The Mustang Programme

I’m sitting at 40,000ft, just for a change, and decided that I’d kick back and watch movies for the alternative experience – and look, back on my laptop….  Why?  Well, for a blog or two, the reasons of which suddenly tied together.

A Gili cart pony – “Animal Welfare” or “Animal Rights”?

I’ve just watched a movie called The Mustang.  It’s interesting, not pretty, not “nice”, but it passed an hour and a half.  The story follows a herd of wild American Mustangs who are rounded up from the dessert using a helicopter and placed in a men’s prison in the middle of nowhere.  The inmates train them, and they are then auctioned off as riding horses, many into the police force, border control and other law enforcement.  In light of a couple of recent events it really made me think.

There are (according to the movie) around 100,000 wild / feral mustangs living in USA.  Due to land use, loss of habitat and “over population”, these numbers are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.  Some horses are caught and immediately euthanized – the skeptic in me suspects that they are trucked to Mexico and turned into dog food, but don’t quote me on that one.  Many end up standing in dry lots for the rest of their days, some end up being backed, trained and become riding horses.

Now there are two ways of looking at this.  Animal rights – these horses have the right to roam wild in their home – they are (or should be) a source of national pride, heritage, a National Treasure.  And, certain people will fight for that one thing – leave them alone.  Yes, for sure, that would be first prize.  Is that going to happen?  No.  We need to try to protect the land, but rose-tinted glasses off, its not going to happen fast.

Who is to blame?  The US government for not protecting them?  Yes.  The US cattle ranchers, greedy for land?  Yes.  People wanting cheap, USA raised, steak?  Yes.  Locally produced beef cattle mean the animals are not transported so far (often in bad conditions) to slaughter, so closer grazing land means better cattle welfare and lower carbon emissions from slaughter trucks, both things that another group are fighting for.  Who is right?  The roaming rights of the horses or the welfare of the cattle?  Are the 7 billion people on the planet to blame, for breeding at an alarming rate?  Yes.  So, will these horses be allowed to live out their days, wild and free?  No.  And the people fighting for “animal rights” are not going to win on two fronts – they antagonise people, so break fragile goodwill that can be formed, and they are fighting a fight they cannot win.  The land is not going to stay wild, much as it should.

And there arrives, the second opinion, not animal rights, but animal welfare.  The horses are going to be taken off the land – yes, we need to try to protect this habitat but in the short term, for the next 5, 10 years, the horses are going to come off.  So, how can we help the welfare of these horses?  Is the meat market best?  Uh, no.  But again, as long as people want cheap meat and dog food, people like Temple Grandin are doing an amazing job of trying to improve slaughterhouses.  (That’s a whole other story).  Standing in a dry lot for 10 years?  No, much as people think they shouldn’t be trained or ridden, is standing in a tiny square forever, being treated as a prisoner, the life for a wild horse?  No.  This prison program is trying to do three things – it gives a new chance to these horses – they have a purpose, which makes them of value, and sadly when dealing with something like a government, the only thing that has a value is a dollar value.  Seeing wild horses gallop and live the life they should – that is not quantifiable in a dollar value.  In our eyes we consider it priceless – on the tax books its considered worth less.  So, give the horses a dollar value.  If people have paid for something they look after it.  These horses don’t have to spend their days bored to death – they move, they patrol borders or police the streets.  They roam.  They are ambassadors for their fellow horses who are still wild – when people know about things, they protect them.  Secondly, they are rehabbing prisoners – inmates involved in the program are significantly less likely to reoffend because the horses teach them empathy, respect, self-discipline, patience.  Again, it’s not ideal for horses to be in jail, is it?  But it’s not ideal for humans to be there either, and as long as people hurt, kill and hate each other, there are going to be prisons.  Again – do you put on rose-tinted glasses and say it shouldn’t happen, or do you look at ways to improve things?  And, finally, the auctions raise money for land management.  Your view on that point depends on how well you think the land is being managed…

So, what happened recently that I am saying ties in?  On Gili Trawangan, and in a show jumping arena, animal rights people were running around with little hand-written “animal rights, horses shouldn’t be ridden” signs.  In Egypt, there is an awesome group called Prince Fluffy Kareem who are doing an incredible job at improving a horrific situation, largely by gaining the respect and co-operation of the local people.

https://beta.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-details/?regid=1156400&subid=0

Education, understanding, empathy.  A group, I suspect the same group as behind the little hand-written protest signs, released a badly informed, inflammatory video about the Egyptian pyramid horses a couple of weeks ago, and a lot of PFK’s work got a lot harder as locals thought it was them.  All that hard won trust?  Down the drain in one idiotic moment.  They’ve even had to move yards, so much damage by radical Animal Rights groups, who are only interested in outrageous headlines.  In every one of these cases, they are looking at the perfect world – horses live wild in endless acres of grassy paddocks; all natural land is protected; people don’t live in poverty or have to earn a living; all humans are convinced not to eat meat.  Yes, it would be lovely wouldn’t it?  And let’s go for world peace, total climate change reversal and unicorns flying across the rainbows.

Someone asked me recently if people with “all talk and no action” were the ones who annoyed me.  It’s the two extremes of people who annoy me – the idealists who are saying anything less than world peace is a problem, and the pessimists who say it’s all so bad nothing can be done.  The people I respect?  The realists, the one who are making a change.  The Prison Mustang program.  Prince Fluffy Kareem.  Horses of Gili.  The ones who are not scared to roll up their sleeves and say – yes, it’s a difficult situation and not perfect, but how can we make the welfare better.  None of us are living in a perfect world – the humans either – so how can we start to pull together and make a positive change?  What is your contribution to a better world?

A frog in boiling water ….

So, here’s the question – how much do the people around you really see you?

It’s not a criticism, it’s being human.  But, I find it interesting, and it’s why my bouncing around the world, works.

I arrived to teach a lesson recently, a very teachable, enthusiastic, focused young lady.  I’ve taught her a fair amount – 3 times a clinic for 4 or 5 clinics, so I know her well.  This time, she had a new horse.  She was riding around at the beginning, letting the horse amble on a long rein as we chatted, I asked her, what’s changed?  Uh, she replied – new horse?  No, no, I said, something in you?

Nothing – no difference, just a new horse.

Something is different.  New gym?

No.

New sport?

No.

New instructor?

No.

More time studying?

No.

Hmmm….  Something is off, something has changed.  New car?  Change in driving?  New bed?  New desk and computer layout?

No, she kept insisting, nothing is different.

I wasn’t convinced, but figured that what ever it was, the answer would come. And it did – 5 minutes later…

Oh, OH, OHHHH……  Oh?

The doctor has diagnosed asthma, a tightening in her breathing.  There you go, – that’s it.  She’s always had a pattern to round her shoulders, but there was a shortening through the front of her body, a holding, a lack of breath is a good description.

I was teaching recently, in an indoor arena. They had hung a couple of plastic hawks up, to try to keep pigeons from nesting in the rafters. The funny thing was, the horses didn’t notice the new hawk… Until, on a vile, windy day, there was enough draught to make the hawk “fly” and move on the wind. Suddenly, every horse was head up, ears up, noticing the bird. It took a waving red flag before they noticed that something had changed….

The seasons change – do you notice just how slowly the leaves begin to turn?

I asked her, for our next session, to use her new asthma pump before she got on, and, would you look at that – she sat straighter, softer, with a more relaxed, easier way than before.  And – look even more – look at how her new horse lengthened her neck, opened her chest, reached into the rein and started to breathe deeply through-out her whole body.

Now, this young rider is lucky to have a very good instructor who pays proper attention to detail, and a dedicated Mom who is often there videoing.  But, they didn’t pick it up….  Because they couldn’t.  They see her every day, they don’t see the gradual, millimeter by millimeter change because it’s not in our human make up.

Have you ever heard the story of the frog in the pot of boiling water?  A frog is sitting in a pot of cold water, and slowly, bit by bit, the water is heated.  It’s so gradual it can’t really be felt, until suddenly the frog is being boiled in his pot of water….  I know it’s happened to me in reverse – you go to soak in a lovely bath of hot, steamy water, and by the time you get out the water is lukewarm, but you don’t notice at the time.  Any situation can change so slowly that you don’t notice.  Think of how tatty the paint work of your house, or your favourite pair of jeans can become, without you seeing the change?

I was teaching recently, in an indoor arena. They had hung a couple of plastic hawks up, to try to keep pigeons from nesting in the rafters. The funny thing was, the horses didn’t notice the new hawk… Until, on a vile, windy day, there was enough draught to make the hawk “fly” and move on the wind. Suddenly, every horse was head up, ears up, noticing the bird. It took a waving red flag before they noticed that something had changed….
I was teaching recently, in an indoor arena. They had hung a couple of plastic hawks up, to try to keep pigeons from nesting in the rafters. The funny thing was, the horses didn’t notice the new hawk… Until, on a vile, windy day, there was enough draught to make the hawk “fly” and move on the wind. Suddenly, every horse was head up, ears up, noticing the bird. It took a waving red flag before they noticed that something had changed….

Something that I often suggest to people is to take a good, clear, side on photograph of their horse.  Put it away in a drawer and don’t look at it for 6 months.  Take another, new photograph and compare them.  Again, we don’t notice our horses developing (hopefully for the better) when we see them every day, but compare where you were 6 months ago?  Easy.

How about you do the same for yourself?  Take a video, or a series of photos.  Compare them to what was, or wait a few months and take some more.  It’s not only your instructor’s job to see what you’re doing.  They see you too often sometimes, to notice the tiny changes.  I’m in the lucky position of having a few months between visits, so the changes are there to see, but, especially when it’s something major, like being diagnosed with asthma.

Do you notice what changes?  Are you aware of what you do outside the arena that impacts on you and your horse?