Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Precarious Future of Horses


"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.


Altamiro plays with his nearly two year old son, Animado

With segmentation and separation out of the question for us, and with no one interested in negotiating to acquire the youngsters, we further explored the option of administering the PZP contraceptive to the mares in an effort to suspend further pregnancies until we are able to find the best situations for our present fillies and colts. After almost a year of consultation with The Science and Conservation Center at Zoo Montana, we agreed to give the PZP a try. After jumping through the appropriate bureaucratic hoops to obtain the clearance to import this drug into Canada, we were sent confirmation on March 4th that the PZP would be sent to us. Later that same day, a surprising reverse decision was made and we were informed a misunderstanding of our intentions had occurred. It became apparent they had not thoroughly grasped that we would be hoping to sell the offspring and resume breeding when conditions were more favorable, (though our intentions of using PZP only temporarily were clearly expressed in my collective of lengthy correspondence.)

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




What fantastic dynamics as Animado goes to the older geldings when the game gets too rough!

There are many reasons why the Horse is in crisis and many reasons to believe that the answer is to stop them from breeding in the wild and to stop people from breeding and selling them until such time as the epidemic of unwanted horses subsides. It reminds me of how many women in apocalyptic movies choose to not have children because the future looks to cruel and hopeless. Why would I allow our horses to continue to bring forth young in such a disturbed, schizophrenic human dominated climate? I'll tell you why...because the world needs this type of naturalness, this type of beauty, this type of freedom, this type of non-human intelligence so well represented in not just our endangered primitive horses, but in all horses. Though I don't know what the future holds for us here at Ravenseyrie, I'm inclined to agree with the words of Hölderlin which Edgar Morin quotes in Homeland Earth, "...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..."

"Eeeyeahyeahyaaah!"

15 comments:

eva said...

Oh Lynne,

i want to crawl under the rock with you. Yeah, good old Hölderlin. You know what became of this golden boy? He went over the edge and lived out his life as a mad man, locked up in a stone tower overlooking the river Neckar in the loverly town of Tuebingen writing innocent nursery-rhyme style little poems that celebrate the coming and going of the seasons (I went to school there and he was my favorite poet). This line you quoted comes from his hymn Patmos.

Watching the playing youngsters is such a treat. Those pleasure faces! How I would have loved to share my life with one of them. But we ditched our dream of selling our house and buying land in the desert. In another lifetime maybe...

I hope a viable solution will present itself in due time.

June said...

I agree with you. I don't like Parelli - it's about domination (as opposed to KFH's non-violent dominance). I love your Sorraias! One of them can come live with me when my husband gets a job! We just decided to adopt a 2-year old filly, whom I've known since she arrived at the rescue barn as an almost-newborn nurse mare foal. This brings our equine family up to three. But if we ever get settled someplace where we could afford a fourth ..... What you're doing deserves to be supported.

June said...

Parelli seems to "work," but if you look at all those videos, those horses look very, very shut down to me. It's sad. I'd rather my horse was a bit cheeky, but looked cheerful. You can over-pressure a horse using any of those "natural" techniques.
If you look at those videos, what's missing is any real communication between the horse and the person. The horse is just learning how to avoid punishment, basically.

June said...

You know what, Lynne - it's the tip of the iceberg. The tendency to treat horses as automata is connected with the tendency to treat human beings as automata.

poniesathome said...

Dear Lynne,

I am so glad you were able to post about your time under your rock. I really feel for you. The recession has effected the sale of horses (big time here in Ireland, where there are many hardship cases) and I really appreciate your dilemma and honour your decisions in this.

Don't despair about we humans and our horses! Even the Parelli programme, which I know something about as I tried it for a while. I also saw that video of Linda Parelli "playing" with that horse and could not watch it all. The other day I called in to say hello to local Parelli people here who organised a playday. Without exception they were all very committed to their horses and finding a better way than the traditional "use of force" way that is presented. Now, I think that all those games train people to go through a system by rote and not look at the horse. But, for these people, Parelli provided an alternative way. I hope they can learn to trust their own instincts and common sense and find an alternative way.

Because it is a journey, which cannot be that difficult if we just remember to look at the horse here in front of us. Horses are so expressive! It is also a journey a growing number of people want to make.

I will keep you and your beautiful horses in my thoughts.

Máire

Lynne Gerard said...

Eva wrote:
"i want to crawl under the rock with you."
Any time, Eva, please copy the photos to your computer. Hiding under these rocks actually are wonderful place to work things out. I swear metaphorically hiding out under a Ravenseyrie rock is much more powerful and comforting than taking to one's bed and burrowing under soft pillows and blankets. There is no room for pity under a Ravenseryie rock whereas pity perpetuates itself when hiding under the covers of one's bed...and its best for me to not yield to self-pity (which surely I can get trapped in sometimes). Besides, the view looking out from under the Ravenseyrie rock is spectacular!

Lynne Gerard said...

Eva wrote:
"Yeah, good old Hölderlin. You know what became of this golden boy? He went over the edge and lived out his life as a mad man, locked up in a stone tower overlooking the river Neckar in the loverly town of Tuebingen writing innocent nursery-rhyme style little poems that celebrate the coming and going of the seasons (I went to school there and he was my favorite poet). This line you quoted comes from his hymn Patmos."

Well you know, it is not a bad way to cope, after all. Suicide as an escape is understandable, but selfish...to go mad and be removed from society, but leave a legacy of poetry is, well much more helpful to the world.

Would you give a few more lines of Patmos? What Morin had in his book was just that brief excerpt.

BTW, last year I sold a painting to a tourist who was visiting from Tuebingen. I had to carefully box it and ship it, because it was a pretty large piece.

Lynne Gerard said...

Eva wrote:
"Watching the playing youngsters is such a treat. Those pleasure faces! How I would have loved to share my life with one of them. But we ditched our dream of selling our house and buying land in the desert. In another lifetime maybe..."

"I hope a viable solution will present itself in due time."

You would have been a great person to be with anyone of these beauties. I'm glad you can enjoy them through the blog.

My morning hike to day put a potentially terrific idea into my head. I've an appointment on Friday to discuss it with someone helpful. Will tell more here in the JofR soon.

Lynne Gerard said...

June wrote:
"I love your Sorraias! One of them can come live with me when my husband gets a job! We just decided to adopt a 2-year old filly, whom I've known since she arrived at the rescue barn as an almost-newborn nurse mare foal. This brings our equine family up to three. But if we ever get settled someplace where we could afford a fourth ..... What you're doing deserves to be supported."

Your enthusiasm and vicarious support is very helpful, thank you June. For now, it sounds like you may have your hands full. If you get this filly, you really should start a blog, well maybe you should start one anyhow.

"If you look at those videos, what's missing is any real communication between the horse and the person. The horse is just learning how to avoid punishment, basically."

Some eventually do seem to figure out what the humans want and go along with the program and learn the Parelli system of communication, but like you noted, more often than not it is in a shut-down auto-matic pilot, avoidance of pain manner of behaving and moving.

People feel safer around dull, shut-down, programmable horses. One feels for them...they love being around horses, but are convinced that they need to desensitize them completely in order to build a relationship.

Makes me sad more than angry.

Lynne Gerard said...

June wrote:
"You know what, Lynne - it's the tip of the iceberg. The tendency to treat horses as automata is connected with the tendency to treat human beings as automata."

This reminded me to quote from a book titled, "The Spell of the Sensuous / Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World by David Abram

Abram is discussing how some humans are beginning to recognize the essential roles shamans played in indigenous societies and how maybe we need some of this intercession in our modern society, but of course, we mostly go about it without a real connection--rather we get our training from books and teachers who are living away from nature for the most part and have adulterated a once powerful medium within which all humanity dwelt.

Writes Abrams (lets include the idea of horse trainers as well as physicians and psychotherapists):

"Psychotherapists and some physicians have begun to specialize in 'shamanic healing techniques'. 'Shamanism' has thus come to connote an alternative form of therapy; the emphasis, among these new practitioners of popular shamanism, is on personal insight and curing. These are noble aims, to be sure, yet they are secondary to, and derivative from, the primary role of the indigenous shaman, a role that cannot be fulfilled without long and sustained exposure to wild nature, to its patterns and vicissitudes. Mimicking the indigenous shaman's curative methods without his intimate knowledge of the wider natural community cannot, if I am correct, do anything more than trade certain symptoms for others, or shift the locus of dis-ease from place to place within the human community. For the source of stress lies in the relation 'between' the human community and the natural landscape."--David Abrams

This is why I feel compelled to share so much of Ravenseyrie with people who are not otherwise exposed to wild nature. Gaining a feeling for wild nature and getting out in it as often as possible are things that will maybe help our human schizophrenia.

Lynne Gerard said...

Máire wrote:

"The other day I called in to say hello to local Parelli people here who organised a playday. Without exception they were all very committed to their horses and finding a better way than the traditional "use of force" way that is presented. Now, I think that all those games train people to go through a system by rote and not look at the horse. But, for these people, Parelli provided an alternative way. I hope they can learn to trust their own instincts and common sense and find an alternative way."

I have a dear friend who is devoted to her horses and also devoted to Parelli, and I agree that she and likely most of the people who are so thick into this system do want to not be abusive in training. Unfortunately, as you and many of us are coming to see traditional forms of force are being replaced with subtler forms of force and still fall short of true communication, in an egalitarian, empathetic, empowering and self-actualizing type of horse/human relationship.

"I will keep you and your beautiful horses in my thoughts."

Thank you so much, Máire!

June said...

Yes, Lynne, I have started a blog - if only to prevent myself from writing all over yours!!
I met my first "King" the other day - what a trip! Talk about having to be in the moment.

June said...

I knew a Kohler dog trainer, which is a very rigorous training technique. (Although I think dogs respond better to that kind of thing than horses.) He didn't want his dogs (Irish Setters) to be too shut-down and perfect, so they were allowed to have one bad habit - namely stealing food off the table!

Diane Pinney said...

Hi Lynne,

My dial up is slow, so I don't get here very often. I am under that rock with you more than you know, and feel free to email me for support any time. You should count your blessings that your attempt with PZP was cut short. The long term damage to the mares, and to the social structure have yet to be determined. Your experience with Dr. Kirkpatrick was not unlike mine when I called him a few years ago to help me find someone, a grad student needing a research project, perhaps, to do range management and forage research on an HMA that BLM claimed was overgrazed, but in reality it had supported its assigned wild herd of horses for 150% longer than they usually allow them. He was not interested in helping find someone to do come up with facts about the range conditions, a gap which really needs to be filled before we can believe any conclusions BLM states regarding the wild horse range and the need to gather (and eventually kill) the US wild horses. Instead, he would only consider it if I had money in hand, and then wasted the rest of an hour with not much chance for me to get a word in edgewise, about his PZP program, how it was working in the Wildlife Refuge horses, how the wild horses should only be allowed one foal each and then put on PZP for the rest of its life... it was frustrating and maddenning at the same time.
Your concerns about the possible future of your little babies is also why I am here watching my Sorraia-type Kiger horses daily, and not selling them to the people who stop by once in a while, wanting a $500 horse for barrel racing, all the while clearly not knowing a thing about horses.
You, and I, and Sheri, and whomever else is in this Sorraia Mustang effort need to pow-wow about a long term plan.
In the meantime, since I have no rocks here as beautiful as yours there, I just adoringly observe my herd, and thank that they exist at all.
Keep the spirit, much love,
Diane
Spanish Sage Ranch

Lynne Gerard said...

Diane,
Thank you for sharing your experiences here. Of course there is room under the rock for you here.

I've posted this quote in an earlier Journal of Ravenseyrie essay, but it bears repeating in light of Dr. Kirkpatrick's campaign to control wild horses reproductive rights and the insidious policies the BLM has which are outright genocide in their own way.

"We have set ourselves above all. The animals 'with' whom we came into being are now all 'underneath' us. The one species that has no control on its own population has put itself to the task of controlling the numbers of every other species."--Melissa Holbrook Pierson

The only answer I can see is to continue to show the world these noble creatures deserve their own places on the landscape as free sovereign "nations"...and those whom we do keep in captivity are perceived as egalitarian companions and not slaves (whether as beasts of burden or psychological mediums to assist in mental therapy programs for misguided humans, sport tools or livestock.

There IS enough land to share for the wild creatures...if we remember that humans are lifted up more by seeing horses (and other aspects of a natural biosphere) living on the land than paving it over for another ridiculous shopping mall.

I do believe a shift in perception is beginning to roll down the snowy mountain, gaining in size and enhancing its momentum along the way.

When the paradigm shift is complete, we'll be sure that the ancestral Sorraia and Sorraia mustang horses are present for all the world to appreciate...(likewise for domestic breeds and other feral strains).

I'll email you soon, Diane, thanks for stopping by the JofR.