It was with horror, and then sadness, that I contemplated an article that was sent to me last week. I debated for a few days whether to discuss it here, asked advice from the moderators, and am finally beginning a topic on it.
This article has already prompted a new wave of NHE students to leave the school, and I guess there will be more to come, some of them here, some confused, some hurt, some shocked, some still not really trusting their own judgement and still trying to hold on to their vision of the King's new clothes; and all, certainly, trying to evaluate the truth, and know whether they can in fact continue to follow their twin ideals of compassionate horse training AND compassionate horse-keeping.
I hope that they may gradually reach peace with themselves, as they are able to give themselves permission for free thought. I hope that they will find the courage and support they need to make their own path into ethically responsible territory.
Leigh posted this timely quote in her diary today;
DO NOT believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe simply because it has been handed down for many generations. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is written in Holy Scriptures. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of Teachers, elders or wise men. Believe only after careful observation and analysis, when you find that it agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all. Then accept it and live up to it.
-Buddha, from Kalama Sutta
[color=indigo]And I open this topic in the spirit of compassion.
I am not allowed to post the full article here for obvious reasons. (Please email me if you would like more info.) So I will try to summmarize the main points.
The article is titled THE TREATISE ON THE WORK IN HAND and is "the official School position of Nevzorov Haute Ecole". It was apparently written by Alexander Nevzorov, then translated into English by his students. This is a draught version that was submitted to school members for their comment, and is intended to later be published in one of the NHE magazines.
I understand that there has already been quite a bit of debate about it, it was posted on the forum, then withdrawn for copyright reasons. Some prominent school members have left because of disagreement with it, others are apparently defending it and saying that the departing members are somehow misunderstanding it, and perhaps the translation is faulty. They are awaiting publication of the final version for clarification.
The introduction presents the purpose of the Treatise then goes on to introduce the "School Interdicts" which are an integral part of the Treatise. Students must not only absolutely obey them, but also understand their neccessity.
Those who are not able to submit to the School Interdicts or are not able to execute them do not need to spend any more time reading the present Treatise. The first interdict
There are few principal all-comprising Interdicts of the School work in hand, though they are quite strict. However, neglecting them guarantees you a complete disaster.
is simple - No bits.Second
,also fairly straight forward (if debatable) - Use of any kind of nasal control, due to the effect being based on injury to the infraorbital nerve. The article goes on to state that these forms of control are often used by deceivers and people who are deceived. ( I guess Dr Cook is no longer on the list of friends.)Interdict Three
.. I will discuss later.Interdict Four
- shoeing.Interdict Five
- a little more interesting; Ventriloquism. This is defined further as "pathetic lying", and in relation to working with horses, as the act of speaking on behalf of the horse, or stating something from the horses point of view, evaluating the horses mood or facial expression. MR Nevzorov asserts that fools, amateurs and deceivers commonly do this.
The Interdicts are concluded by a statement recalling other previously published interdicts,
limitations of the types and sorts of religion, obligation to be a vegetarian, etc.,
. These other interdicts must be understood and followed. However, the school does not enforce them - these interdicts enforce themselves:
Non-observance of any of these Interdicts will result in complete failure of the work in hand in the horse's education.
The article concludes with an essay on Mr Nevzorov's interpretations of some aspects of human/equestrian history.
But back to Interdict Three.Interdict Three is the Biggie.
Any herd or herd-like horse management is interdicted. Besides the rebuilding of the horse's entire musculature, herd living makes a horse very primitive and stupid, and returns the horse to the world of primitive ideas and manners. From the School's point of view, herd keeping seems to be akin to sheep breeding..The next sentence I find truly saddening and so far away from the things I believe in.
Equine education in this School (as well as true human education) is first of all the psychological process of weaning the creature from its animal nature. When I first became interested in Mr Nevzorov's philosophy and training methods, I was impressed by the way he was taking the horses animal nature and helping the horse to return to it, and present it in all it's fullness, magnificence and glory. It seems I was fooling myself. Or perhaps it's just semantics..
However we choose to define "animal nature" though, the article goes on to give very clear directions in what must actually be DONE.
The next paragraph gives examples of how a horse is made stupid and savage by mixing with herd members, and ends with this warning:
When you educate a School horse, i.e. teaching the horse to consciously perform actions which contradict her primitive nature, teaching her to abandon primitive habits and savage manners. Herd living makes the teacher's labor futile. It is at least illogical and guarantees that the process of horse education will be a vain and silly waste of time. It is based on complete ignorance, on the attitude that a horse is a mobile piece of meat, and on the attitude that herd life will provide this piece of meat the motor physiological functions for keeping fit in a group and for the convenience of lazy grooms.
The herd is an astonishingly influential factor on the horse's mind and will always try to destroy any fruits of education. You will teach the horse, and the herd will delete everything you have taught the horse during the lesson.
Mr Nevzorov goes on to assert that the herd is not a place for the horse to learn anything good. He is not aware of any example of a horse teaching another one to piaffe, or balance or understand the teacher's movements.I can't help but wonder at this point how much experience Mr Nevzorov has had with teaching a horse in the company of other horses. It would seem to me that his knowledge in this area is not great. I would argue on two points; Firstly, that all the movements of HE are derived from the horses natural movements (something that I have heard from Mr Nevzorov himself), and these movements are developed, practiced and perfected during herd life.
Secondly, horses most definitely DO learn tasks UNRELATED to normal equine behaviour from watching other horses train and perform, IF the conditions are correct.
Later he comments that herd living may only be useful in certain educational menages when a horse needs to renew it's passive savageness and become stupid - a manege where the horse is taught the basics of horse-human relationships.
The next paragraph deals with the problem of the horses welfare and "happines". Here he asserts that " talk about a herd being the key to equine happiness is largely foolishness". He goes on to say that happiness is a relative concept, having no physiological parameters, so is not relevant to this discussion and gives the examples of differnt kinds of happiness - the stupid hapiness man derives from satisfying his base instints, compared to the happiness of violinist having brilliantly played a piece of music.I would have to ask, what about outside those rarefied moments of of musical pleasure.. how does that violinist LIVE? Only waiting the next performance? However, I am a celebrant of the pleasure of the senses and the moment - pure and simple, and this is where I see man transcending the baseness, thoughtlessness and depravity that Mr Nevzorov fears. Being diametrically opposed, my argument on this level is probably worthless.
So I have to return to ethics. If we admit that it is NECCESSARY to keep a horse away from his peers, so that he may be brilliant, is it ETHICAL?
Can we take that violinist, lock him up in a lovely room, provide him with food and entertainment, but deny him any company other than that of his teacher, forbid him from having a family, hobbies, recreation or his own choosing?
Wasn't the advertised purpose of NHE supposed to be FOR THE BETTERMENT OF THE HORSE.. not for our selfish purpose? Betterment for WHAT I have to ask? Riding for pleasure is not acceptable, we must not ride for our own benefit or satisfaction - it is purely a way of helping the horse strengthen and supple, FOR WHAT? So that we may help the poor ignorant horse transcend his base instincts and become enlightened? So that he may learn perverted human happiness that is based, not on pleasure in the moment, but on the pride of accomplishment and performance?
If the answer are yes, then I still have to ask, who are we, or more specifically, who is Mr Nevzorov, to make this choice?
Later, Mr Nevzorov qualifies that he is not against herd-keeping. It has some positive features, and is neccessary if your purpose is to return your horse to the wild. But he warns again, that those people who try to have it both ways, real education and walks with a herd must be prepared for the fact that wild horse behaviour will surface in the horses demeanor and it will nullify the the horses achievements, almost always reducing them to zero.
The next paragraphs discuss the origins of the current vogue of herd keeping and "other falsely natural horse keeping practices" as being erroneous NH theories and practices. He exorts us to remember that all these things originate from the tasks of NH, and that the most important task of NH is to make the horse as stupid as possible.
The matter of turnout is then discussed. Interdict Three is not intended to forbid turnout.
Turnouts must take place, but only with the following obligatory conditions:
- The turnout area must be small enough, and the horse so near and constantly watched that even the smallest injury must be noticed at the moment of injury.
- a rug (not torn or wet) is stricly obligatory for a school horse when the temp is below +5 degrees C.
-only when the ground is safe (ice, rough ground etc will sooner or later cause an inevitable disability.)
(and of course a little of the inevitable physiology is thrown in -
"No necropsy of a horse's leg has ever proven the presence of any adaptational changes to the ligaments, joints and any other tissue of the organism, which had to move on icy or rough ground. Hence, showing the absence of any adaptation and knowing the general vulnerability of the myology and the skeletal structure of equine legs, we can confidently speak about inevitable harm, and inescapable injury to the equine muscular-skeletal system when moving on improper ground'
Mr Nevozorov then discusses historical facts regarding School teaching and herd-life - begining with the "disgust and perplexity" traditional schools have felt for the topic. He cites a school master as practicing a technique that translates as "soaking in boredom". Horses kept this way became very "purposeful, passionate and attentive" in the menage. It is not clear from the article whether Mr Nevzorov supports this method or not. He does call it extreme, and says that it was abandoned in the XVIII century.
The next paragraph describes another school master's method, which was concerned instead with providing entertainment for the horse every minute. Ths master appointed two brightly dressed grooms to each horse, and employed the use of fair wrestlers to "fight near the fence of the horses small paddock all day long, and Gypsies with tambourines, firecrackers and waving flags."
There is no direct indication of which method Mr Nevzorov favours, however, his earlier comment about herd keeping being "for the convenience of lazy grooms" gives me the impression that he does believe that confined horses require a certain level of extra effort.
When I think of the videos of Lippisina, in her wild play though, I can't help but also hear the words
"Horses kept this way became very "purposeful, passionate and attentive" in the menage. "
I've often counseled people who are becoming frustrated, disillusioned and self-accusatory due to their failute to engage their horses in wild play, using only the NHE schools previously published methods; being interesting, accepting that the horse is always right, spending plenty of time being friends with the horse, running around with a ball, etc etc etc, and also accepting that using food as "bribery" is forbidden. I wrote this to a friend yesterday:
"getting a horse who is having all his needs met through free living and herd life to play is a much trickier thing than encouraging a stable bound horse to do the same. If "He" is also a she, a little on the long toothed side, chubby, is of the more conservatively inclined breeds etc.. then your chances are pretty much nil.. UNLESS you employ the judicious use of EXTERNAL reward to build their initial motivation.
So.. do we give up and confine a horse to solitary, so that we can keep ourselves and our horses "pure" and not debase them with bribery...or do we allow them to live as horses and compromise?
Welll.. you know my choice. <s>"
It has long been my belief that Mr Nevzorov's horses MUST be confined and living without free interaction with other horses. I have not been able to believe any other way possible for him to get that level of energy and motivation out of his horses WITHOUT that device, unless he was using a sophistaced system of reward based training.. which he has said he is not, and other's more experienced than me have confirmed. Yes, we can see him give treats, but according to them, he's not doing it in a very systematic and effective way.
So, this Interdict confirms what I have long suspected. On that level, I am not shocked.
However, I am shocked that it has now not only come out in the open, but been presented as a command that must be strictly adhered to, and has been defended on all levels to show it's "correctness" as the ONLY way possible.
That also saddens me. There is this wonderful bright hope in the world now, which Mr Nevzorov can take a certain amount of the credit for spreading; that high levels of training ARE POSSIBLE WITHOUT A BIT!
Some people take that hope further, and add that it's also possible without RESTRICTION OR FORCE OF ANY KIND. The enlightened know that disbelief is a measure of the disbeliever's lacks as a trainer... lack of imagination, lack of compassion, lack of knowledge and experience, lack of techniques and skill.
I would like to assert also that high levels of training ARE POSSIBLE WITHOUT WITHOLDING FROM A HORSE HIS BASIC NEEDS< (food, shelter, grazing, freedom of movement, companionship of peers, etc.)
And that disbelief in this stems from the same lacks.
Now the implications of that saddens me too.
The flip side of Leigh's quote, is that we should also SEEK out knowledge and enlightenment from whereever we should find it, and have no expectation that the source be all-knowing, all-seeing, all-perfect.
So I will continue to draw inspiration from Mr Nevzorov's work. But I will also continue to perform according to my ethical standards.
My horses will continue to live in a herd, and I will continue to explore ways that they can learn, develop their intelligence, skill,, motivation, power, energy and passsion within my ethical parameters of training and horse keeping.
I do believe that we can achieve success.. in fact we achieve it every day.
However, the bottom line for me is, if Interdict Number Three really did turn out to be a prerequisite in training a horse to perform at liberty and without force, if we really did achieve zero as predicted, then I would feel completely okay about allowing my horses to live out a life without HE, enjoying their herd life, sharing time with me, and getting their exercise through simpler means.
As I wrote to someone recently, I find this article "horrifying, disgusting, absurd, macabrely comic." It never fails to astound me how seemingly intelligent people can believe their own propaganda.
However, as I said before, not surprising.
I have long suspected that a lot of Nevzorov's "philosophy" is very thinly disguised personal vanity, the prohibition against "pleasure-riding", the insistence that everything is all and only for the horses benefit. Using bullying brainwashing techniques and pseudo-scientific language to justify his own desires.
I also had a fair idea that the Nevzorovs keep all their horses in solitary seclusion. That is the only way I could comprehend that they could get that kind of frenzied play out of them. Myself and others have questioned this while in NHE, and not received conclusive answers.
So now it seems, this is the next logical step. Rather than address the cruelty of solitary confinement, Nevzorov finds a way to defend it. Former friends are now enemies. The lines are redrawn and the rules rewritten, with the facts arranged to suit.
- Look. The pigs walk on two legs and wear suits.
And don't realise how absurd is the picture.
Meanwhile, my ignorant little sheep awaits me in the stable.. where she has opened the latched gate for the rest of her herd mates to enter and share Rosie's lunch.
I have not sought the horse of bits, bridles, saddles and shackles,
But the horse of the wind, the horse of freedom, the horse of the dream. [Robert Vavra]