• VOLUME 44 • © HORSES For LIFE™ Magazine
The Human Condition
The following is a transcript of a rather *long*, but totally pertinent, dialogue between Dr. Michele Friend, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, George Washington University and myself that began in the Fall of 2008 and is still in process (on-going). Dr. Friend and I are long-time friends who have traveled extensively throughout Europe together--riding horses in various types of settings.
(MF=Michele Friend and SA=Sherry Ackerman):
MF: I read "Dressage in the Fourth Dimension" with interest. My immediate critical thought concerns the huge ecological expenditure in keeping a horse nowadays in the first world. I feel that this has to be weighed against the spiritual advantages. What do you think about this?
SA: I am very interested in this question. In my own life, I made several rather sweeping changes in my horse-keeping habits this season that, at least in part, address this concern. One...I stopped feeding baled hay and my horse is ONLY being fed high meadow grass that I personally hand-cut with a scythe and wheelbarrow for her. This keeps her from destroying the meadow, while I can control just how/where/when grasses are cut and reseeded back. There is no need for a fence and/or other first world appliances in order to "turn her out" on the grass. She is turned out in the forest where I live. It is a desert climate here, often topping 100 degrees F. The forest is cool and shaded and she can loll under the trees in comfort. Her manure is gathered daily and is being composted in a five-cycle system for free distribution to persons with vegetable gardens. I trade the compost for vegetables. I also, of course, use it in my own compost system for my own garden. These practices have provided a thread of continuity between the ecological ravages of horse-keeping and spirituality. There is, obviously, a huge spiritual component in being willing to invest this much time and labor in order to keep a horse. Interestingly, I have noticed a change in her personality during the process. She seems to "know", or at least recognize, that I am participating in her "life" at a much different level than simply throwing her a flake of hay as I pass by. She has become more bright-minded and alert...and seems to view me more as one of her "peers" than as the objectified "owner". This has had the effect of deconstructing any perceived sense of hierarchy.
MF: It sounds as though you do a lot of physical work, but that is what ecological economics is all about. The environmental and personal/ psychological pay-off should trump the financial pay-off. There are ways of calculating this: to show that your life-style is ecologically better than what the financial calculation would have us believe. The calculations are a bit dubious, but so are our financial calculations! Furthermore, they are entirely ad hoc with respect to the cost to the environment. Apart from the old measure of "carbon footprint", there is a nice new one about "water footprint". There is a web site where one can make fun calculations. More involved, and better thought through, however, is the econometrics developed by Mayumi following Georgescu-Roegen's work which introduces thermodynamic notions into eco-economics. The thrust of the work is that, as a culture, we can choose the rate of decline of the environment. We can continue to drive SUVs, for example, and precipitate the decline, or we can re-organize our lives to slow the decline. This is a deep cultural choice.
SA: Yes, it's been a physical hustle, but I do feel that the environmental and personal/psychological pay-offs have far outweighed any financial considerations. For example, I have observed that my awareness of "little" things in the meadow, while I am harvesting the grasses, has been heightened. I have found enormous satisfaction in being among the butterflies and birds. I have also begun to find an inner quietness that is pleasing to the deer who graze there. Initially, when I would enter the meadow, they would run away. My energies were obviously incoherent from their perspectives. Now, when I enter the meadow, I purposefully come to what I call "the mind of meditation"....very still, quiet and neutral.... and the deer entertain me as though I am one of them. I have had a much deeper appreciation of St. Francis of Assisi and his experience with the birds. I also feel that there have been some unforeseen physical pay-offs. I have become stronger in a very natural way, without the use of "exercises" or equipment. This has given me a first-hand awareness of some of the differences between contemporary lifestyles and those of our, for example, grandparents. I have noticed my range of motion increase because it was efficient...not because it was being measured or evaluated.
Just as you have indicated, I have experienced a sense of well-being about the ecological quality of my life-style as a result of initiating some of these behaviors. And, there has been an extension into other areas of my day-to-day life besides just horse-keeping. Per usual, my horse has led the Way!
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