Do you know how they save a particularly beautiful or loved tree in the African bush?They hang a beehive in its branches.
As you are riding across the bush, you can see these trees, often big Acacia trees, with a hollowed-out tree truck, barrel or box hanging from a big branch. And how would this save the tree?Elephants hate bees…
As elephants walk across the savannah, they have very few predators.Not a lot out there can damage a fully-grown adult.They rule the bush, rubbing against trees and eating a huge amount to fuel their not particularly efficient digestion.
As they find a tree that buzzes with the sound of a swarm of bees though, they move away in a hurry.How can such small insects do anything damaging to such huge animals?
If an elephant wants to take the branches off a tree to eat the leaves, he must lift his trunk to use it as a hand – he grasps the branch and pulls it down.And at that moment, an angry bee can sting him on the trunk.As soon as he gets stung, his trunk can begin to swell up, and a swollen trunk is useless at gathering food or water.And so, that little bee can bring down something as big as an elephant.
(Incidentally, this is why you don’t see drone footage of elephants – when a herd of elephants hear a drone buzzing around above them, they think of swarms of bees and so they disappear in a hurry).
So, why is this relevant to us?Well, the first thing that I thought of, was how one small person can make a lot of noise and make a change.Just because something is accepted as the normal – (why do you do it this way?Because we always have) doesn’t mean that it’s the way it has to be. I love this quote…
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” ― The Dalai Lama
And, in the horse industry, there have been many bees or mosquitoes who have brought about changes.Off the top of my head, think Mary Wanless with her Ride with your Mind, Mark Rashid with looking at horses as sentient beings, Temple Grandin with her ethical cattle slaughter, and Prince Fluffy Kareem with their project to help the pyramid tourist horses.Do you feel strongly about something?Do you sit back and think, well that’s not right…Or, are you a bee bringing down an elephant?
In one of the places where I stay, there is about a 5-minute walk to the nearest supermarket, and so, I do it often. Chocolate and coffee, you know, vital daily necessities…
And, at one point, you walk along side a row of houses, where, midway down, lives a lovely little tabby cat. That is all I know about her – which is the house she lives in. And, that she is my friend. As other people walk past, and ignore her, she sits on the little brick pillar at the end of her footpath, and watches the world go by. And then, when she sees me coming and I talk to her, she is all mewing and purring, standing with all four feet tucked into the little bit of space, and we greet with head bumps and rubs and purrs. It’s purely a happy greeting – I don’t have food or anything for her, she has nothing for me, but we chat for a few minutes and it leaves both of us with a smile. A very simple interaction, with no real point other than to make us happy.
A while ago, I was in Singapore, leaving a shopping centre, where the pavement passes the bus stop. It was 6pm and crowded with people leaving work, coming into the shopping centre, finding hawker centres for food, just the hustle bustle of a city evening. And there was a little girl, standing on the edge of the bus stop. She must have been about 3 or 4, and was there with her Mom or Nanny, and she was waiting for a bus to arrive. But, clearly, she wasn’t waiting for the bus, but for who was on it. She was so excited, going from foot to foot, knees pumping up and down as she bounced. Every few seconds she would turn and look at her Mom or Nanny, grin, even squeal, with joy, and then go back to looking ahead and bouncing from foot to foot. I slowed down, even more than the crowds made me, to watch and see what would happen… The next bus pulled in, and as the crowd all came out, there was a man, looking for her. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy”, she shouted, so excited that she literally couldn’t contain herself, wriggling with happiness. This was clearly a ritual that was quite common for both.
Daddy crouched down, open armed, picked her up, swung her around, all the time she was bouncing with joy. There is simply no other word for it. And, everyone around them started to smile to – how can you not?
How often are we stressed, or rushing, running from point A to point B and not taking the time to stop and smell the coffee? Recently I met up with a pony who I hadn’t seen for a very long time. I sat on the poles closing him inside his pen and we had a good chat for a while, him lipping at my hair and hands, checking my pockets for carrots, nothing pushy or bolshie, just a friend who was happy to see me and saying his hellos the best way that he could. Horses greet each other through touch – we humans may be happy with a smile or inclination of the head, but ponies need an actual physical contact. After a couple of minutes, I went to stand up, and he snaked his neck around me, effectively pinning me to the poles of his door. He was enjoying having contact with a friend and wasn’t ready to stop just yet.
How often do we just hurry through our days and through our lives and forget that a lot of this life is meant to be finding happiness? And, we are in a hurry to work harder to buy a fancier horse / house / car / watch because it is this that will make us happy, when in reality there are so many little pleasures around us much of the time, if we were just to take the time to sit and enjoy them… So, have you hugged your horse today?
My New Year Resolution for 2017 was a lofty one – but I do think important one. I was planning to go for zero waste. And, what has happened? Probably the year where I have thrown the most away. Oh yes, don’t get me wrong – I have only used my metal water bottle, no plastic. And, my fancy (expensive) thermal protected coffee cup is used daily – one of the best investments ever, no more take away cups. My glass straw comes out at restaurants and food courts, my little pack of camping cutlery lives in my bag ready for use, and I always have a folding shopping bag in my pocket. My use of single-use, flimsy plastic and takeout food junk is almost non-existent (I do slip up…). In this regard, I have been about 95% successful. But, in looking at our constant daily waste, I have also been looking at our over consumption. Which is so not cool.
I live a nomadic life, hopping on and off planes at least once, twice, three times a month, And staying in regions for several months at a time. In fact, I am typing away at this at 38,000 feet, on my way to spend 10 weeks in Asia and then 4 in South Africa. I have to live lightly – 23 kg lightly to be exact. Or, so I thought. A big draw now is the airline who offers 30kg of luggage instead of 23kg – we all need that extra 7kg…. And now, several of the airlines are offering two x 23kg suitcases, all included in your flight – a sign that we cannot fit in our 23kg allowance. We are buying more and more, needing to fill our lives with more and more stuff… Who says money cannot buy happiness? Haven’t you see it in the shops? Just buy this XXXX and your life will be Awesome…
So, I arrived back in UK last month and urgently needed a certain important form – that bit of official paperwork which suddenly your life depends on. And, I knew it was in a box at my nephew’s house. Or, maybe in a box at my brother’s… My nephew duly arrived with – 2 boxes and a suitcase, all of which had been in his garage. My brother found a box in his cupboard under the stairs, and the suitcases at a friend’s house… Well…. Over the past month, the local charity shop learnt exactly who I was, now greeting me when I breeze in. A full suitcase the first day, and lots and lots of bags since. And of course, the paper recyclers – they have been busy on my behalf too.
In a way, it’s easier for me to buy more – I get somewhere, realise I forgot to pack enough socks, so buy some more…A country isn’t as close to summer as I thought – so buy another fleece… So, my year of zero waste has become the year of down-sizing, decluttering, sorting out and throwing out the old and unwanted… Maybe 2018 can be the zero year…
Which, brings my thoughts back to horses. I had 80 horses at one stage. And the “stuff”… I can pretty much list. 80 headcollars with flyfinges and ropes. Around 60 bridles, mainly snaffles with cavesson nosebands. About 3 had a flash / stronger bit etc. 2 wore martingales when they jumped. About 6 /7 of those horses wore shoes, and only they wore brushing boots. 20 – 30 saddles, each with a saddle pad and girth. And everyone had one blanket, for wearing at night in winter. A pile of about 15 show saddle pads and some white ones for dressage. That was it. A big feed room filled with food. Well stocked first aid cupboard. And each groom had his bag of brushes. A lot of the yards I go to around the world are still like that. The best ponies often tootle into the arena with their worn old bridle and simple general purpose saddle. More and more, owners are taking off the boots, bandages, martingales, bits, nosebands and other gadgets they had added, which have been weighing their horses down.
Two well-known event riders who I have huge respect for each said something that I always remember. I worked for one of them for a season, and part of my job was hacking out a very naughty young event horse who would do flick flacks down the road. He was in a snaffle bridle, cavesson noseband and a saddle, with a pair of front brushing boots. That was it. One day, after a particularly naughty outing, I asked, please can I put a martingale on him when I hack him out. The rider asked if I knew what a martingale was? Uhh, yeah? Strap, you know, girth to reins? No, he replied. A martingale is a huge flashing neon sign hanging around a horse’s neck, saying “my owner doesn’t care enough to school me”. So, no. Apart from the fact you can’t hack him with a martingale, I don’t own one…. Says a two time Olympic, two-time world games event rider…. I don’t own a martingale. The other thing that made me think, was watching a different event rider teach a cross country clinic, and saying that she never schools dressage, show jumping or eventing with boots. Think about it she says – when, as a child, you walk into the corner of the coffee table, it hurt and you started to take note of where you put your feet. You develop spatial awareness of your body. Do you see people going out for a jog with shin pads and knee guards? Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. Do you see wild horses in the bush in boots? No. And do you see them with self-inflicted wounds on their legs? No. A horse knows where his legs are, or at least he should. Putting boots on makes them sloppy in their movement. Then they do stand on themselves. There is no reason for boots unless your horse has the kind of conformation fault that does in fact make them brush / speedy cut / interfere.
Part of the problem is that we keep up with the trendy. Years ago, an Irish rider started to win on his horse in a hackamore, a bitless bridle. Sales of hackamores, something that was not especially popular or needed before, went through the roof. Why? Well clearly it was the reason this horse won a derby / medal etc. If you use the same bitless bridle, you too can win the medal… Buy happiness or success, it always works… Nothing to do with the hours of blood, sweat and tears that went into the training of horse and rider. A bit maker once said, he makes 100 different bits, two for the horse, and 98 for the rider’s brain. So, why do we get so hung up on gear? On one hand, hours of work, on the other, good advertising that says we can buy success and happiness…. Hmmmm, wonder why we have a problem.
So, I’ll just keep chipping away at keeping below the 23kg limit, and we’ll see if 2018 will be the zero waste year…