The Path of the Horse: from competition to compassion
Stormy May’s vision moves beyond the impasse where debates about animal rights typically end. Specifically, she offers an alternative to the window dressing of “improving” conditions of confinement and enslavement. Instead, the OurHorses project draws readers to the wisdom of community with its potential to unite humans and horses in working toward a greater good for all. Within community, both equine and human, we will find the validation, solidarity, and support to do what needs to be done and say what needs to be said, unlearning as much as we have learned about horses and relearning as much and more, about horses, ourselves, and the lives we share. The vision presented here is of a present and a future for human-horse relationships that rejects the imposition of human will on horses, offering instead a more dynamic model of communication that honors equine subjectivity and autonomy.
Most critically, Stormy May points to the ways that horses can help us become better, less destructive creatures in our own right, toward all beings in the world, including ourselves. Recognizing and validating the role that horses can play in helping humans move toward greater enlightenment through compassion and non-doing, the OurHorses project offers concrete alternatives to those of us who feel incomplete without horses in our lives, who have rejected traditional pathways, and who have yearned to find ways to be a horse-person that do not entail suffering for our most cherished equine companions. Offering alternatively incisive critique, compelling concrete evidence, and poetic imagination, Stormy May helps readers feel into a new world by reconsidering human- horse co-existence.
Natalie Hansen, PhD
Santa Monica, CA
24 April 2011
I loved hanging out with horses. I loved feeding them grass and oats and carrots and apples. I loved smelling their warm breath and touching their tender noses. I loved hearing them run in a field. I loved watching them moving together fast and slow. I loved watching them drink and play and rest in the sun. I loved the challenge of learning how to connect with even the most skittish by enticing them with food or engaging their innate curiosity and leading them into to a good scratching and grooming session involving my fingers and their lips.
I loved horseback riding. I loved the balance, the harmony, the grace of human and horse bodies merging in time and space. I loved the feeling of moving together while participating in dressage, trail riding, gymkhana, show jumping, eventing, polo, and foxhunting – the modern day equivalents of the ancient practices of training for battle, transportation, farm work, and recreation for high society.
I loved the physical feeling of galloping, jumping, prancing, and walking along countless trails on horseback. I loved the mental challenge of teaching children and adults how to navigate on their mounts. I loved showing horses how to relax and be okay with what humans were doing to them. I thought I was making the world a better place, one horse and rider at a time.
There were some parts I didn’t like. I didn’t like that I needed corrals and halters and bridles to control the horses. I didn’t like that I had to continue pushing a horse and myself physically in order to be competitive or to simply work through the hundreds of tiny disobediences that occurred in everyday riding. I didn’t like the way the relationship between the horses and myself felt after I showed them, through physical means, who was in charge.
The movie creates a new space in the minds of many viewers to be able to take a closer look at what we are really doing with horses and other areas of our life through a perspective rarely seen before in movies and never in a documentary made by a horse trainer.
We get to follow the point of view of someone who was willing to give up what she thought was most dear about horses, riding, in the name of exploring what might lie beyond. Along the way I uncovered keys to unlock the symbolism of horses and the horse human relationship throughout time.
With the release of the documentary, I saw that my journey wasn’t over. After learning from each of these people, I felt that I needed to step back out of the horse world for a period of time in order to get a different perspective. The horses and I spent hours together in a field. No halters, no bridles, no riding, nobody telling us how to be together. We found our own games and pleasures.
I found in the end, just as we can never truly know the mind or body of another, we may never truly know if riding hurts horses. However, we can likely all agree that horseback riding, and all uses of horses for human sport, recreation, entertainment or monetary gain are an indulgence that at this time we can abstain from for a while in order to join the exploration of what happens when we turn from practices that may exploit animals or the environment to those that work toward healing us all.
If we want to live in a clean, green world, we are the ones who need to create it. Could we find the time to create this world by curbing our indulgences whether they be horseback riding, television watching, Internet gaming, travel, sports, shopping, family, movies, pets or any number of other ways we spend our time, and using this time to reach out to our community, learning to help fellow humans by following our hearts?
We are calling this experiment OurHorses. We, a growing community of like-minded horse-lovers, are giving up our indulgences of controlling horses and a portion of other pastimes in exchange for time to get to know our neighbors and help care for the planet, including horses and nature in all her manifestations. We recognize that horses are a collective nation that has served humankind for thousands of years. They have helped humans achieve amazing things. Now we are going to treat them as friends and honored guests. We are going to care for them. We are no longer asking them to serve us, to stand under us, to lend us their power, to lend us their wings.
There is already a group of us who want to do this because we see it is needed. Whether or not we have been responsible for making our world the way it is today, we owe it to ourselves and future generations to clean it up.
Now that I’ve grown up some, I’ve found that there is something healing for a human to care for and heal a horse without asking anything in return. Maybe that’s how I got healed. Part of taking care of horses means that we need to spend a lot of time listening in order to create a world where horses and humans are valued simply because they are fellow beings sharing this lifetime on earth with us. In this world they don’t need to be young or pretty or fast or strong or rideable. In this world we can take every last horse and give them all homes where they can lead happy, healthy lives. In this world, we humans can live peaceful lives alongside them and invite our friends to do the same.
With 90,000 to 140,000 horses being sent from the USA to slaughter facilities in Canada and Mexico each year, we know there are a lot of captive born and wild caught horses who need homes where they are cared for and allowed to live out their lives in peaceful, natural surroundings with friends and room to roam.
I hope you find this to be a magical book, a gift from a different perspective. Let it sink in, as any good magic book will do. Only this magic book is about real life, the most dramatic play ever performed.
Open the book whenever it comes to mind and let the images and words guide your moment. I hope you are fortunate enough to own a copy that you can feel in your hands and smell the pages of. These copies will retain a sensory record of your readings, especially if you’re bold enough to take notes and draw pictures in your book.
Take your time with this book. There is no end to get to, only moments to take you to live in the new world in your mind. As you turn a page a picture might appear or a story unfold; watch for the words and images to leap off the pages and dance. That’s when you know you’ve gotten into the new world.
The placement of photographs and paintings as they appear in this book might be likened to a jazz rhythm, or a sequence of several separate stories to visit along this path, or windows into a moment in time in one person’s life. You might ask yourself, What was the photographer experiencing? What about the horses? What about the artist, what had she seen? What is she expressing or commenting on?
I’ll now turn you loose knowing I’ve given you the best instructions I know how to give through a book. I hope to meet you again in the last chapter and tell you more about who we are and just how we plan to save all the horses and humans.