Revised February 11, 2015
The primary reason for me reviving my childhood love of horses as an adult was to satisfy my need for adventurous activity. I was going to get myself out of the house and add value to my life with athletic prowess. I was going to boost my confidence by achievement in the show ring. Happiness would bloom within my soul by virtue of the relationship I had with a horse.
The glamour and grit of the horse world with its leather accoutrements, Olympic heroes and rugged cowboys enticed me. The idea of leading a partnership with a large animal was intoxicating. But when I began to participate in this world of horses the road continually turned and the happiness I had sought began to disappear from view. After a few years I had acquired several horses and spent thousands of dollars on lessons and training, but instead of seamless progression of improvement in skill and relationship something else entered my awareness.
Nearly all the ways that the traditional and conventional methods of horsemanship directed humans how to be with horses required that the human prevail as the dominant partner. The horse was required to obey and submit with respect. The horse was a tool of transport, equipment for sport, a commodity for entertainment and profit. His fear, his pain, his choice were all subservient to the will of the human. This is still the mainstream attitude.
While the mainstream manages to run up to a dam against free thinking, there are outlets. It is possible to open your eyes and look into the eyes of a horse and see some-one instead of some – thing. It is possible to question authority and listen directly to your horse and your own heart. There is room to step back and review the popular culture of domesticated horses and admit that it is a manner of enslavement and imprisonment.
This may sound shocking, but it is not hard to see the parallels. Of course, there is even a whole language that ranges from euphemisms to clear terms for dreadful acts that are numbly accepted as normal things to do unto a sentient being. The equine industry – make no mistake, it is big business – fights tooth and nail to validate its history and tradition as justifiably righteous.
Yet there is no law that says one must treat a horse so appallingly and if you are uneasy about gaining your happiness from the physical or emotional pain of others you can walk away from all that tradition – and you can still have a relationship with a horse1.
When I awoke to this notion of liberty for horses I found an opportunity for enlightened self-development2. I was more attracted to nature as a part of myself. I discovered the freedom and truth that can be revealed through science. I began to climb out of ignorance and live fully through intelligence, which includes intuition, and heartfelt reasoning.
And now indeed happiness has bloomed within my soul by virtue of the relationships I have with the horses in my care.3
1. In the original post I had said “…-and you can still have a horse.” This may have suggested that it is acceptable for a human to own or keep horses as if they are ours to use and breed for our benefit and fulfillment over what the needs and desires of a horse might be. It is imperative to understand that by now any horses or other non-human animals we take into our care must be approached with the consideration of them as their own persons and that we are giving them asylum from the persecution of domestication. In adopting, fostering and giving sanctuary to any species there is necessarily some level of relationship and perhaps even true friendship. However, let me be clear that there can be no force or coercion employed to make an animal like you or respect you, or appear to do so. They owe us nothing.
My revision to say “…-and you can still have a relationship with a horse” is acknowledging that many of us have affinities with certain non-human animals and that there are captive and domesticated horses in need of homes. The relationships I describe are part of the transition from domestication to emancipation, they are not mere welfare reforms aimed at maintaining human use of animals for any reason. The ultimate goal is to end the tradition of domestication itself.
2. When one begins to think critically about the coercive and painful (physical and psychological) types of training, restraint and confinement used on domesticated animals, even those we claim as companions, our first reaction might be only to look at the treatment and miss the point that bestowing property status on animals is the root problem. When I speak of my awakening to the notion of liberty for horses it is not only about walking away from harsh treatment, but that there is no superior being present.
The opportunity we all have for self-development is based upon a different attitude toward non-human animals where they are free to express themselves without punishment. When we accept the equal inherent value felt by each sentient being we must reexamine our interpretations of signals and communications from non-humans and more closely check our motivations for initiating interactions with them. That we are not able to safely turn already living animals loose at this time, that they still must be subjected to certain types of confinement and continue to rely on us for food and shelter requires us to modify our management to offer them the most freedom within those limitations as long as they last. This will be discussed further in other essays related to the transition out of domestication.
3. “And now indeed happiness has bloomed within my soul by virtue of the relationships I have with my horses.”
In the original ending of this post, I called the horses in my care, my horses. Legally I do own them and while changing the language doesn’t change the law, perhaps it is a way help us rightly see non-human animals as persons and not wrongly to view them as things that we can possess. I will revise it as such for now, but I don’t want to create confusion or encourage euphemistic phrasing that obscures the unjust property status of animals.