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Turnabout Is Fair Play

My dog Ruby and I put in a few miles every day. Keeping a Beagle, essentially a running dog, happy in a condominium is an exercise in, well, exercise.

Each day we walk out about three times, in addition to numerous potty breaks. This keeps Ruby sane and the benefits for me have been a weight loss, increased cardiovascular fitness, and a greater knowledge of the area I live in. Plus, walking a cute little doggie helps you met people.

I’ve been searching for places Ruby can run around off-leash. Short on habitable land, this island is not a particularly dog-friendly place. I’ve fretted and grieved over this for a long time. My heart breaks remembering her white-tipped tail swinging back and forth to the beat of her heart as she trundled happily through the fields at home in Virginia, in search of bunnies and other game, which she never seemed to catch (OK with me) but still sought with vigor and glee.

There’s plenty of “game” for Ruby here in Hawaii, too. The mongoose is a tantalizing target, along with the sneaky and ubiquitous feral cats. But Beagles are noses with dogs attached. There’s no telling what will happen when freed from the bonds of a leash. As sad as it has made me to keep her leashed (and to be fair, she doesn’t seem to mind), I really really want to let her loose.

Lately we’ve been joining the ranks of the golf course scofflaws and walking there after hours. At five o’clock, we set out on the makai (or sea-ward) section of the course and walk it until we get to the sea just in time for the sunset. This involves split second and cooperative timing with the maintenance guy who rides around in a cart turning the sprinklers on and off. I’d heard horror stories about what happens if you get caught with a dog on the golf course. I planned to plead innocence and haole (derogatory term for white person from the mainland) stupidity, proffering my poop bags and sporting my un-tan as a defense. Turns out it wasn’t necessary, because they guy likes Ruby. He always waves and winks, which I take as tacit permission to be there. I pray for his good health, because I never want to meet his fill-in.

I finally worked up the courage to let Ruby off the leash on the golf course, and it made my heart sing to watch her gallop across the grass, stopping short to sniff any promising olfactory features. Beagles are not known for obedience. Their ears stop working when their noses are engaged, so I was pretty impressed that she came to me when I called her. This elderly lady of the mountains does not have to learn new tricks, but she is willing and cooperative. Dogs amaze me.

After watching the sunset with some appreciative tourists who welcomed the licks and drool (they missed their dogs at home), we went home, Ruby pleasantly exhausted and filled with a new sense of freedom, me vibrating with triumph and the sense that I’d found a way to make her happy in a world I’d worried would not be kind to her.

The next day, it got even better. We walked to the place I call Disneyland because for Ruby, it is loaded with underbrush, briars, two inch long thorns and every small, furry animal species on the island. It’s heaven for a nose and bundle of hunting instinct. We had always gone to Disneyland on the leash because I was afraid of losing her. All the underbrush grows on piles of lava rock, and the holes and small caves are hidden from view. Until you step into one. The mutual exclusivity of hearing and sniffing virtually guarantees a refusal to come when called. I didn’t want to have to chase her down and break an ankle. But I want Ruby to be happy. Sometimes happiness involves risk, doesn’t it?

Swelling with the triumph of yesterday’s off-leash run, I removed Ruby’s leash and said, “go on!” And she did. I heard her sing in a way I haven’t heard in almost a year. The voice of a hound who has “found” produces goosebumps, or “chicken skin” as they say here in Hawaii. Soon she found a little lava tunnel covered in old grass and briars which held some secret, promising quarry. What happened next was both beautiful and amusing.

Short “finding” yelps accompanied frenzied bouts of digging (no need to clip this dog’s nails!). Gradually I watched Ruby disappear into the tunnel until only the happy tip of her tail metronomed out of the entry. Incredibly, cantaloupe-sized rocks hurled out of the hole. I can’t imagine how she did this. Occasionally Ruby would back out for a gulp of air, bark, and scoot back in. Then she took to backing out and approaching the tunnel from what she though was the rear entrance. It was a fascinating lesson in Beagle hunting.

I stood and watched her for over an hour. In the blistering afternoon sun. It had recently rained, so the black flies were out. Eugh. As it always does, attention wandered. I watched a group of Lavender Waxbills among the blossoms of the enormous Schefflera tree that provided the only shade–an area I could not safely get to. I began to get impatient. I was too hot. The little bag of poop I was holding was a fly magnet. My back hurt. I had a lot of work to do. Ruby was taking too long to have her fun.

Then that little voice in my head said,

It’s Ruby’s turn to make you wait!

And that started me thinking about the human-domestic animal relationship, and how often and how long we ask them to accommodate our schedules, our desires, our convenience.

Ruby waits for me all day long. In fact, every hour we are not walking, she is waiting. Waiting to walk, waiting to eat, dependent upon me for the execution of any and everything that would ordinarily fall under the umbrella of her canine free will. Domestication. It’s a b*tch.

Horses are different. At least if they have adequate turnout. It seems all they want to do is graze. Loll about in the weather, whatever it may be. But there are times when I get the distinct impression that they are waiting. And that feels wrong.

Your thoughts?

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How Miguel Ruiz’ “Four Agreements” Apply to Our Horseman’s Manifesto/Equine Bill of Rights

I read a review at of The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz* that made me laugh out loud. Only problem was, I was on my lanai and it was 11:30 at night. I’m sure I awoke my neighbors who had an early plane to Minnesota this morning. Sorry!

Here’s what the reviewer said to evoke my mirthful response:

Before I get started with this review, I feel the need to get one important caveat out of the way: I am not one of those navel-gazing, crystal-wearing, pipe-smoking, new-age freaks. There, I feel much better.

Funny: a year ago, I might have written that. Elements of the statement still apply. But if the desire to get to the elemental truth of man’s relationship to horses qualifies me as a freak, so be it. Few changes in the world have been wrought by folks who walk the middle of the road. The reviewer’s statement did give me an idea for a good Halloween costume, though.

In my post asking for input on a equine bill of rights, I said,

If we love our animals, why not ensure that they enjoy the same benefits of living in the modern that we hope to provide for our loved ones? After all, when we assume the stewardship of an animal, we also take on the responsibility of treating it humanely.

From that statement, I’ve been steadily work backward to the foundation of humane and compassionate treatment of horses in the area of riding, training and basic care. Working deductively toward a kind of mission statement as to the essentials has not proven easy. The constituent articles of such a foundation will always be hotly debated unless we arrive at the most fundamental of conclusions. That’s why I was thrilled to learn of,

The Four Agreements
by don Miguel Ruiz

Be impeccable with your word.
Don’t take anything personally.
Don’t make assumptions.
Always do your best.

In The Four Agreements, a book written with the self-actualization of people in mind, don Miguel Ruiz writes from the ancient Toltec perspective, revisiting the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. The Four Agreements offers a code of conduct for the transformation from old patterns of reactiveness to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love. According to Ruiz, we have domesticated ourselves from birth to accept confining cultural and spiritual constructs. He labels the beliefs borne of this process of domestication agreements. Everything people do is based on agreements we have made – with ourselves, with other people, with life. He goes on to explain that the majority of these agreements are detrimental to us in that they derive from fear, which saps our energy and diminishes our self worth. They limit our ability to live in the moment with joy and clarity of vision. Ruiz emphasizes the fact that the most important agreements are those we make with ourselves. Here we tell ourselves who we are, how we should behave, what is possible, what is impossible. These agreements can be changed with determination and awareness.

Like tiny seeds planted in cold, dark soil, I suddenly felt the faint stirrings of promise sprouting in some of the darkest places of my mind. While these simple concepts might be rather obvious to some, for me they were wonderful reminders of the importance of stopping, taking a step back, and reevaluating habits and priorities.

The current, longstanding welfare problems for horses can be said to arise from our dysfunctional agreements with ourselves on the subject of our relationship to other beings (and, for the purposes of our discussion, to horses). I’d like to examine the agreements with respect to horses in light of the proposed equine bill of rights.

1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
“Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”
Here is where your Horseman’s Manifesto will come in handy. Deliberate application of our personal manifestos on a moment-by-moment basis will take concentration at first, but will soon become second nature if attempted with an open heart. Speaking to our horses comprises just about every possible action taken under saddle and on the ground. These are promises that must not be broken.

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
This agreement is less easy to interpret. Our relationships with our horses are personal. The danger of personalizing their reactions to our requests and demands however, is that reactivity seldom produces positive results. Greeting our horses’ reactions to us with the emotional detachment that derives from unconditional acceptance and compassion eliminates the potential for harmful ego-based negative reactions. An example: When I first started riding, I thought my Quarter Horse Brego was trying to kill me. It really hurt my feelings that day after day I would go to him and try with all my might to stay on during his frenzied spins, only to get repeated mouthfuls of turf. One can see where personalizing issues like this can lead. If I were a different kind of person, I might have punished him for this kind of behavior.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions
“Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.”
We don’t speak the same language, horses and people. Even those who claim to be horse whisperers will admit they don’t listen as well as they should all the time. In all fairness, making assumptions is a natural function of the way the human mind works. We gather evidence and theorize based on what (we think) we know. All too often, however, we are wrong. This is fine when we are doing small-time science experiments in a lab, but not fine when we are dealing with the malleable mind of another being.

The downside to incomplete listening is that in order to fill in the gaps, you have to make assumptions. Going back to my example above: based on my limited understanding of equine behavior, I assumed that Brego deliberately tried to put me on the ground time and time again. As I have learned a little bit more, I now see how he suffered terribly from a lack of confidence and was reduced to near panic attacks in certain situations. Repeated exposure to them in the form of “desensitization” did not help. It just exposed him more and more to what scared him. I didn’t have the tools to listen and not make incorrect assumptions. If you have ’em, use ’em. If you don’t, stay open. You soon will.

4. Always Do Your Best
“Your best is going to change from moment to moment. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.”

Acknowledgment and acceptance of the fluidity of the process while making a commitment to such agreements might allow our horsemanship to undergo a pretty profound transformation. Exchanging those old, worn-out deleterious agreements for Ruiz’ deceptively simple and powerful guiding principles could have an effect on our entire lives.

Like all great wisdom derived from the ancients, the good stuff is often hidden in plain sight. Mindfulness and concentration are required to detect, examine and implement the most elegant solutions to any problem, and the “problem” of ensuring the continued welfare of our horses and guaranteeing that of others needs a solution. If you have thoughts on these agreements or how they might be used to further the idea of an equine bill of rights, please let me know.

*Bio at and wikipedia.

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Enlightened Horsemanship’s Favorite Posts of 2009

If you blog, what was your favorite post from last year? I’d love it if you posted it here in the comments, so we can all go and read it.
If you have a favorite from EHTT in the past year, let me now what it was.

January 2009

Mindful Monday: On Mistakes

February 2009

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor: The Missing Disclaimer
Verse Thursday + Completely Un-Horse-Related Ramblings of a Buddhist Nature

March 2009

How and Why Did Popular Natural Horsemanship Get So Far From Its Roots?
Handler Independence and Calm, Secure Learning in T.T.E.A.M.
Ray Hunt, Rest In Peace
Just Hold Your Horses!

April 2009

Horses, Shamans and Autism in Mongolia
The Mindlessness of Equestrian Vanity
Sally Swift, Godmother of Mindful Horsemanship, Dies At Age 95

May 2009

Another Bridleless Riding and Communication Tool: The Tellington TTouch Balance Rein
Ever Thought Something Was Too Good To Be True?
Guest Blog Contest Winner: Lost Trail Ranch’s High Mountain Muse
You Asked For It, You Got It: The Liberty Neck Ring

June 2009

The Nose Knows
Toward An Equine Bill of Rights
Embracing Groundlessness

July, 2009

Petition to Allow Bitless Bridles in USEF Rated Competitions
The Dominance Model and Horsemanship by Equine Ethology Are Dead
I Need Your Help and I Need It Fast! (Mongol Derby Animal Welfare Violations)
Affirmations of Awareness for Horsepeople: On Perception
Another Post About Demanding Your Horse’s Attention
Do You Demand Your Horse’s Complete Attention?
The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare A Solid Foundation For An Equine Bill of Rights

August 2009

What can I say? Some months, you just don’t hit your stride. I should have gone on vacation. Go back to July. It was a good month. Or check out September.

September 2009

Styles in the Horse World: Trailer Loading
Parelli Parade of Preposterousness
Science Friday: Heart Rate & Heart Rate Variability And Emotionality in Horses
Verse Thursday: Puerhan on Hurt
Unprecedented BLM Mustang Roundup Hearing Tomorrow: Please Make Your Voice Heard

October, 2009

Eye Contact: Necessary for Catching Your Horse?
Reader Dilemma: Catching A Horse In The Field
Backing Up; The Holy Grail of Horsemanshp?
Parelli Natural Horsemanship Cake Recipe

November 2009

Mindful Monday: Don’t Just Do Something–Sit There!
Interpretations of “Pressure”
Routine Tasks With No Inherent Meaning Diminish the Spirit of the Horse
From Gallop to Freedom: Do we REALLY Know What We Do?
Horses In Transition: A Call To Action

December 2009

We Are All Made of Stars
Sage By Nature: Horses Drawing Out Our Goddess Force
I Ride/A Simple Statement
Dressage Derailed at Horses for Life
Another Brick In the Wall: Trainers Eschewing Rope Halters

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Do No Harm (Ahimsa, or the Vow of Non-Violence)

Ahimsa, अहिंसा (Devangari) is a Sanskrit word meaning “do no harm (literally: the avoidance of violence – himsa).” From Wikipedia:

Though the origins of the concept of ahimsa are unknown, the earliest references to ahimsa are found in the texts of historical Vedic religion, dated to 8th century BCE. Here, ahimsa initially relates to “non-injury” without a moral connotation, but later to non-violence to animals and then, to all beings.

Researching Deepak Chopra the other day (After obliquely slamming him, I thought I’d better check him out carefully. Turns out I should have kept my mouth shut), I ran across a website that caused me to have one of those little moments. Ever have one of those? To call it a lightbulb moment would be to label a pair of Manolo Blahniks footwear.

The idea isn’t new to me (the word, ahimsa was part of my email address for years). In fact, the idea of ahimsa is the foundation of Enlightened Horsemanship. I had just been unable to winnow my way down to the core in order to articulate it. Enlightened Horsemanship Through Touch is not a “brand” of horsemanship. I don’t teach anything. But Met(t)a Horsemanship IS my brand: developing and sharing the benefits of compassionate horsemanship is my mission.

When I stumbled upon this website, I discovered that I’d failed to specify an enormous element of Met(t)a horsemanship: the root of compassion, which is ahimsa. For those of you who are put off by the use of non-Western terms in languages like Sanskrit, I would be fine with using “non-harming” or “do no harm,” but they are awkward when a noun is called for, so forgive me.

I am thrilled to put the last puzzle piece in place. Ahimsa, or the vow of non-harming is fundamental to compassionate living and the basis for met(t)a horsemanship.

Here is the mission statement from Do No, authored by each and every one of its supporters.

We seem to be living in a world that is getting less hospitable every day. Look closely at any endeavor our species has engaged in and it appears we are unaware of the harm we do, we ignore the harm we do, we intentionally do harm for our own gain, or sadly in some cases we do harm for our own pleasure and enjoyment.

Has no one taught us to do no harm?

If we haven’t been taught to do no harm, we see no harm in doing harm. We cause harm and shrug it off. We cause harm and laugh about it. We cause harm and brag about it.

Sadder still, our children bear witness to our actions and never learn to do no harm themselves. Above all else we must teach our children, by example and instruction, this basic moral principle of life.

We must begin to make better choices and treat each other, the other creatures who share this planet with us, and this planet we call home with greater respect and compassion.

We believe that the first and most basic moral law is, “Do no harm.” Because we can feel pain and suffering, we can imagine the pain and suffering of others, and we can act accordingly to minimize the harm we cause.

What does “do no harm” mean? Ultimately it means to give thoughtful consideration to our actions. “Do no harm” simply means to consider how our actions may affect the world we all share, to be compassionate in our dealings with all creatures, and not to thoughtlessly despoil our planet.

Doctors are asked to “first do no harm,” why not lawyers, businessmen, religious leaders and politicians? Why not us? Why not now?

It sounds like a simple idea because it is a simple idea, but it may be effective over the long run. Will “do no harm” solve all the problems in our world? Perhaps not, but this is an effort to decrease the suffering in the world and to increase the kindness.

We hope that “do no harm” becomes that little voice that guides our actions.

–c.c.keiser & clyde grossman

If you wish to include this essay or link to the the Do No Harm website, please do so. If you wish to change the wording or write your own, that’s equally OK. If we are to change our world for the better, we simply must share the Do No Harm message with family and friends, with neighbors and our community. If you should decide to take the vow, your name will be added to the list of the authors of this statement.

Don’t forget about the Horsemans’ Manifesto Workshop (see below) and the free goodies you can get just by participating. I look forward to hearing from you.

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