Savage Devices

Henry Fleming

Must I use harsh knives and forks to eat?  No.  But the outcome is lovelier and more efficient when I rise to it.  And, so far, I’ve avoided stabbing myself in the face.

Bits and spurs are utensils, not medieval relics for torture.  Could I abuse the convenient proximity of silverware and potential victims of my notorious impatience with the civil, superficial discourse expected to accompany the average sit-down meal?  Indeed.  But not while observing the most basic laws of self-preservation, civilized norms, and deviating somewhat from the less savage intentions of silverware’s innovators … whomever they were.  In any event, it would be self-defeating, and certainly beyond the pale of the artistic … unless I did it to make a point regarding the human condition, which, admittedly, I have considered from time to time:  once as an adolescent under orders to finish my peas with a spork; and more recently, upon accidentally watching a “Humane Horse Training” video.  From Russia, no less.

Like any good teacher, I love my quadrupedal students fairly unconditionally.  My relationship is richer with some than others.  They seem to enjoy time with me also, though this may be purely sycophantic, as, obviously, I’m the only one they know well bearing the precious qualities of 1) opposable thumbs, and 2) access to a feed room.  Regardless of their sincerity, I would never knowingly cause them any more pain than I would my own children in the course of training them for combat, martial arts, sports, ballet, etc.  Considering the case of my 13 year-old daughter (who will kill me when she reads this), perhaps less pain.  Perhaps somewhat less.

I am opposed to those who argue spurs (or bits in general), in and of themselves, are abusive.  It seems presumptuous of others – insulting, really – to imply I’m any less capable of discerning and avoiding discomfort in other living creatures than they – certifications and what-have-you notwithstanding.  Are they more empathetic?  More sensitive?  Who can say?  I’ll tell you who can tell whom can say:  Whomever I say can say – that’s who can say.  And I say they can’t.  Say.  At least not without me whining a diatribe about it, posting it on the internet, and then not worrying about it or them very much thereafter.

As long as I’m saying who can say things, let me say this also:  apparently few organisms irk me more than the self-righteous.  And I count those who go about promoting bit-less gear, treeless gear, and what have you, on a moral basis, under the implicit or explicit context of avoiding ‘animal abuse’ among them.  They’re clearly ‘doing it wrong’ – and presuming everyone else must be as well – if they believe torture is the only possible effect of using “steel”. 

In a universe blessed with cartesian logic on the one hand, and damned by so many unresolved, confounding, irreconcilable, and yet painfully observable facts on the other, they, the self-appointed jury, operate with a blind abandon to both orders of truth – ignoring even the most glaring conundrums facing the sentient.  Appealing to a false (or at least highly subjective) morality, promoting an invariably self-serving sentimentality, they create a mess of things among the young, naive, and uneducated – a mess we thinking people are obliged to either mop up as best we can, or watch spread like a cancer among the innocent.  But then I could be wrong about everything.

Bits and spurs are no more ‘abusive’ than knives, forks, and ‘back massagers’ – which may all be used abusively.  Or at least sinfully.  I am quite certain I do not abuse them, and that my horses do feel abused by them.  Moreover, I am certain the fidelity of communication they enable greatly expedites the education of my horses.  Could I operate without them?  Of course I could, and 95% of the time I do – whether I happen to be wearing them or not.  But they are an important appeal during early training in order achieve the clear, crisp response I want for both increasing and reducing impulsion.

Sadly, I am unable to prevent microbes from purchasing horses, or spurs, and from abusing them – either through neglect, improper riding, unreasonable expectations, or from the misuse of equestrian tackle.  But, regrettably, such abuse will go on occurring whether I use these instruments in my tiny universe, or whether I do not.  Certainly, those who follow my prescriptions will become talented and empathetic enough to use these instruments as intended, and so too the individuals who learn from them.

So, fair warning, moralizers:  you’ll pry these age old instruments from my cold, dead hands (along with my lighter), else suffer an unending debate with someone who relishes the discovery of new groundless arguments put forth by people with time enough to try and defend them.

To the work.

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