Tag Archives: Equine Bill of Rights

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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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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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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Toward An Equine Bill of Rights

Toward An Equine Bill of Rights

A gentleman from LinkedIn posed a question about a pets’ bill of rights that got me thinking about the point of having such a thing for horses and its possible uses and abuses.

For a little research, I Googled pets’ bill of rights and found a few inane lists by pet care companies (“we have the right to snuggle daily”) that included rights obvious to any animal lover but really didn’t, um, fit the bill.

I did find something on the site of the National Alliance of Pet Owners that might prove a good starting point.

Responsible pet owner (sic) have important constitutional liberties and rights under the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. State Constitutions and States Bill of Rights also reinforce the concept of Pet Owner Rights.

The Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution protect citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures, affirm our rights to property which cannot be denied without the due process of law, ensures equal enforcement and protection of the law, and imposes fundamental constraints on what government can do to a citizen in the name of the law. This is what most responsible pet owners have been taught to believe and to place their trust.

The remainder of this so-called bill of rights is a rant against animal rights activism instead of a real document. It certainly opens an enormous can of worms in terms of taking aim at PETA and HSUS.

I wonder if there is any interest out there in working toward a real Horses’ Bill of Rights that might someday be ratified by applicable organizations? I’m thinking more of something useful for animal welfare rather than the hot button topic of animal rights, mostly because things get done quicker when you travel down the middle of the road.

I wonder if there is enough interest to brainstorm the constituent articles of such a document and come to agreement on what is essential?

If you have opinions on this, please weigh in.
bill of rights tiny

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