Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Courage of Merlin

Above & below: Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza & Merlin

This is a repost from a few years ago...

For someone who lives in northern California, I'm kind of a bust as a tree-hugger.  Yes, I'm concerned about the environment, the planet and all the species on it.  I recycle.  I don't shop in places where I know the employees are treated badly or buy my pet supplies in places that sell animals. But I fall short of many of my friends' notions of protecting animal rights.

I regularly use a choke collar on my dog, nor am I averse to swatting her on the butt when she's being a jerk.  I eat meat.  I wear leather.  I don't listen compulsively (or at all) to NPR.  In fact, I pretty much avoid the news in all its forms - print, radio & visual.  (Actually, this last is no longer true.  I follow the BBC and the Japanese press, and a couple of other "news" sites.)  As a PC Californian I guess I rate a C-. 

And with this post I will probably lower my score even further.  I have a guilty pleasure - besides Haagen-Dazs - I'm in love with a bull-fighting horse.  His name is Merlin.
Actually, Merlin is no longer cavorting with El Toro.  He's enjoying a well-deserved retirement with some of the most comely mares around.  He's earned it.  Here's how Merlin used to earn his oats:
Watch him in action:

This animal takes my breath away.  I know, I know.  He's in danger.  He could be disemboweled or break all his legs at any moment.  It does happen to rejoneo horses.

But he is magnificent.  I'm in awe of the courage, speed, dexterity shown by this horse.  And of course, he is beautiful.

I stumbled upon this video a few years ago while looking at Dressage horses on You Tube.  I must have watched it fifty times.  It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  I showed it to lots of people.  Many of them were indignant-to-angry.  But they were all impressed with Merlin's poetry-in-motion.

Actually, it's more like Grand Opera than poetry.

But there's a big problem for me.  The bull.  When I'm not actually watching the Merlin videos (and sometimes even when I am) I think about the bull.  What the hell did this poor animal do to deserve this?  The answer, of course, is nothing.  And he will die, after being harassed, exhausted and wounded.

There is a whole class of bloodless bull-fighting - predictably started in California.  You can read about them here:

Bloodless Bull-Fighting

But most of my friends were much less indignant about the torture of 1200 lbs. of beefsteak than they were about "that beautiful horse."  I'm not sure why.  The bull is beautiful too.  A magnificent example of his kind, and equally subject to pain and terror.  And he goes into the ring with the virtual certainty of dying by - the sword, usually - although he doesn't know it when he is released into the ring.

But the bull aside, what about pitting a horse against a bull and exposing him to the possibility of painful injuries or death?  For me, the best way to answer that question is to compare Merlin's risks to those that we routinely find acceptable for horses and other animals.

Horses are used in a variety of sports and other activities that place them in harm's way.  From flat-racing to Steeplechase, 3-day eventing to rodeo and many others, horses are at risk of an "unnatural death."  Does that mean these activities should stop?  Apart from some of the more egregiously dangerous rodeo events like chuck-wagon races and so-called "wild horse races", it is not so much the race or other competition that puts the animals at risk, but the unnatural manner in which the horses are managed between their competitions.  And of course, especially in flat-racing, horses are trained and raced much too young - before they are physically mature.

Dogs are raced, fought, and do a variety of dangerous jobs.  They hunt varmints and course game. Sheepdogs work in all weathers and are sometimes injured or killed in the pursuance of their duties, as are police dogs, hunting dogs and of course, war dogs.  Should these activities be stopped too?

A pet dog is often placed at risk by owners who know little about a dog's constitutional and physical limitations and needs.  Torn cruciate ligaments are a common side-effect of dogs being allowed or encouraged to exercise too strenuously, too young at Frisbee, Agility or Lure-coursing.  And of course, dogs are most commonly placed at risk of illness and death by over-feeding and under-exercising - not to mention AKC style breeding practices. 

Which is more cruel, creating a dog which cannot mate, exercise or even breathe without being in constant danger of expiring, or putting a fully-trained and physically fit horse in a ring with a bull?

I don't have an answer to the question of whether a horse, like Merlin, should be subjected to the dangers of the bull-ring.  I wouldn't want my horse to do it, but then I wouldn't want my dog to walk point in front of a platoon of soldiers, sniffing for land-mines.  But I have admiration for the dog in sniffing in front of the soldiers and the horse dancing in front of the bull.
For more information about Merlin and rejoneo go to this page: (warning: there are some graphic images in videos linked to this page)

If Wishes Were Horses

For a history of horseback bullfighting go to this page:

Andalusians de Mythos

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