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