Pushing the elephants up a hill

I’m writing this in a state of disillusionment.  For a while, something has been bothering me, and only during a recent online workshop that I worked out exactly what.  The thing that floated back into my mind was the real sadness of teaching a lesson a little while ago.  Let me explain…

The lady I was teaching was a new pupil, never before met, and quite new to riding itself, only having had about 15 lessons.  She was riding a horse who I know reasonably well – I have taught quite a few riders on him, and in his youth, he was a real high flyer, competing at a reasonably high level.  The gradual decline of a horse – from young and talented, in much demand, to becoming a schoolmaster for a junior, to riding school horse for the advanced weekly rider, to beginner’s quiet plod.  Sad enough for a starting point.  Anyway, he seems happy enough in his little world, to plod along.  This rider was keen and sweet, but was very unbalanced and wobbly, leaning back, getting left behind and pulling the poor old boy in the mouth at regular intervals.  Every time she accidentally socked him in the teeth, he’d stop, sigh, wait for her to get organised and plod off on his way again.  We spent much time in walk, re-arranging how she was sitting; getting her legs under her in a more effective way; explaining that his mouth is at the other end of her reins and every time she pulls, he feels it and stops.  She was lovely, very teachable, keen to learn and implemented the changes well.  When we got into trot, we worked on the correct leg aids and how to keep her balance – and our gentle soul of a schoolmaster picked up some speed, put himself in a beautiful rhythm and started to carry himself.  Oooh, she said in excitement, this is so different.  Wonderful, I replied, why?  Well, it’s so springy, she said, and he is going fast, forwards and easily…  I don’t have to whip him.  After the lesson, as we were closing up, she said she was so happy, she doesn’t like whipping her horse.  I asked her, do you whip him often?  Oh yes, came the reply, my instructor (who I also, sadly, know) sits in the corner and yells, whip him, whip him, whip him harder, to try to keep him going.  He tells me the horse is slow, stubborn and old, and will only go if I make him, by whipping him.

Golden Marble, my very first horse, the one who started it all.)
Golden Marble, my very first horse, the one who started it all.

Minute by minute, my heart fell a little more.  This sweet, kind, gentle horse, doing his best to listen to his rider when she pulled on his mouth and keep her safe, was being whipped, whipped, whipped to make him go.  Would this happen in a dog training class?  Your dog won’t sit?  Whip him harder.  And yet, it’s ok in a riding lesson.  Your parrot won’t talk?  Whip him.  Your cat won’t stay off the table?  Whip him.  Your horse is stopping when you accidentally ask?  Whip him.  Logic, right?

So, this is an isolated incident?  No.  I see this again and again.  Lazy teaching, “instructors” simply directing traffic to pass the time.  Riders who, instead of being helped and taught, are put on tied down, miserable, shut down horses.  Buyers being given bad advice by advisors who will get back hander from horse sellers.  Greedy yard owners overworking horses (and instructors).  Lame horses being sold or used for riding.  Horses, and novices, being taken for a ride, literally.

It’s a global issue.  The governing powers that be, are turning a blind eye to much abuse in the competition world, and that seems to trickle down through the ranks.  Whats the fix?  Honestly, I don’t know.  Better teacher training?  Better pay so that instructors don’t work the long hours and become stale?  Better vetting of instructors and yards?  Really, I don’t know where the change is going to come.  More novices being asked to open their eyes to what is happening in front of them?

I do what I do because I actually like horses – something that seems to be in short supply in the horse industry at the moment.  I want to make a difference, to improve that horse’s life, but also to educate the human with them, to improve the lives of all of the future horses that human will come into contact with.  But sometimes, like now, I get tired.  Disillusioned.  Fed up with swimming against what seems a tidal wave of cruelty and misunderstanding.  I know it’s not only in my industry – school teachers are giving up teaching due to spoilt brats who are over entitled and not disciplined by their doting (or lazy) parents.  Animal charity workers committing suicide over the never-ending deluge of unwanted, over bred, abused or mistreated lost souls.  Environmental activists who simply give up and vanish.  Many, many of us are in the same boat and wonder how (and why) to proceed.

 

Windows

I’m currently staying in a hotel in Malaysia.  It’s a bit of an odd one – I think the building started life as an office block, before becoming a hotel.  It’s very square, which means one issue – if you pay top dollar and book a room on the outside of the building, you get a window.  But if you get a standard room that is in the middle – there are no windows.

The first time I stayed here, I didn’t realise.  I checked in at night, went up to my room, opened the door, wheeled luggage inside, close door – bed, check.  Bathroom, check.  Hanging rail / shelf, check.  TV, check.  Aircon unit, check.  What’s missing?  Something is not right…  Ah, there is no curtain, there is no window.  Never mind, I thought, it’s only three nights, and I’ll only be in here at night, I don’t need a room with a view, the curtains will be closed anyway…  Do you know how awful those nights were?

It wasn’t a bad room – except for the fact that there was… Ummm, no window
It wasn’t a bad room – except for the fact that there was… Ummm, no window

Now, I’m not claustrophobic.  I’ve been down mines, stuck in lift, scuba dive through shipwrecks.  It takes a lot to rattle my cage.  But, sleep in a room with no windows?  Hmmm.  And, I love (NEED) my time alone to recharge, especially when I’m busy teaching, and with people all day, and talking, and explaining and interacting – I love what I do, but it’s blissful and essential that I can close my door and the world out in the evening.  I need a good 12 hours of time without seeing another soul.  And yet – sleeping in a room with no windows….  Hmmm.

We humans need some form of interaction.  We need light, movement, to see things, or sights, or at least whether or not it’s raining, sunny, day or night.

This trip I’m very, very happy, I have a window.  Not only that, I have a minute little balcony.  It’s hot and humid out there, and I’m really only here at night, but having a door and access to outside, excellent.

Recently there was a video going around Facebook.  This one actually

And, it really upset me.

There are loads of comments about hahaha, there is always a “special” horse around.  Horses, even more than humans, need social interaction.  They are “designed”, – hardwired – to be outdoors, walking, walking, walking.  They should be grazing 16 hours a day, and much of that time is spent wandering along, nose on the ground, following the best trails of grass.  They need to be interacting with other horses, or at least other animals.  They groom each other, they form close bonds.  If spending three nights without a window bothered me, imagine what living in a closed in box does to a horse.  I suspect that the rails that these two horses are talking through enclose the stables on all four sides, and that these horses have no time to actually interact with another horse in any other way.  If you turned these two out together, they’d probably be grooming each other.  And, if they can’t be turned out together, how about at least creating a window for them?  If they could stick their heads through a gap and “talk” without bars, I bet you this “funny” behaviour would disappear.  I don’t see this as cute, funny or entertaining.  I see it as a horse who is desperate to interact, having to have made a plan…  If you see a tiger pacing up and down the front of his zoo cage, is it cute?  If you see a horse windsucking, is it funny?  If you see a person pacing and pulling at their hair, is it entertaining?  Not really.  So, why is this horse’s stress being seen as anything other than the stress behaviour that it is?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

It Happens After Every Grand National

It happens after every Grand National, doesn’t it?  Ban horse racing.  And, I’m pro horses, so I should be pro the ban, right?  Well, not really.    Let me explain my view – it’s a complicated, emotional subject with so many shades of grey.

Swelegent, a much loved, happy healthy Thoroughbred who led a long happy life after racing for many years
Swelegent, a much loved, happy healthy Thoroughbred who led a long happy life after racing for many years

Many years ago, I went for a week long interview to become a work rider at a very big name yard.  Oooh, I thought, the chance to ride some amazing horses, some of them have values into the millions, and the trainer – famous name.  How exciting.  Off I trotted….  The first day, a rider was cantering a young filly.  She was tied down in running reins and was obviously not very balanced.  And, out of the blue – the rider punched her over the head.  And again.  And again.  A watching young rider asked a senior rider, “why is he doing that?”.  The older rider’s reply?  “I don’t know, because he can?  Maybe he had a fight with his girlfriend.  Maybe the filly pulled.  Maybe she lifted her head.  Just concentrate on your own horse”.  A couple of days later, a horse who wasn’t being careful enough while jump schooling was pinned in a corner and beaten by two trainers on the ground with lunge whips and the rider on his back, until he was literally wetting himself in terror, before being released from the corner and tearing around the jumps again in panic.  The horses lived in squalor, small dark, cramped, damp stables with leaking rooves and disgusting bedding.  The grooms were short-handed, grumpy, over worked and had a job, no connection to these horses, so the horses were shoved around with no thought.  And, as a work rider, I was given my own bridle and saddle that must be used on every horse I rode, fit or not.  As you can imagine, I didn’t even last the week, and when I said I’m leaving NOW, they said oh, really?  We were preparing your contract, to stay for a year.  Hmmm…  So, this must have been a racing yard, since this is about racing?  No, it was an elite horse dealing and producing competition yard.  I was riding mainly dressage horses, but the other barn was all jumpers.  And the price tag on these horses started at 30,000 Euro.  Of course, the prospective buyers didn’t see behind the scenes, but oh, what went on.  This must have happened in China, or one of the remote, possibly dodgy countries I travel to, yes?  No, it is in a highly respected, mainland European country.

Where do the slow racing rejects go? Melody Fair, a lovely lady who was bred for racing and didn’t get there, because a fabulous all rounder who evented, show jumped and did dressage
Where do the slow racing rejects go? Melody Fair, a lovely lady who was bred for racing and didn’t get there, because a fabulous all rounder who evented, show jumped and did dressage

Another yard where I went to visit, I was warned that people there had had to sign a confidentiality contract as to what was happening on site.  Hmm, I thought, that’s odd.  Oh yes, I could see why those contracts were in place.  Wires, chains, whips.  I ran away very fast.  So, this must have been racing?  No, it was the slightly removed section of the yard for a team of stunt horse trainers, training the ponies for a film company, who were filming an international blockbuster, out of sight, out of mind, in a country where they could get away with cutting corners.  Why train a horse to fake fall, when you can just gallop it at a trip wire?  It doesn’t matter if it breaks it’s neck, we have spares. And yes, a lot of horse people watch this series because its an epic horse production.  But that’s ok, right?  It must have been a more minor film company from a bad country?  No, it was one of Britain’s biggest name film studios, filming in a far-off land, so they wouldn’t be tied down by welfare issues.

Cardiff Park – a Thoroughbred who raced for a couple of years before becoming a happy, healthy, sound riding horse and show jumper
Cardiff Park – a Thoroughbred who raced for a couple of years before becoming a happy, healthy, sound riding horse and show jumper

Any industry involving animals can be wonderful.  And can be appalling.  I’ve been in riding schools where the happy ponies are treated like royalty with 24/7 turnout in herds, awesome feeding and care, body work, experts in for hoof care, dental care, vet care.  And, I’ve been in elite yards that made me want to cry.  I’ve spent time in racing yards where the lads and lasses who take care of the horses obviously adore them, the care is again fit for royalty, with careful, science based nutrition, fittening, blood work ups, in house vets, where the horses are happy and relaxed.  In many, the one thing lacking is turn out, but this is changing in many places, and more and more good trainers are letting their horses live out in herds and taking on the mental aspect.  I’ve seen working horses who are fit, shiny, well, happy in their work, and I’ve seen paddock ponies, who are in theory in bliss because they are not expected to work for a living, and are living out in herds, all natural – in horrendous states because of laminitis from unrestricted grass, or skin and bone and on death’s door.

Well, happy working donkey enjoying the early morning, warming sunshine
Well, happy working donkey enjoying the early morning, warming  sunshine

“I adore my horse, he is my life, and we do dressage in pink matchy matchy saddle pads…”  As I plonk on a badly fitting dressage saddle (because I like riding in it), tighten my flash noseband so he can’t breath, slap on the draw reins and take selfies in the mirror.  And when he’s naughty, he’s disposed of, or sent to bootcamp with the trainer who will ”fix him”.  And when he’s not good enough, he’ll get passed onto a junior rider, who’ll add lethal spurs because the horse is tired and shut down and the new rider’s legs aren’t long enough to keep kicking everytime the trainer yells, “legs, legs, more leg, more leg, legs, kick”.  And being a dressage horse, he can live this happy life for 20 years, because it’s dressage, which is good, right?

“He’s a racehorse in training, here to provide sport and entertainment and hopefully some financial reward”.  And he has a lad looking after him who adores him, and who is a light weight with good hands who walks him up the heath track where he gallops with his head up, not being held down in rolkur.  Professional riders, professional care.  Yes, he must work, but we understand the science of good nutrition, and he has the best of health and dental care.  And, if he’s unlucky, he’ll break a leg and won’t know anything a few minutes later.  Or be sold on.  But he’ll only be a race horse for a short time.  Yes, it’s in the “he’s sold on” that the biggest issues arise.

In 2018, Deathwatch (coalition for the protection of race horses) says 119 race horses died on training or race tracks in Australia, mostly from front leg fractures.

https://horseracingkills.com/issues/deathwatch/

And, internationally, approximately 10,000 Thoroughbreds are slaughtered annually.

100,000 American horses are slaughtered each year for human consumption, but internationally, approximately 10,000 Thoroughbreds are slaughtered annually, which is worse, right?

https://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/horses-slaughtered-for-human-consumption/

More than 30,000 horses were exported live from Canada to Japan between 2013 and 2017, so that they could be slaughtered fresh for a speciality sashimi called basashi.  But, internationally, approximately 10,000 Thoroughbreds are slaughtered annually, which is the bigger issue?

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-online-petition-to-stop-exporting-live-horses-lawrence-macaulay-1.4623230

Premarin is produced as a hormone replacement for menopausal woman.  Take this, says the doctor, it’ll make you feel so much better…  Who knew that PRE  MAR  IN  is short hand for PREgnant MARe  urINe?  But that’s ok, it’s medicine.  And we just slaughter the waste product foals.

If we “use” horses for entertainment (and yes, ALL of us are using horses for entertainment, even if it is just watching them mow the lawn in the paddock), we can do it well, or badly.  We can promote metal and physical well being or we can harm them.  The outcry about racing?  We SEE a horse die in front of us.  We can’t pretend we don’t know.

“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”

― Paul McCartney

Luckily for most competition riders, only racing has glass windows, the rest are safely hidden behind brick walls of ignorance and pretending that it isn’t there…

Punishment Chair

Last summer, I was exploring a new town and handed over a vast amount of cash to explore their famous palace.  It was well worth it, after my bank balance had recovered.  (And yes, I do know why all these places charge a small fortune – it costs a massive amount to maintain these ancient buildings, but it’s still always an internal debate for me – do I pay that much, or just enjoy from the outside?)

As I was wandering through the rooms, there in the children’s nursery stood a very tall, very narrow, very rickety looking small chair, a tiny child’s high chair, with exceptionally long legs.  I was just thinking the legs looked as if they had had some uneven wear and tear – all four legs seemed to be slightly different heights, leading to the rickety appearance.   As I was looking, one of the castle guides came up, and asked if I knew what I was looking at.  A child’s chair?  Well, yes.

But this is different – this is a punishment chair.  Huh?  This chair dated back to 1700 or 1800 ish.  The royal nannies who looked after the young princes and princesses were not allowed to physically raise a hand to a child or punish them in any way.  Which meant that these young royals were running riot.  So, they developed the punishment chair.  Because of its height, with it’s extremely narrow base, it was already not terribly stable.  Add to that the legs all being at different heights, and the whole thing was liable to topple over.

https://www.scotiana.com/scottish-castles-series-falkland-palace-part-2/

Sadly, photographs are not allowed within the palace, and the only image I can find of the chair, is this one that isn’t terribly clear…

https://www.flickr.com/photos/147846958@N06/46352902201/in/album-72157668431082618/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/147846958@N06/32480811208/in/album-72157668431082618/

And this was the first naughty chair.  If a young prince or princess was being naughty, they were put in the chair for a while.  And while in the chair, they had to sit absolutely still, otherwise it would topple over.  Quick fix for temper tantrums, right?  The staff didn’t inflict any actual punishment, but the child very soon learnt to be still and quiet.  Hmmm…. And what does that have to do with you, and why I’m writing this?

How often have you heard instructors yelling across arenas, just sit still, stop fidgeting, and relax, just sit there.  There is nothing relaxing about sitting still – it takes a fair amount of physical effort to “just sit still”.  Hello, it was a method of punishment…  It takes physical and mental effort to be still.   I bet those young royals learnt about using their core and stabilizing themselves in a hurry.  It shouldn’t be torturous to sit still, but it certainly isn’t something to “just relax” about either.

(In a totally unrelated thought – follow me here – just think about normal school kids. They have to sit still in class, not get distracted, not move about, not make a noise, and if they don’t – straight onto Ritalin….  Hello, sitting still is torture!)

But, it also made me think about horses, and what we inflict upon them.   Get your horse’s head down – put him in one position and keep him there….  How is this not a torturous punishment?  Every living being, be it human, horse, cat, dog, any animal, needs to MOVE.  You cannot tell a rider or a horse to sit still in one position and hold it.  And yet, what do we spend much of our time doing?

Priorities

Every situation will bring about a different priority.  In Singapore, all cars must be parked by reversing in, nose facing out.  Because? The car parks there are so small that it’s a bit of a jigsaw puzzle getting in.  In the event of fire, they want to evacuate fast, which is much easier if everyone is going forwards.  In Germany, they all park nose first.  Why?  Because, reverse parking means exhaust pipes against walls which leave dirty marks.  Evacuation isn’t a priority.  They do, however, have a lot of spaces painted pink, which are for single women.  These are closest to the lifts and security, well-lit and bright, because their priority is stopping the attacks on lone women leaving work late.  And now, here I am, thinking of this in Kenya.  Again, they reverse park for the bulk of the time, and yet there is space, and the majority of parking is outside, where there is less fire risk.  So why?  Terrorism.  Kenya has been victim of few terror attacks, and again, evacuation is faster if you’re pointing the right way.  

So, what’s the relevance to you?  

Picking out hooves should be a priority for everyone.
Picking out hooves should be a priority for everyone.

In every country, every community, every culture, we deal with what is the most urgent.  In Nordic countries in winter, snow control is vital.  This wouldn’t be much of an issue on the Middle East.  In Africa, we worry about Malaria and tick bite fever, not really an issue in Europe.

In the UK in particular, things seem to be becoming more and more pedantic.  Yes, a horse must be comfortable and well cared for.  But where it gets me is if it clouds people’s judgement. 

When I am in foreign countries, I often get asked to help people with their tack fitting, shoeing or feeding issues.  Two feeding issues made me think recently.  The first has a big, strong, exuberant young warmblood.  He forgot to stop growing and is a VERY big and strong young lad.  He is, if anything, rather too prosperous…  He is a little too round and well covered and has a little too much boing in his step.  His owner asked me to check out her feeding schedule since she had been reprimanded by her vet for not feeding him enough.  Ummm, I said…  On the back of her hard feed bag is the feeding guide.  For a horse of his size, he should be getting 5kg.  He is currently getting 3.5kg.  But he is also on 15kg of very good quality hay, as well as chaff, extra sugar beet, vits and mins etc.  He is VERY well fed, and looks as if he is VERY well fed.  Did your vet ask about what else he is getting I asked?  No, she replied, only about how much hard feed he is on.  Maybe, particularly a vet, should trust his eyes instead of sticking to the letter of what the feed bag says? 

The other was about an adviser who lives in a country that has excellent feed, hay and grazing, telling a questioning owner in a country with bad feed, bad hay and no grass, that they should dramatically reduce what they feed their horse out of a bucket.  Yes, if the horse in question was getting a few hours of high-quality grass grazing they could be eating less, or even if they had a lot more access to better hay, but with no grass, limited bad hay, they wanted to reduce his food?  Well, no, how can you advise from a different country without asking for enough information? 

Horses should be fed according to where they are and the quality of their grazing and hay among other considerations, not solely by the very general guide lines on the back of the feed bag
Horses should be fed according to where they are and the quality of their grazing and hay among other considerations, not solely by the very general guide lines on the back of the feed bag

Both the vet and the feed advisor are qualified professions and I am sure they are good at their jobs, however, they both have a different country priority.   

The thing that affects me most though, is probably tack.  In developed countries, if a saddle is 99% ok, it’s considered a problem for some people.  A good while ago now, I walked into a riding school and several of the horses had bad saddle sores, some openly bleeding.  When I questioned the manager, I was told that was part and parcel of a riding school horse’s lot.  Did I agree?  Absolutely not.  My first priority was to fit all the saddles, allocate each horse their own saddle, the best possible option, adding pads when they could be useful, and labelling the saddles, the pads and the racks, so making sure that it could be maintained.  By European standard, where they ideal?  No.  Were the horses an awful lot more comfortable, and open wound and blood free?  Yes.  We have an obligation to do the best by our horses, but we do, realistically have to accept that we must have priorities, and often we have to offer the best we can, instead of being paralysed by the knowledge that it can’t be perfect in everyone’s eyes…. 

What compromise would you accept, where are your priorities?

Wealth

OK, I’m going to go on a rant.  Apologies in advance.  People complain about horses being used for work.  Real, hard work, where they are having to earn a living for their owners.  This year, an awful lot of people have told me that they are really very poor.  They can’t afford to replace their car, or buy a new laptop, or join one of our yoga retreats.  They have a roof over their head, they have food in their belly, they have a phone and / or a computer, they have clothes on their back, they have a bank account, even if it is empty, or almost so.  Just this – food, a bed, dry clothes to change into, puts you in the world’s wealthiest 8%.  Think about that – the number of people sleeping on the street, or without means to buy dinner tonight.  And yet, they can’t see the fact that many people would trade places with them in an instant.   

Travel is, in my opinion, the ultimate eye opener.  When you see actual poverty, you start to change how you see things.  I will always remember going to Cambodia and visiting the boat people there.  We were told that many of them earn less that US$500 a year.  They have no electricity, they have no running water, no sanitation.  Maybe one change of clothes, so they can wash and wear.  And, they wash those clothes in the river where they also fish farm, commute between boats, bath, and drink.  And all of this, with me sitting there with a US$500 camera around my neck.  Still think you’re poor? 

Think about this…

  • This morning, if you woke up healthy, then you are happier than the 1 million people that will not survive next week.
  • If you never suffered a war, the loneliness of the jail cell, the agony of torture, or hunger, you are happier than 500 million people in the world.
  • If you can enter into a church (mosque) without fear of jail or death, you are happier than 3 million people in the world.
  • If there is a food in your fridge, you have shoes and clothes, you have bed and a roof, you are richer then 75% of the people in the world.
  • If you have a bank account, money in your wallet and some coins in the money-box, you belong to the 8% of the people on the world, who are well-to-do.

In many of these cases, the people involved are still able to be very happy – they are often more connected to their family, their home, their culture / beliefs / roots, because they are not distracted by smart phone notifications beeping away, endless adverts to buy bigger and better, and the pressure to buy branded shoes.  And, there is generally a real pride in what they have and what they do. 

While in Kenya, two things stuck me, yet again.  The first was pride.  Many of the local Kenyan’s don’t have running water in their houses.  Or electricity.  Most don’t have access to cars and have to leave their homes at silly o’clock in the morning to stand in long queues at dangerous emergency taxi stands, before travelling many miles, working long hours and repeating this at night, for low pay.  They leave in the dark, return in the dark, and yet they are turned out immaculately.  Just how do you get your white work / school shirt gleaming white, your whole outfit beautifully and crisply ironed and your shoes gleaming, in the dark without running water or power?  I couldn’t…  And yet, they are so proud of their uniforms, what they have and what they do for a job.  The other thing that stuck me, was just how poor the country is, and how many men are pulling carts around themselves, never mind using a horse, just to earn a few shillings for their family. 

And yet, people still complain about how poor people expect their horses to work.  If you had to put food on your table, and could get some money by working with a horse, wouldn’t you do it?  And, if you had to choose between paying your child’s school fees and buying a new set of brushing boot for your narrow pony who was whacking his fetlocks, what would you choose? 

The entire world was born on a horse’s back.  We wouldn’t have the development that we do now, if horses hadn’t helped us along the way.  The first world counties benefitted all along, from the horses who worked – and look at how many we killed in war?  How can we, the first world, say that horses cannot be used in the developing world?  We do need to help, absolutely.  Just because a horse is a working animal doesn’t in any way mean he should suffer or be denied access to feed, water, rest, companionship, farriers, vet care and well fitted harness, but should we try to prevent them doing a reasonable amount of work.  No. 

Money buys choices.  What shall I have for dinner?  If I have money in my pocket, I can choose.  Do I give my horse tomorrow off?  If I’m not relying on his earnings, I have the choice.  Should I buy a new bridle for my horse?  If I have the cash, I can go and get one. 

What do you think?  How wealthy are you, and what are you doing to help the 92% of the world who have less than you?

Just who is Kudaguru?

Me!  I’m Kudaguru – which means what, precisely?  I’m Ashleigh, a nomadic, hectic, packing-phobic, peripatetic adventurer who bounces around the world, playing with ponies…  Literally.

Many moons ago, I was an ordinary equestrian business owner.  I had a yard full of horses and ponies, a mixture of my own as well as liveries.  I had grooms, young instructors, clients.  I competed most weekends in eventing, dressage, show jumping, showing and equitation, young horses, established horses, client’s horses, sponsored horses, as well as going to shows with pupils.  And then?  Well, politics happened, and I ended up moving my horses from Zimbabwe to South Africa, only 43 horses moving 3,500km, walk in the park, really.

Teaching in Asia.
Teaching in Asia.

During the South African spell, I was lucky enough to spend a couple of years riding with the incredible South African Lipizzaner’s, the only Lipizzaner team recognised by the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, so became very focused on classical dressage.   Riding the Ballet of the White Stallions – an unforgettable experience.  But…  Well, South African life wasn’t really meant for me, I had some family in the UK, but being winter phobic as well as packing phobic, I wasn’t over keen to go back there full time.     

And so?  I started taking on 6 month to 1 year contracts, to help yards troubleshoot issues, set up training programmes for horses, clients and grooms, build client bases etc.  In that time, I worked across Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Caribbean – I did like to choose pretty locations!  But then, 4 years ago I decided that I missed working for myself, and so, time for adventure…

During these four years, I have been lucky enough to build a pretty solid client base across several different countries.  When people ask where I live – well?  36,000 feet?  I’m fortunate to have no commitments (unlucky in some people’s opinions).  I own no property, cars, furniture, horses, yards, employ no staff.  (In my opinion, I’m not owned BY them, as so may people are.  How often have you had the conversation with someone saying they hate their job, they hate their life, but they won’t move because what do they do with their house, car etc…)  I literally live where I am at that moment, with no physical place or possessions drawing me forwards or pulling me back.  Opinion is divided – about 50% of people I meet say, isn’t that wonderful, can I come along to carry your suitcases, and the other 50% saying that is terrifying and awful, they couldn’t live without stability and their things.  And, another benefit of being a full time nomad – there is always time, space and opportunity for adventure, growth and learning…  

Riding a lovely mare in Costa Rica
Riding a lovely mare in Costa Rica

And, what is it that I do that is different enough to allow all this travel?  I try to turn traditional teaching on it’s head.  As a very young rider who I taught recently explained to her Dad afterwards – most people tell her what to do, but in our lesson, she learned HOW to do it.  I’ve always had a slightly out of the box way of looking at things and explaining them differently, but almost 10 years ago, I discovered Mary Wanless and her Ride with your Mind methodology.  That inspired more research, more in-depth thinking and more awareness.  I now use a very eclectic mixture of old-school eventing training, classical dressage, Ride with your Mind and spatial awareness techniques, along with training from other sports – martial arts, climbing and scuba diving in particular.  My aim is to create riders who think – who question what they are told, who notice what their horses are responding to, to BELIEVE their horses more than some of the instructions being issued, and to dance with their equine partners in a balanced and ethical manner.  

Almost at the top of Mt Kilimanjaro
Almost at the top of Mt Kilimanjaro

As I’m so often saying to my pupils – the only expert at being a horse in this three-way relationship (you, me, your horse) is your horse.  He is the most important teacher that you will ever have.  The horse is the teacher, all I’m doing is providing a translation…

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?   

Is Work Abusive?

Isn’t it interesting – different people’s responses to the same thing.  I took this photograph in Greece recently, and thought it was very sweet.  On showing it to a friend, she was horrified.

Donkey in Greece
Donkey in Greece

“How can you, of all people condone such blatant animal abuse?” she asked.

I asked her, what she was seeing.  A poor abused animal, tied in the sun, and made to work.  Its abuse, she repeated.  So, I looked at the photo again, remembering my thoughts when I had taken it in the first place. 

So, what was it that I saw?

I saw a donkey in very nice condition, not too overweight and at risk of developing laminitis, but nicely covered, with a good layer of fat on his rib cage.  A clean, well brushed coat that was free from any harness rubs or injury.  Well-trimmed, tidy hooves that weren’t cracked or chipped.  A harness that fitted well and was oiled and clean so as to avoid rubbing him.  An animal that was, yes, working for his living, but an animal that someone was taking care of, an animal that was well enough respected that he was clean, healthy, sound and well socialised.  An animal who was not rotting in a paddock somewhere, but who had a purpose and seemed happy enough with his lot.    What would I change?  Water would have been nice, but we have no way of knowing how long he was going to be standing there – he could have walked 10 minutes from his paddock to get there and be going again in 10 minutes time.  Shade?  Well, these donkeys living in Greece are used to extreme temperatures, and as this was early in the morning and quite cool, it was actually rather nice standing in the weak morning sun.  Space from the motor bikes?  Well, does he look worried?  Working animals, particularly pack animals, are generally trained to stand still in tight places while being loaded.  This little guy gave the impression of happily soaking up the sun’s rays, like a contented cat.

In developing, or poor countries, animals still have their place as beasts of burden.  What do they say, about most countries having their history on the back of a horse?  Are all of these animals abused?  Of course not.  Many, sadly, are.  But all?  No.  Are guide dogs, sheep dogs, police dogs abused?  How about riding school ponies or rats who hunt for land mines?  I always remember the story of a dog who was housed in a rescue centre in the UK.  He was un-adoptable – he kept going out on trial only to be returned – he destroyed furniture, jumped on the kids, was quite uncontrollable.  Eventually, the police adopted him, and he became one of their best drug sniffing dogs, over joyed at having a job to do.  He was just bored and frustrated when asked to sit at home all day.  Working animals don’t automatically bear the label of abused animals.  But equally, many animals who stand alone in a paddock, day after day, never brushed, never seeing a farrier or their owner are miserable, and yes, suffer from a different type of abuse. 

My answer, take each case as a separate case.  Use your eyes, use your common sense…  If the animal looks content and relaxed, chances are, he’s doing ok…