Sunday, June 21, 2015

Slow Horse Movement - Proud to Disappoint You

I am a former speed junkie. Horseback riding speed, as in fast, heart pounding speed over daring fences.  I understand riders who want to experience that too, both experienced riders and absolute beginners. I am proud, at Kensington Stables, to disappoint every rider who wants to pay their good money to get that speed thrill that day as they walk up for their trail ride, their one trail ride they may have all year, or in the last five years, and hope they can get that TV vacation resort advertisement "Gallop on the Beach."

 I am a saddlefitter, I study the effects of rider's weights on the backs of horses, if you can't stay centered and still and deeply balanced in the saddle at any speed, even the walk, you are hurting the horse. Walking isn't too bad for them. Those riders expecting to blast across some beach, or trot relentlessly on any trail, bouncing your body and pounding your spine into some poor horse's back....don't come to Kensington Stables. We care about our horses.  We want them to remain motivated to work with and for those riders taking lessons who do want to develop trust, who understand you earn the right to speed. We feel responsible for the patrons of the Park not to have your inability to control the animal ruin some kid's future. Sometimes we have to be cranky to get that point across, as there is no time, zero time, to nicely explain all this to consumers who pay good money and expect their TV idea of riding to be laid in sparkling consumer researched and developed package at their feet. I think the fact that we provide and allow direct control of the animal at all, to any and all comers, is a generous and miraculous function of human to human trust, Please earn your patronage.

Where this desire for speed comes from within each rider must vary. Or it's just standard roller coaster thrill. And that's maybe the heart of the issue, the roller coaster being a pre-engineered mechanism, designed to keep us safe, while feeling vulnerable. We trust that speed machine. People get the idea that a horse should be pre-trained ( available at an hourly affordable price of $37) to perfectly deliver a breeze blowing thrill. As though the horse is a machine to be used. I can always recognize the true experienced rider who takes a trail ride with us...they never, EVER, expect to go any faster than a walk the first time, you just do that out of respect for other people's horses. Everyone else who says they have experience and proceeds to expect the gamut of privileges, from speed to being allowed to take the horse out by themselves, just displays all their ignorance, in marquis lighted glory.

This separation between the purchasing rider and the horse, maybe is the source of how Animal Activists come to believe that riders, and all horsemen, are abusers,  Those who ride without personally performing the long years of work to build trust, and believe their money grants them the  right to experience some version of speed, whether a one hour trail ride in Prospect Park, or some longer term arrangement where another individual and or/staff is responsible to deliver an animal for entertainment or sport value, no matter how much that rider practices their athletics of riding skill, is assuming that animal is safe for their roller coasting entertainment. Trust in staff and other humans to cover for possibility of things going badly under the transfer out of the hands of trainer into consuming rider's sole control allows these riders to be disappointed when that staff says "maybe not today, will you be going as fast as you would like." I wonder if the more wealthy riders threaten their staff if disappointment looms. I wouldn't know. But it might be how some truly lousy riders make it to the most prestigious show rings.

Taking a NYC Carriage ride is one of the safer horse activities, as the design itself, the driver being in charge while the patron sits, was "thought up" long ago in the age of horse culture, to compensate for those who needed the service of a horse, but did not personally have the time to develop trust.

Those riders who believe in their skill as riders, and take other persons property out for a mad dash gallop, because they trust their skill as a rider to "handle anything", and do so without specific request by owners of such horses to do exactly that, a mad dash chaotic gallop, are, in my mind selfish m------ ( rhymes with mashed potatoes). The equivalent of borrowing someone's car and doing donuts in a parking lot. Meantime the car owner next day mysteriously gets a flat tire, but thass not the borrower's problemo. At least not right away, keep doing that, keep thinking you can do that, keep escalating  unearned privilege, keep on.....I'm not going to say what can happen. Cause and effect are rarely connected by the ignorant and willful and controlling types. Horses are a good way to scare the bejeezus out of this habit of expected privilege, but that's another blog post.

When I look back now and examine how I went from being picked last in gym, to that day, that one single day I can remember when I passed through the "speed looking glass" and entered the world of athletes, it happened because I trusted my horse to protect me when I galloped through a wooded twisting rocky trail, and make it out the other end unscathed. This trust developed over the course of years, the two of us getting to know each other. My horse's ability to protect me came from years of physical conditioning that allowed her to negotiate all those turns, rocks, and leg busting footing over tree roots. She had learned how to handle that ground, learned what to look for, and was a pile of muscle and fitness ready to process it. I had learned how to stay with her motion and remain centered and balanced.

I was young, and took for granted all the small moments that created that trust. Or maybe, it's not that I took for granted those small moments, I just did not make the connection how that speed that day had anything to do with those small moments that created trust. I had been convinced that speed and daring feats of thrill, proof of my great horsemanship, were a result of me conquering fear. None of the rest of the fuzzy warm stuff, the small moments, counted. Not only did they not count, but you had to keep a lid on it. You couldn't let anyone know you were doing that because it was perhaps "baby-ish." You had to live up to the competition of who can be the least afraid. And to prove that, you had to boast and be non-chalant about all the near neck-breaking versions of stupid you did to regularly toughen your chicken shit heart.

Most people who I teach are afraid of speed, have the opposite desire, and want things slow and safe. I love teaching these people because I can open up to them to how, now that I look back on how I got there, how to bring yourself into speed and movement and potential things going badly, and how to come out unscathed, or at least not badly scathed. You do have to be able to break a fingernail, cut yourself, get klonked and bonked and suffer some straining. You will fall off. But falling off is a way different thing than getting thrown off. Falling off is about losing your balance. Being tossed is quite often about believing in your skill and assuming you can skip trust.

Small moments also do not mean, sneaking into the horse's stall and whispering love sounds, although that stuff you can do plenty of and it is effective. What I mean by small moments, are the invisible touches, invisible cues with the rein, the leg, the leadline, the pressures of touch and guidance, and the lack of any cues at all, when the horse has done the right thing. I had a great trainers who taught me horsemanship is not overt control all the time. They taught me a style of touch that works, and gently corrected the too strong signals which shut off lines of communication. They also taught me the backing off the cues is the second part of the deal.  I call this "The Window of Peace."  It's my shortcut term, don't look for it in any book.  And it is best delivered with a leading sound, to signify when the "Window of Peace" is occurring. That sound is your voice softly, and not "trumpet loudly", saying "Good Boy" or "Good Girl" in combination with your body relaxing, and ceasing to give direction for one second or if you can, for five seconds,

Wouldn't you want to work for a Boss like that? Wouldn't you want to have trust in someone like that? Wouldn't you actually consider trust in someone who did not need to be helicopter boss? Wouldn't you perform better for a non-helicopter boss?

Those who answer " Who gives a shit, every boss is bad, and I will make it my mission to get over on every boss I ever work for, now and forever" remind me of some horses who have lost faith in humans. And there are horses like this you can never fully trust, even though you may be able to work with them. And there are horses you must handle differently. Just like not all humans are good people, only most humans are good people.

 But not a one of those horses, a horse having lost faith in humans, is a NYC Carriage Horse. Bright examples of the most faith-in-humans soaked souls I have ever witnessed. We should not reciprocate by "doing them a favor" and relegating them to some pasture to do nothing and eat and beat up on each other for entertainment, oh, I mean horseplay. I wouldn't enjoy being put in a room full of other people with no private bedroom of my own, to watch TV and have sandwiches in constant supply as a measure of compassion for me who cannot speak for myself, so that somebody else may un-employ me and box me into a welfare room that somehow resembles asylum, When instead I could be interpreting the small cues and puzzle out the direction of those who attempt to create trust and offer me work, shelter and daily small digestible variety and purpose of work. I'm not an idiot requiring free food and TV forever and neither are our Urban Horses. If you are going to anthropomorphize, have some background in horsemanship, not just accept this separation myth of human vs. horse-useage as speed thrill machine, Or as work slave machine. That sleepy look on any horse's face, is the same wonderful sleepy look we have when we are fully immersed in work we know and respect, and are calm because we can handle the workload without stress. Wild eyed, chattering and "spirited" workers,with manes they toss about for attention, so beautiful they need martinis make the conclusion.

I have had a few speed junkie riders, who I have managed to keep occupied with the complex and deeply layered task of trust development. So much so, have they been occupied, that when they are allowed to plumb the depths of trust development, not that they would admit it right away, but after a while, the speed junkie students have confessed to me not in so many words, but in attitude, that they were only speed junkies because that's what they thought was expected. Imagine how many Animal Activists are fueled to abolish horse ownership across the board because they think speed junkie-ism is what all riders seek.

Urban Artists and Riders seeks to dismantle this mis-perception that riders and horses are separated and antagonistic entities, one controls while the other obeys,

Urban Artists and Riders seeks even more to share the reward of trust, coming from your shared urban horse, to you.  This reward will break all but the most recalcitrant pathologic speed junkie. Because it was not the speed thrill I got that one day, my kneecaps missing the tree trunks by millimeters. The best part was the fact that my horse knew where my kneecaps were in the first place.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Urban Artists and Riders Group Officially Begins

It has been five years since I have been able to write about the Carriage Wars. My anger always burst to the surface about people who want to ban the Horse Carriages in NYC. Every time I want to say something about this topic, I feel the need to explain quite a bit about how and why it is perfectly OK to have carriage horses in New York City. The art of horsemanship is complicated and the subject runs way too deep to distill it in simple talking points. Animal Activists, who know nothing of the true depth of horsemanship, use simple talking points, repeatable and designed to trigger the heart and stomach together. I call it, we, the horse community calls it "slaughter porn." Most horseman hear these talking points and eyes glaze at the simplicity and irrelevance to the actual carriage horse's lives. I say "most" because some riders who think they are horsemen, simply purchase an entertainment product of riding while their trainers reap the paycheck of producing the illusion that the horse they ride is a perfectly happy animal, and they are doing no wrong, and the animal is in the greatest of hands. These horse riders can still be found wanting to ban carriages, because they think they are doing everything right in their pretty barn with their pretty horse.

 And chants of "how many horses have to die?" and "nose to tailpipe" and flagrant mis-use of the words "shame", "inhumane" and the most inaccurate of all "abuse" and "cruel", just continue to pour out the mouths of those who want to protect horses. But they don't know how and why it is so vital to keep horses in New York City, and how and why it is not only OK, it's actually more than OK for the health and happiness of those horses who live and work in New York. The Carriage horses are happy, well cared for, and love their work. I know. Animal Activists, who I speak to, out on the protest spots where we both have gathered, ask me in total disbelief, how I can and if I can ACTUALLY TELL if a horse is happy. They just can't believe that I have that ability, as though it's a superhuman talent. They ask me again, " are you saying that you can actually tell if a horse is happy?" I reply again, a simple "yes."

And I want to go on and say, "You can tell too, it's not that hard." But they would have to take some lessons and learn from a horseman to begin that process. And I don't want them at our stables because they are the Un-Persuadables, and everything they see, without even learning about it, will just be their Un-Persuadable evidence that horsepeople are cruel and self serving. And next thing you know, they and fifty of their friends will be making a huge mistake, trying to protect horses by protesting our stables, developers funding them because the stables would make a great spot for another condo. Because I let an Un-Persuadable see something like,.... oh let's just start with the big fat horrors of how horses lay in their own excrement, eat dirt, get shoes nailed to their feet, have torture instruments put in their mouths, get "whipped", get "forced" to do "way too much work", have to live in small stalls, have no freedom to choose their lifestyle.

I am not going to try to argue against any of this anymore. What I have to say takes longer than the juicy two word "horrors." All these so-called terrible things horses are forced to do and withstand have very good reasons to occur that are compassionate, humane, and make horses happy. And it's a long story to explain why this is true. And how to handle all these conditions properly, individually for each horse. Horses are all different, just like us, if you need to anthropomorphize, do it right. Don't just imagine yourself laying in a stall, or pulling a carriage, or carrying a rider, and decide this is not right for a horse. Horses LOVE their stalls, for one thing, no matter what size. Just like we love houses. Or should we all just be homeless and permanently roaming for food, not even a deer hunting stand to shelter in...oh no, that would be too much like a stall. Oh but "Let the horses run free" is what you hear constantly. Nice abstract idea that sounds alot like not wanting "the man" to keep you down. Gee got issues of resentment about being dominated and controlled? Me too. But I don't want to punish good horseman for having and caring for a horse, just because it sorta somewhat feels in an abstract way like being forced to have a day job. I don't have outdoor space in my apartment, and could I use turn-out? Wait till you see the size of my butt, yes. Doesn't mean I am unhappy in my apartment and my sedentary day job. It's right for me. It would not be right for another human who would not like that at all, so that human won't be living in NYC. Surprising how many humans who need to "run free" end up in NYC and learn to love it. Why? Because they were lucky to be employed by great employers. Great horsemen are the same as great employers.

So I have launched a program called "Urban Artists and Riders" specifically to teach my version of Urban Horsemanship. I teach riding and horsemanship together. Not just riding alone. I don't mean to imply that other instructors at Kensington Stables don't teach both together as well, They do. What I want to teach is a version of riding and horsemanship that is particular to the horse in an urban setting. Particular to people who live and work in an urban setting, And not apologize for any lack of jumping, dressage arena, cross-country course, goal of competition in general, let alone heated wash stands and perfectly functioning stall doors, fancy saddles and don't even get me started on fancy outfits for the humans.  Just getting a perfect trot transition, and executing a perfect circle, let alone deconstructing your crappy way of sitting the horse, is so hard to do, that thinking you are not "doing much" by working on those things, just tells me you need stimulation. So go ahead and practice your ability to spend the money elsewhere to be stimulated. Meantime my group will never get bored practicing how to do the simplest things better. It's the process, not the show that counts. Artists will know what I mean, mature artists that is.

I hope to write about horses and people together, slowly one small topic at a time as it comes up in the process of teaching. I hope to tie in how the carriage horse's work also can be understood if you want to view horsemanship from this blog. I want to begin to tell the story of how horses can be happy in their work, living in the city. Through teaching my version of riding in an urban environment, I hope to shed light and love about great horsemanship, not anger and defense against those who can't take the time to learn the whole story, and instead  choose to feel better about horses by offing themselves on slaughter porn, and afternoon cocktailing on a protest line so they can check off their "helping-the-beautiful-horse-who-can't-speak-for-itself" box.

To quote one of the greatest horsemen I have ever known and have the privilege to work with and for, Walker Blankinship, Owner of Kensington Stables "Anyone who thinks a horse can't speak for themselves is a moron."

It's a blunt quote. It's not all that witty. But it does express to me the exhaustion he and I feel about trying to communicate why urban horses are in their right place. That there is no need to "rescue" them. And how so lucky we all are to have them still with us in this city. And how so lucky we are that Walker believes in keeping prices as affordable as he can, so that even ARTISTS can afford to ride.

Why the "Artist" inclusion in the group? It's a boring story of circumstance, where I had artists coming to the stables to draw the horses once a month. During this time I stopped teaching riding. And then a friend manipulated me back into teaching. And then the artists decided they wanted to ride as well.

The group meets every Saturday night at Kensington Stables after 7pm. This is a rule of thumb for simplicity, this meeting time. I am always there at this time, I may be teaching, I may be working on repairing saddles, or taking care of horses....but I do half expect guests and artists to show up. I want to know who might show up, I don't want Animal Activists on a "Gotcha Mission".  Most times it's just us riders. All two or three of us....geeks for detail. Geeks for talking about and listening to the horse that speaks to us every moment, learning the deep levels of just how varied, individual, and murky judgement call all of great horsemanship actually is, and rejoicing that the force of 1200 pounds of will and joy and sense of humor wakes up levels of artistic practice that no inanimate art tool can. And how 1200 pounds channels a new interest in patience and slowness and  practicing moving forward without "pat" answers. This is the basis for great art. Those who have grown accustomed to buttons that trigger apps may find this world tedious...but somehow they never do. Horses have a way of making you want to go slow and wait and listen. The reward is an actual happy animal who actually is your friend who actually does want to play with you who is smart enough to  want to detect your signals who actually can't wait to see you again. It's true. If an Animal Activist would ever take the time to investigate this, I believe they would no longer want to ban the Carriages.

And the beauty of the group of us is that none of us have to carry the responsibility of owning and exercising a horse all by ourselves. Of committing to regular riding lessons. Who can afford that? Certainly nobody I know. What we do have is a responsibility to learn the specifics of sharing a relationship with an animal, with the rest of the players our group, and the rest of the massive herd that horse belongs to which is the entire human population they see in Prospect Park. That is one of the specifics of Urban Horsemanship I hope to shed light on.

I hesitate to give contact info. Animal Activists have a whole lot of nothing to do other than hunt down, punish and destroy the livelihoods of good horsemen for doing a great job. Call the stables. They will forward you to me, some staff may not have my number, so leave yours. My name is Barbara Stork.

Monday, May 17, 2010

About Horse Safety and the NYC Public

I don't know what it is that makes people think it's perfectly fine to walk into a riding lesson in Prospect Park, but they march right on through trotting and cantering horses who are staying in a designated area making a circle.

No one would dare march right on through even the most informal kids game of catch, or a little soccer practice not even a game, just a group of people engaging in the study or practice of an activity. They would not dare. Why? Because that would be rude. Yet this happens not occasionally in the area of practice for the horses, but about every two minutes, regulary, throughout every lesson I have ever taught in Prospect Park. The husband of my student has to stand on the side of the area, and patrol the perimiter to ask people not to walk through our horse riding area. Some people take their BABY CARRIAGES with a BABY INSIDE the carriage, and actually PARK THEMSELVES on the actual outside highest traffic path of our area, and STAY THERE. I saw it with my own eyes yesterday. It takes the husband sometimes a few minutes, I can see a whole discussion going on, it takes THIS LONG to convince the person that maybe this is not the place to stand. Why is it that this person with the baby carriage, or the big bicycle, or the big childs brightly colored wheel toy, or their entire family, would not dream of standing in the biker's lane just a few feet away?No, that would be dangerous. Why is it that without even looking left or right, people just decide they need to walk right in front of an oncoming horse? Yet would not dream of even walking in front of an oncoming volleyball player? Or even someone just jogging. I'll bet the joggers and the bikers have their stories too.

You tell me.

Is this hostility? Is this ignorance? Arrogance? Elitism? Punishment for riders who are viewed as privileged "haves", and the "have nots" need to piss all over our sport area by stepping into, meandering through with a twisting slow gawkers path in a group of, oh, say, ten people on a walk through the park that is rightfully theirs and are going to now demonstrate their irrevocable right to claim all space at any time and while anyone who is like them (mere mortals playing a game of catch) they will not be rude to, but anyone priveleged enough to be riding needs to be punished?

This is what it looks like to me. And since this blog is about Carriage Horses, I think this is what might have been going through the mind of the drummer who refused to retreat when the carriage driver of Smoothie asked him to stop drumming and back away from his frightened horse. If Smoothie was a frightened dog,( animal owned by mere mortals), would that drummer have been compassionate, no I'm sorry, have had some MANNERS, do you think Smoothie would have been alive today? I can definitely say yes, Smoothie would be alive today.

I just want to make clear at this point, that Kensington Stables has the most affordable rates I have ever seen anywhere in the United States, as well as the one other country, Dominican Republic, that I have been able to go to, fully paid for by someone else. I can barely afford to ride myself, but because I teach, I end up on a horse, and if it were not for a place like Kensington, I would be given the Bum's rush, as I have been in most barns, because I do, as an artist, make a Bum's salary. Just so everybody knows- if you see a rider in Prospect Park, it's because Kensington wants to make horses available to mere mortals. Kensington thinks it's important not to wall off the largest concentration of humans in the USA, to a world of permanant "in pictures only" abstract distance from horses.

Is this marching in front of moving horses somehow some logic of "I dare you" to not stop? Don't worry. A person can stand in the path of an entire herd of panicked oncoming galloping horses, and as long as you don't make any sudden moves, the horses will all avoid you and move on past. Don't worry, A horse will not ever step on anybody if they can at all avoid it. Yesterday, I was snarked at by a Park patron with a small child, that was running in the direction of the bridle path, running potentially in front of my horse as we were trotting. I saw it about fifty feet away, I was watching as the Dad ran after the child and stopped her by the time I got to about thirty feet away. Problem solved. As I kept trotting past, the mother made the snark that she belived all the horses are supposed to be walking ONLY. I had a very experienced rider with me, and we were both well under control, trotting slowly.

Look everybody....a horse just isn't going to step on a child. They will leap up to the tree branches trying to avoid stepping on anything moving, or still for that matter. It's hard wired into them. IT's how they protect themselves. The rider is far more at risk that that child was, to fall off such a horse avoiding stepping on a new object. Horses won't even step on a plastic bag for %^&* sake. Maybe, maybe, but not likely, a stick, they will step on, but you better learn to ride not counting on that. And, I, as if I'm actually faster at the decision to make the "avoid the baby" stop, even close to as fast as the horse is, can stop my horse very quickly, from that slow trot speed, especially, if for some reason the baby could not have been controlled by Dad. Unlike, for instance, a bicycle rider who needs a certain braking distance. Those bikes were as close to that wandering baby as my horse was. Do you think it's possible that a biker may have been enjoying the scenery at the wrong moment, or shouting to a friend biker at the wrong moment, and Dad might not have been able to stop the running baby? [now imagine whirring splattering sound effect]. But nobody thinks this is at all dangerous.

So what is going on here? You tell me. In one spot of the park, we can be heckled as a menace. Another spot of the park someones's leashed but barking aggressive dog can be menacing my frightened horse, but if I lose my patience after asking them nicer in earlier requests upon which they have PARKED THEMSELVES smack where they believe they have the right to be, in front and approaching with barking aggressive lunging dog, I'm the beotch with the tude. Should I have the audactity to deem it imperitave and have tone of voice to match, to move the dog away NOW, in another direction, just ten feet around in front, or ten feet around to the rear, but just put the dog into retreat mode, I get a vitriol of blowback, "it's MY PARK TOO". Gee sorry, I'm trying to avoid a calamity here, there are other people standing real close curious about the spectacle that you are now the matrix upon which this potential calamity is now forming, and my student with me that may not be able to react fast enough to skillfully redirect a few steps of her retreating horse (the only time you can get stepped on, a backing horse that can't see you). I have to consider all this, should your dog make the wrong lunge with the wrong gesture.

And I should mention here that there are far more people who love and find joy and are so happy to have a horse to show their child, far more people like this, and I can say, personally, I love all of you for that. I can also forgive all those people who end up smack in the middle of the Bridle Path, baby carriage or not, scared out of their minds some of them, others not at all and thrilled to see us, rushing up, on what appeared as any other path, because the park has not yet marked our designated path which we never deviate off of, our limited routine, our limited one way, no choices path, we will stick to. We would love to have full access to all the paths like everybody else does, but undertand why that can't and should not happen. I don't know why the Park has not yet labeled our Bridle Path so that people understand that a horse can be coming up behind them. And it's very un-nerving to step aside and still have a horse scuffle and take a quick gravel churning step so close to them. They don't know that gravel was not on purpose aimed at them. They don't know about the horse's principle of "not even a plastic bag shall be stepped on." They just feel all the energy of the horse and it's a little much for the uninitiated. I understand their adrenaline jolt and maybe this is where some of the hostility starts, that shock of just how much energy is exuded by a large animal propelling themsleves so near. I think this is the same thrill of swimming with the dolphins, except the person knew ahead of time they would be swimming with the horses, I mean dolphins. I have to aplologize for all my collegues at Kensington, as well as myself, who have, on our bad days, lost patience with people on the Bridle Path and were not so courteous to tell them they are on our area, not us in theirs.

So this fact that people might not understand that if they are frightening a horse, it's the same as frightening a dog. You just do what the owner askes with the dog, but why do you need to claim your territory arrogantly hold your ground when it comes to a horse? The Activists who want to Ban Carriages might make this as their point exactly. THis is one great reason we need to get rid of horses. They are outmoded. The city doesn't get how they are, so therefor, for the salvation of the horses, we need to remove them permanantly form the city. Does this at all sound like blaming the woman for wearing too provocative of clothing and therefor deserved to be raped?

Can I just say, that when I was growing up in Lancaster County, PA, I remember a public conciousness raising effort that was intended to make all local drivers be aware of and honor the Amish buggies, their needs on the road. All the Amish were asking, was for the cars to slow down a little when passing, like 35-40 mph was fine. Because there had been a rash of buggy accidents that were not freak unavoidable surprises, but more of just motorists who somehow believed that if someone had the audacity to go so slow, they deserved to feel what it's like to get blown off the road by the new form of transportation, especially hot rod muscle cars, that make big noise. This was the Seventies. And the Amish agreed to put the flourescent triangles on their buggys, a clear infraction to their religious belief, but they did it. And we had to learn what the triangle meant. And we had to learn to have respect. And it worked. Except for the tourists who might just ignorantly buzz a buggy, good thing NY state plates are required on the front so the Amish can brace for a potential fly by, nobody who lives in Lancaster County now feels like a wimp if they slow down for a buggy.

So my personal wish, is for all that energy being channeled into blaming the victim, the Carriage horses, for those that believe the horses should be permanantly removed from the presence of those who cannot be counted on to have manners, that instead we channel that energy into a small public awareness campaign of how to just be around and near horses. It's just not all that hard, and we only need a few simple rules. It's not even near the cost of permanantly retiring 200 horses and putting an entire industry out of existance, or patronizingly suggesting that we can provide other employment training for the carriage drivers, after spending their entire lives perfecting the art and science of horsemanship, go ahead and just be happy working on a computer. Oh sorry, OK take that back, be happy to drive an electric antique car, which will take you about an an hour to learn, fifteen minutes? As opposed to the complex and ongoing miraculous partnership with another species you have so well perfected and for which you have made an economic career sacrifice to keep this practice alive, with your horses, as part of a guild of mentorship passed down through generations. Like patronizingly suggesting that the Amish just get a car for *&^#$ sake, to get over themselves. It would be easier if the Amish would just get cars. Yes it would.

And so, according to the priciples of disposing of the outmoded, take repsonsibility for what you are saying, activists. And realize that in the end you are saying you wish time to go back before were used horses for work. I can see that, I can see why you want that, horses running free. Just like the Buffalo, and the cattle. I get that. I get why you want that. Just how is it that we are realistically going to achieve that I don't know, but saying that starting in the cities is the first step is just plain lazy thinking, geared toward making a living of off and having something to fight about so you feel important is what it is. I think you have to admit that starting in the cities is where you are going to quit, because taking on that bigger picture you are alluding to is, well, hard.

My thoughts about this are whole other blog entry, another one too long to be read by the new ADD generations of snippet-twitter attention spans. And the whole package of what is being suggested, horses don't belong in cities, meaning horses don't belong where the people don't get it, has branched out of saftey, and into all totally ignorantly fabricated evidence of inhumane treatmment. Because safety wasn't enough. No, I'm sorry, no activist knew what to do about saftey, because none of them know enough about horses to construct an effective campaign to attempt to solve the problem, even though they have expert veteranarian consultants, even though many of them claim to have grow up with horses. I aggree, it's a risk, the saftey of the carriages. It's a risk that can be really well managed, just like we did in Lancaster. The Carriage drivers, don't see it as that bad as a risk, after all, the traffic and stimulus, and regular shifts of predictable work for the horses (this is a safety practice in case you didn't know) of New York City is far less hazardous than that of the rest of the country. So they actually feel pretty good about safety. I think this relative low risk environment is why they didn't launch a campaign themselves. I suspect the real reason is that they can barely keep their heads above water in their practice of this art form, to provide what far more people appreciate, than find fault with. As is the case with Kensington stables too.

I applaud the City Council for giving the Carriage trade the legal right to charge a decent fee, and fair market value, that the public seems willing, no problem, to pay. You know, it's not actually "bilking" when the customer is told up front what they will pay for a carriage ride, even if it is above the outmoded legal rate covered up by the coat, as opposed to the sticker shock so may medallion taxicab passengers got with the "Fat Finger" out of town rate button accidentally pushed on the Totally Trackable Credit Card taxicab terminals, not cash, "is it or is it not" councilwoman Viverito Marks? One of the wives of a carrige drivers was accused of "whining about costs of living" in the Public Hearing. With the condescending dismissal of "C'mon, we're all adult's here".

What's that supposed to mean? That asking for a rate increase because the legal one, not changed for 23 years is no longer adequate to handle the cost of living, that's childish?

I'll tell you what's childish. No manners. That's what's childish.

The best I can do to help, is to define what Public Saftey Awareness around horses needs to be. It's not that complicated. I can help in this catagory. Do any of the funds that the activists are making their living expenses by, creating hatred for Carriages, want to be re-directed to help me do this? I suspect not. Is why this blog is called "volunteer."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The launch, roping myself in now

This is just one horseman so far, with support from one horseman friend. We are two women, not men. I dislike the sound of the words horsepeople or horsewomen.

I want to see what all the anger is about. I anticipate not being able to learn what the anger is all about. Because I will be viewed as the opposition to the people who want an outright ban and phase out of all horse drawn carriages in New York City. So they will not talk to me. I have had that trouble in the past. I had the same trouble today. I was reasonable today and asked politely what I could do to start a dialog. The woman, Caroline, said she knew me, and had no intention of talking with me, it would be like talking to a Nazi, she said. She immediately, disclaimed that the word Nazi was too harsh, but she just wanted to make a point. I had stood up at the Department of Health hearing a month ago, and stated that the people who are so sad about these horses needed to educate themselves more, because what they were saying was really ignorant, to my ears, they have their facts all mis-applied and out of context, and all about horses that gallop, not draft horses that walk, it was just so naive. And that I could help them. I gave out my email hoping someone would contact me. They were offended, began some shouting because I incorrectly addressed them and not the board as I accused them of not knowing what they are talking about. This is how she knows who I am. No one except a grad student from the Columbia Graduate School of Conflict resolution contacted me. We have had a talk meantime. Well, I talked, Heather Allison at Columbia listened.

There is plenty of information on the websites, Coalition to Ban the Horse Drawn Carriages is the main one, and it has accusations of abuse and miserable lives of the horses and no water given to the horses and the health compromises, and no pasture and on and on. I know what they are saying, but because it makes no sense to me as an experienced horseman, I want to know where the circle logic comes back and feeds on itself. I think they try to find facts of abuse because they are upset about something, and they need evidence. So of course they are offended if I tell them as a part of public record at the DOH hearing, that they need to do their "due diligence" in terms of learning what they are talking about.

It will be for a month until I get to the hack stand at Central Park to observe the horse drawn carriages for the first time, at least for more than a glance. I've been defending the carriages right to exist for a while, inspired by all the obvious mis-information spread around to create public groundswell against the carriages. I don't even have to see the carriages to shoot holes in all the attempts at evidence of abuse. Today was my third time attending a public hearing, this time for Intention No. 35 in New York City Council, which is an attempt to find some constructive rules to resolve the public perception that the horses are being mistreated, versus the right of the carriages to operate. The carriage owners and drivers want a legal right to charge fair market value for what I think is a form of art , not transportation. As opposed to getting rid of the carriages altogether and replacing them with electric antique cars with the drivers being trained as tour guides, a replacement job for the carriage drivers - this being the option preferred by The Coalition to Ban, the ASPCA, The HSUS, the League of Humane Voters (LHV were challenged by councilman Gennaro as to their audacity to even appear since they owe the city clerk for $104,249 for being an illegal lobby. I hear they conducted an illegal protest in front of one on the stables this week and were stopped because they had no permit.) And the electric car idea sounds Ok to me, why not have both? Until I learned that they really really really need to hinge the whole electric car idea on the fact that they really really need all the carriage stables' real estate to even begin the program. I'm sorry, my ass.

I have a bad habit of trying to describe all the tangents of every sentence I write. So I'm trying not to explain everything all at once. It will be writing for a while, to unravel each topic one at a time. I will be trying to explain what I know about horses, and I can already tell, that just one topic is a blog all by itself. By the time I explain, for example, all the reasons why horses do not need a blanket in the winter, why the carriage drivers will put one on anyway as part of Intention No. 35 to please the public, why they need a special blanket, why they are not using their current regular blanket on board each carriage, why people should not be upset about this, why it's not window dressing to design a special blanket to put on a horse so that the public is happy, and why the public needs to not cry violation and no oversight if they see the special blanket is off when people are needing a coat themselves. I mean, the Coaltition to Ban has it easy, in terms of brevity. Just use the words horrible, pathetic, dismal, and not really back up the argument with any real depth of information, just weave another wifty lie from something read in a book and voila, "proof of abuse", and count on peoples imaginations to fill in the blanks and you easily get all sorts of petition signers, since they know nothing about horses either. Checking off that box of doing good and right. told me today, that the problem is that it's not about the welfare of the horse, it's about the ethics of riding or driving a horse at all. The horsemen keep trying to argue logic and good horse management reasoning to all the claims of abuse. But the people sad for the horses won't hear because it's not about that. It's that they can't stand seeing the horse in less than (their version of) a perfect life and perfect environment. We all share that. Every person everywhere sees less than perfect all over the place. But when it comes to thinking they are seeing it happen to a horse, it strikes like lightning to the heart of those feeling and responding to some sense of horror within. My guess is the horse is a vehichle to release all that horror. And when no one takes heed, no one being the carriage operators who are supposed to immediately hang their heads in shame, and quietly admit everything they do is animal torture, and because they do not obey their cue to excuse themselves, surrender their horses to and trust the Coalition to Ban will properly and forever take care of these horses or come up with the mucho dinero to retire the horses at somebody's farm, all 200 horses, is where all the anger comes from. And it's not a rational anger.

I don't know if I can help at all, if perfect is the only option that will work.

- thevolunteerhorseman