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An Appeal for Equestrian Justice
The mission was
simple – become the first people to ride horses round the Earth. Though twelve
men have walked on the moon, no human being had ever ridden a horse around the
planet. That’s why my wife, Basha, and I set off to ride 12,000 miles along the
Equestrian Equator that girdles our globe.
But I run ahead of myself and my tale has to be unfolded carefully in order to bring clarity to the chaos of my life, for I have spent sleepless nights trying to understand the meaning of recent events, which Aristotle himself, if he came back to life for that purpose alone, would be hard pressed to decipher.
After having spent ten years constant labour creating the Long Riders’ Guild, its library and scientific foundation, Basha and I were hardly abandoning the downy bed of idleness. But having helped more than a hundred equestrian expeditions take the field, we believed we had delayed our own nirvana long enough. In the Spring of 2010 we sold everything, placed all of the Guild’s wisdom into military grade laptop computers, then set our eyes on France.
Sikunder the Mile Eater
The tribal elders of the Long Riders’ Guild say that each man is the child of his deeds. Therefore before I left America I counted myself lucky, impervious perhaps to any future harm, because I had already survived deadly diseases, kidnappings, torture and false imprisonment during the course of my equestrian exploration career. Being so well versed in misfortune, how could I have foreseen that none of the challenges which I had previously overcome would cause Sikunder and me as much grief as the accursed French farm which awaited us.
Trouble in France
My horse and I were drawn to this unlikely place because our trustworthy Long Rider friend had suggested the farm would serve as a ideal logistical headquarters, while the World Ride expedition prepared for its departure.
Because of this strong personal endorsement, Basha left Count Pompeii in the care of the trainer and flew to England to meet me. Having inspected and approved Sikunder together, we next arranged for him to be professionally transported to the farm, to await our arrival alongside Count Pompeii, while we attended to urgent matters at the Royal Geographical Society in the United Kingdom. With both horses now at the French farm, what we couldn’t have known was that we had walked into a trap.
Prior to my recent purchase, Sikunder had been described by his previous owner as “brave and scared of nothing.” Imagine my surprise then upon our arrival in France to find the formerly quiet Criollo was terrified of everything, could no longer be mounted and would not allow anyone to come near his right flank.
How had this horse, who had previously been described by both an English vet and experienced Long Rider as being ready to journey around the world, changed so drastically in the short time since his arrival from England to the trainer’s farm? Why would Sikunder’s owner have sold me a damaged horse, knowing such an act would result in tremendous negative publicity? Was the animal damaged during transit, I wondered? But a call to Britain’s leading equine transport company revealed that Sikunder had “travelled like an angel” all the way to the farm.
Lacking any answers, I set about establishing a deep sense of trust with my new horse. This included avoiding any type of confrontational behaviour, aggressive actions or loud speech.
Using the ancient principle of positive reinforcement, I was making strong progress replacing Sikunder’s fears with a constant stream of kindness. However, with our departure time looming, I was aware that it might take weeks to rectify Sikunder’s mysterious emotional affliction. The trainer, meanwhile, had volunteered the information that she could fix my horse’s problems in the remarkably short time of only a few hours.
My suspicions about this woman should have begun the moment I arrived, when our hostess immediately denounced Sikunder as being unrideable. How did she know, especially as we had issued orders that our horses were not to be tampered with in our absence? Imagine my shock then when I later learned that she had bragged about either tampering with or extracting my horse’s teeth without my knowledge or approval.
Had this woman, who bought and sold horses for a living, deliberately interfered with Sikunder prior to my arrival? Was it her plan to make the beautiful gelding temporarily unrideable in the hopes that I would give Sikunder to her? It’s not a far-fetched idea when you consider how she revealed that many of the horses she “trained,” and then sold for a profit, had in fact been donated to her by their owners. Though that doubt remains unresolved, she promptly tried to sell me another mount to replace Sikunder.
When I refused, she suggested instead that I allow her to work Sikunder in a round pen, claiming that because of her great skill as a clinician, and with her long list of satisfied clients, she could quickly prepare my horse for our journey.
The Trap Closes
How could I have known that this woman had recently destroyed two horses belonging to a local endurance rider, turning them into gibbering wrecks after cruelly mistreating them in her round pen? Thus, as the World Ride was already unavoidably delayed, I reluctantly agreed. At that moment I was taken in by one of the longest running scams in the horse world, believing that a smooth-talking phoney could help heal my horse. But it was Sikunder who physically suffered because of my trusting ignorance.
What happened next should be against the law.
The Toxic Trainer
Armed with a strong plastic baton, the toxic trainer pulled on Sikunder’s fetlock with one hand, all the while she hit his canon bone harder and harder with the baton until the horse picked up his hoof so as to avoid the infliction of constant pain.
After confining him in her small round pen, she then violently invaded his space when he refused her commands. With the halter rope in one hand, and with her stick in the other, she chased Sikunder around the enclosure, shouting at him in a loud voice and effectively terrorizing him until he stopped retreating.
Next, while holding on to his halter rope, she ran a second rope under Sikunder’s tail, then sent him running, which in turn caused him to buck in panic. She tied long flexible plastic pipes to the saddle, then chased Sikunder around again, while the noise and unexpected feel of the pipes scared him.
My objections came too late.
Because of these terrible experiences, when I tried to mount Sikunder, he nearly dragged me to death.
Starving Count Pompeii
Sadly, it was not only my horse who suffered. My wife’s Cossack stallion, Count Pompeii, is the flying mascot pictured on the spine of the 400 books published by the Guild.
Denouncing the Devil
Thus, having left America with the highest hopes, I found myself unexpectedly in the Devil’s grip. What’s worse, though I’ve documented centuries of equestrian travel, ours was the first journey to be sabotaged because the horses were brutally injured in this way.
With our dreams shattered and our horses in peril from the increasingly hostile trainer, we fled with our animals and were given protection and shelter by kind local horsemen who were horrified at what had been done to Sikunder and Pompeii.
Upon her arrival, Emma confirmed my fears. The memory of the abuse had left Sikunder temporarily unrideable.
The French Speak Out
Upon the advice of local authorities, I also contacted Jean Claude Barrey, a French academic who has authored dozens of books and scientific articles regarding equine behaviour. In one report, he wrote, “The practices of horse whisperers are not scientific, endorsing instead the fantasises found in children’s books. They use words like respect and trust, though they should be talking about alienation and brain washing. They denounce the predator/prey model, yet chase the horse like a hunter primate armed with a carrot stick. They ignore the fact that any submission achieved by a join up method is provoked by putting the horse into flight and then repeatedly blocking him. They are efficient manipulators of horses and humans, who don’t bother about the basis of their practices so long as they obtain rapid results. One could write a book about what they don’t know, yet teach with self-created diplomas.”
Monsieur Barrey concurred with Emma, saying that because Sikunder had been cruelly treated, he needed long term rest.
The best term to describe what occurred to Sikunder is “iatrogenic” – i.e. harm caused by the healer.
And though I did what I thought was right – it was wrong !
Nevertheless, you must be asking yourself, why did I make this decision?
The answer is that I had a horse I loved, we were in trouble and I thought this person was a professional whom I could trust. That’s why I agreed to let a stranger handle Sikunder, even though I had never witnessed the round pen method.
What I could not know was that by placing Sikunder’s fate in the hands of this unlicensed and unprincipled person, I had involuntarily joined the legions of kind-hearted horse owners who had naively surrendered their animals, money and trust to a charlatan posing as a professional.
A History of Deception
What is especially concerning is that these sham trainers disguise their efforts by telling a naďve public they are actually doing a kindness to the horse by forcing it to endure such an unnatural methodology. What I witnessed in France is a perfect example of this abusive technique and its corrosive effect.
John Rarey - The Father of Fraud
One of the most startling discoveries came when the Long Riders’ Guild Academic Foundation uncovered proof that the most famous nineteenth century horse trainer, John Rarey, perpetrated a colossal hoax on Queen Victoria. This occurred when Rarey faked the horse taming demonstrations he gave before the queen, the Duke of Wellington and other trusting members of the English aristocracy. This pivotal deception marks the moment the horse whispering industry was born, and like its lawless offspring of today, that original event was cloaked in dishonesty.
According to legend, John Rarey supposedly tamed a man-killing horse named Cruiser before an astonished crowd. Yet thanks to a recently discovered interview given by Rarey’s partner, the LRG-AF learned the episode was faked so as to hoodwink the royal family. Instead of taming Cruiser, and other supposedly wild equines, Rarey tied their legs up, threw them onto their sides, then left them to suffer overnight. Thus, instead of being kind to horses, Rarey’s hitherto secret method sometimes deprived the strongest willed animals of sleep and rest for up to two weeks prior to his demonstrations so as to completely crush the animal’s spirit.
A Legacy of Deceit
Rarey understood that, like today’s horse owners, everyday people are anxious to help their horses. Thus his popular appeal grew to such a level that after his return from Europe his American lectures were sold out. Thus it was John Rarey who made two critically important discoveries which are still being exploited by equestrian charlatans today.
One, Rarey was the first to use a type of emotional con game known as affinity fraud, which relies on drawing in at least one prominent figure, so as to deceive the general public. For example, once Rarey received Queen Victoria’s endorsement, two thousand English nobles paid the American ten guineas each to be cheated, and audiences at the Crystal Palace averaged 8,000 a night. Consequently Rarey misused the monarch’s trust to orchestrate the world’s original successful equestrian media campaign, thereby becoming the first master of self-promotion.
Hoodwinking the Public – Now and Then
An English Queen, an American horse whisperer and questionable equestrian training methods. Sound familiar?
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