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.
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.
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?