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?

Socks for the Gili Ponies

My “holiday” a couple of months ago, was a quick flip back to Gili, which many people know holds a special place in my world.  I have written several times in the past about the Gili Cart Ponies, and some of those blogs and articles can be found here….

Last year, the Gili islands and Lombok suffered from a series of devasting earthquakes and I wanted to see for myself how the island was recovering.  Lombok, the biggest island in the area was hardest hit, with over 500 people dying, many more injured and still there are thousands of people living homeless in tents.

Rescued pony Salju going for her evening constitutional…
Rescued pony Salju going for her evening constitutional…

The staff on the three Gili islands are mostly from Lombok, they either commute daily (it’s only 10 minutes by boat) or have moved onto the smaller islands, but their families often remain at home in Lombok.  Because of this, when the earthquake hit Lombok in such a devasting way, most staff returned home immediately.  This included drivers and caregivers of the cart ponies.  Fortunately, some people remained on the Gili islands, such as

Chaos ensued for many months – a shortage of food and water, looting, local crime, the total ban of all tourists, devasting losses of human and animal life.  When the drivers fled Gili, most of them opened the pony’s stables and left them free to fend for themselves.  The majority of the cart ponies are stallions, so a couple of hundred loose stallions running wild on the island.  And, those still in their stables had to be found and fed and watered.

The islands are only now, really coming back to life.  Tourism is picking up and life is beginning to return to normal.  As I wandered around the island, there is still a lot of damage, deserted restaurants and hotels, piles of rubble and rebuilding, but there is definitely a feel of hope and a new start.  Luckily, the reefs seem relatively unharmed, and the stunning marine life is healthy and doing well.  (Yes, my holiday had to include a few dives, of course…)

There are still huge piles of rubble and much construction on the island
There are still huge piles of rubble and much construction on the island

And, part of my reason to visit, was to see the new Horses of Gili stable yard and vet clinic.  There has been no full-time vet on the islands, but now, through the dedication of Tori Taylor, (of Horses of Gili, and Lutwala dive) a new 8 horse barn is being built, along with a small vet surgery, housing for a vet, a farrier workshop and a charity shop.  Interviews are being held for a full-time vet, whose wages will be covered through donations.  The stables will be occupied by rescues who need some TLC while recovering from injury or illness.  This is a massive undertaking, and Tori desperately needs help with funding the project.  As ever, donations of tack and equipment are also most welcome…

Construction of the horse hospital was well under way when I visited, and now, at last, it’s up and running!
Construction of the horse hospital was well under way when I visited, and now, at last, it’s up and running!
Xena, a pony rescued with severely infected feet, checking out what will become her new home
Xena, a pony rescued with severely infected feet, checking out what will become her new home

Two other things that I was so excited about – one, the condition of the rubbish / garbage collecting ponies.  In the past, these ponies have suffered the hardest life, really being the bottom of the pecking order.  Now, thanks to www.animalaidabroad.com and www.giliecotrucst.co.id these ponies are fat, well, bright and living in clean, solid, well ventilated stables.  They are being shod with good quality shoes, have new harness, and the governing bodies of the island have allowed a few motorised golf carts to assist in the collection of recycling, so making the ponies jobs a lot easier.

The current condition of the garbage ponies – isn’t he stunning?)
The current condition of the garbage ponies – isn’t he stunning?)
The old, weak, traditional shoe…)
The old, weak, traditional shoe…)
That snaps far too easily
That snaps far too easily
Compared to the shoes they are now wearing
Compared to the shoes they are now wearing
Another garbage pony, this one getting his pedicure and new shoes…
Another garbage pony, this one getting his pedicure and new shoes…

The other thing was something I was carrying – socks!  A fabulous supporter, Michelle Harrison, together with Raymond Peterson of www.socksforhorses.com organised the donation of 6 sets of their amazing socks!  These Silver Whinny socks are fabric that is treated with silver and allow legs to breathe while helping to heal some really nasty diseases and injuries.     For those who have been following Horses of Gili for a while, you will remember Miracle, the little chidoma mare who had her entire leg degloved due to an accident.  It took well over a year to heal, but she is 100% now, and that is certainly thanks in part to her Silver Whinny socks as well as all of the TLC that she received.

Miracle’s leg, mid-way through healing
Miracle’s leg, mid-way through healing
Socks! Thank you Raymond Peterson of www.socksforhorses.com
Socks! Thank you Raymond Peterson of www.socksforhorses.com
Vashna and Tori checking out their socks – awesome to have, but hopefully they’ll remain in the vet cupboard for a while…
Vashna and Tori checking out their socks – awesome to have, but hopefully they’ll remain in the vet cupboard for a while…

It’s awesome when people such as Michelle, Raymond and companies like Socks for Horses get involved in projects like this, thank you!

 

Do you know how they save a particularly beautiful or loved tree in the African bush?

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?   

Joy

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.

Under cat - definitely one of my joy places...
Under cat – definitely one of my joy places…

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.

Kids still play hopscotch on the street! Certainly makes me happy!
Kids still play hopscotch on the street! Certainly makes me happy!

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?

 

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Stuff

How much stuff do you actually need? In my defence, all this luggage was going with me to Gili Trawangan, much needed tack and medical supplies for the Gili Cart Pony Project.

Stuff

How much stuff do you actually need? In my defence, all this luggage was going with me to Gili Trawangan, much needed tack and medical supplies for the Gili Cart Pony Project.
How much stuff do you actually need? In my defence, all this luggage was going with me to Gili Trawangan, much needed tack and medical supplies for the Gili Cart Pony Project.

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.

A very tidy tack room
A very tidy tack room

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.

This boy is enjoying the fact that he owns a winter rug!)
This boy is enjoying the fact that he owns a winter rug!)

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…