This Omnivore’s Dilemma

omnivores The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan explains (among other things) that the omnivore’s dilemma is deciding what to eat.  A carnivore eats meat – no decision needed.  An herbivore eats plants – no decision needed.  But when you can eat just about anything then the question becomes, “What should I eat?”

I have been against the selling of horses for slaughter for as long as I’ve been aware of the issue.  While the thought of eating my beloved horse makes me ill, eating horse meat has been quite common throughout human history and the U.S. used to have a number of slaughter plants for horses.  They are now illegal in this country, but that does not stop “kill-buyers” from buying cheap, unwanted horses at auctions and shipping them to Canada or Mexico for processing.  In California shipping a horse to slaughter is also illegal, but it happens all the time.

Let’s set aside for now the issue of what to do with unwanted horses. That’s an issue for another post, but this is why I support Horses’ Honor Horse Rescue and Sanctuary here in California.  There are many such sanctuaries of various sizes throughout the country.

But back to my omnivore’s dilemma.  If I don’t think horses should be eaten, why do I think it’s OK to eat cows?  That is a very good question, and was one of the reasons behind my decision to stop eating mammals a year ago.  No beef, pork, venison, rabbit, etc.  If it’s a mammal, I don’t eat it.

I’m not against eating animals per se.  Of course if one is starving, one will eat whatever one can catch.  Carnivores eat animals (duh); sometimes you’re the fox and sometimes you’re the rabbit.  But what I cannot support is the practice of factory farming, which is pretty much all the farming that is left in this country.  Even meat that is labeled “humanely raised, grass fed,” etc. isn’t what we think it is.  Unless you have your own farm and can kill and butcher your own cow or pig or chicken, or you know someone that has such a place that you can buy from, it’s all factory farming of one sort or another.  Google “factory farming practices” to get an idea of what that’s all about if you aren’t already aware.  The amount of such suffering created by these practices is insurmountable and not something I can be part of any longer.  So, there’s that.

dominionThen, recently I read Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy by Matthew Scully.  This book was hard to get through as it describes the horrible ways humans have “had dominion” over animals, as if they didn’t have the right to be on this planet unless they serve us in some way.  I had to read it in small bits. One of my a-ha moments from this book was the author’s discussion of what it means when we know that there are plant-based means to healthily feed out bodies and we know that factory farming produces such pain and misery, but we eat meat anyway because it tastes good:

GLUTTONY

Gluttony, pure and simple.  Which all three major religions count as a pretty big deal. That brought me up short, because I’d not made that connection before.  This is another place where the “equestrian” and the “theology” meet.

Up until now, I’d sworn off mammals but still have been eating chicken.  Chickens suffer just as much, so there’s no real reason for me to eat them except that they’re lower down the evolutionary chain, and convenient.  But no more of that for me, either. I cannot in good conscience let gluttony and convenience trump suffering.

So, what do I eat? Lots of chocolate.  Just kidding.  Not really.  Still on my plate: fish, eggs and dairy.  I am a work in progress.

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Discovery Part 2

The next piece in the continuing saga of figuring out How To Live My Life came in the reading of Mark Rashid’s latest book, A Journey To Softness.  I had pre-ordered it long before, and it arrived shortly after my fall in November.  Just in time.  It’s not about “tips and tricks” to ride better or how to get your horse to behave.  It’s about how – whether we want to or not – we bring everything that we are to our horse when we show up at the barn.  We may not know that, but the horse does.

Mark writes about how softness is a way of life, not something we turn on and off depending on what we’re doing.  How hard to you grip the steering wheel?  Is it necessary to grip it that hard, or can you hold it more softly?  He writes:

If a person were only trying to be soft with a horse but not when driving a car; setting down a glass; shoveling manure; sitting in a chair; talking with [others]… it seems to me that the art is not being practiced in an overall mindful way.  For those folks, softness is something they do but not who they are.

He tells the story of when, as a kid, he worked for an old horseman.  The Old Man (as Mark calls him) kept after him to quit pulling on a horse’s mouth.  But Mark didn’t know any other way to turn the horse.  As he was leaving for the day, the Old Man asked him to ride his bike in a circle, a few laps this way, a few laps the other way, larger and smaller circles.  Then he said, “The way you steer your bike, that’s how you ride a horse without pulling on ‘im.”  With softness you can hear what your horse is trying to tell you. You can steer him without annoying him.

It is my belief that becoming aware of how we participate in the world on a daily basis and how we perform our everyday, mundane, or not-so-mundane tasks adds to our ability, or inability, to develop the kind of awareness and sensitivity it takes to be really good at working with horses.  Developing the kind of awareness and “feel” it takes to realize when we are working against our horse doesn’t begin with working with our horse.  It begins by doing all of those everyday things with as much feel and awareness as we possibly can, and then bringing that awareness to our horse.

I wrote Mark a letter, which explains pretty well how this “journey to softness” is helping me.  Most of it is below:

You write, “Becoming aware of how we participate in the world on a daily basis and how we perform our everyday … tasks adds to our ability, or inability, to develop the kind of awareness and sensitivity it takes to be really good at working with horses.”  That hit me where I live.

The past 18 months have been difficult.  In July 2012 I twisted my foot on uneven pavement and broke a bone.  In both denial and an ortho boot, I didn’t take proper care of it and it didn’t heal.  Then surgery to wire the break, cast, and one of those knee walkers for 8 weeks and, of course, no riding.  Out of the cast and back in the ortho boot for another month.  Damaged my Achilles tendon.  Later, got the hardware out of my foot and was back in an ortho shoe.  Tripped in the ortho shoe and landed hard enough on the pavement to crack a rib.  Icing on the cake: a hard spill off of Angel that injured my back.

As you write, “Our body and our emotions operate as a unit, not as separate entities.” Even before the fall off of Angel, I’d been questioning why I keep hurting myself and what the universe might be trying to tell me.  But it was that fall that broke my heart.

I was back to riding regularly and felt that we were doing well.  Angel has never been an unusually spooky horse and takes most new things in stride.  But for some time he’d been getting more and more unsure of things that caught his eye.  That day we were in the arena, and there was the usual pile of stuff in the middle.  For some reason this bothered him.  He hesitated, and I asked him to go on by – not even very close, just by it.  The next thing I knew I was on the ground.  He’d spun 180 and I went flying like batter off of mixing blades, landing flat on the small of my back.  He didn’t run away though, and when I was finally able to get up and we looked at each other, he had the saddest look in his eyes.

When I was physically able, I got back in the saddle and felt a kind of fear that I haven’t experienced in a long, long time.  Every time Angel perked his ears at something I freaked inside.  Kept working at it and was getting better – but not 100% – when your book arrived.

I realize now that my own inner turmoil has disconnected me from Angel, and it started long before the spook, long before I broke my foot, and probably long before that.  There was no softness there, just panic, fear and frustration.  What has been the hardest to acknowledge is that when he spun away from the scary thing, in that exact moment, he didn’t trust me enough to follow me.

Reading your book was one big “Aha” moment.  The first time I rode after finishing your book, I concentrated on making my own insides as soft as I could be.  No fuss, no impatience, no fear.  I didn’t rush Angel along, tacked up quietly, mounted up quietly, and softly asked for a walk.  I was blown away by the difference.  He was calm, and during the entire ride he kept his ears tilted back to me.  I know I have a long way to go to achieve consistent softness, but at least now I know what I’m looking for.

 

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Discovery Part 1

I haven’t posted anything since January, so I’m way overdue.  But I’ve been doing a lot of reading, thinking, and applying things I’ve learned, so I haven’t been idle.  Here I’ll try to get my thoughts in order.

544925_586913921321593_1443331156_nBefore my fall off of Angel last November, I had spoken with my priest about the number of times I have been injured since I broke my foot in July, 2012.  Besides the initial stumble that broke a bone, I’ve had a stress fracture, tripped and fell again cracking a rib.  Why am I so clumsy?  Why can’t I take better care of myself?  Is there something going on beyond the normal vagaries of life?  I told her I wanted do to something about this – if something could be done – before I broke my neck!  Within a couple of weeks I sent her an email: “Remember when I said I wanted to talk about this before I broke my neck?”  And then went on to explain about my fall off of Angel.

My riding recovered.  It took a little while; I was nervous and afraid.  Every time Angel pointed his ears at something I tensed up.  Rod helped me through it and now I feel like my old self in the saddle again.  There are three other things that have really impacted how I think and feel, and I want to articulate them here.  The first one is a major change in my blood pressure medication.  What I was on was making me so lethargic I seemed to have no energy to catch myself or jump out of the way.  It crept up on me and I really didn’t notice right away. With a different Rx I feel like a new person.  That is a relief!

Of the other two, one is “equestrian” and one is “theology.”

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The Handshake Between Horse and Rider

“Forgive them, give them a pat, tell them thank you, show them you care. Find a place in your heart for them and they will find a place in theirs. Watch them, study them, understand them and they will do the same to you. Helping them enjoy, helps you enjoy. Showing them true self- carriage, will give you true self-carriage. Allowing them to find their place in life, will give you a place in their life. When their life ends, you think yours does too. Your love for them will be forever, as theirs is for you. Your companionship, your partnership, will last a lifetime, giving you memories to cherish. This is the true handshake, the handshake between horse and rider. Recognize this time, for both of you have been truly blessed.”
~Garn Walker

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Like Batter off Mixer Blades

On Sunday Angel spooked at something – I have no idea what – spun 180 degrees as only mixera Quarter horse can and I went flying off like batter off of mixer blades. Landed on my lower back/upper pelvis. Fortunately no broken bones, just bruised and sore as can be. Knocked the wind out of me and I was so frustrated. I haven’t come off in years, and after my foot surgery, getting the hardware out of my foot, tripping and falling on the way to the bus terminal in San Francisco and cracking a rib, this was just too much.

This is also the first time ever that I have come off of a horse and not gotten right back on. But physically I just couldn’t.

Then, the very next day, there’s a new post from my hero over at Mugwump Chronicles, writing about what it takes to have a reliable steed.  She recounts a trail ride with her friend:

At one point, Kathy and I did talk about the day, our horses and how far we’ve come.
“Did you ever think we’d be riding down the trail, on these horses, like a couple of old ladies?”
“We are old ladies.”
We grinned at each other.
“You know why they’re like this, don’t you?”
“I think so.”
“Because this is what you get when you don’t quit, when you keep learning, when you keep trying.”

Ok then.  Angel wasn’t being bad.  He didn’t buck me off.  He just did what horses do – run from a perceived danger.  He didn’t even run away; once I came off he stopped and just stood by until help came.  He really is quite a good boy.  He could have run out the open arena gate and to his stall to hide.  He didn’t.  When a horse spooks and doesn’t try to buck you off, that means he’s trying to save both of you from the horse-eating monster.

As soon as I’m able to get on again, we’ll be back at it, still learning, still trying.

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Autumn

Believe it or not, fall is here.  Days are still (mostly) warm, and nights are getting cooler.  We had a rain storm – unusual for September – last Saturday and quite a wind storm last night.  I like it!

Autumn also brings some changes for us.  I’ve moved Angel back to Applecreek Farms where he lived for a number of years before we moved to the “stable on the hill.”  It was a good choice to move out 18 months ago.  It gave me room to breathe, get confidence in my own ability to take care of and handle my horse, and to explore a little bit of trail.  But it is also good to be back home.  Angel is very happy – there’s much more interaction for him with other horses and people.  The flies don’t bother him there and he’s put on a few pounds – I don’t see his ribs any more.  (You’re supposed to be able to feel them but not see them.)  I can tell that he’s happy and comfortable in his roomy stall and paddock.  That’s all that matters.

I said to a friend that “It’s good to be riding again with the people I learned to ride with.”   We’re all on the same page.  It’s like how my sisters and I all work together well in the kitchen; we were all taught by the same mother.

I had Angel’s new halter blessed at the Celebration of the Feast of St. Francis at church on Sunday.  A good way to begin our new adventure!

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The Option to Move

I’m pasting a chunk from a post today from one of my favorite bloggers, Mugwump:

Let’s take the instinctive flight/fight response horses come with. They all have it. How we shape it determines the horse we end up with.
Ideally, we want to train our horses to carry us along, go where we point them, stop when we say stop and not kick, smash, buck, bite, throw us into trees, in other words, let us live.
By it’s nature a horse will run first, fight second when it feels threatened.
Fight comes first when flight won’t fix it. Defending young, territory, mares etc.
My personal thoughts while training a horse are that a flight response doesn’t hurt me or the horse, but a fight sure can. So I’d rather not fight.
This is why I always offer an escape to a horse. Even one that’s securely tied to an iron rail with a rope halter has the option to move it’s hip away from me and get a release of pressure.
Having an escape available for a horse is so automatic for me I don’t have to think about it anymore, but it took a lot of years. I rarely get in fights with my horses.
(http://mugwumpchronicles.blogspot.com/2013/05/finding-what-theyre-meant-to-do-ii.html)

I’ve been doing some of the same with Angel, and a couple of incidents have shown me that it’s working.

Some metal junk left near the path.  Oooh, he didn’t like it!  I led him up to it and let him dance around while I dragged the junk to a safer spot.  I just kept doing my task and let him dance at the end of the lead rope.  He didn’t try to run away.

Another day, grazing near the metal junk. He grazed right up to it and touched it with his nose. It moved and he jumped back faster than a rabbit.  But not over me, and not beyond the end of the rope.

Another day, grazing.  Windy day.  He spooked at something (metal junk not in evidence) and made a complete circle around me.  Didn’t mow me over, didn’t go beyond the end of the rope.  I didn’t move, just let him move around me.  He circled around and went right back to grazing.

I was calm, and just let my horse move as God intended.  Problem – if it even was a “problem” – over and done in a moment with very little fuss.  “Perfect love and perfect trust.”

I learned a while ago that if the basic nature of horses scares me, I should find something else to do with my time.

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