefs have darkened the horizon with hideous demonstrations of violence. It is shameful that "Gimme Shelter" is as valid a wailing against inhumanity in 2010 as it was in 1969. We humans are creatures prone to demented destruction and yet are also are capable of genuine nurturing love, with the balance all askew toward the former. We are a schizophrenic species, which is maybe at least a bit more empathetic a description than Edgar Morin's "homo sapiens demens", but clearly somewhere along the evolutionary process we humans became mentally twisted.
"What we take to be advances in civilization are at the same time advances in barbarism", writes the French philosopher Edgar Morin in his book Homeland Earth. Probably reading this book also contributed to my gloomy funk, for never have I read a more concise accounting of the darkside of humanity. Though Morin describes humans and earth as doomed by the very nature of the cosmos, he prescribes a remedy to make the most of what we have while we have it:
"There is, among the goals mentioned, true, better living, the quest of something in excess of development. The significance of development goes beyond development; for instance, to develop an appreciation of music does not mean that the history of music is a progressive development, that Beethoven is better than Bach or Richard Strauss better than Beethoven. We must acknowledge the limitations of development as a concept, even when defined anthropologically, because the word suggests unfolding, unwinding, spreading. We must relate it dialectically to the idea of envelopment and involution, which brings us back to the origin or preworld, which immerses us in the depths of beingness and reimmerses us in antiquity, which involves reiteration, self-forgetfulness, a quasi foetal immersion in a beautific amniotic bath, a oneness with nature, reentry into myths, an aimless quest, a silent peace." -Edgar Morin
"...where danger threatens, that which saves from it also grows."
Awareness is the key, opening up our landscape for more of the wilderness to return is necessary and nurturing our capacity for love and unity and poetic living is essential, and something I hope the Journal of Ravenseyrie can stimulate.
I must go now, and extend an offering to the rocks which give me so much courage to carry on.
"Love, sister...its just a kiss away...its just a kiss away..."