Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Taming 'Wild' Horses

A Beach Walk at Sun Bay, Vieques, PR.

At first glance, it is easy to be mesmerized by the 'wild' horses on Vieques Island. The beauty and freedom that they display are easy to appreciate and create a romantic facade.


If you have taken your time to connect with the horses of Vieques, you will likely be able to share a story of how they have made a difference in your life...like they have mine. When you realize the 'rest of the story', there is a great amount of depth here that many do not take into account which allows an opportunity for making the world a little better place to be.

Eye See You...Photos by Jacqueline Bambenek

In my last post, I talked about sitting with a female horse and being present with her. With the tears streaming down her face, I wanted to understand. Why are you so sad beautiful girl? It was as though through her tears she was speaking to me. The clarity of the horse situation is beginning to show itself. This last week, I received a glimpse of how we can all make a difference - through the 'wild horses of Vieques'.

First of all, the history of the wild horses is that their ancestors were brought here by the Spanish conquistadors back in the early decades of the 16th century. There is a regal quality to them that many enjoy. What many do not realize is that most of these horses are not 'wild'. They are quickly captured and branded to boast possession.

I know this is really sad...and to get you the full feeling of what concerns me as well as possible solutions, I am going to share some graphic pictures with you. The title of my blog is 'Everyday Magic: Dancing with the Universe - and you hopefully will see some possibilities that may occur by gaining greater visibility for the struggles relating to the local people who live here and the horse population. 

I would love to introduce to you - el Valiente...and we invite you to share his story with your horse and animal loving friends.

el Valiente - 'the brave one'
el Valiente being 'broken', abused, tied up, and not give water or food for four days.
The brave and courageous...el Valiente.

This last week, a few concerned citizens reached out to share their growing concern and to ask for a united effort to help a horse affectionately named el Valiente ('the brave one'). It seemed as though el Valiente's 'owners' were using inhumane practices to try to 'break' their horse. 

El Valiente had been tied very tightly to a post - that had razor wire on it as well as on the ground around the post, he was deprived of water and food for four days, and he was violently branded with a hot knife on his face and body with an 'S' type marking. The final straw came when those attempting to 'tame' him were loading weight onto his back and he collapsed, which was witnessed by several people. The police questioned those who were there and quietly turned and left, without any support for el Valiente, without any type of reprimanding to these young men. El Valiente's sad story does not end there. We were made aware yesterday that he was stolen from his real owner and they are in the process of being reunited.

The goal in this method of cruel horse 'breaking' is to make them weak and tired until they have no strength left and can only submit. I wish it could be said that this form of horse breaking and abuse is a rare occurrence. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It is heartbreaking to see and when you become aware of it, you begin to see how prevalent this type of behavior is.

This momma and baby have been seen quite frequently over the past two weeks.  Their faces are branded and they are extremely thin. They have also captured the hearts of local residents.

Facial branding with hot knives is a common practice.

Mom also has the same facial and front leg branding.

Skinny Mama and baby. - Photos by Ted Konkel.

Being that there are no rules for keeping horses in a corral, many owners choose to allow their horses to forage freely. There is much grass and fresh mango along the road sides and around the island. It is common to see several horses driving around this 52 square mile island. There are many times that I see 30 in open view during the six mile drive from Isabel Segunda to Esperanza.

When first arriving on the island you think about how lovely it is to see the wild horses roaming freely. Vieques Island is a gorgeous destination for traveling...with beautiful beaches and activities including: snorkeling, scuba diving, and the world famous Mosquito Bio-luminescent Bay which lights up the water with any form of movement under the star filled night sky.

The reality is much different than one would first imagine when glancing at the horses. When a new horse is born, they are often captured and branded by young men who think that it is a numbers game. 'The more horses you own, the bigger a man you are' - is a popular opinion without thought given to the humane treatment of the animal and responsibility required for ownership. They are possessions to be 'broken' to make them docile so they will be easy to ride. They are often left to fend for themselves and live off this lush land.

Allowing the horses to free range along side the roadways also brings the concern for local traffic. Although the speed limit is only 35 mph - there are a number of accidents which destroy horses, vehicles, and cause personal injury. 

Baby who was hit by car. Photo by Sandra Mudge.

This beautiful baby was hit by a car last week. My friend waited for five hours with her as she called local Police and US Fish & Wildlife, attempting to locate someone to assist with animal control. After the long wait, the US Fish & Wildlife Dept. arrived and provided assistance by euthanizing the young horse and removing her body.

No one seems to want to claim responsibility for the care of these horses, so it falls onto the citizens to advocate for their well being. How can we go about getting Animal Control Officers who will care for them? 

My friend went on to tell me that one of her friends hit a horse last month on his scooter and was in a coma for a week with a total of three weeks in the hospital. There is no firm count on the number of animals killed each year on the roadways of Vieques, though I have heard estimates between 50 and 200.

Milk Stop Road Block.  Photo by Ted Konkel.
Traffic jams on Vieques Island are normally caused by horses and consist of less than ten cars. :)  Photo by Jacqueline Bambenek.

Here is a little historical trivia. The population on Vieques Island is approximately 9,500, which includes many who return to the mainland during low season. (The population of horses is approximately 2,000.) The unemployment rate is around 60% with the number of people living below poverty level being around 70%. There are few jobs on the island and the education system is terrible with little opportunity for future growth. Many turn to drugs or other illegal activities to survive.

With those statistics you have few people that actually have the means including land to graze or funds to care for a horse let alone themselves. The Viequenses people have endured a great deal this past century. 

The US government possessed 2/3 of the island and used it as a bombing range for US Military operations for nearly 60 years which ceased in 2001 after a series of heavy protests. The efforts to clean up the ocean and the land are on going as they estimate that over 300,000 munitions were fired over this time frame contaminating approximately 9000 acres of property.

This year marks the 10 year anniversary of the military leaving the island. The land once occupied by the military has been under the control of the US Fish and Wildlife Service since 2003. This background lends insight into the culture of the island and her people. Vieques was once a booming port with sugar cane crops and plantations. The only remnants of this life are on display at the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust and in the falling down remnants of plantations. It leaves me with the question, what can we do to make a difference and help to restore the livelihood of the Viequense people?

We teach our children through our actions as well as through our non-action. We work to provide them with the tools that we learned to attempt to teach them how to be a productive member of society and to participate in life. What I see is a culture who needs help...as their true culture has been disrupted by our Government and Military Occupancy here. I see so much beauty around me, yet little opportunity to succeed.

I think about the importance of sharing with our youth a desire to love and respect the Earth and nature. What can we provide to make the greatest impact for the future of our world? It begins with respecting ourselves and extending that to one another and our world. How can we teach this? One idea is by offering a program called JUNTOS, which the Vieques Rotary Club is trying to generate funding for in conjunction with the Humane Society helping children to learn respect for others and animals.

There is GREAT potential here...because there is so much room for growth. It is a small island community which would be a great incubator for evaluating the difference we can make. If I have ever seen a situation that has such great potential for change it is with these amazing people - who have 'endured' so much over the many decades. These children are beautiful and they deserve a chance for a future and they will extend that to the lives of others around them - human and animal friends. That is where the magic lives...that is the dance with the universe - in the possibilities.

I am fully of the belief that we each have a contribution to make. It doesn't matter what our employment status or poverty level is. We all have gifts and purpose to share in this world. We are provided with opportunities for change and betterment as our awareness grows, and there is great strength in our diversity and through adversity. It is as though this world is a great big puzzle and each of us carry in us a piece to make it complete.

There are also many wonderful and caring horse owners on the island who can adequately provide for the needs of a horse and treat them in a loving manner. They are as upset by this mistreatment of animals as well. 

This past weekend many horse owners participated in the los caballos de la Cabalgata en Vieques. A day when horse owners groom their horses and take them out on parade. It was beautiful to see the connection that these people share with their animals. It is easy to see the love and how much they care for one another.

los caballos de la Cabalgata en Vieques - Eddie and Alain.
How does it get better than this state of beauty? Photos by Margo Cheney.
It is amazing how easy it has been to relate to the horses...even after so many experiences before that had left me fearful of them. They are all individuals with different attitudes and temperaments. I can't help to see the reflection of myself in them...and how I feel about being 'tamed' from my free spirited nature. 

Feeling the fear of the horse and humanity of 'not being good enough' or 'not up to others standards or expectations'. Society in a way does the same thing to us - attempting to tame us into being good students and workers. Can we attempt to see the qualities that make each unique - whether person, horse, dog, or other animal - and thrive on our abilities as well as our 'imperfections'.

In an attempt to hear the concerns of horse owners and residents there will be a meeting on Thursday, September 12 - 11 am, at Duffy's in Esperanza. Everyone is welcome to attend. The goal is to offer a non-violent horse training called 'Horse Reset', free of charge for all residents who are interested. This meeting will be a first step in seeing what type of positive outcomes are possible when we unite with a common interest.

We will be attempting to raise funds over the next couple of months to assist with the airfare, lodging, and meals for a Spanish speaking trainer to teach valuable skills to horse owners. With enough interest, in the future we would also like to provide scholarships to attend training clinics off the island to bring valuable skill sets and create local mentors to help assist in the needs of the island horses and their owners.

If you are able to help financially, please send a check to Vieques Humane Society with 'Horse Training Clinic' written in the memo portion of the check sent to: VHS, PO Box 1399, Vieques, PR 00765. Click here to donate via paypal - click on 'Other One-Time Contributions' - and add a special instruction to include 'Horse Training Clinic' in this remarks area.  

I commend the Vieques Humane Society for their efforts in caring for the abandoned island animals at their shelter outside of Isabel Segunda. Every Friday it is a great joy to participate in walking of the dogs, where they are able to run free and enjoy a little beach time and loving attention. Volunteers are always welcome to meet at the Humane Society between 9:30 am - 1:30 pm. It is definitely a win for the dogs and a win for those who share their time with them.

It has been a pleasure to connect with local non-profit organizations who are committed to bringing greater possibilities to the island. The Rotary Club of Vieques is doing a beautiful job in raising money to fund JUNTOS for the children in the Vieques School System teaching Humane Education. Fund raising is currently on going to offer this program and we need your help - please share with your local Rotary Club to see if they are able to provide financial assistance. The Vieques Conservation & Historical Trust (VCHT) provides a summer program called MANTA to the children of Vieques which offers environmental education to those kids who are interested. Thank you also to animal lovers Vieques and Caballos de Vieques for generating visibility, sharing information, and being willing to facilitate change by bringing awareness through education.

Jacqueline Bambenek with horses at Sun Bay, Vieques, PR. Photos by Ted Konkel.

I have enjoyed the blessing of being able to get close enough to love and appreciate these beautiful animals.

Please share this blog post with animal lovers, horse lovers and Rotary members who you know. Grateful for YOU and your assistance in helping us to gain greater visibility!!! 

No comments:

Post a Comment