Sunday, February 10, 2013

An indigenous experience: The Térraba

Its been almost a month since we arrived back in the United States after our week long adventure in Costa Rica.  Along with a team of six peers, I traveled to Térraba, Costa Rica to document an indigenous community currently involved in a struggle against the government.  Prior to our arrival, we knew little about the population.  I had originally believed that there was nothing that Google couldn't tell you, but it met its match.  My role as the writer included researching the community and educating our group on anything I could find.

That was a short meeting.

What we arrived to find, however, was a vibrant agricultural community filled with intelligent and educated group fully aware of the implications of their government's apathy and indifference.  

The Costa Rican government is currently in the planning stages of a multi billion dollar hydro electric dam, also known as Proyecto Hidroelectrico Diquis, that would flood 7,500 hectares in the Brunca region of Costa Rica.  The dam, placed along the Térraba River, would not only flood the group's native lands, but would bring 3,500 outsiders to a community of 600.  There is no way they could resist that and continue to maintain their culture. The United Nations has gotten involved, and has stated 

There has been no consultation with or participation by the Térraba in relation to the Diquis dam, which has been granted the ‘highest priority status’ with regard to obtaining environmental and other permits by the Office of the President.  This is the case despite many requests for participation and even large protest marches organised by the Térraba to highlight their exclusion from decision making. -UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
As the writer, it was my job to get to know these people, find out who they were and find a way to communicate it with the world.  Anyone who knows me or has traveled with me knows how deeply I dive into immersion experiences.  I spent as much time as I could talking to different members of the community and conducting interviews.  It took me a little while to get into the swing of things but the Rivera family made us feel at ease and at home. 

Highlights included me saving the day by riding in on a white stallion, dance lessons and chicha.  

The Térraba website that we built launched on January 24th and has had 3,000+ unique viewers and 12,000+ page views from 65+ countries.  Pieces of our story were picked up by NPR and Vagabondish, although the articles failed to mention our team by name.  Several tourist groups have decided to include Terraba as a destination, and the town will receive their first visitors next week, thanks to the website. 

Marshall Beringer, Rachell Carroll, Ashley Deese, Ruth Eckles, 
Alex Register, Kelsey Sullivan, and Dioni Wise

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Do you like your animals? Check this out.

This is a long post, but hang in there.

Raise your hand if you grew up with animals, a pet of any kind.  Did you enjoy it?  You know that feeling when life is getting you down, and you come home at the end of a long day but your (horse, dog, cat, etc) is there to greet you and everything seems okay in the world again?  I do. 

Photo credit: Carriage Horse Cruelty (from FB)
Now raise your hand if you've heard about the controversy over the New York City carriage horses.  No?  To sum it up: there is a group of Radical Animal Rights Activists protesting and making noise in the media about the cruelty that the NYC carriage horses must endure to do their jobs.  These activists would like the world to believe that these draft horses are enduring severe abuse by living and working in NYC.  Apparently "carriage rides make you look heartless".  Well, holding that sign makes you look uneducated.  At least about horses and the issue you are advocating for.  

Wondering why I care about carriage horses? My jumper splits her day between a stall and a field.  She would be appalled at the idea of working for 8 eight hours a day.  She just wouldn't have it.  It takes a special horse to do that job, but they do it happily.

Now I don't have any problem with people taking sides on controversial matters, and I respect people who strongly believe in ideas that I disagree with, so long as they know the facts, have some evidence to go along with their opinion, and aren't speaking simply from stereotypes or prejudices.  I could throw out some examples but I don't want to get off topic.  

So, that being said, do you think that carriage horses should be removed from NYC?  Do you support these radical animal rights activists?  Do you support PETA or the Humane Society of the United States? (You know, those annoying Sarah McLaughlin commercials that make anyone with a soul cry?)  If you have, do you know where your money is going? 

Ok, you say, but I don't drive horses, this whole carriage horse thing doesn't affect me.  Here's the thing, the carriage horses are just the beginning.  They don't want any of us riding our horses.  Or making them work in any way, shape, or form. 

Ok, you say, but I'm not a horse person.  Well don't worry, this affects you too.  These people actually don't want you to have a dog/cat/bird/rabbit etc either.  See where I'm going with this?

Here is what PETA is all about:

"We at PETA very much love the animal companions who share our homes, but we believe that it would have been in the animals' best interests if the institution of "pet keeping"—i.e., breeding animals to be kept and regarded as "pets"—never existed. The international pastime of domesticating animals has created an overpopulation crisis; as a result, millions of unwanted animals are destroyed every year as "surplus."

This selfish desire to possess animals and receive love from them causes immeasurable suffering, which results from manipulating their breeding, selling or giving them away casually, and depriving them of the opportunity to engage in their natural behavior. They are restricted to human homes, where they must obey commands and can only eat, drink, and even urinate when humans allow them to."

Who has seen the movie Buck (the documentary about Buck Branaman)?  Here's what this incredible horseman has to say on the matter in his book the Faraway Horses

"Next on my schedule were a couple of young women from MTV and Rolling Stone magazine. One of them asked, “What about those poor horses in Central Park? Don’t you think it’s awful how they have to pull those heavy carriages all day?”

I had an answer for that question “No, I don’t,” I said, then explained that the Central Park horses are content. Pulling carriages on rubber-rimmed wheels on paved streets is a low-stress job, and the horses are calm and relaxed, not anxiously laying their ears back or wringing their tails. Plus, these horses get lots of attention and affection from passerby. And horses love attention and affection as much as we do.

The horses that people should be concerned about 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."

Just so we are clear here, this is being defined as abuse, and this is an issue taking the forefront:
Photo Credit: Carriage Horse Cruelty. Caption: Does this look like the picture of a happy horse?
I took the liberty to answer the question on their Facebook page (which was promptly deleted), however, I'll repeat it here.  Yes, that does look like a happy horse.  He is in a more than suitable body weight, his coat has a shine, his feet are trimmed and shod, his tack looks to fit him well, and his expression is content.  I then questioned on the photo (again, deleted) whether those writing these captions know a thing about horses? 

Horses apparently belong on the range, in the wild, and nowhere else.  They should not be pets, companions or athletes.  In the land of rainbows, unicorns and butterflies, all the pretty ponies (and kittens and puppies) would be wild and free! Horses are the backbone of the civilization we live in now. They have been our companions in exploring new lands and meeting new cultures.  They have literally changed the way we see and perceive the world.  The world we ALL live in. 

So while those less educated on what horses are all about may think that being a NYC carriage horse is tough, and all those protesting about all the abuse thats happening everyday, think about this:

This gorgeous horse looks very content in his job, and well cared for
There has NEVER been a carriage horse driver cited for abuse of a carriage horse.

There has NEVER been a citation for mistreatment, cruelty, etc.

Three horses have died in traffic accidents while on duty in over 30 years; seven other horses have died while working in over 30 years. That's 10 horses in over 30 years.  That is a remarkable record. There is no other riding discipline that can come close to that number.

The drivers must present ALL the paperwork upon demand by an ASPCA agent or city inspector. The ASPCA performs, on average, about 180 hackline inspections every year (about once every other day, where they check all paperwork, plus the horses). That's not counting stable inspections and individual horse inspections. And that's not counting inspections by the city inspectors.

The New York City carriage horses are some of the most regulated animals in this country. The fact there has never been a citation for mistreatment or cruelty, even with an awful lot of folks looking for it, speaks volumes. 

San Pedro Sula, Honduras, October 2011 © Kelsey Sullivan
Cruelty exists.  I hope one day I can say that it doesn't, but the world I have come to know is full of injustice.  I have seen it on the streets of Honduras where children of all ages must live and fend for themselves because their families can't feed them.  I've seen it post disaster areas where the government fails to respond with aid, and the world forgets the tragedies once the next day's news goes to press. We see and hear about it in countless places across the globe.  We are inundated daily with choices about whether to do something and act, or to keep living our lives, pushing all those thoughts about the world's unfairness to the side. People, children, are dying for no reason beyond simplistic poverty and its implications, and people are complaining about animals with a job?

Abuse, cruelty, unfairness, injustice. They are all very real things in our world.  But who do we let draw the line on its definition, and who's bottom line to we allow it to serve?  

I suppose part of me wants to just shake some of these people and say "Wake up!"  There are bigger things to worry about in this world than the 200 NYC carriage horses that live comfortably, have a job and know when and where their next meal will be!  There are millions of children (human beings) that don't have that luxury. And that's not limited to the third world, its here.  It's in NYC.  Its in your hometown.  Its all around us.  And if humans fall under the category of animals (and I would argue that we do), all those organizations are failing miserably at regulating the ethical treatment of our species.  Just saying.
Everyone needs something to fight for, their own cause if you will.  Not everyone has one, but many are willing to jump on the bandwagons nonetheless.  Look at the KONY 2012 campaign for example.  Despite the "white man's burden" overtone (too blatant to be considered an undertone) of the film and Invisible Children's questionable uses of money, many people are suddenly big supporters of having Joseph Kony pursued and arrested.  Even Elon's Greek life is making each chapter member write two letters to our state government to create pressure to act. (If you'd like to know more, I suggest checking out Uganda Speaks instead of Invisible Children).  I couldn't resist the meme, sorry!

What I'm saying is, when ideas gain momentum with groups of people who are not necessarily educated on an issue, there is a snowball effect and change may ensue.  However, who's changes are we making?  What are their motives and what will be the final outcome?  For all the horse people out there who agree that having carriages in NYC is cruel, what happens when they come for your discipline?  And when they tell you that your pasture puff living his days out in your backyard should be confiscated and euthanized because captivity is cruel?  Think it could never happen?

Change can be created, and these people want it.  What do YOU want?  Are you willing to defend the animals you love?

Many people often forget that Hitler didn't viciously take power in Germany before WWII, he was voted into power.  He won elections.  People thought he would be a good leader.  This reminds me of the famous quotations from German pastor Martin Niemöller following the Nazi's rise to power:

          First they came for the communists,
          and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

          Then they came for the trade unionists,
          and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

          And then they came for the Jews,
          and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

          And then they came for me
          and there was no one left to speak out for me.

You may not feel that this issue effects you, and it may not now, but what happens when they win, gain momentum, and then come for your animals next? 

I know I'll be taking a ride in a carriage next time I'm in NYC, will you?

Related reading:

 Embattled ASPCA veterinarian resigns over carriage horse death "and that she felt as though she was being used as a tool to make a larger political statement in relation to ASPCA's lobbying efforts to get carriage horses banned."

Why is PETA killing thousands of rescue pets? "What PETA does not publicize, however, it euthanizes -- kills -- some 85% of the animals it rescues."
The HSUS (not official website)  "Only 3.64% of the 107 million actually went towards helping out real animal shelters. The Humane Society of the United States is a "humane society" in name only. The HSUS does not oversee local animal care, humane shelters or animal control agencies of any kind. The HSUS is simply an animal rights lobby group."
Carriage Horse Facts - Facebook

Monday, April 2, 2012

The horse show went well!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

That little black horse and thoughts for today

Original posting here:

So Meagan mentioned in the "Who we are" that I kind of like horses.  So even though we are in Honduras, and this is a blog about photography, I wanted to share a little personal story.

The Dutch girl we're living with, Manon, and I went out for a bit last night and ended up talking for a few hours.  By the time we drove home it was around midnight.  I had told her briefly earlier about being a horse person, but I find that is a difficult concept to express.  On the drive home there was a decrepit black gelding, with no halter or rope of any kind, walking down the sidewalk dead lame and my heart just about broke into two.   I couldn't help myself, and without really asking Manon I pulled over, got out of the car, put my hazards on a began to try and connect with the horse.

After a few minutes, and after moving the car forward twice, I was about ten yards away from this gelding when a motorcycle flew by scaring him to trot on three legs to the other side of the street and start moving down a side road.  Luckily this ended up being just what I needed.  I asked Manon if she minded if we pull down that street, which happens to be in a better neighborhood and was totally empty.  I don't know what it was I was hoping to achieve, but something in me needed to spend a little time with this horse.  I pulled the car over, gave her instructions on how to drive the car, and I set off to connect with this lovely black gelding.  

I used the skills I have learned over the years that help "round pen" a horse, except that I was in a sort-of-sketchy Honduran neighborhood at midnight, and I had already been chasing the gelding (sort of, in a car) for about half a mile. At that moment I would have LOVED to have the luxury of a roundpen to work with.  Instead, I had to simply read his body language and act accordingly hoping that I could convince him that I wouldn't pose a threat.  Since he could get away from me in whatever manner he wanted, and at whatever speed, I moved slowly and deliberately.  Within 3-4 minutes though, the gelding stopped and began considering the question I was asking.  He began to shift his weight, but stand still, and flick his ears back at me.  Finally convinced I wasn't looking to hurt him, he took a deep breath and let me make contact.  

The process of gaining this horse's trust was different than any other horse I have ever worked with in that I had nothing to rely on other than body language.  No physical barriers to help me out, no knowledge of the horse or his personality, and likely not much foundation of trust of people.  I realize that the horse has likely had plenty of experience with people, but a wild guess tells me that wasn't something that would work in my favor.  

I stood by his shoulder and neck for a few minutes and breathed in the scent of horses that I have missed so much.  His shaggy mane hung all the way down his thin neck, but by then it was his eye that I had focused on.  There is an old saying that talks about the eye being the window to the soul, but even beyond that it can tell a story without needing words.  He had major scarring across his nose and a weathered yet wary look in his eye.  Looking at his teeth I'd guess he was somewhere in the late teens, and his body told a similar story.  His spine protruded about 2 inches out of his hindquarters and over his back, and he didn't look like he had any weigh to lose.  As I ran my hands over him it didn't take long to figure out why he was dead lame in that back left.  The structural deformities were magnified in his petite 14.1h frame, and he was severely bow legged, but only in his back left.  He has likely worked hard his whole life, yet he doesn't have the conformation to stay sound. His feet likely haven't been done in months, if ever, and it was fascinating to see the difference in the wear and tear on the feet of the three semi-normal limbs versus that back left. 

By the end of my short time with him, as I gave him a few more scratchies and just a little more love, he started to lick his lips and chew.  Now, I have always found that to be rewarding, in that its an indication of the connection being forged, but this time it felt different.  It felt like these few minutes were the one small favor I could do for a horse who had worked hard for all his years and hadn't been given much of anything in return. 

Now I know that there is really nothing I can do for this horse, and although he had no rope on him, he may very well be someone's livelihood.  I can't put him in our backyard and let him live there indefinitely and don't have the resources to retire a horse in Honduras.  I feel bad because I think by showing this horse kindness, he may trust easier next time and be betrayed.  By reading this little gelding's body; from the scarring and white hairs grown in on his face and withers, to his long back left toe, high heels and protruding spine, life hasn't been kind to him and his humans likely haven't been kind either. The 10 minutes I was able to share with him, of loving rubs and nose kisses, may be the only he experiences in his sad life.  

As I walked away, he turned, pricked his ears and looked on with interest, a complete turn around from our first encounter.  Walking away was just as painful as I knew it would be when I walked up, but I think thats part of who I am.  I may be able to ignore the stray dogs and cats on the street (and I do love all animals), but somehow I think horses will always be different for me.  In a country where the children are treated the same or worse as the stray animals, I think it's nearly impossible to try and open the heart to both the children and the animals, especially when it seems there is no light at the end of either tunnel.  

At the end of it it was really cool to see Manon totally fascinated by my ability to not only get the horse to respond and connect, but to let me touch him all over and pick up his feet.  I didn't think that part of it was such a big deal, but she was blown away.  She also watched him hobble off nervously during my first few attempts on the busy road, and didn't think I'd eventually be able to walk up to him.  Its fun to share the brilliance of the horse with those who have never experienced it.  The language of these animals transcends country boundaries, language, and breed.  Fundamentally speaking, a horse is a horse.

With everything that has been going on this week, I think that in that moment I needed that little black horse as much as he may have needed me.  And if only for a few minutes, we at least were able to share in that. 

Thought for the day:

"It's not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or when the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worth cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."  Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lenses are louder than words

Tomorrow at 3:30am Meagan and I will head off to Newark airport to catch our flights to Honduras.  I think this trip will be unique in that I am conducting my project with a partner who very much shares my vision for the project, and what will make it even more fun is that we each have a Flip video camera that we will use to document the experience.  Starting at 3:30am.  Can't wait!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

when in doubt always err on the side of compassion

6 days until honduras 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” -Steve Jobs

3'6" - the highest the mare has ever jumped