28 August 2014

Ken Norman And Simon

By: Jon Katz
Ken Norman And Simon

Ken Norman And Simon

Ken Norman has been our farrier for as long as I have had donkeys – nearly 15 years. He is a good friend to us, and we value his visits, especially when he brings his wife Eli and his daughter Nikolene, the Bedlam Farm Barn Fairy. . Ken was called by animal control when Simon was taken off the farm suffering from extreme neglect and starvation, and he worked on his hooves, which had grown out six or seven inches – Simon was walking on his ankles. The work of a farrier is unbelievably hard, and Ken is dedicated to the horses he treats and to our donkeys. He's worn his knees out leaning over and bending to trim hooves, in December Ken is getting two knee replacements, he has been in pain a long time.

Ken came by to do his end-of-summer hoof trimming, Simon's legs are permanently twisted, the trimming is very good for him.

These two are connected in a lot of different ways, pain being one of them. I've asked Ken to come to the Bedlam Farm Open House on Columbus Day Weekend, a few days after my next book, "Saving Simon: How A Rescue Donkey Taught Me The Meaning Of Compassion" is coming out. Simon and I will be signing books together, I thought it would be fitting for Ken to be around, since he helped bring Simon to me, and has been a huge part of his life and mine.

Ken has a wonderful way with animals, Simon gives him a hard time sometimes – his legs hurt a lot, we think – but mostly, he stands still for him, and Ken plies him with treats and rubs his nose in the way equines love.

Posted in General

On Macmillan Road

By: Jon Katz
On Macmillan Road

On Macmillan Road

On Macmillan Road, a yellow garden, just off the road, it's own world.

Posted in General

Help Name The New Bedlam Farm Resident

By: Jon Katz
New Resident

New Resident

We seem to have a new resident at Bedlam Farm. In the past couple of weeks, we've seen this toad waiting for us in the morning when we come out, he sits on the slate tiles on the back porch – along with everybody else – and soaks up the sun. This morning, he fell into the water pot and got stuck there, Maria had to go and pull him out – she loves toads, of course – and she put him back in the rear garden, where he seems to be living.

I think he has great gravitas and presence, I could use some help in naming him. I was going to name him George, after my father and George Washington, but I thought perhaps we can do better. If you are so inclined you can offer a name on my Facebook page. I think he'll do well here, I think he belongs here. He seems to have the sense of entitlement that Bedlam Farm animals come to have, and I saw Red hop right over him on the way into the house, he didn't flinch. He'll fit in.

Posted in General

Washington, Nelson, The American Dream: How Noble Horses Became Slaves

By: Jon Katz
Washington And Nelson

Washington And Nelson

When I think of the New York Carriage Horse controversy, I am bewildered and frustrated by the apocalyptic victimization literature and language of the animal rights movement. Our noble horses are no longer noble, no longer our precious partners on the earth. They have become our sad slaves.

During my time writing about the New York horses,  I think often about George Washington and his great horse Nelson, a hero of the American Revolution. Although he is largely forgotten, Nelson's life speaks to the future and fate of the New York Carriage Horses. He reminds us of what we are really in danger of losing.

Nelson was a gorgeous  charger, he was about the size of many working  horses, he stood sixteen hands high, and was a light sorrel or chestnut (reddish-brown) color, with white face and legs. Washington was considered the greatest horsemen of his time, and Nelson was his favorite horse. He was said to have "carried the General almost always during the war." The sight of the handsome Washington – he was not an eloquent man, but tall and regal -  on his horse, cheered hungry and freezing soldiers, rallied the citizenry, unnerved the British army.

Nelson and Washington were inseparable during the war. Nelson's work was to ride though danger, year after year. Washington rode Nelson in bitter cold and brutish heat, the horse struggled through mud and ice and snow and brush, up steep hills and through rocky riverbeds,  he suffered thorns and insect bites, rocky paths and steep hills. He was grazed by bullets more than once, twice cut by bayonets.

Washington favored him because the horse did not rattle when cannon shells and bullets were whizzing all around them both.  Nelson, the reserved Washington once wrote his wife Martha, "was my bravest soldier, my closest friend, the rock upon which I stood."

Before a battle, Washington would parade on Nelson, riding back and forth in front of his men and in open view of the British troops, who fired countless rounds at the imperious Washington. They never could hit their target or his horse, and many on both sides came to believe that Washington and Nelson were invincible.

Nelson did not get to an indoor stable often, he was tethered out doors for months at a time,  he often ate only grass and roots. He was not  ordered out of the battlefield and  to shade when it got hot, the battles were not called off when it got cold. No one in the American colonies suggested he was enslaved or exploited, even though he worked in peril and harsh environments almost every day.  Nelson did not get much vacation during the long and bitter years of the Revolutionary War. There were no veterinarians or police officers to treat him or monitor his care.

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Washington and Nelson. Napoleon and Desiree. Jesus and his donkey, Teddy Roosevelt and Little Texas, Roy Rogers and Trigger. The Indians hunting and living on the plains, the horses pulling huge wagons,  farmers in the fields, soldiers in battle, workmen building cities, pioneers traveling for food, cowboys on their cattle drives, lumber companies hauling logs, the cavalry on their ponies, settlers head West, drivers and drovers pulling carriages, merchants transporting goods, builders pulling bricks for streets and homes.

It has been the same story, all over the world. If humans have ever had a loyal and proud partner on this earth, it has been the horse.

For most of us, this partnership is no longer true, we ride our cars, sit by our computers, our food and necessities brought to us by truck and train and plane.

For the carriage drivers, this partnership is still true.

And you can look at it in two ways, as the miraculous continuation of one of the world's most wonderful traditions in our greatest city. Or as a new kind of social crime, people harassed, vilified and driven from their work and way of life for working with horses in the modern world. We are so lucky to have the horses still among us, we are so blind not to see it.

This has never been considered controversial,  cruel or explotive  – earning a living with the help of a horse. That was, in so many ways, the heart of the great partnership – and no human being in the world was considered lower than any other because they worked with a horse. For most of American history, horses made our lives possible. That view has changed.

At a 2010 party in Wellington, Florida, attended mostly by wealthy equestrians, animal rights activist Stephen Nislick – a supporter and close friend of the city's new mayor – referred to the carriage drivers in New York as "totally random guys and bad actors."  The comments reflect a key element in Nislick's  highly effective strategy to ban the carriage trade: dehumanize the drivers, make them something less than human, ban their work, take their horses.

The carriage drivers still talk about Nislick's speech.

“You know what random people means?,"  asks Stable Owner Neil Byrne? "It means a guy you can just push around, not a tough guy who’s gonna fight back, not a guy with political connections. A random guy you just push out of the way. I felt very insulted to be called random. I’m not random.” There is nothing more noble about being a millionaire garage owner funding an animal rights group – or being a professional writer – than working with horses and giving pleasure to people by offering them  rides they want in horse-drawn wagons in Central Park.

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I think of Nelson when I try and understand why it it that horses working with people suddenly became the cruelest form of abuse and enslavement. I was reading a wonderful piece by Jeremiah Moss on the hard times and painful struggles of New York's last horsemen, and noticed a comment posted by an anonymous animal rights supporter at the end of his piece, it was written in language I now recognize as the familiar litany and dogma of the animal rights movement. It was, when one considers it, a telling  piece of writing,  worthy of deconstruction:

"Animal rights activists and regular folks who love animals–and all of whom have nothing to do with real estate in Manhattan–have been protesting the horse drawn carriage industry for decades. It's cruel how we allow these people to work these horses in the extreme heat of summer so we can amuse ourselves with rides through the park. These poor animals are slaves to our selfish desires."

I am an animal lover, and also a supporter of the rights of animals, and I believe the horses belong in New York. The horses do not work in extreme heat, they do not work in temperatures over 89 degrees. My border collie Red works in intense heat all summer, and while he does not get shot at, he works a lot harder than any carriage horse in New York.

Red is kicked and butted often enough, savaged by flies, cut by rocks and stones and bits of glass,  and I suppose he is a slave to my selfish desires to herd sheep. He amuses and entertains many of my friends, and brightens their days, as he does when he does therapy work with veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. I believe him to be, as I and many others believe the horse carriages to be, healthy and contented.

So there it is, I am a random person, a carriage driver with a dog and sheep, or maybe worse. I was struck by the idea that amusing people in the park is selfish and cruel. I do not think so, I may be another bad actor.

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Social movements often spawn their own language, mythology and literature and the writings of the animal rights movement are rich in a new kind of  emotionalized fantasy. It is almost always characterized by anger and harsh judgment, there is always the sense of one point of view condemning another, morally inferior point of view.

In this genre, the working animal is a victim, never a partner.  Earning a living from animals is evil. Enjoying them -being entertained by them is an exploitation. Permitting them to work in any form is slavery. Keeping them contained on mostly small and impoverished rescue farms – or, more likely, sending them to slaughter, keeping them from work – is noble.

In this new view of horses and other animals, the animal is always suffering, living in cells, not stables, in chains, not harness, enslaved by cruel and unfeeling humans forcing the animals to work in brutal conditions for money.  I am not the only one to wince at the racial implications of this thinking. What is most striking about this language is that it is the very language used to describe the lives of African-American slaves held in captivity, almost word for word.  It is demeaning to animals and people, trivializing the very real suffering from abuse and the real experience of slavery.

(Slaves did not get five weeks of vacation, they were not housed in quarters that were cleaned every three hours, they were rarely fed fresh food and water throughout their work day, they could be separated from one another and killed and hunted at will,  their work was limited in time and weather,  not regulated by a host of government agencies bound by law to ensure their health, well-being and humane treatment.)

New ideas are often shocking, and often come to be widely accepted, perhaps this one will also be. There are two sides to every idea and issue.  Change is part of life.

But this movement does not really come out of nowhere. Few New Yorkers or other Americans have any contact with animals like horses any longer, machines have replaced them. Rural America is shrinking rapidly, we are a country of urbanized coastal people.

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I've written extensively ("The New Work Of Dogs" and other books) about the new work of animals in America -  providing emotional support and affection to increasingly disconnected and fragmented people whose lives have been changed by divorce, changes in the workplace, the economy,  family mobility, technology, politics and the decline of religion and faith.

As we have become an anxious and stressed – and increasingly angry and polarized – people, we have turned more and more to animals for healing and in an effort to re-connect to the natural world. There, we find unfailing acceptance and unconditional love. The sad trade-off is that we longer understand animals as they really are or need to be. We see them all as different versions of people, as furbabies, children, best friends,  victims, creatures in need of rescue.

Increasingly, because we see them as being neurotic and complex just like us, we project our own emotions, needs and fantasies onto them. Hundreds of thousands of dogs are on Prozac and Valium and other medications for depression and anxiety and humans increasingly define them and their behavior in terms that are familiar to us. The horses are unhappy pulling carriages in New York, breathing toxic air, staggering under the weight of their work.

It follows, then, that horses, who have worked with human beings for thousands of years, most often in much tougher capacities than the carriage horses, suddenly become slaves, victims, dumb and exploited creatures yearning for a different life (one that no longer exists and never existed for work horses.) In the lexicon of the animal rights movement, the horses are sad. They are lonely, pining for the herd. They are dejected and enslaved. Being around other horses all day and night is not enough, the horses yearn to be together, to socialize. They yearn for a life free of work and responsibility.

Reading through some of the arguments about the horses,  substitute the word children children for horses. The animal rights view holds that it is cruel for a horse to do anything that a child ought not to do or be asked to do, that a human being would not like. A human would much rather sit on a rescue farm than pull a horse carriage through Central Park. The reality – a working horse is much happier and healthier working than not – seems unfathomable as we emotionalize one species of animal after another.

The emotionalizing and anthropomorphizing of animals becomes easy to see and understand when sorting through the justifications for rescuing horses that are not in need of rescue, and ignoring the many horses that are. These are the words and the language of human emotions, not of animal emotions. Like most animals, what horses need is to be fed and watered, sheltered and cared for, given medical attention when necessary. They do not seek employment and lifestyle changes out of their own lives.

The goal of the animal rights movement is for the horses to live out personal fantasies of utopian human life, the lives we yearn for ourselves. As animal lovers know, the problem is that horses (and dogs) are not children, they are not adult people either. They are an alien species, and we are so busy exploiting them for our personal need and welfare that we are losing any kind of grasp about what they are truly like.

The goals, language and literature of the animal rights movement are utterly at odds with the view of horses held throughout human history, by so many people, leaders, spiritual leaders and animal lovers. No respected behaviorist or trainer believes the best life for a work horse is to do nothing on a crowded farm for the rest of his or her life but eat hay. The horses cry out for justice and recognition of their true worth and place in our lives, they call to use to keep them with us and to turn away from the angry and disconnected voices that call for them to be taken away.

It is a kind of twisted moral rot – an elitist kind – to suggest it is noble to ride a horse into gunfire but evil to pull very happy families in carriages through a park. George Washington would be the first to say so.

_

The work between people and horses has long been celebrated as ennobling and a great gift to human beings, not denigrated as slavery – in the Bible, in the Kabbalah, by Washington,  Chief Avrol Looking Horse of the Sioux Nation, Jesus, by Winston Churchill, so many others.

It was Chief Avrol, the holy leader of the Sioux,  who told me the horses were talking to me, calling to me to speak on their behalf. If they leave, he said, they will take the wind with them. Native Americans know well what happens when the horses go, he said. Jesus loved his donkey, rode him all over Jerusalem in hotter weather than the carriage horses will ever see. In the Kabbalah, God warned his people to love donkeys and horses and cherish and respect them. He created them, he said, to walk with them on the earth and help them build the world.

"Some people regard private enterprise as a predatory enterprise to be shot. Others took it on as a cow they can milk. Not enough people see it as a sturdy horse, pulling a sturdy wagon,"said Churchill.

In fact, the sturdy horse pulling the healthy wagon – or plowing fields, or pulling carriages -  has long been a symbol of health, prosperity and the wondrously and mutually beneficial relationship between men and horses, celebrated by almost all civilizations, and by Native-Americans for centuries. It is still such a symbol throughout much of the world, where millions of  horses pull sturdy wagons.  It is only very recently that this idea has suddenly become ugly, a symbol of inhumanity. That the horse has become a victim, a slave, when he works with mankind.

Buck Brannaman, the author of "The Faraway Horses" and the inspiration for the hero of Robert Redford's "Horse Whisperer" wrote that the carriage horses are well-cared for and fortunate. The horses that people should be concerned about, he wrote, are the neglected ones that, after the “newness” of ownership wears off, live in box stalls all day. These horses have no purpose, no jobs to do. All they do is eat and make manure. Even prisoners get to exercise more than these horses, and the horses have never done anything wrong.

"If they had the choice, these horses would choose to be carriage horses rather than stand in their stalls," writes Brannaman. But they don't have a choice. If the animal rights groups in New York and the mayor of New York City gets their way, this will be the fate of the New York carriage horses, at least the lucky ones – to eat and make manure, out of sight of human beings.

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The story of the New York Carriage Drivers is a beautiful one and a powerful one, and ought not be lost or distorted in the angry rhetoric of our time. Their industry has always been a personification of the American Dream, a stepping stone for new immigrants coming to America to build new lives for themselves and their children. It should not be disgraced by any mob.

"The job of carriage driver,” Stable Owner Conor McHugh told Jeremiah Moss,  “is often a starting point for immigrants. Like me. I came from a rural place, and working with horses was something I knew how to do.” The horses helped him and his fellow Irishmen get their bearings in the strange, new city. When we first came here," said McHugh, " we were like wild animals. We knew nothing of the culture, of living in cities. But driving the carriage, it connected you in ways you didn’t realize at the time. It was familiar. Like home.”

In 2011,   Nislick, the founder of NYClass, the wealthy and powerful animal rights group spearheading the move to ban the horses, was  taped while gloating about the use of "morally corrupt investment" to  swing the city's mayoral race and stop the use of carriage horses. "In a certain sense," Nislick said on the tape, "you're better off euthanizing them then making them suffer that way."

If you love animals, you may come to see that this is what turning horses into children does to them. It turns them into pathetic versions of our troubles selves, and it turns them and us into slaves. It is really true that the people in New York who seek to ban the carriage horses would kill the horses in order to save them.

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  "A horse is the projection  of people's dreams about themselves – strong, powerful, beautiful," wrote author Pam Brown, "and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existence."

If the horses are banned from New York, our collective experience in the park and the city will become more mundane. They will take the magic of the world with them. There is no magic in the visions of the people seeking to drive them away.

And then there are the other and very powerful things that might be lost if the horses are driven off in this way.

Stable Manager Tony Salerno – he speaks in a thick Italian accent -  told Jeremiah Moss of his own personal harm and loss in this totally unnecessary controversy: "Physically and mentally, they already started damaging me. When you work and you dream, and they take it from you, you feel like your whole life was a waste. I feel damaged because I don't know what's gonna be my future. My grandchildren were gonna take over, but now? I spent my life with the horse, now what I'm gonna do? I don't have a future."

So my mind and my heart go back to George Washington and his horse Nelson, a brave and admirable couple, I think, they even prayed together. I try and remember why it is that he and Nelson rode back and forth and faced that gunfire. It was so that people like Tony Salerno could come to America and follow their dream, and then pass it along to his grandchildren.  And so Conor McHugh might one day come to America in search of safety and a better life and follow his dreams also and ride the horses to them.

So that honest, law-abiding and hard-working people like Salerno and McHugh and their grandchildren would have a future.

If the horses are driven from New York and the lives of the carriage drivers are destroyed by the obsession of one angry millionaire, then the very idea of the American Dream – the very thing Washington and Nelson were fighting for – will go along with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

- See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Donkeys#sthash.sYBByYFY.dpuf

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

- See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Donkeys#sthash.sYBByYFY.dpuf

Matthew 21:5

"SAY TO THE DAUGHTER OF ZION, 'BEHOLD YOUR KING IS COMING TO YOU, GENTLE, AND MOUNTED ON A DONKEY, EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A BEAST OF BURDEN.'"

- See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Donkeys#sthash.lIPCXQ1X.dpuf

Posted in General

Blank Slate: Is Every Day A Choice?

By: Jon Katz
Blank Slate

Blank Slate

Each morning, before we get up, Maria and I lie in bed and talk. At one point, Maria said, "Oh, I wish I didn't have to get up…" Then, a few minutes late, she said, "I can't wait to get up and get to work." I said I felt the same, I say that to myself every morning when I wake up.

I told Maria that was it, right there, the two ways to look at the world each day. I wonder if it's a choice.  Is it a grind to get up and face the world every day, can one choose to see it as an opportunity to  be in the world, to be fulfilled? Can we decide? There were many days in my life when I did not wish to get up in the morning and face my life, and then I decided to change my life, so that I would be eager to face the world and do my work. That was true of Maria as well.

Maria and I both love our work, and our lives. I am committed to never again living a life where I can't bear to get up and face it each day. After breakfast we went for a walk, and I came across this empty old signpost on the edge of a farm. Right there, right in front of me, the blank slate, the choice. Do I see my life as one eternal struggle story, or am I eager to get up and live it. The blank slate had a powerful and reinforcing message for me. It's for me to say.

Posted in General