As I’m reaching the final chapters on the first-edit of The Compassionate Equestrian, I’ve been thinking a bit more about Chapter 25 – Birth to Completion Life-Cycle Tracking. This is a new term and a new idea for the equine industry at large. It is also the key reason why I began writing about compassion and horses.
When I was in film school several years ago I was doing research for my student documentary about rehabilitating off-track thoroughbreds. I went to the nearby riding club, a long-established community of primarily hunter/jumper and dressage barns, to look for a good story. I was in luck.
I discovered a trainer who had just purchased a 3-year old tall, handsome, grey gelding from a stable at Vancouver’s race track, Hastings Park. He had a slight injury on one tendon, probably sustained in his final race, which he had won. The short video I produced was only a superficial hint at the legitimately dark side of thoroughbred racing. I wanted to slant the story to the happier endings of fortunate ex-race horses who find their way to a caring home and a chance at a second career.
http://vimeo.com/14392790 (link to my student film: Racing Machine – A Thoroughbred Story)
When the film instructor saw my rough cut, he immediately focused on the more contentious tidbits and told me I had to bring more “conflict” to the short documentary. “That’s what makes a good doc” he said. Me, being the non-confrontational, non-argumentative type, cringed at the idea but proceeded with further research anyway.
All I can say is that what I found out about the “deep, dark” side of the horse industry shocked me. Even as a professional trainer all these years, I had no idea how many horses were ending up in slaughterhouses every year, and why. I had no idea how horribly horses were treated once they left the auction houses or race track. I made myself look at the reports and videos on the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition website. Most horse-people will not want to see this side of our industry, but I believe they need to. My eyes were definitely opened. Not only that, but my heart went out to all of the world’s homeless horses to the point that I felt overwhelmed and somewhat helpless at not being able to help them all, relieving them of a potentially terrifying completion to their lives. Over 100,000 a year in fact. Really??!! Where are all these horses coming from?
I’d also found a very knowledgeable researcher who gave me a plentitude of information to mull over and include in the bigger film I was determined to produce. The more I spoke to her, and the more I learned about homeless equines and their fate, the more I realized I would need a massive legal team to protect both myself and sources from the underworld of cabals that make their living on the acquisition and sales of unwanted horses.
So I shelved the film and looked for other ways I could help educate and enlighten the horse industry. Then Dr. Schoen and I met in 2012 and through our dialogues, began writing the 25 Principles of Compassionate Equitation, followed by the book, which will be released in the spring of 2015.
While working on the outline for the documentary I befriended a couple of extraordinary advocates for equine welfare. They have both been on the “front-lines” of the worst of the worst kind of treatment you can image horses having to endure. Most of us who love horses couldn’t possibly deal with what they have seen. They are my heroes.
Brogan Horton is in her twenties and runs Animal Rescue Unit at her home in Maine. Brogan is the kind of person who will put on a suit and lobby Congress on behalf of the wild burros and mules, or hook up her horse trailer and spend her last few dollars to go pick up a horse in need of rescue. Animal Rescue Unit is an organization dedicated to revealing the truth about animal suffering, specializing in investigation, rehabilitation, education and legislation for animal welfare. The following link is one of many heart-warming stories from ARU, and one with a very happy ending. Further links to ARU information are included in the article, and Brogan can be found on Facebook for anyone interested in following her activities and if possible, helping with donations for the rescued animals.
The other hero is Brogan’s former partner in another very intense animal welfare investigation organization, Richard Couto of Animal Rescue Mission. Both Brogan and Richard are well trained and have been on some of the more dangerous missions regarding equine welfare. Most of us in the horse world have no idea what goes on behind the fences and walls around illegal slaughter farms in Miami. Nor would most of us want to know. It’s cruelty to animals beyond our comprehension.
Richard became the exceptional cruelty investigator he is today after rescuing a thoroughbred ex-racehorse from one of the illegal farms. The horse, Freedom’s Flight, is a descendant of Secretariat. Richard found him tied to a tree at the farm, next in line for a terrible demise.
Here’s a link to Richard’s bio:
So in The Compassionate Equestrian, Dr. Schoen and I are doing our best to use language that inspires, unifies, and opens the hearts of equestrians. We are coming from many years of experience in our collective fields and understand how easily one person’s opinion can immediately send another person into a defensive mode. Or how upsetting some of these more difficult issues can be. We also understand that people don’t want to discuss death, so we refer to the “completion” of life. It’s why Principle 25, which recognizes “the importance of applying the Cradle-to-Cradle model of life-cycle assessment and tracking to the equestrian industry” – has been left to the end of the book. Chapter 25 is also still largely unwritten as we structure the program and gather further information as to just how it could be applied to help the “global herd” of horses in need.
There isn’t an easy way to convey this information to a generally loving, compassionate community of horse-people who are active on a day-to-day basis with these beloved animals. It’s our belief that every human has the opportunity to be compassionate towards all beings, and that compassion just needs to be awakened. In the hardest times, in the most difficult circumstances, and in facing the darkest side of humanity…that’s when extending compassion may become extremely challenging.
It’s the purpose of The Compassionate Equestrian and The 25 Principles of Compassionate Equitation to assist in the compassionate awakening of horse-people everywhere. We hope that through their own personal practices, they will be able to see the need for compassion to be extended to all horses, and everyone who’s involved with them. With such mindfulness, we can come together as a world-wide community and find a way to become heroes for horses ourselves.