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

I read a review at blogcritics.org 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 audible.com and wikipedia.

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Rita Mae Brown’s Take on Animal Magnetism

Rita Mae Brown’s Take on Animal Magnetism

Alerted by my friend Pattie, a member of the Oak Ridge Fox Hunt Club, I found this neat list at CNN. Rita Mae Brown is a novelist (Rubyfruit Jungle, arguably the seminal lesbian work of the 20th century), a gay rights and feminist pioneer, a writer of two mystery series (the “Sister” Jane Foxhunting mysteries and the Mrs. Murphy mysteries) and an animal lover. She is an avid horseback rider (Master of Foxhounds of the Oak Ridge Fox Hunt Club) and lives on a farm in Virginia with cats, house dogs and a pack of foxhounds. If you’re a mystery lover who happens to be interested in foxhunting, and learning about the real thing (not the mythologized or brutalized version), the Sister Jane books are instructive and entertaining. Her latest book is Animal Magnetism: My Life with Creatures Great and Small. When I lived in Virginia, we were neighbors. I have ridden with Rita Mae and Oak Ridge Hunt Club several times and they were experiences to remember.

Excerpted from the book:

Animals Make the Perfect Humans

• In case there are a few on two legs who aren’t convinced, allow me to present my case.

• No animal has ever tortured himself by trying to be perfect.

• Humans routinely breed past the food supply. Most animals are too smart to do this.

• Animals cannot damage the water table. Humans are doing this all over the world even as you read this.

• No animal is ever a hypocrite.

• Horses can work well with a physically compromised person. They are very giving animals.

• We are medium-size animals who survived and then flourished by hunting in packs, by cooperation. A horse is a large animal. The journey from your mind to a horse’s mind is the longest journey you will ever take.

• If successful, it will be one of the strongest bonds of both of your lives, one you can never really explain to another human who has not made the journey. It is a bond of deep emotional richness.

• No animal will ever correct your grammar. Given that service dogs have a vocabulary of 300 or 400 words, this shows remarkable restraint on their part.

• An animal knows when she is dying. However, she does not carry around the notion of her individual death. This, I believe, is the true gap between us and other sentient creatures. It is the root of our discontent, denial and search for escape.

• Animals remember. They have some concept of the simple past, but they live triumphantly in the present. Few of us do.

• Most animals have a sense of humor. Horses seem to have a highly developed one. Humans routinely deny this until they find themselves the butt of the joke.

• Thanks to technology, we believe we are more powerful. Take that away, and our limitations (bad night vision; no fangs or claws; long dependency of offspring; terrible slowness compared to, say, a cat; etc.) make us falter. One of the reasons we made a social contract with domesticated animals years ago was to “borrow” their power, speed, senses. In return, we feed them, care for them. We have broken this contract. They have not.

I rest my case.

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Gallop to Freedom Book Party Brainstorm

Press release:

LOS ANGELES (Oct. 30, 2009) — “When I heard that Linda Tellington Jones and Gabrielle Boiselle were planning to visit Magali Delgado and Frédéric Pignon on their farm in France, I knew there was a book party waiting to happen,” says publicist Elizabeth McCall, who did the next best thing to being there. She got the famous four friends to bring out the horses, pop some champagne, and have a backyard party to celebrate the release of Gallop to Freedom from Trafalgar Square Books in a way their friends and fans around the world could virtually enjoy–on YouTube. Little did she know the casual barn-side affair would coincide with news that Gallop to Freedom has soared to the #1 horse book on Amazon.com in all major categories, during its first week of release.
“Emceed” by their dear friend Linda Tellington-Jones (Tellington TTouch creator) who delightfully shares her favorite excerpts between toasts to Magali and Frédéric, the founding stars of Cavalia, a pair of the couple’s famous Lusitano stallions join the party — between bites of grass in the back yard. “It’s the goal of our life, work with pleasure!” laughs Magali in the video, standing next to longtime pal and renowned equine photographer Gabrielle Boiselle. “I feel very honored that I’m allowed to make pictures of Frédéric and Magali and their horses. Their relationship is so unique and my biggest goal is to capture this in pictures,” says Gabrielle, whose work is featured in Gallop to Freedom. Don’t miss Gabrielle’s new photos of them at the end of the YouTube video credits–there’s a shot she took of the former Cavalia stars together on horseback that will take your breath away.
Available now from Trafalgar Square Books, Gallop to Freedom presents a touching, mind-opening perspective on horses and life as Frédéric and Magali share the events, experiences, and horses that shaped their training philosophy and the principles they embrace. Visually captured in 187 stunning photos, Gallop to Freedom is a tribute to the power of writing from the heart while communicating the rare and remarkable relationship the couple has with horses (and one another).
Gallop to Freedom is available at major bookstores, Amazon.com and horseandriderbooks.com. Fans can view the press kit at: http://horseandriderbooks.com/pdf/GTF-Media-Consumer.pdf

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Somebody Already Wrote the Book!

Somebody Already Wrote the Book!

My friends say I have a book in me, but I think it was already in Cheryl Kimball.

My friends say I have a book in me, but I think it was already in Cheryl Kimball.

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The Tao of Dao

The Tao of Dao

… work deeply on the mind and on the body of the horse. Open your mind. Open your senses.

Magali Delgado and Frédéric Pignon, equestrian co-directors of Cavalia recently spoke by phone from their farm in France with Elizabeth McCall to discuss their new book, Gallop to Freedom. This book is kind of a Cavalia retrospective from their points of view.

I think they’re really interesting people not only because of their obvious skill with horses but also because both Magali and Frédéric always appear so calm and centered. It’s apparently not just their on-stage personas, either. Finding time and emotional energy to write a book while training equine performers and touring extensively might seem a daunting task to most, but, in this interview, they reveal themselves to be grounded in the tranquil, present energy of the horses they surround themselves with.

Magali Delgado image with gratitude from www.pignon-delgado.com/

Magali Delgado image with gratitude from www.pignon-delgado.com/

Frederic Pignon image with gratitude from www.pignon-delgado.com/

Frederic Pignon image with gratitude from www.pignon-delgado.com/

Maybe this is why they dedicated their book to the world-famous Lusitano stallions Dao and Templado. When describing what Templado contributed to his philosophy, Frédéric said,

When I started to work with Templado I understood that he was very special. He was one of those horses who makes you understand that every horse is very unique. There is no rule. There are no mathematical ways to understand a horse. Templado was a unique personality. He was not like the hundreds of horses I worked with before and he made me understand that when we work with a horse, we have to adapt ourselves and even adapt everything we’ve learned [before] to this new unique personality. He taught us a lot, but the way he opened my mind … about working with a new horse using all we know and trying to learn more. When you work with a horse, I think it’s important to realize that he could probably teach you much more than you already know.

Surprising how humble this accomplished horseman and trainer is in comparison to many horsemen of lesser talent. I find his willingness to allow Templado to broaden his “horsey world view” very appealing. So few of us actually believe a horse can teach us anything.

Elizabeth McCall asked them how they manage to stay so peaceful within the whirlwind of their lives in the spotlight. Don’t they ever get nervous about performing? Magali answers,

For me it’s not nerves. I’m really excited. When I have a new horse, I’m always really excited by the results of my horse in the show and to see the reactions of the people. For me it’s like a positive energy, but I know it’s not the same way for everybody. I’m lucky. I’ve been in shows since I was very young and I know myself very well. I need that little point of excitement inside when my heart is going boom, boom! But I’m not afraid and I’m not tense. I’m just very focused, concentrating, and full of energy and that has helped me a lot for the competition and for the show.

Frédéric, who often orchestrates the performances of up to five stallions at a time, sums up the essence of mindful horsemanship, saying,

You have to first work on your own stress. It’s why I do yoga. We have to first control ourselves and our emotions. If you can control yourself, then you can help the horses.

You can get a full-length copy of the interview, “Magali Delgado and Frédéric Pignon talk about their new book, Gallop to Freedom“. Contact Elizabeth McCall




© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch and Kim Cox Carneal

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