Monday, December 6, 2010

All of Our Future

Children are one third of our population and all of our future. ~Select Panel for the Promotion of Child Health, 1981

A friend of mine is a children’s book writer. She is also a horse enthusiast, so naturally she writes about horses. She, like so many of us, believes in kindness to animals and is against inflicting any kind of pain to horses. The first version of her newest manuscript, a lovely picture book for younger children, is a story about a little girl discovering horses at a barn where barefoot horses are ridden in bitless bridles. Sounds absolutely wonderful, doesn’t it?

The publisher, however, had a problem. According to them, horses in books must have bits and shoes, to prevent little readers from feeling guilty and sad for the horses they encounter in real life; all surely using bits and shoes.

It’s hard to wrap your mind around this argument. We want to teach children to be kind and considerate to animals, something children by nature already are. Children want to be on the animal’s side, and would love nothing more than have adult support in this matter. And aren’t books a means of reflecting change in our society? Good books don’t merely repeat what has been said over and over again for decades, but try to follow new trends and bring fresh expert advice to readers.

I can, however, understand the publisher’s concern. Perhaps they are truly afraid of causing a guilt trip to their little readers. Who would want to read a book to their children about caged industrial chicken and their miserable lives? Or the real story about where the majority of our beef comes from. But should we underestimate our children by not telling them the truth? Should this publisher be concerned of making such a radical statement as admitting that the current way of being with horses is abusive?

My friend made a compromise with her publisher. She agreed to omit all verbal mentions of the bitless bridles and barefoot hooves, but asked that the illustrated horses in the book would not have bits or horseshoes. She based her argument on the fact that no children’s book should promote abusive controlling devices and it should always be a reflection of the writer’s own beliefs. The publisher finally agreed to this solution; perhaps a small victory at best, but a step towards the right direction.

As a mother, I know how tricky it can sometimes be to answer your child’s eager questions. You want to communicate your values to your child, but on the same token, you don’t want to distress your child with too much information. Because let’s face it: the world we live in today is not exactly a bed of roses. Animals are not treated fairly. Heck, people are not treated fairly. Children have little control over most aspects of our society, so why burden them with the uncomfortable truth when they can’t do anything about it? At least not yet.

Of course it’s not just what we say to our children or the books we read to them that shape them as individuals. It is who we are that counts the most, that teaches them how to be in this world.

Take an incident I witnessed a few weeks ago while I was visiting another barn nearby:

A woman in her thirties was taking care of her horse, which was standing in crossties. The woman’s approximately three year old son was playing with his cars in the barn aisle in front of the horse. The horse was standing calmly while his owner worked on her after-riding rituals, taking the tack away, brushing the entire horse, greasing the hooves.

She went around the horse, picking up each foot to apply grease to the bottom of the hoof. The hose’s expression was bored, until the owner tried to pick up the left front. Instead of lifting the foot, the horse leaned into his owner, putting weight on the foot she was trying to grease. The owner yanked on the leg and elbowed the horse, but he didn’t budge. Then, without as much as a warning, the woman straightened up, yelled at her horse and hit him hard on the shoulder with the hoof pick.

At this point the horse moved and picked up his foot, but I was no longer looking at the horse or the owner. I was looking at the little boy, who had stopped playing with his cars and was watching his mother intently. What was going through his head? Had he seen his mother hit the horse before? Or had he possibly been subject to his mother’s rage and knew what the horse was going through? His little face was solemn and grave, but there was a hint of wonder flickering behind his big, brown eyes.

Children are very observant; in fact, they are so observant they often notice things we don’t. When my son was just a toddler he used to come with me to the barn quite often. Once, long before I was consciously on any Path, my three year old son watched my student riding in the arena. He stared at the horse for a while, and then asked:”Why is the horse opening his mouth?”

I looked at the horse and low and behold, the mouth was open. Of course, there was a noseband trying to keep the mouth shut, but the horse was doing his best to fight the strap across his nose. Despite the numerous lessons we had done together with this particular rider and her horse, I had never made this observation. And there was my toddler son pointing it out to me in all his innocent curiosity. He was obviously far further on the Path than I was and not because someone had told him about it, but because he simply observed his environment and questioned everything that was happening in it, something I should have been doing, had I not been blinded by everything I had learned about horses in the past thirty years.

Eight years ago when I first became a mother, a lot of people gave me advice, but the single most valuable piece of guidance was given to me by an old friend, a mother of three. My friend said: “When you are in the presence of your child, never ever forget to ask yourself this question: What am I teaching my child at this very moment?”

Children are clean slates. This might sound like a cliché, but only because it is true. Children already know the truth. But then we go ahead and tamper with it. Like the little boy watching his mother hit her horse. What did he learn from that situation? Certainly not patience or kindness or empathy. Will he grow up to be his mother? Or will he somehow deviate from her path and learn to question the way his mother treats animals?

A few years back, before my time with Little Love, I spent a few months riding at a very fancy dressage stable by Lake Geneva. I deliberately sought out the owner to see if she needed anyone to ride her many horses, and she did. I was happy to start riding at her place, as it gave me the opportunity to ride some excellent horses (something important to me at the time) but it didn’t take me very long to realize the culture of violence that was present in everything that was done at this facility.

This was a private barn with a handful of adults, a few teenagers and a dozen horses. There was also an eleven year old girl, who showed up every single day to ride her expensive dressage pony. She obviously loved horses, but she also worshipped the barn owner and her adult daughter; both successful riders with extremely forceful techniques. This admiration from the little girl’s part resulted in some of the most abusive behavior I have ever seen a rider exhibit.

I can tell you, it is a whole different ball game to witness an adult behaving in a cruel way towards animals than witnessing a young child doing the same. Seeing children participate in beating horses, kicking them with spurs, yelling, slapping, whipping, pulling them into excessive rollkur by using drawreins is to say the least, revolting. We expect children to be pure and innocent, but there is nothing innocent about blatant violence.

This eleven year old girl had not only adapted every single move she had witnessed her idols doing, she had perfected them by exaggeration. It was not, of course, her fault she had turned this way. She was only repeating what she had learned. No amount of interference from my part would make her change her ways. In fact, it only got me into to trouble with the barn owner, who openly supported this violence.

It doesn’t take a lot to guide a child the wrong way. Last summer I had the opportunity to give my niece a private riding lesson. She is a nine year old horse enthusiast who had at that point been riding once a week for less than a year at a local riding school in her home country. It was interesting to see how she related to the horses, which was with quite a mechanical manner, as if she was riding a bike. She had learned to use her legs to kick their sides to ask for forward movement, she had learned to use her hands to pull on their mouths to turn them and stop them. Nobody had ever corrected her seat, nor had they told her about the nature of the horse, what a sensitive animal it was.

She told me about the angry ponies back home, how one would bite and the other threaten to kick. I was saddened to hear this and tried to gently explain why a horse would behave in this sort of manner. At first my niece simply watched me interact with the horses in silence, but soon the questions started. Why do you not use the bit? Why do some horse have shoes and some don’t? Is that horse angry or happy?

I have to admit: I felt inadequate in the face of this child. I could offer her the truth I knew, but I could not help her any further. If she wanted to be with horses, she would have to continue riding at her mainstream riding school as there were no other options nearby. How could I possibly tell her about the harmful effects of the bit, when I knew she had no option but ride in a bit? How could I explain that shoeing horses was detrimental to their health when most horses she knew had shoes? How could I enlighten her about the abuse she was learning at her riding school?

If I told her what I knew, would she feel as powerless as I do, in the face of helping horses?

So here we are, back to the question of guilt trips.

I told my niece I didn’t use a bit because I personally believed bits were not necessary and that horses preferred going without. I told her that horseshoeing was an old tradition, but that horses were born without shoes and did much better without them. I did my best to teach her how to sit on the horse correctly and how sensitive they really were, and how willing to communicate if we took a moment to listen to them. We spent some time grooming the ponies and talking about their body language and the personal space they had and how to respect that. All I could hope was that perhaps I planted a small little seed in my niece’s inquisitive and thoughtful little head, a seed that would have the opportunity to grow as she got older. But in hindsight, I can see that just like my friend’s publisher, I chose a careful option, the compromise. I still don’t know if it was the right thing to do. Children are so much smarter than what we often give them credit for and can handle surprisingly controversial information. My son is only eight and is fully aware of global warming and what is happening to the planet. So why not tell the ugly truth about horses? Perhaps it is only us adults who know about guilt trips?

The Path is the birthright of all children, you don’t have to convince them to be kind to animals; it comes as second nature to them, at least until they learn something else. When I was a child, I often imagined being a cat or a dog or a horse. I wanted to know what they were feeling, how it was to be in the world as an animal. But I lost that, because I was taught to control animals instead of understanding them. The same thing is happening to so many other children out there, who love horses, but end up treating them inhumanely simply because that is how adults treat them.

In the meanwhile, I want to hold onto my dream that one day there will only be barns like the one in my friend’s children’s book, where horses are treated with respect and without the fear of pain or force. Perhaps my dream will come true, but maybe not in my lifetime.

My son rarely comes to the barn with me anymore, but when he does, I let Little Love loose in the arena with him. She always follows him, where ever he goes, as if they have a silent agreement to walk together. It brings tears to my eyes every time, because this is a horse that follows next to nobody. But she follows him, because he knows more about horses and their ways than I will perhaps ever be able to understand.


A child can ask questions that a wise man cannot answer. ~Author Unknown


  1. This blog is beautiful! Thank you. You are changing the world by sharing what you know to be true.

  2. I give your friend a lot of credit for writing a book that encourages humane treatment of animals. I think she should have been allowed to publish the book as she intended. The publisher is NOT the writer and with the many books that most publishing companies sell, it's hard to believe they endorse or agree with. It just sounds biased to me. I feel badly for your friend--unable to publish her work the way she intended.

    I read the rest of your post with a lot of interest. I just had my 11yr old niece staying with me this past weekend. She asks to come and visit me quite frequently, but with my 2 jobs, my free weekends are very limited. My niece enjoys camping with me and she is also starting to catch the horse "bug." In fact, I think it's the main reason she wants to see me so she can ride. The last time she came, we were able to borrow a fellow boarder's horse and she had a blast riding him around. Unfortunately, this is not an option for every visit, so I am facing the dilema of allowing her to interact with and ride Griffin mor often. She has ridden Grif in the past, but he does not do very well with her riding on her own -- he prefers to follow and stay with me. This frustrates my niece and I am left trying to explain that Griffin is not used to having a lot of "different" riders on board and feels the safest when he can follow me.
    I have suggested that my niece find a barn where she can take lessons and she refuses. She says she only wants to learn from me. Griffin is neither a lesson horse nor am I an instructor -- so this leads me to an issue I must ponder.
    While I am aware of the traditional methods of working with horses, I do not want to teach them (..and neither does Grif). If I begin to teach my niece about the path, will she be a willing "student" (especially when she learns that the riding activity that she enjoys so much is a priviledge and not a right)? Would I be doing her a disservice, by not showing her both sides of the coin and allowing her to make her own choice? I want so badly to help foster that love of horses in my niece, but at the same time I want her to feel free to make her own follow the path that speaks to her be it traditional horsemanship (god I hope not), natural horsemanship, or being with an empowered, thinking horse...and if I do intoduce her to the path Grif & I are on- what if she decides to take traditional lessons later on-- I don't want an instructor to reprimand her for the "kind" things she learned from me ....and through all this, I must not leave out Griffin's feelings in the matter. I DO know that I will not allow her to practice any traditional riding with my horse and never will she be allowed to use a bit -- no matter what she sees or hears from others.
    I feel very lost in this whole matter. I hardly feel as though I can teach her adequately when I have just started down the path and am learning myself....
    This last weekend when she was here, we weren't able to see Grif due to snow making it difficult to get to the barn -- but she is already asking my parents (her grandparents) for a riding helmet so she doesn't have to borrow one to ride Griffin. meanwhile I am having a mental heart attack at how best to explain how Grif and I are spending out time together.....a path I still know very little about. Aaack! Help!

  3. This entry in your blog is the reason I am starting a new riding instruction program, called "Hoofin' Around," using two of my horses. The program will be based around communication and partnership with the horses - learning their language and how to connect with them through obstacles, challenges, and games, both on the ground and under saddle. I, too, have been horrified and repelled by seeing youngsters, as well as adults, ignore what their horses were screaming to them, and using intimidation and force to make the horse do what they wanted - with no input from the horse recognized or desired.
    Children and adults riding with Hoofin' Around will see barefoot and bitless, sound, happy horses, and will hopefully learn from day one that communication and mutual respect between human and equine is a beautiful path to follow.

  4. Thank you for this post. I would like to share with you, and hopefully all your readers, this blog as well
    This is my daughter in the video. The blog is done by my mom.

    I too am a mother, of a very intelligent 4 year old daughter and 2 year old son. My daughter is the most amazing little girl I know. We have 5 horses at our house, and care for many more. As I have been learning, my daughter has too, not because I force her to, but because she asks. She wants to understand too, what I am reading and why it makes me feel the way it does. I don't feel the need to withhold the complete truth from her. If she asks me a question that I don't know the answer to, I tell her I don't know, and then I try to figure it out. I feel, that if she isn't given all the information, (as we know at this time) how then will she be able to make her own decisions? If she isn't told where hamburger (for instance) comes from, how can she make an informed decision on whether or not she wants to eat it? If it isn't explained to her the damage done to a horses back by riding it, how then can she make an informed decision on whether or not she wants to ride one? If it isn't explained to her about the damage caused by a bit and what it does to the horses mouth, brain, and nervous system, how then can she understand why others use it? If she doesn't see the horses expressions and their eyes, if she doesn't feel what they are experiencing when being "used", how can she then make her own decision about equestrian sports and how humans use them as toys? I obviously spare any gruesome details, but none-the-less she is answered. Sometimes she understands right away, and sometimes she will silently think on it for a day, sometimes more, and come back to me with her understanding of that previous conversation. I can't tell you how many times I am completely blow away at her intelligence and comprehension at such a young age.
    Children ARE our future. You are completely right when you say they are born knowing "truth". They are born knowing how to communicate with animals, to be "with" them, and to have compassion. The adults around them have so much power. I feel, by giving my kids the right to exercise decision and reasoning, by giving them facts and help them in understanding, I have in a way, given their power back. My daughter has stood up to many adults and told them why she doesn't want to eat animals, why she doesn't want to take their milk, and why we don't ride or "use" our horses, and how they are friends and teachers. I think the neatest thing is when she is explaining this to these adults around her, she is saying it in her own words, from her own understanding of it, and in her own emotion. Coming from a 4 year old, this has caused many adults to think about their own actions. One day, out of the blue, she told me "fish can scream, we just can't hear them".
    Listen to the children, they "know" more than we do. :)

  5. Wow, lots of comments! :-) Thanks you all!

    Carol, what an opportunity!! Your niece obviously wants to learn from YOU perhaps because she can feel that you and Grif have so much to teach. Tell her what you believe and how you are different than others who ride their horses. Stay true to your beliefs. Yes, later she may be reprimanded for being "too kind", but she should be proud of being that (I was told this by no less than an Olympic rider once. She said: "Katariina, you are such a talented rider, but just too nice to the horses" I took it as a compliment :-)

    Shira Nafshi, we need more programs like Hoofin' around, how brilliant that you will start something like that. I believe, no, I KNOW there are a lot of people out there who would like to be with horses in a different way, but have no other option than the traditional route or giving up altogether. Good luck with your program!

    And Voice of the Horse, what a beautiful blog your mother has! I loved the video of your daugther with the two ponies (and let's not forget the corgy witnessing it all :-) This is how all children should be allowed to be with horses. I agree with you about telling the truth, I try to do this with my own son. I do, however, know it is very, very hard in situations where you know the child (who first of all is not your own child) does not have the opportunity to have what your daugther does i.e. power to choose how to be with the animal. Anybody riding in a traditional riding school is participating in some level of abuse. Unfortunately for most kids, the riding school is the only place they can be close to horses. I suppose they do have the option of NOT going there and being with horses although I can't imagine myself ever doing that when I was a kid, you couldn't keep me away from horses even if you chained me to a wall... but anyways, this is definitely such a complex subject...
    Thank you for sharing your story and beliefs, I love the last quote about the fish screaming, children truly know more than we do!
    PS. Your daughter does sound pretty amazing, she will grow up to change the world!

  6. I totally agree with you, and I'm not trying to be the devil's advocate, but I was wondering what you think about something that makes me wonder sometimes. Namely that horses do use violence, or the threat of violence, toward each other. Not excessive violence, and not to enslave the other horse, but to say things like - "Keep off," or "My food" or "Don't even think about it." Do you think we should eschew violence, or rather perhaps I should say "force," 100% of the time, or is there a case for emulating the horse and reserving the right to react with force under certain circumstances?

  7. Dear June,
    Some information that I recently discovered caused me to look at your question about violence in horses from a different viewpoint. Equitation Science a book by Paul McGreevy and Andrew McLean explained that Ethology "the study of horse behavior in nature", the study of free roaming horses in nature" could not say the study of wild horses, due to the fact that there are no unspoiled wild horse herd on planet earth.

    Once I got my head around this fact, I started to apply this to all I had observed to date.

    Free roaming horse herds in nature, that were not hindered in any way by mans interference (round ups, infertility drugs, restrictions/limitations of territory and so on) only shows of contact violence, would be between competing stallions during the short breeding season. Foals learn shows of aggression through play, and adult’s display and communication their feelings through postures and body language, thus avoiding contact violence. The true nature of the herd, is alert, relaxed, non- violent, social harmony.

    Now Applied Ethology (the study of domestic horses in the human domain, “captivity”) shows that horses that have been forced to tolerate imprinting, weaned young, mis-communation, poor training techniques, inappropriate use of training equipment, kept in isolation, and in many cases, experienced inhumane treatment by the hands of man, in short, horses that do not know how to, or have not been able to learn how to be horses, are not surprisingly violent and dangerous to people and each other.

    They are what we made them.

    My hope is that children are not just seen as the future, that thanks to this blog and people like Kata we will see that children and horses are the now, and that is what WE can learn from them. When we truly live in the "now" the need for violence becomes redundant, Sam.

  8. Thank you Katariina for the kind comments. In the situation of giving information other children... I feel you should. How can they make a difference if they don't know? If they are asking, answer. If an adult is on the "path", then it should be shared, because kids are going to be much more receptive to it than most other adults. And, if traditional riding schools are the only place they have to be around horses, so what. They don't HAVE to participate in the abuse. They can spend their time just being with them. Giving the horses comfort when they are not generally given that. Go to a pasture and spend some time just watching them from the other side of the fence. They will eventually come if one is there with love, not want. There are many ways to be with a horse if you truly love them. Which too is a whole other subject - Love -.

    I realize June's question was directed at Katariina, but if it's alright, I would like to provide an answer.

    I DO believe that you should refrain from violence and force 100% of the time.

    Most domestic horses that we are witnessing behavior from, are not mentally balanced, or raised in a horse appropriate situation (family structure and herd life). Nearly all have been taken from their mothers way too early, raised with other "using" horses, or in isolation in stalls, with humans as their main roll models. They really don't know what appropriate behavior is and when their actions are excessive. Many are in pain, so they are quick to give opinion, or are just numb to it all. Horses don't fight over food when there is enough for everyone. Horses generally don't attack a person for food if their dietary requirements are being met. When a horse goes for prolonged periods of time without food, they develop ulcers which are very painful. They then do things like crib, wind suck, eat things they normally wouldn't, bite or attack other horses and people, etc. Many also see the actions of wild horses as aggressive and violent, but much of what we see is not actually mean. It looks and sounds like it, but mostly it's play, or bluff. Sometimes there is actual contact and painful blows, but it's really not that common. Stallion play is very loud and looks very aggressive. My geldings play this way, but neither have a mark on them. They are very playful and energetic animals when they are healthy - mentally and physically, and they are allowed to have opinions and have those opinions respected. :)
    If a domestic horse is given more natural living conditions, i.e. outdoor/pasture life, pasture mates that they get along with, and constant food/forage, they are much less aggravated and moody. Then, if you are looking to have a relationship with one, they will have their learned behaviors in dealing with people (just as we have our learned behaviors in dealing with horses) that you have to work through. I have found with my horses, especially when it comes to behaviors I dislike, I just walk away. I will ask he/she not to do whatever it is I dislike, and if he/she doesn't stop, I walk away. I have found that this gives them responsibility for their own actions. I talk to them and ask them things, and generally they are very willing to do what I am asking. I have also found that domestic horses that have been trained, used, etc., know that once a halter is placed on their heads, they are "caught". I personally do all my relationship building and foundation communication at liberty in the pasture, in their area. No ropes, not restraint. They then have a full voice. There are times when I have to use a halter, but when you put in the time at liberty, they become your friend and the halter loses it's power on them. :)


  9. Some horses really don't want to be around people because they haven't had many good experiences with them, so in many cases you have to prove yourself to be different and they have to want to be with you. A horse will never really want to be with you if you are still thinking "I want something from you" or "I am the boss" or "You have to do this cuz I only have X amount of time here with you". I feel that is the biggest thing. Not expect anything from them, but except everything from them. Then, in your building your communication and relationship, when they do something you don't like, walk away. This makes them think about their action - without punishment.

    Many will think, "well then you are letting the horse win".... no, I am letting the horse think. When one punishes a horse, they are then the inferior one.

    I feel like "natural horsemanship" is actually more cruel than traditional riding. At least with traditional riding, the horse knows what to expect - force, pain, and punishment. Well, with natural horsemanship, the horses "language" (or our half-assed understanding of it) is used against them. They really aren't given time to think. They are always, in the end, forced to do what we want them to do. It's mental manipulation, which to me seems worse. The horse never knows if he is going to be hit with that stick, or if it's going to be flailed and slapped all around him. They are never calm and secure, they are always watching and on edge. They become machines. Go when I say go, turn when I say turn, stop when I say stop, and stand there and let me "flog" you with what ever it is I have in my hand. I did this to my horses for years. It's has taken YEARS to get them over it. A new addition to the family was a standardbred gelding off the track. He knew straight forward abuse.... not natural horsemanship. Building a relationship with him has been much clearer and actually easier than it has been getting my other gelding over his natural horsemanship training. Mental abuse is far more difficult to get over than physical abuse.

    I'm sure there will be many other opinions, but this is what I have found to be right for me. Right for my horses, and right for all the animals and plants in my surroundings. Violence is a learned behavior. Children don't know violence, they are taught it. Violence and aggression always stem from fear. Fear of what, that is to be determined in the situation. When one gets angry... why? When one gets aggressive or defensive.... why? When one is violent back at another that is being violent.... what happens? The outcome is not usually good.

    "Rewards and Punishments are the lowest form of education" ~Chuang-tzu, Chinese writer (c.369 B.C. - c.268 B.C.)

  10. Hi June,
    I think it's good you brought up this question, because this is the question on so many people's minds. I hope everyone is reading the answers! Also my friend Sam had posted a great answer (along the lines of what voiceofhorses said), but for some reason I could see it in my email but not on the blog. So, since I thought his answer was very clarifying as well, I copied it and here it is:

    Dear June,
    Some information that I recently discovered caused me to look at your question about violence in horses from a different viewpoint. Equitation Science a book by Paul McGreevy and Andrew McLean explained that Ethology "the study of horse behavior in nature", the study of free roaming horses in nature" could not say the study of wild horses, due to the fact that there are no unspoiled wild horse herd on planet earth.

    Once I got my head around this fact, I started to apply this to all I had observed to date.

    Free roaming horse herds in nature that were not hindered in any way by mans interference (round ups, infertility drugs, restrictions/limitations of territory and so on) only shows of contact violence would be between competing stallions during the short breeding season. Foals learn shows of aggression through play, and adult’s display and communicate their feelings through postures and body language, thus avoiding contact violence. The true nature of the herd, is alert, relaxed, non- violent, social harmony.

    Now Applied Ethology (the study of domestic horses in the human domain, “captivity”) shows that horses that have been forced to tolerate imprinting, weaned young, mis-communation, poor training techniques, inappropriate use of training equipment, kept in isolation, and in many cases, experienced inhumane treatment by the hands of man, in short, horses that do not know how to, or have not been able to learn how to be horses, are surprisingly violent and dangerous to people and each other.

    They are what we made them.

    My hope is that children are not just seen as the future, that thanks to this blog and people like Kata we will see that children and horses are the now, and that is what WE can learn from them. When we truly live in the "now" the need for violence becomes redundant, Sam.

    I don't think I could add anything to what Sam or voiceofhorses haven't already said. I think violence should never be the answer and we should strive to eliminate violence from our relationship with horses. It is not easy, because old habits die slowly, but it is possible. We must try to undo what has been done to horses, and like voiceofhorses said, it takes YEARS. Especially for the ones with mental abuse in the backgroud, which, at least in my neck of the woods, seems to be the majority of the horses.

    Lots to think about,


  11. Shelby in CaliforniaDecember 10, 2010 at 7:27 AM

    I've been reading everyone's comments ( it's taken me a couple of days to digest it all...) from this latest post. I'm so amazed and thrilled that there are so many of us out there that feel so deeply passionate about changing the horse industry. It's because of this kind of question asking and interchange that more and more people will become aware and thus feel the need to help... I love the wonderful stories, the telling of personal experiences, the events, that bring us all together. All in the name of our horse companions... thank you everyone for being a part of this awareness, and ultimately the shift in how we treat and connect with horses.

  12. What excellent information.
    Being a huge newbie to this path, I appeciate the responses.
    I do, however, have a few thoughts....

    The first point I want to make is that I am very much aware that the ideal living arrangement for a horse is to be out in a large, varied terrain, open pasture with plenty of other horses for company. While I would like nothing more than to provide this for my horse, it is not possible. I live in an apartment. I have no choice other than to board if I want to keep my horse. Even if I could afford mt own place, it would not have endless acres for horses to run on. Not even the wealthy would necissarily have this option.....with encroaching development increasing everywhere, there are few farms that have the kind of ideal acreage I feel is being described. Even for traditional riders, available trails to ride on are decreasing rapidly. It used to be that someone could go out their back door and ride into the woods for miles....nowadays (at least here in the US), it's not uncommon to have to trailer out to places to ride....and even those are decreasing....So with all that said, what is a person to do when they don't have the ideal circumstances with which to interact with their horse?

    I envy those of you who never have to apply a halter to your horses' heads. I would love to have the majority of interactions with my horse be at liberty,I truly would...but because I must board this is simply not an option for me. Because of this, I remain in search of the best way to interact with my horse within the boundries and rescources allowed.

    In regards to my niece.....the reason I wanted her to take lessons at another barn is because I felt it would give her the most unbiased exposure to how the traditional horse world typically functions. Then....when she is with me, I would present my views to her and answer questions as she has them. I feel this situation would give her the most solid understanding of both sides and allow her to choose where she feels she fits in the best. I will respect and love her no matter what her decision is...
    No offense meant to anyone, but as an example....if you grow up with parents who are vegetarians, there is a high probability that even if your parents "allow" you to eat a hamburger, you may still uncomfortable in your choice because you know in your heart that it's not what your parents approve of. Now take the same child away from their vegetarian parents and place them with a meat eating family for a week and most certainly they will come away with a whole different view of people who consume unbiased one. Even though we THINK we are giving our kids the most unbiased opinion on something we might oppose....are we really? Are we going lay out the pro's and cons of both sides equally when in truth we don't see any positives on the other side? Of course I would love for my niece to see horses the way I do --BUT in all fairness to her, I feel she should be able to explore everything that's out there regardless of whether I agree with it or not. She should see that unbiased opinion of BOTH sides and feel free to make her own, individual choices. If she only sees things through my that really fair?

  13. .....and one final thing--
    I agree 100% that it is NEVER ok to be violent in the form of striking or hitting with the intent to harm or punish.
    Not only do I find it sad that people are so horrible to their's also equally sad at just how horrible they can be to each other.
    very sad.
    Even if a horse kicks another or bites another...
    it doe not make it ok for us to do the same. A horse KNOWS what another horse's intentions are and they know why?
    We are not horses.
    We are humans.
    Horses know this....
    ....even though some people try to convinve them otherwise...
    dumb animals?

  14. Carol, lots to think about! It is difficult when you have a horse and only have so many options of how and where to keep him/her. I think this will be one of the themes of my future blogs...
    I wanted to comment on what you said about giving your niece the opportunity to explore both the tradional way and the other way and then make up her mind. I can see your point. But, you have to realize the difference between the two sides of the coin. Your vegetarian example works pretty well to explain this... I think being a vegetarian is (often) an educated choice whereas eating meat is not (rather, it is based on convenience and taste and tradition NOT real knowledge). Perhaps if meat eating people should for example go watch the movie "Earthlings" (you can see it free at and become more educated, they would rethink why they are eating meat (then they could make an educated choice, so to say) So, when you show your niece your way of being with horses, you are educating her, not just teaching her to do something because it has always been done that way. Trust me, your niece will find the traditional horse world on her own, even if you tried to keep her from it (which I know you won't). It is everywhere, in books, movies etc. You show her by example that there is another way and leave it to her to explore the rest. If she doesn't want to do that, let her be.
    Sometimes you don't need to see the other side to know what is right for you. I could give you several examples about that ranging from slavery to spanking children, neither of which I have personal experience, but am strongly against.
    Is it fair that you show her only one side of the coin? Heck yes, it is exceptionally fair - to the horses. How could showing kindness to horses ever be unfair?
    In the end, you do what you feel is best, of course. And in the end, your niece will choose what she wants to do. Perhaps what you do will influence her, perhaps not, but why not try? You are, after all, promoting kindness and respect and love.

  15. Shelby in CaliforniaDecember 12, 2010 at 8:01 AM

    Amen to that last comment, Katariina! It really is up to us ( no matter where we are on our paths) to ask that question of ourselves. In the asking of it, the answer is merely an echo of what we really know is true. Our children ask us the question so they may understand what they are seeing or feeling. I'd like to hear more of the asking because our horse friends ( and other animals and children for that matter...) deserve the answer.

  16. Very well said Katariina :) I couldn't have said it better :)
    For us, becoming vegetarian was an educated and compassionate choice, as well as experiencing all the health benifits associated with doing so. :) It started with stopping drinking milk, then not eating red meat (beef & pork). We still occasionally ate chicken and fish for about a year. Well, like Kata said, after watching "Earthlings" last year, we became total vegetarian/vegan. We were criticized by my husbands side of the family, like we were doing something horrible. What I found interesting, is that deep down, I think people "know" we shouldn't kill and eat other animals (and that's why they become so uncomfortable around those that are vegetarians), but we have just grown up doing so, and even in religion it says that the animals are here "for us". So, when his religious family heard we were vegetarians, they were very upset, very uncomfortable, and distant. We never said anything to them about their choices, and we remained the same as we have always been. I think that when people become one way or another, they are quick to judge others. Like the activists for example. Just because I choose not to eat meat or animal secretions, doesn't mean I am negative to those who do. I care, but it's not my place to judge. If they ask, I will answer in honesty and in full, but I WILL occasionally drop hints ;)

    Anyway, I think when you are coming from an educated position, that of truth, you are not giving bias or unbiased opinion.... opinion has no place. It's simply fact and truth. People can do what they will with that. Just like it says in the beginning of "Earthlings".

    I also totally agree with Kata when she says "Sometimes you don't need to see the other side to know what is right for you".

    Also, an idea for Carol... If you have your horse at a boarding place, I can understand the limitations there. Most boarding places have some sort of arena or enclosed riding area. Does this place have an arena or any type of open area that you could let your horse go in? Even if you are just there for an hour or two, you can still build a relationship with him at liberty. Just take him to the arena and let him go. Just sit there with him and watch what he does. Does he stay with you? Does he run? Does he engage you in play? Does he ignore you completely and watch or call to the other horses? Does he want you to scratch him? When they are free of any restraints, that is the only time they are able to have their full voice. I feel that until you have gained their trust and friendship, when they will chose to be with you over the other horses, when they follow you because you are equals and friends and you have developed a communication, then you have earned the "privilege" to be on their backs. This can take months to years. And, it goes at the horses pace, always. The horse is always right.

  17. One more thing I would like to add: There is still a lot of belief that just because one doesn't hit or punish their horse, that they can still ride one. If one "loves" a horse, then one should educate themselves on all aspects of the horse. That includes what causes pain. Many know that bits cause pain, shoes cause pain, tools cause pain, riding causes pain, etc. Well, if one knows then that riding a horse causes it pain, why would one still ride one? If you Love something, do you intentionally cause it pain because YOU enjoy it?

    I have ridden horses since I was 1 year old. I have grown up with them, have owned many, and I would ride every day. I LOVED it! I was addicted as many say. Horses were all I could think about. I became a trainer when I was 19. I was sensitive and I could feel them, so I was good. I did this for 4 years at many different large horse facilites. Well, because I was sensitive, I always felt guilty after I was done for the day. Even though I was much less harsh than many others and I loved every minute with the horses, I still felt like crap when I went to bed. This began the journey of WHY?. I then began studying the science of a horse. It's anatomy, it's nature, etc, and what I learned was amazing, and depressing at the same time. Everything that I have done hurt my horses. I knew this, but didn't. I stopped what I was doing right then and there. I LOVE horses, I will not hurt them again.

    I say all this because I was like many, absolutely addicted to riding.... loved it. But, once I learned what it does to the horses back, pelvis, muscles and emotions, I will never do it again. What's interesting, is now that I Know this, I have NO desire to ride! I couldn't do that to them. Not even for 10 minutes. It's really quite a liberating feeling. :)

    I guess this all comes back to truth and fact. What we teach the kids should always be based on that. If we are going to make a difference for children, horses, animals, and the earth, we need to become educated. We need to let go of our egos, we need to maybe give up those things we "think" we love, and do what is best for the greater good. For unity and harmony among all. I am 27 years old, and I am so grateful that I am learning this now. :) I want to thank all of you who are making a difference in your corner of the world too. :)