Thursday, 13 November 2008

42 Ponies

The answer to Life, the Universe and Equestrian

Chuck appeared on the Feel4TheHorse Forum with the dramatic claim that only he had actually gone back to first principles when looking at horse training, and I scoffed. Then I started wondering, has he actually got a point? Do we assume so much about horses before we start, that we have no way of getting the right answers?

Being me, there was no way I was going to go and read Chuck's stuff. Partly out of an arrogant belief that I am right, but also from a belief that two different approaches may be beneficial, which means that 100 approaches would be even better, and a million......better still. So stop reading, get all your lunatic conspiracy theories, weirdo beer driven revelations and sudden attacks of insight caused by the ground leaping up and attacking you, shuffle them up and create your own grand unified theory.

This is written in 2008, and is the product of 4 years exposure to the natural horse philosophy, a lifetime as part (by birth, not ability) of the equestrian establishment and eight years of fighting the same British Equestrian establishment who refuse to look at my Saddlechariot.


So if you are facing the threat of revolution, the easy solution is to go round being nice to people. Kicking them only encourages revolution. I have been treated with contempt by the British Equestrian Establishment which is why I have started to look really seriously at horsemanship from the bottom up, and start asking exactly "why do we do, what we do?"

"Because that's the way Great grand Papa did it", is a pretty good answer, so "carry on chaps!" If that satisfies you, I would stop reading at this stage. For the rest of you, lets start kicking holes in assumptions rather than carrying on kicking horses.

It is 2008, beating children is pretty much out of fashion. My school (Eton) noticeboards were a bamboo lattice under which you could stick carefully folded notes. The bamboo lattice was created from canes to remind you that if you ignored the note you would be beaten. Beating had been pretty much given up when I got there, but the message was still clear, that beating was communication.

Modern parenting includes talking to children, listening to them, and very occasionally listening to them as if they actually might say something worth listening to. Yet comparatively modern parents go out to their horses, tie their mouth shut round a lump of metal with control lines attached, strap metal spikes to their boots so they don't have to kick as hard and carry a whip for any portions of the horse's anatomy the metalwork can't reach. The full version of this rant is on my Saddlechariot site but, although it is true, and relevant, according to Chuck, I'm starting in the middle.

Chuck suggests that you need to start with the horse in the womb, or more importantly with the mother before she even conceives. He is right, but this only works as a future policy, it provides no solutions to today's horse owners. We would all love to be able to buy horses from breeders who had trained the parents with kindness, and built an understanding relationship based on trustv with the foal. But as owners, we had better be saints, as no such breeder would sell to most modern horse owners.

Unless we start working with today's imperfect horses, and equally imperfect owners, we will never progress to a better world for horses. But what improvements do we need? Chuck is dead right, we must go back to first principles, and look at the basic assumptions we make.


We cannot separate horse training from horse keeping so we have to look at what we expect of the animals in our control. Equally we have to accept that this is 2008. Every time people want to return to a better, Golden Age, I ask, what date and what class. I am all for preserving the beauties of our countryside in their natural state, which is why I am campaigning to fill in the English Channel and return it to its natural marshy state. Covering Scotland with Glaciers wouldn't be a bad idea either.

Any date is an arbitrary choice, but the choice of class is simple, the higher the better, assuming you wanted something remotely resembling comfort. Though as a horse, you would probably be better off belonging to an artisan making a reasonable living, than an Upper Class household who strapped their horses into unnatural positions to emphasise their importance.

For horse keeping , the ideal has got to be as a natural wild herd, but since this will involve removing the human population of the British Isles to return them to their state of nature with wild horses, I don't see it happening. One of the Rothschilds apparently wrote a gardening book with the lovely advice that "every garden needs a few acres of wild woodland". Dead right, but it does rather limit the readership to those who habitually dine on Russian yachts.

We can impose minimum acreages, and simply exclude the poor, but will this improve horse husbandry. A typical British field is poisonous to a typical native pony. Too rich, too limited in plant variety and consequently, without careful management, fatal. We can't just turn them loose, because we have changed the very soil they will walk on.

We must manage our horses because we have changed the land and we have changed them. The "natural" option isn't open any more, (a few remote bits of the UK can support feral populations of native ponies, but they are culled as necessary) we must look at how we are going to manage our animals.

Before we look at managing, look at how we look at our horses. The Equestrian Establishment is unbelievably judgemental and at the top of the tree are the Judges. They judge on colour, size and conformation. They judge every movement, the angle of the head to the ground and at any sign of deviation, they exclude.

Lameness, wrong colour, wrong size, wrong shape, wrong parents or worst of all, not knowing who their parents are, exclude. And those that are left are judged and graded on minutiae. You try doing that to my Henry and I will tell you where you can stick your rule book, and I will kick it firmly into place.

If you tried applying these rules to people, you would be in court, and would deserve it for racist behaviour and for disability discrimination. If it is so wrong to do it to people, why is it right to do it to horses? We have reached a stage of civilistation where the statement that "my children are beautiful, clever or whatever", is accepted, mostly because you want to tell me about the manifold virtues of your beautiful intelligent children.

Henry is perfect, why should I respect someone whose life is spent discovering faults in other people's animals? He isn't totally sound. Lots of people aren't. Try telling the next disabled person you meet what is wrong with their action.

Next time you meet a horse judge, trot them up. Have a damn good look at their teeth and feet, check if they stand straight, you wouldn't want your animal judged by someone who was over at the knee, or herring gutted. Check their pedigree, after all breeding is everything. They might have a grandfather who wasn't a horseman, they might not even know who their grandfather was, and that can't be allowed. Make absolutely sure they aren't the wrong colour. All the breed society books emphasise how absolutely vital this is. If the judge is male, and not top class, geld him immediately. It might be worth breeding from the females, if you can find a stud judge to correct the faults in their children, because a well bred male can over ride the genetic faults of a common female.

Look at the pony, or horse in front of you and see its virtues. I have dealt with hundreds, and while I like some more than others, they all have virtues, and all have a future, if they are allowed. I can always tell the real "horsey" types, they come and tell me Henry is a lame. And yes, sometimes he is, and always has been. This series of videos was shot at a show where the chair of the local Driving Club has, ever since, broadcast the fact my pony was lame. Is that really the only thing about that pony that is relevant? Endless vets have looked at him and he has a disability. Hiding him away won't make it better. They locked the disabled away for years and it didn't cure them. Now people are accepted as people, isn't it time ponies were accepted as ponies.

"Is Henry a Shetland/Dartmoor?" Wherever you go, the same question, and what difference will my answer make. Will they like him more or less because he is a Shetland? Will I like the person who asks the question more or less? Even in Balsall Heath, near the middle of Birmingham I get the same question, but if I went round asking "Are you Somali, are you Bengali, are you Irish?" I would be in dead trouble. The children are easier, they just want to know if they can stroke him, or cuddle him, or take him home. Luckily they can't understand him, because he would say yes.

Take a pony into a City Centre and you realise the extent to which ponies and horses cross every boundrary. Young and old, of every colour (actually there are very few skewbald and piebald people), race, creed or breed, people like ponies. There is one thing you can't do, explain the concept of the unwanted pony. Kids are screaming with joy and too many of them had never SEEN a pony when they met Henry. The idea that people could have a pony and not want it, is totally incredible.

To work with our horses and ponies we are going to have to go right back to the beginning and learn how we look at our animals, and think how we should look at them. But we will also have to learn how we look at people looking at animals. Is incredibly detailed critcism really the defining feature of horsemanship? Can we judge people to be "horsey" on ludicrous stereotypes. Should we start from some simple, fair and reasonable principles?

People are Homo sapiens. People have different skin colours, hair types, sizes and shapes. They are still people. They may have what we call defects, disabilities and they are still people.

Horses are Equus caballus. Before you start categorising into breeds, ask why you are doing it and what good it is going to do.

I am not denying the differences. I am taller (6'3") than lots of people. I think I am cleverer (which means I define myself in the "clever" category and you put me in the "deluded" category, thus proving the subjective nature of the categories) than most people. But I am me. And you are you. We are individuals. We may share a blood group, or an ability, or skin colour and yet see each other as the complete opposite.

This is the lesson I have learned, that we should look at the horse in front of us as just that. A horse we haven't met before. It's abilities and potential aren't written on its skin any more than its character.

A coach and a footballer meet and they know their relationship depends on their ability to communicate, to understand each other and to make allowances, to work together on their strengths and to work round or correct their weaknesses. If the coach makes his initial assessment on the footballers colour, nationality and ancestry, or vice versa, they are going nowhere fast. Give the horse a chance to show you what it is and what it can be, don't just read a label.

And the same goes with people. I keep hearing about people with a "horsey" background. Here is a section from the Telegraph obituary of Wing commander "Grumpy" Unwin,

The son of a Yorkshire miner, George Cecil Unwin was born on January 18 1913 at Bolton-on-Dearne. He was educated at the local grammar school, where he was a fine footballer (he later turned out for the RAF). Determined not to join his father in the mines, he answered an advertisement offering apprenticeships in the RAF; he joined as a boy clerk when he was 16 and trained at the air force's apprentice school at Ruislip.

After serving at Uxbridge for four years Unwin was selected for pilot training in 1935 and the following year he joined No 19, flying the bi-plane Gauntlet fighter. He served with the squadron for four years, and was one of the very few to fly in action throughout the Battle of Britain and survive unscathed. In December 1940 he was rested.

Initially, Unwin would not apply for a commission, since a senior flight sergeant earned a few more shillings than a junior officer. Once the rules were changed he relented, and was interviewed a number of times; but his background and passion for football did not impress the selection boards. A colleague tipped him off that an interest in horses would make a good impression. For his next interview he decided to tell the panel of his knowledge and love of horses. The board accordingly recommended him for a commission - he had omitted to tell them that his experience was limited to the occasional meeting with the pit ponies at his father's coal mine. He was made a pilot officer in July 1941.

Here is one of only sixty men to win the DFM and Bar, who also won the DSO and he has to pretend to "horsey" to be considered suitable to be an officer. If that sort of snobbery defines "horsey" in this country I have no desire to be part of it in any way shape or form.

Horsemanship is global, breaking every cultural, social, religious boundrary. The concept of a "horsey" backgound is morally repugnant unless we admit that we all have a horsey background, just some of us have a hunting "horsey" background and some a pit pony "horsey" background. Who is likely to have more direct experience of actual day to day working with a horse?

Ponies and people, that is all that is left, and all that matters. That is where we must start to learn how to live together.

Training.

From Kikulli in 1400BC to today the shelves groan with advice on training horses, but the vast majority have been written for the military officer and gentleman's leisure market. Xenophon, writing in 350BC, was a cavalry officer and gentleman, friend of Socrates and Plato, and his writings reflect his background. Kikulli wrote a rather pedantic training manual obsessed with routine and standardisation, the hallmark of military equestrian texts.

There has always been a second type of horsemanship, hardly featuring on the book shelves, yet historically used on well over 90% of the world's horses. Working class, utility, horsemanship. The 1911 Encyclopaedia Brittannica neatly defines the differences as applied to driving.

Driving
(from "to drive" i.e. generally to propel, force along or in, a word common in various forms to the Teutonic languages), a word used in a restricted sense for the art of controlling and directing draught animals from a coach or other conveyance or moveable machine to which they are harnessed for the purposes of traction. This has been an occupation practised since domesticated animals were first put to this use. In various parts of the world a number of different animals have been, and still are, so employed; of these the horse, ox, mule and ass are the most common, though their place is taken by the reindeer in northern latitudes, and by the Eskimo dog in Arctic and Antarctic regions. The driving of each of these requires special skill, only to be acquired by practice combined with knowledge of the characteristics peculiar to the several animals employed. The most accomplished driver of spirited horses would probably be in difficulties if called upon to drive sixteen or twenty dogs in an arctic sledge, or a team of oxen or mules drawing the guns of a mountain battery; and the adept in either of these branches of the art might provoke the compassion of a farmer from Lincolnshire or Texas by his attempts to manage a pair of Clydesdale horses in the plough or the reaping machine.
Under all these different conditions driving is a work of utility, of economic value to civilised society. But from very early times driving, especially of horses, has also been regarded as a sport or pastime. This probably arose in the first instance from its association with battle.

The article continues with the start of "Carriage driving". "by the beginning of the 19th Century the improvement in carriage building and road construction alike had greatly diminished the discomfort of travel; and interest in driving for its own sake grew so rapidly that in 1807 the first association of amateur coachmen was formed. This was the Bensington Driving Club, the forerunner of many aristocratic clubs for gentlemen interested in driving as a pastime."

So whil

This is a work in progress, I lost half of it last night to a powercut, and anything above this text is intended to be part of the finished item, stuff below is dumped there as I am writing, and occasionally mined to see if I have chucked out any good stuff.
Comments are welcome.

always have been three very distinct uses for horses. Military, (officers for the use of), Military (other ranks and baggage) and Working Co


I am going to stick with the analogy of children, and their education, because it is easy, and emotive, and makes shocking reading.

The title is a tribute to Douglas Adams, of Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy fame, and is an attempt to find the answer to Life the Universe and Everything, as applied to ponies. In my book horses are just big ponies, and I tend to lump in donkeys, mules, onagers, zebras and other equids in the same term. Also I want to get away fr

2 comments:

Horse said...

I am hopefully 'assuming' we can continue our discussion and exchange of beliefs and knowledge without personal innuendo, harassment and downright character assassination, (as was not the case on the feel4horse forum).

If I have assumed incorrectly, (or that your invitation was not meant for me) please accept my most sincere apologies.

[QUOTE] Chuck appeared on the Feel4TheHorse Forum with the dramatic claim that only he had actually gone back to first principles when looking at horse training, and I scoffed. [/QUOTE]

Nothing wrong with skepticism, (being a part of critical thinking. But therein lies the difference between us at this stage of our lives.

I gave up studying 'horse training' 20-25 years ago as it seemed a rather futile waste of precious time.

What I wanted to know was WHY, (after thousands of years of domestication and 'practice') was a disproportionate amount of behavioral issues and 'bad horses problems' continuing to fill our Internet forums and lists and equine magazines?

To my dismay, I found the answer....

And with that answer, I delved not into behavior modification, but perception modification.

kind regards,





Chuck & Kids
Lady, Able, Sundance, Boss, Rebel & Combustion
( And N i k k i )

Horse said...

I am hopefully 'assuming' we can continue our discussion and exchange of beliefs and knowledge without personal innuendo, harassment and downright character assassination, (as was not the case on the feel4horse forum).

If I have assumed incorrectly, (or that your invitation was not meant for me) please accept my most sincere apologies.

[QUOTE] Chuck appeared on the Feel4TheHorse Forum with the dramatic claim that only he had actually gone back to first principles when looking at horse training, and I scoffed. [/QUOTE]

Nothing wrong with skepticism, (being a part of critical thinking. But therein lies the difference between us at this stage of our lives.

I gave up studying 'horse training' 20-25 years ago as it seemed a rather futile waste of precious time.

What I wanted to know was WHY, (after thousands of years of domestication and 'practice') was a disproportionate amount of behavioral issues and 'bad horses problems' continuing to fill our Internet forums and lists and equine magazines?

To my dismay, I found the answer....

And with that answer, I delved not into behavior modification, but perception modification.

kind regards,





Chuck & Kids
Lady, Able, Sundance, Boss, Rebel & Combustion
( And N i k k i )