weekend (and then some) recap

I did an absolutely terrible job of prepping last week for my planned absence.  I knew I was going to a conference from Tuesday through Friday and just… ran out of time to write blogs in my epic lack of preparation.  So what I did do was go to a primate people conference in Bend, Oregon which was an amazing choice because it’s delicious and full of good beer and beautiful.

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Our road trip there was made a teeeennnsy weensy bit (approximately 20%) longer due to Google Maps/navigator error (depending on if you ask the navigator) and I ended up driving through some absolutely beautiful alpine meadows and high Sierra and national forests and it was gorgeous.

IMG_20150619_173741-2It must be so unpleasant to live near Mt Shasta….

Bend itself was also gorgeous — green and lush and riverine and full of promising beer menus.  I got to hang out with my friends from grad school who have since departed, and attend a bunch of talks related to my research interests.  I’m super pumped to work on my thesis again now!  Hanging out around scientists and going to talks always gets me stoked on science again.  So that is awesome.

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I left the conference early to head to one of my best friends’ weddings in Monterey which was amazing and beautiful in and of itself.  This is one of my first friends to get married and it’s so awesome to see your friends so happy.  And seriously, the bride was gorgeous.  And the groom was super handsome.  The ceremony was perfect — light and cheerful and full of love.  And the party.  Oh my god.  I danced so much my calves are killing me today.  I’ve never had sore calves from riding but yet jumping up and down for hours on end will, apparently, make them sore.

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I’m a little freaked out that Murray had such a big vacation right before the show, but he did get a couple of rides from friends.  This week is my last week to do any prep, so that will be, uh… interesting.  Well, what I really hope is that it’s not interesting and just goes really smoothly.

#bossmareup

Disclaimer: This post is only tangentially related to horses.  However, it is very related to horse people.  Also, cursing lies ahead.

Last week I watched one of my friends fall off her horse and, in a freak accident, fall just right (or rather, just wrong) to break six bones in her ankle and leg.  Friend was riding around and her mare had done a few perfect lead changes so she thought she’d ask for one more.  Mare trips, recovers, changes leads, kicks out, starts porpoising, and as said friend was already unbalanced from the trip it was, unfortunately, not meant to be.  Trust me, I’ve seen her sit way worse.  Anyway, I immediately headed over to her (as her horse had been contained) and friend was like “yeah, it’s not good, it hurts. My ankle might be broken.” And then quietly sat like a champ and talked to her mom and shockingly calm husband for like 20 minutes while the ambulance arrived.  No tears.  No water works.  No screaming.  She broke six motherfucking bones and I have made a bigger deal over bad dressage tests.

This weekend our assistant trainer had a horse jump on her foot and then she rode in a clinic before going home to put ice on it.  Not broken bones, but a nice, crushing soft tissue injury that she rode through with four Advil and pure determination driving her.

Equestrians.  We are fucking tough.

So you can understand why I’m a little…confused…when I hear the term “man up” or “sack up” thrown around.  Especially at the barn.  What man around here is breaking six bones in his leg and brushing it off like a sprained ankle?  What man in my life gets thrown into a pile of wood twice in forty five minutes, gets back up to try it again, and does it again the next four days for good measure?  What man do I know with a titanium plate in his collarbone because a horse tripped and somersaulted over him?  What man is disciplining three 1000 pound animals at once and reminding them who is herd boss by sheer force of will?

I don’t personally know any men doing these things.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think men are great.  I love my boyfriend – he reaches tall things, cooks for me, helps me lift up heavy things, and takes good video.  But give the guy a little rhinovirus and he’s laid up in bed for a week.  (They call it man-flu for a reason.)  That little joke aside, the point of this post is not to mock men or devalue them or make them seem less than women in any way.  I know there are many talented male equestrians – riders, farriers, barn managers, and the rest – that should be respected, but in the vast majority of barns, women rule.

Instead, I think we should consider changing the way we talk to emphasize and value women more than we currently do.

So why do we tell people to man up when, for equestrians, many of our icons of strength and determination are women?  Perhaps we should change our vernacular a little?  I believe in the value of words, and maybe, just maybe, if we make the way we speak more appreciative of women in general, young women will also come to appreciate themselves more.

To this end, I propose that every time you find yourself inclined to reach for the term “man up” you instead use “woman up” or “ovary up”.  After all, the vagina, uterus, and ovaries are certainly physically stronger than the average male anatomy.  Dan Savage has a great way of putting this, which goes something like “Balls are not strong.  They are weak – kick them and they incapacitate their owner with pain.  Vaginas are strong.  Vaginas take in sperm and SPIT OUT BABIES.  Respect the vagina”.

But I don’t want to go around yelling “vagina up” in the general public or at horse shows.  And “uterus up” sounds weird.  So I’m going with “woman” or “ovary” instead.

OH WAIT. I just had a genius idea.  Perhaps “MARE UP”?  Ehhh?  I know a LOT of mares more determined than any man I know.  Ah yes, I have arrived at the best one of all: boss mare up.  Boss Mare Up, ladies!

Thus I invite you all to #bossmareup and join me!!

(And for getting to the end of my nuttiness, I reward you with an image of Murray and Connor making out.)

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Many and strong opinions: I hate loris tickling videos, and I always will.

The universe seems to be conspiring against me this week, filling my feeds and IV lines of internet with images I utterly hate seeing.  Images I have to pause, cancel, or report when I see them because, yes, I feel that strongly about them.  Loris tickling, elephant rides, swimming with dolphins, posing with tigers, and that goddamn Android commercial – they all make me cranky.

Why are these images so bad?  Well, they all depict wild animals with humans, either being abused, neglected, or poorly treated, or being treated as pets, which is only marginally better.  In no universe do I support wild animals being kept as pets – I believe there is always a better solution, though, I will admit, not necessarily a quick better solution.  And not only do I believe that wild animals are not pets, sharing and viewing these images contributes to the problem more than to the solution – regardless of how cute they are.  So here they are, my many and strong opinions regarding the adorableness that is lion and chimpanzee, bear and tiger, and any parrot in a cage.

IMG_2237Where baby animals should be: with their mamas.

A brief explanation of why wild animals should never be pets

I worked with mostly orphaned chimpanzees when I lived in Africa, all victims of human actions – the vast majority of whom lived with people for at least a few years before they made it to a sanctuary.  These chimps were, of course, duly thrown away once they became too large, unruly, willful, and generally chimpanzee-ish for their humans to appreciate or control any longer.  So there’s your reason number one – wild animals are just that: wild.  They don’t play by human rules, and their natural selves are not appropriate for any human setting both due to danger to the humans and to the animal in question.

Then, of course, there are the inferior nutritional, space, and cognitive needs of wild animals that almost all humans are in capable of providing – either due to a lack of appropriate education or the general lack of human structures to contain wild animals. These, obviously, contribute to the likelihood that someone – animal or human – will be hurt.  And finally, and most importantly to me personally, no human can adequately provide for the social needs of a wild animal.  It is pure arrogance to think you can.  No animal is completely, utterly, entirely solitary – they all need to interact with others at least a little – and without other animals in their species, they are missing out on important social and cognitive stimulation that is horrifically detrimental in the long run.

Of course, many others have written about this, so there’s no need for me to continue to beat the dead horse.

IMG_7861Mmm not in my house, thanks.

But lots of the animals in those videos aren’t pets! They are just hanging out on a lawn with a puppy!

This is true.  Much of the media showing wild animals in inappropriate settings doesn’t show them specifically as pets, but in settings where, at least to me, they are being housed extremely inappropriately.

IMG_5147The opposite of inappropriate housing: in a giant enclosure living with her new family.

So those adorable tigers at the sanctuary, they’re clearly not pets, right?  Definitely not.  They definitely wouldn’t have been separated from their mother at birth, replaced with piglets dressed in tiger skins so the mother doesn’t get mastitis.  Those cubs definitely wouldn’t have been bottle raised by humans, and then sedated for tourists to take pictures of them.  They definitely won’t be discarded when they are too big or rowdy for tourists to cuddle, or subjected to the same breeding schedule as their mother – who has, by the way, already had another litter that has been taken away from her.  (She may also have eaten a pig or two.)

Of course, not all of this media is of animals living in baaaaaaaaasically the worst case scenario.  Many of these animals live in facilities that provide at least a modicum of care, don’t breed them back to back, and yet somehow still fall short.  Sure, a lion cub and a puppy playing together are adorable.  But why is that lion cub playing with a puppy instead of other lions?  It’s not like there are no other lions anywhere in the country or continent for a lion to be appropriately socialized with.  Okay, so maybe other lions weren’t easy to get a hold of.  Obviously a little socialization with a puppy is better than nothing?  Sure it is, until that lion becomes too big and strong to play with said puppy, and then it’s into solitary or conspecific housing with him.  And you know what skills a lion (insert any other wild animal here) isn’t going to develop growing up with a puppy?  Social skills with his own species.  I cannot tell you the sadness I have witnessed in the chimps that were raised with humans for years – decades sometimes – and then dumped into a social group when their owners were sick of them.  It was emotionally devastating.

IMG_3401Poco — sweet, kind, and hated every minute of having to live with other chimps.

It’s a lot like an orphan colt that’s been raised in a house, watching TV with people, sitting on the couch, sleeping in the dog beds, and generally enjoying a lot of human company  When he grows up to be big, mouthy, and hurt people – and he will – what happens to him?  (I haven’t seen the documentary, but I’ve been told by many that Buck covers it.)  I would posit that it’s more than mere negligence or a poor choice for a colt to be raised this way – it is cruelty.

Those animals are already in captivity, so why shouldn’t I watch a video of them?

You’re right, in many cases the animals in those videos were taken out of the wild or bred many years ago, and the videos of them are really just soooo cute.  So why not watch the videos of them?  It’s not like you’re watching a video of a baby chimp being brutally ripped off of his mother and handed to a human as a pet – how much harm can watching those adorable loris tickling videos really do?

Well, studies on how images influence public opinion have shown that every time someone sees a picture of a primate in a non-wild setting, they are more likely to think both that a) primates make good pets and b) the primate in question is not endangered and populations are doing excellently in the wild.  Every book cover where some white lady is playing with a baby chimp, every video where a tourist bottle feeds a tiger, every selfie with a monkey, every elephant ride, every time someone sees one of these things, it tells their brain that doing those things with those animals is normal, acceptable, safe, and not harmful to the animals in question.  But what do you think happens to the elephants that refuse to carry passengers anymore?  To the macaques who steal too many cell phones, sunglasses, or the dignity of tourists?  To those baby tigers when they grow up and aren’t cute or compliant enough for people to bottle-feed them and take pictures with them?  I know, and I can tell you, it is nothing good.

Even images of animals with other animals can have a harmful effect on public opinion.  Every time I see that Android commercial I cry a little inside – why is that lion cub hanging out with a bulldog instead of its mother and brothers?  Why is that elephant hanging out with a black lab instead of her mother, sister, and daughters?  Why is Roscoe the orangutan playing with a dog instead of with other orangutans his age?  WHY ARE A BEAR AND A TIGER SO BONDED TO ONE ANOTHER?!

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So there you have them – a few of my many and strong opinions.  Now, this is not to say all captive institutions are bad, and I could talk your ear off about zoos, sanctuaries, accreditation, and the rest of it.  I hope that this gives you a little insight to why I don’t watch those videos, and I hope you won’t watch them in the future either.

The studies mentioned above, regarding images and public perception of apes, can be read below.  They are public-access and very well written!

Ross, Vreeman, Lonsdorf.  2011.  “Specific Image Characteristics Influence Attitudes about Chimpanzee Conservation and Use as Pets

Leighty et al. 2015. “Impact of Visual Context on Public Perceptions of Non-Human Primate Performers