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…   

The Jack Bull

How strongly do you stand by your Ethics?

A couple of months ago, a British event rider went a bit whip happy around a large, prestigious three-day event.  Within a day, two of his sponsors withdraw their backing.  They cited welfare – the wellbeing of horses is their for first priority and they felt it was time to part company.  Good for them – brilliant.  And, the one company had a lot of new followers on social media immediately, posts saying things like, I don’t know what you sell, but I’m buying two. People putting their money where their mouth is, backing ethical business and ethical riders.

On the other hand, some very unethical riders have merchandise lines, and people will say – oh I hate what that dressage rider does to her horses, but I have her saddle and ten of her saddle pads…  I have asked riders – if you don’t like what she stands for, why did you buy her saddle?  Well, they reply – the saddle wasn’t physically hers, she has nothing to do with it. Really?  The saddle company pay her a large commission to be the face of the brand.  If everyone who doesn’t like what she does, were to boycott the brand, and better yet to write to the brand and say, I’m boycotting you because of this rider – do you know what?  Things would change.  Hitting them in their pocket is the only way things will improve.  I love watching Mark Todd ride – I think he is genius, he is the consummate master of his craft, he is always fair to his horses, and he is a genuinely nice human being.  Oh look, Mark Todd breeches, yes please.  A great product, supporting the deal he has with a brand.  Awesome.  That abusive lady dressage rider’s riding jacket?  Ya, no, maybe not…

Mark Todd, the greatest rider ever? Photo By Henry Bucklow/Lazy Photography (Sffubs) - Own work; originally published at http://lzypic.co.uk/e44e1akz, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15036853
Mark Todd and NZB Land Vision at the Quarry during the cross-country phase of Badminton Horse Trials 2011. Mark Todd, the greatest rider ever? Photo By Henry Bucklow/Lazy Photography (Sffubs) – Own work; originally published at http://lzypic.co.uk/e44e1akz, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15036853

Why am I thinking of this now?  Ethics. What is important to you?

Have you watched a movie called The Jack Bull?  Its awesome.  It must be from the late 1990’s, a western starring John Cusack.  I was in my yard about 18 years ago (isn’t that scary??? How did I get so old?), grumpy and snapping, on a mission to rescue a horse who was being mistreated.  I was gunning for his owner and nothing and nobody was going to stop me.  A friend was standing in the yard giggling at my grumpiness, saying Oh My, are you The Jack Bull?  Did they write the movie about you?  Of course, I had to watch it.  The plot, in short, is about a cowboy who has to leave two of his horses as security when he can’t pay a toll on a road.  He leaves them and his employee for two weeks and when he comes back he finds his horses beaten and abused, and his friend and employee, vanished.  He fights for what is right, he fights for what he believes. The title?  His friend says to him, you are part bulldog and part Jack Russel – the strength of a Bulldog when angered, the dogged tenacity of the Jack Russel when he has something in his grip.  And yes, when I’m on a mission, A Jack Bull is a pretty good description.

The Jack Bull. By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36534033
The Jack Bull. By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36534033

Recently I had a very difficult conversation.  A good friend who I desperately didn’t want to upset or lose our friendship, has something going on that just doesn’t sit well with me.  And so, finally, after a long time of debating, I had to speak my mind.  I don’t like confrontations or unrest, but I couldn’t sit on the fence any longer.  What will happen?  I don’t know. Do I sleep better at night?  I’m sad that I upset someone lovely, and sad that I may have lost a valued friend, but yes, morally, ethically I feel better for making a stand.

So, my question to you….  Are you standing up for what you believe?  Are you a Jack Bull?  Or do you have an opinion and ethics until it is inconvenient?  Do you buy that rider’s brand of jacket because its pretty and pink and has a brand name on it?  Even though you profess not to like her methods?  Or do you stand by your morals and write to the manufacturers and say, I’m not helping you make money out of abuse?  What is the saying – I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees? Are you willing to stand and be counted? Where do you stand?