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Bitless riding

I don't know if I can express this thought in a clear manner, but I'll try anyway: Political philosophy is about the question: "How to organize a group of people?", and international politics adds a further layer of "How deal with the interaction of different groups of people?". But, all of this then rests on the question: "What, exactly, is a group of people?" Nowadays groups are mostly defined with a vague concept of "a nation", which comes with symbols like flags and anthems, and is tied to a certain geographical area. And, in most countries, the concept of "nation" often includes a common language, and a cultural identity with traditions, habits and annual festivals. Typically, these groups have a some sort of organization and a hierarchy, there is a management / leadership, and the common folks are supposed to respect their leaders. Now, if you ask me, a lot of philosophical debates boil down to the idea "I find it hard to respect the current leadership of the group I'm supposed to believe - instead I'd like to belong to an another group, which is organized the way I feel comfortable with". OK, this might sound trivial, but what I mean is that I don't believe in abstract universal terms like "it is wrong that.." or "government of type A is not legitimate". All the concepts of "right" and "wrong" and "legitimacy" are based on a (group of) people who share those views and values. And if a person A and a person B have different views of what makes a legitimate and righteous way to organize a group, there hardly is an objective way to settle whose view is more valid. (Which, to me, seems to imply that persons A and B actually belong to different groups, each supporting a different set of values and traditions. In this sense I think that "countries" and "nations" are purely artificial constructions which don't correspond to the actual groups real people identify with.) So, once again, does this then mean that we are left with infinite relativism? That any political view is OK if there is a group of people who believe it is OK? Hmmm - personally I have adopted a kind of a pragmatist stance - I don't find it very useful to discuss which view is right and which is wrong. I'm more interested in practical questions like: "What are the consequences of implementing these views? And I mean, what are the real consequences - as the desired consequences are often different that the real-life consequences. So, if we drop our ideological wishes, and observe the perceived consequences, over the decades we could build functional ways to organize a group. Probably having different groups organized in different ways, so that individuals could freely migrate from one group to another.

So, after that lengthy introduction, let's get to the actual topic I was thinking to write about. As, personally I dislike any forms of group organization which make some group members oppressed or exploited. I dislike slavery. I don't want to belong to a group which asks for some members of the group to trade their inner dignity for the sake of the group values. So I live a semi-hermit life in the Finnish woods =) But if that is what I dislike and don't want to be a part of, then do I have an alternative? Well, a minimal group consists of two members, and I find a human - horse relationship being a revealing and symbolical form of the basics of group organization. Just like with everything else, I'm not here to preach the others how they should deal with their own horses, or how they should organize their own group of people. And, when it comes to horses, personally I don't want to use whips and spurs. Well, that is also a metaphor of all the devices used to inflict pain on other creatures - and more broader, a way of using physical violence or a threat of physical violence as a means of maintaining the group hierarchy and leadership. And the way I think of it, this is not because I think that "using violence is wrong" - no, my way of thinking is a bit different. I think relying on a threat of violence grows distance and alienation between group members. If you are an oppressor, you don't really identify with the oppressed, there isn't such a honest feeling of meeting an another person. Well, I'm interested in this vague but deeply meaningful idea of being present, and being able to meet and to share with the others, without a need to hide ones true inner self. And anything like that can happen only in a safe atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.


Just like us humans, every horse has a different personality. And Raiku she is a wonderful strange kind of a character I can't always fully understand =) On the practical level, one of our problems has been that if she doesn't want to move onwards, she doesn't do it. She just stands still her feet rooted to the ground, her eyes half closed, seemingly staring into the nothingness and mostly just ignoring anything what happens around her. She was like that already as a young colt. Yes I know the standard approach would be to apply gradually growing pressure until the horse chooses to move. But, somehow, I have always had a deep feeling that this is not a solution I want, especially with Raiku. I haven't seen it as a mere problem with leadership, but a deeper question of group membership, ie. presence and sharing. It is natural for a horse to follow the movements of her herd. So, if I want to guide Raiku's movements, I have to establish a group membership relation with her, to find ways to connect and to communicate with the core of her soul, and to communicate my own ideas in such a way that Raiku would feel inspired to follow my movements.

In a way, every step I'd like the horse to take, should have a meaning to it. A meaning I can feel myself, and a sense of meaningfulness I manage to communicate to the horse in such a way that she understands it. And I think this has been one of my problems since the beginning. For example, as I have had an idea to train Raiku to pull a sleigh, it has all went well when I split the task into tiny sub-steps, and go slowly step by step. But any such moment when I'm thinking of the abstract goal "I'd like to see us hauling timber from the forest, and to learn that we first have to train this and that skills" - then it often happens that Raiku quits responding, grows disinterested, and simply refuses to follow me when I try to lead her. Today I understood that it might have something to do with me thinking in too abstract terms, which radiates unnecessary sense of pressure in the moment at hand. For the horse it feels like "now we have to do this, because of ungladhabumhgababugada-whatever !!!". And, since ungladhabumhgababugada-whatever makes no sense for Raiku, she sees the whole effort rather pointless. And then my means of trying to make her to do a pointless thing come closer to mild forms of oppression; I become the master who asks the servant to perform a meaningless task - and Raiku replies with telling that she doesn't want to adopt that role.

Personally I find it easier to find the meaning if we are having a walk in the woods. Then I often have a clear feeling of "we are going to walk there, and then we come back. And on our way we enjoy the scenery". But rather recently I have found a new meaning in the basic practice in the yard. I mean, I always knew that this kind of practice would be beneficial, but somehow I always failed to feel the sense of meaningfulness myself. This year I have felt a growing sense of meaning, which also means that I've felt more fully present in the moment. So, now we have couple of times been riding in the yard with Raiku, while Monica stays inside the winter pen. And I was surprised to see how different Raiku's behaviour has been when we aren't leaving the safety of the yard.

I chose a destination in my mind; "Let's go take a look at the frozen pond up there!" or "Let's go walk a half circle around that young pine and then head to that lone post over there". These arbitrary destinations felt somehow meaningful in my mind - not just because they are necessary steps of basic training in the process aiming at a bigger goal, but merely because it felt inherently fun just to be there together with Raiku. And, as simple as it might sound, but this was a total meditative practice for me. Riding without a saddle it makes a difference how my feet rest, how my lower back is relaxed enough to smoothly follow the rhythm of horse movement, and how my posture stays upright and stable. But if I concentrate too much on my own posture, I lose the sense of destination. Also, if I focus on the horse movement, I might unintentionally end up staring at the back of the head of the horse - once again not offering her a solid sense of meaningfully going somewhere. So, better just look at the chosen destination, with an inner sense of joy and meaningfulness. Ah, but then the horse might spook because of snow suddenly falling down the tree-branches behind our back - therefore I can't just stare at my chosen destination, but I also have to be aware of all the surroundings, so that I can safely communicate to the horse "oh, it wasn't a predator chasing us, it was just snow falling down. Trust me, I'm aware of the surroundings, and right now there is no need to flee in panic." All this combined becomes like an active meditation, a practice of being fully aware and present in the situation at hand, directly communicating intentions and meanings with an another sensible being.

Yes I think that horses are pretty good at communicating intentions. When a herd of horses runs free on plains, each member of the herd is able to smoothly follow the herd movement, taking every turn so that they don't end up colliding with each another. So, communicating intentions and directions of movement has to be rather natural for horses. I've been more and more thinking that it is up to me to learn to communicate my intentions so that they are natural for the horse to understand. And this is one of the things I've been surprised about - years ago when I abandoned using a bit and went to using a bitless bridle, I somehow thought that it might be a lot of training to teach the horse to react to cues given by the reins. And that the smoother it gets, the more training it needs. But now it seems that without any specific training Raiku has always been able to understand human bodylanguage, if it is communicated in a clear and natural way. If there is a herd-like contact between us, then it becomes both easy and natural for Raiku to react to my intentions. So, if I'm riding, and I turn my upper body to the right, also looking there, with an idea of going there, the horse is naturally able to understand my intention. Then loosening the inner rein is just an secondary signal telling that "yes, we are turning to the right", communicating the difference versus "there's something interesting over there, I take a look to identify what it is, but otherwise we just keep on moving forwards".

Here is a video from this morning. All of this has been kind of an adventure for me - diving nose first into the unknown territory. Mostly just following my intuition, learning by doing, and occasionally getting great insight and inspiration either by reading books or attending horsemanship clinics. For the past couple of years I've felt that at the current stage of my journey it is mostly about me getting rid of my inner sense of being somehow 'emotionally frozen'. I mean, the horse anyway communicates directly with the way I feel and what I am able to express. So, to get our co-operation flowing smoothly, I have to become emotionally fully present and openly expressing myself without fear, without modification, with respect and dignity. As, I still do believe that is possible to have group relations which aren't that much based on oppression, but more on mutual respect. To find such a shared moments of co-operation which leave all participants feeling accepted and appreciated.

We stop to take a look over the yard
We stop to take a look over the yard
Raiku moving
Raiku moving
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Aha! Your thoughts on political organization remind me of why I dislike federalism so much in the United States. We have such a large country, with such a diversity of cultures, that I think it is too large and varied for the one-size-fits-all top-down approach of federalism to work. I believe that the only valid purpose of the federal government in the United States is to protect the individual freedoms enumerated in our federal constitution (as was the original intent), and that everything else should be left up to the individual states and their localities. Then the individual states and localities would be free to govern themselves in whatever way worked best for them, instead of being forced to conform in some certain way by a majority who isn't even a part of the state and/or locality. Which could itself be considered an oppression.

But I digress. I remember that I promised not stomp on my soap box here too hard. Sorry about that, hehe. ;)

I am also reminded of the last time I rode a horse..... I don't own any horses myself, but my father and uncle own several. But anyway, a friend mentioned that she had never ridden before, so I invited her to the old homeplace to have a nice trail ride down an old carriage road.

It kind of ballooned into a whole-family affair, and my father didn't have enough horses for everyone. So I went to borrow one from my uncle, whom everyone calls "Possum".

Anyway, Possum had two horses that looked almost exactly the same at the time. One was broke and trained, and the other was still very green. And to top it all off, the mare that my father's wife was riding was in heat.

This of course put this green horse that I was riding into quite a mood. He bucked all the way down the carriage road, which was quite annoying, until we got to an old pasture down towards the end. The idea was that we would cross this pasture and come back up along the river, instead of following the road back.

But the horses didn't want to go into the tall grass. I figured they were just spooked by the tall grass, and urged Possum's horse out into it.

So that scared up the bear out that was hiding in the tall grass, which ran away from us towards the river. The horse was (understandably) frightened, and reared up on his hind legs and started spinning around. I just held on with my legs as tightly as I could and tried not to crack my scrotum on the saddle horn (with limited success lol). Somehow I stayed in the saddle, but I am not sure how. Lucky I guess. Or maybe strengthened by fear, haha.

So we turned around and that horse bucked all the way back to Possum's house. I have never been so sore after riding a horse, lol. And I haven't ridden since, though I would like to get a horse once I have my "new" house a little more finished.

Hehee, a great horse story - thanks for sharing! And it nicely illustrates that when a horse spooks or resists entering an area, it is not always because of them being afraid of things like a tarp flapping in the wind - sometimes it is because they sniff or hear a predator.

And what comes to politics; I think that generally speaking I pretty much agree with your views on federalism. (We are facing similar questions here in the EU, too.) But, from my personal experience, one little addition: I don't think a small-scale local government would somehow inherently be "better" than a distant federal government. For example, we used to have municipal adminstration of a local area with population ca. 5500 people. And in Finland the state-wide legislation sets kind of a framework for some questions, leaving it up to the local municipalities to decide the details which fit the local circumstances. OK, but in some questions I saw the local rules being pretty stupid - which was in a no way forced by the state legislation, but just decided here on the local level. Because, apparently, we have had some stupid people in the municipal adminstration making stupid decisions.

Also, when I lived in a countryside collective of about 6 - 10 adults (it varied from year to another), there were a lot of small details we had to decide by ourselves. For example, if we decided that once a day there is a common meal for everybody, and someone cooks that common meal - the state legislation says absolutely nothing about such arrangements, so all the details were left for us to figure out autonomously by the group itself. And, if you ask me, we pretty much failed to reach sustainable agreement in so many questions, and the system didn't feel that functional. Not because of any outside regulation, but merely because our lack in skills of communication.

So, that's why I take it down to the small-scale grass roots. Trying to understand and to improve the way I personally deal with other people (or horses) when I interact with them. Or, to rephrase; In some ways I think that the size or the distance of the government doesn't matter that much - what matters is the degree of idiocy and bigotry of the said government - be it an autonomous adminstration of 8 adults, or a global summit of world leaders.

we pretty much failed to reach sustainable agreement in so many questions

Personally, I believe that's because other people are hard to deal with, in the first place. And it's not the lack of communiaction skills, but mainly the fact that other people have their own interests and, in general, won't willingly contribute without clear benefits for themselves.

Sad but true.


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