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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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Horseman’s Manifesto–A Workshop

Horseman’s Manifesto–A Workshop

Elise over at Kraften fra Hestene has the most wonderful posts. Sometimes she brings a tear to my eye. In Manifesto to My Horse, she writes of having spent 11 years with Taktur. That’s a lot of life for a young woman and a horse to share. Looking at the images and videos of the two of them together, often with no tack on him, it’s obvious those years were spent with a lot of love and compassionate training.

Elise’s idea of a manifesto speaks to my sudden mania for resolutions/intentions. Making conscious statements about our intentions toward others enables us to clarify them, and in communicating them, we deepen our bond.

I was struck in the heart by one of Elise’s statements:

I wish to see you evolve so that you can continue to give the world your gifts.

Every mindful, conscious parent should develop a manifesto for their children, as every horseman intent upon living deliberately with his horse should consider the same. In times of trouble, it is often helpful to refer back to such a statement to learn whether or not our behavior or intentions align with our initial desires.

I would like to propose a manifesto writing workshop. In this workshop, I’d like all of you who read this post (yes, ALL of you lurkers too!) to share your thoughts and feelings about what would go into your manifesto, (a public declaration of intentions, opinions, objectives, or motives).

As I continue to develop the concept of an Equine Bill of Rights, thoughts and words shared here will aid the process. For ideas, skim over your own blog posts. If you don’t blog, read someone else’s. Take a look at The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare. Then, dig deep. If you were to offer to your horse five or ten things–the best your have to offer–what would they be?

I am really looking forward to a discussion about the ultimate horsemans’ manifesto. I would be so grateful for your participation.

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Mindful Monday: Charter for Compassion (Karuna)

Mindful Monday: Charter for Compassion (Karuna)

MINDFUL MONDAY image courtesy

I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working on a document/concept exploring a set of universal rights for horses for an international organization for horses’ welfare. This is in its nascent stages and I’m constantly thinking, “how should this be communicated? How can I write this so that it is compelling, emotionally accessible and easy to implement worldwide?”

Wonder and it shall be delivered!

Into my inbox last week popped a flawless example of how to enumerate the absolute compassionate approach to other beings. Compassion (karuna in Sanskrit and Pali) is the foundation of mindful living and Buddhist practice. How timely then that this wonderful link should arrive just as I approach this task with new vigor.

The Charter for Compassion

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect. It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others – even our enemies – is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings, even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity.
It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

PLEASE AFFIRM THE CHARTER by clicking on this link and signing your name.


See also Toward An Equine Bill of Rights and The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare A sold Foundation for an Equine Bill of Rights

© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch and Kim Cox Carneal

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Becoming "Equitarians:" Jay Merriam's Project Samana

What exactly is an “equitarian,” you ask? Jay Merriam of the dictionary Merriams wrote this piece in the June 1, 2009 issue of The As he says, he feels personally empowered to make up his own definitions, so we’ll go with what he creates:

An equitarian is one whose only reward for providing medical or humane services to needy horses is the satisfaction of a job well done. There are millions of our equine friends worldwide who could use such a person.

In December 2008, many veterinarian “equitarians” interested in some of the worldwide equine welfare projects–both ongoing and proposed–gathered at the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) convention in San Diego to discuss the status of working horses all over the world.

According to Joe Bertone, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, of the Western University of Health Sciences, in Pomona, Calif., the United States has approximately 10 million mostly-pleasure horses, with maybe a million of those also considered to be working horses. This number is a lot higher than I expected, though compared to the number of working horses in the rest of the world, estimated to be as high as 100 million, it seems very small. The global number might include show and pleasure horses, but there may be between 60 and 90 million equines working every day around the world to provide a living for their humans.

Many working equines suffer from malnutrition, overwork, and lack of basic veterinary care and farriery. Working equines have many jobs: the transport of basic materials, the production of milk, transportation of humans, the representation of accumulated wealth, living property maintenance workers, etc. Merriam reminds us that perhaps we should think about how that coconut in our candy bar began its trip from tree to the package in our hand. It’s quite possible it started on the back of a mule.

In my previous posts on the subject of an equine bill of rights, I spoke about my desire to see a uniform code of ethical and humane treatment for horses worldwide. Merriam reminds readers that though there are many groups providing care for and help to working equines, their needs are less romantic and compelling than the plight of an injured racehorse or show horse that occupies headlines.

Cultural differences often provide a window into these animals’ needs. These equids are vital, but they’re not pets or family. They must be replaced often, but usually at the cost of a year’s income. When injured, rest is out of the question and veterinary care unavailable. And the needs are not going away. There is no such thing as an “unwanted horse” in the Third World.

At the AAEP convention in San Francisco, Merriam proposed that the AAEP Foundation assist various groups in working together to get supplies and medications to regions where they are unavailable due to poverty, governmental red tape and conflict. However, the problem of matching willing donors such as major pharmaceutical companies with aid groups is significant.

The altruistic desire of many veterinarians to “give back” is often short-circuited by requirements of long-term service, cost, or simply the pressures of keeping a practice together while away. Students who want to help are stymied by debt, lack of knowledge of available programs, and time constraints. But the group meeting at the convention showed without a doubt that the profession stands ready to help share the gift of healing with the world.

A half-day program at the 2009 AAEP convention (Dec. 5-9 in Las Vegas, Nev.) will feature several of the groups represented.

If you know of groups within the veterinary profession that are serving horses in need, or of areas of particular need, please contact Mr. Merriam. Leveraging professional strengths and resources to help equines and their human partners in need by matching participants with willing donors, partners, and hosts is a huge project, but one that can be successfully undertaken.

Please visit Project Samana for more information or to learn how you can be of assistance. There are lots of great photos of the project’s work in the Dominican Republic.

The health of many families in the Third World depends directly on the health and strength of their animals. The support of the AAEP for young veterinarians starting their careers on an altruistic path will be a source of pride and strength for us all. The idea of “giving back” the gift of healing all veterinarians possess will resonate for generations to come.

Become an equitarian!


© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch and Kim Cox Carneal

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I Need Your Help and I Need It Fast! (Mongol Derby Animal Welfare Violations)

I Need Your Help and I Need It Fast! (Mongol Derby Animal Welfare Violations)

I’m certain that most readers of this blog have heard of the ongoing controversy surrounding the Mongolian Derby, billed by its organizers as “the longest horse race in the world.” Among the dangers posed to humans, the organizers list, “bleeding kidneys, broken limbs, open sores, sun stroke, moon stroke and a list of dangers longer than your arm stand between the you and victory. No mention of the dangers to the semi-wild horses of the Mongolian Steppe. That’s what the kerfuffle is all about.


Most petitions have less effect than we would like. This one goes straight to Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, asking for an immediate ban.

If you haven’t already gotten enough information to make up your mind that this is bad for Mongolia, and bad for the horses, please read on.

The event has been organized by an English adventure tour company with no equestrian experience, who gleefully described it as “the biggest, baddest equine affair on the planet.” The event wilfully violates the first three primary rules of endurance racing, namely it exploits horses for commercial purposes, boasts of staging the race without having a marked route and will not be able to ensure that water will be supplied at predetermined designations.

–ChuChullaine O’Reilly

Three of the most articulate objections in support of the cancellation of the race were written by CuChullaine O’Reilly, founder of the Long Riders Guild. Please read with care.

The Long Riders’ Guild is the world’s first international association of equestrian explorers, and is an invitation-only organisation. It was formed in 1994 to represent men and women of all nations who have ridden more than 1,000 continuous miles on a single equestrian journey. Members currently reside in 39 countries. These Long Riders have collectively written more than a hundred books on equestrian travel and ridden on every continent except Antarctica. Thus the history, stories, legends, and knowledge stored on this website represent the largest repository of equestrian travel information assembled in human history.

Global Condemnation of the Mongol Horse Derby

This “race” flies in the face of the true definition of equestrian sport on every level.

• The event has been organized by an English adventure tour company with no equestrian experience

• The event wilfully violates the first three primary rules of endurance racing, namely it exploits horses for commercial purposes, boasts of staging the race without having a marked route and will not be able to ensure that water will be supplied at predetermined designations

• Mercy Corps (the event’s designated charity) will receive a minimum of $50,000. But when asked how much the herders, who are risking their eight hundred horses, would be getting, the evasive answer was “a fair amount.” In a scene reminiscent of buying Manhattan from the Indians for $26 in beads, while Morgan and Mercy Corps get rich, naïve Mongolians are being enticed into selling their sacred equestrian heritage for pennies

• (from the Adventurists’ own site) There’s no carefully marked course, no catering tent and no support

• In Mongolia, there are no services – no trees – and no people, but where an unwary mounted traveller must be ready to survive wolf attacks, bubonic plague, rabies, flash floods, foul water, poisoned food, horse theft and personal assault

• “To consider putting foreigners with limited equestrian experience into an endurance race of this distance is asking one to deny the basic fact involved in this situation – namely that a race across this terrain, on those kind of horses, over that distance, would have taxed the original messengers of Genghis Khan, none of whom actually rode a thousand miles on one journey. To ask modern riders to do so is not just naive, it is irresponsible. The Adventurists is preparing to embark on an ill-advised equestrian misadventure, one in which your company does not appreciate the many equestrian hardships and dangers being presented to the horses and riders,” The Guild informed the tour company representative

• “You will have to navigate your way from one station to the next single-handedly; there’s no marked course and there will be huge stretches with no paths or tracks at all. In fact even when there are tracks there is little chance they will be going in the right direction. You will be facing the wilderness, alone…”

• Despite these dire warnings, none of the 25 amateur riders have any previous endurance riding experience. In fact some are barely able to climb atop a passive pony. The few with equestrian experience participated in mild dressage, jumping and part-time polo


It only takes a minute to sign the petition, and another to pass it on or post about this in your own blog. Feel free to copy this entire post word for word if you like. We have no time to lose.

Related posts: Toward An Equine Bill of Rights and The Five Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare: A Solid Foundation for An Equine Bill of Rights?

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The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare A Solid Foundation For An Equine Bill of Rights

The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare A Solid Foundation For An Equine Bill of Rights

In my post Toward An Equine Bill of Rights, I asked if anyone had thoughts on what might comprise an acceptable enough standard of horse care to be called an Equine Bill of Rights.

Either no one read it, no one thought it was worth commenting on, or no one had any ideas. In lieu of interpreting silence as indifference, I’m assuming it was too big a ball of wax.

I was greatly encouraged today when I discovered a kindred spirit in Ethical Horsemanship, who speaks of the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare as they might apply to competition horses. I wonder if these Five Freedoms were based upon Norman Rockwell’s famous Four Freedoms paintings which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on February 20, 1943. (Lucky for me, in spite of an unhappily-upcoming birthday) I wasn’t around then, but those photos never fail to arouse a feeling of gratitude tinged with sadness. Particularly poignant is Freedom From Fear, which affected me deeply long before I even had a child I could not protect from pain.

(click on each photo for a much larger version)

If it was an intentional nod to the (sentimental) brilliance of Rockwell, The Farm Animal Welfare Council chose a solid platform to build their Five Freedoms on. 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. But I don’t want to limit this discussion to what is humane treatment and what is not. That’s a different ball of wax. There’s a lot of wax in this post, isn’t there?

The Farm Animal Welfare Council says nothing of Norman Rockwell on its web page. It’s probably just more anthropomorphizing on my part to make such a sentimental connection. Here’s what they have to say about the origins of the Five Freedoms:

The concept of Five Freedoms originated with the Report of the Technical Committee to Enquire into the Welfare of Animals kept under Intensive Livestock Husbandry Systems, the Brambell Report, December 1965 (HMSO London, ISBN 0 10 850286 4). This stated that farm animals should have freedom “to stand up, lie down, turn around, groom themselves and stretch their limbs,” a list that is still sometimes referred to as Brambell’s Five Freedoms.

Clearly, this initial list might constitute humane treatment, but you’d have to go a long way before it gets close to freedom, or even a Bill of Rights. They went further:

1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
2. Freedom from Discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
5. Freedom from Fear and Distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

For a good look at whether competition horses might enjoy these freedoms, visit Ethical Horsemanship. It’s a good post. And the U.K. has made a good start. To see what kind of start the U.S. has made, start at the National Agriculture Library of the Animal Welfare Information Center.

There is enough material floating around out there to come up with a first draft of an Equine Bill of Rights without breaking a sweat. What do you think?

(and I didn’t even mention wax!)

Many many thanks to Ethical Horsemanship for taking this topic up and kicking me in the pants with a great post.

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