Healing Our World Commentary: Autumnal Equinox and Illusions of Olympic Gold

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

Autumnal Equinox and Illusions of Olympic Gold

Earth mother teach me of my kin,
Of hawk and dove and flower,
Of blinding sunlight, shady knoll,
desert wind and morning showers.

Teach me every language of
the creatures that sing to me,
That I may count the cadence of
Infinite lessons in harmony.

-- Jamie Sams
(Jamie Sams is a writer, artist and teacher of Seneca, Cherokee and French descent. The granddaughter of Seneca elder and author Twyla Nitsch, she lives in Santa Fe.)

The wheel of the year turns once again to the Autumnal Equinox or Mabon as it was called by our pagan ancestors. The day and night are again of equal length and the cycles of life for us in the Northern Hemisphere come to our attention as the leaves change colors and death covers the landscape.

It is a time to reflect, to take stock of what you have received in the harvest and to prepare for the darker days ahead.

It is also a time of year that can remind us of so much that is illusion in our lives.


Autumn foliage colors the hills of Maine (Photo courtesy Maine Department of Conservation)
Anyone who has seen some of the 2000 Olympic Games now taking place in Sydney, Australia has experienced the reminder that there is another entire hemisphere of our planet where seasonal cycles are just the opposite of ours in the North.

While we are celebrating the coming of Fall, the Southern Hemisphere is celebrating the coming of Spring. But the residents of the Southern Hemisphere are forced to comply with the calendar of the north, and our traditional cold weather holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukah are celebrated at the height of their summer.

The Olympics dramatically calls our attention to other illusions in our world such as the idea of winners and losers.

For example, the 10 best swimmers in the world may compete in a race. The top three are chosen for the limelight - which includes lucrative contracts for commercial sponsorship. The remaining seven world champion athletes go home as losers, even though they have achieved a status that few in the world have attained.

There may be no greater illusion than that offered by the equestrian events. The riders receive praise and medals for forcing their horses to do things that would be quite unnatural for horses in their own world. They jump over barriers that they could easily go around, and they leap off a cliff into water of a depth they don't know.


Horse and ride take a fence (Photo courtesy Equestrian Times)
Ironically, the medal is given to the rider for prowess in forcing the horse to do what it instinctually knows is wrong. The prize should really be given to the horse.

To my way of thinking, the awards should really go to the horses who refused to jump, carrying their riders to safety by walking around the obstacle. Sadly, those incidents are considered failures, since the rider failed to control the horse, failed to force it to do something it did not want to do.

Accidents abound in the Olympic equestrian events. One horse dropped dead of unknown causes. Others have fractured and bruised legs. And millions watched as a horse incurred serious injuries after running headlong into an obstacle and falling head over heels, landing on its rider who suffered a fractured pelvis. A similar accident in Santa Rosa, California at equestrian trials in 1998 resulted in the death of the rider.

In fact, hundreds of people and horses are killed every year in riding accidents. In 1996 there were over 60,000 injuries to people riding horses. Seventeen percent were serious head injuries.


A line of horses whose useful life is over, waiting for slaughter (Photo courtesy Equine Advocates)
Contrary to what horse recreation and sporting organizations would have you believe, horses do not have a very good chance in our culture. They could be considered the animal most enslaved in our world, discarded for slaughter when they can no longer perform.

Horse abuse abounds in the world and is rampant in North America. It is estimated that over 100,000 American horses are slaughtered annually at plants in the U.S. and Canada. Many of the horses that wind up in cruel, dirty slaughterhouses were once valuable or beloved animals. But that love is often short lived.

More than a third of all slaughtered horses in the United States were bred for racing. When they are no longer competitive, they are sold at auction. Others sold for slaughter include rental horses, Amish mules, work and buggy horses, used up rodeo bucking stock, wild horses, urban carriage horses, unwanted pregnant mares and barren broodmares, as well as mares and foals used to make Premarin, a popular post-menopausal hormone.

So much for the beloved horse - loved as long as it produces or works according to human standards of performance and profit.

Have your children ever ridden the horses at summer camps, dude ranches or riding academies? They are among those sold for meat when they can no longer perform.

Of course the Olympic riders love their horses. In fact, one of the equine champions who recently died was rescued from an auction. And there are many loving horse owners in the world who would never subject their animals to this fate.

But sporting events also glorify and promote the relentless human domination over animals in our world.


Too weak to get up while waiting for auction, this animal had fresh material on his feet indicating he was recently used as a parade or show horse. (Photo courtesy Equine Placement Network)
Groups like Equine Advocates (see link below) attend these slaughter auctions. Using donations they try to buy as many horses as they can afford, providing them veterinary care, a safe home for the rest of their lives or, in many cases, relief from their suffering through euthanasia.

Last May, they attended an auction in Pennsylvania where they purchased a number of horses, including a sick horse named Paula who had been relentlessly driven as a buggy horse for tourists until she was profoundly lame. Her owners, looking for that last bit of profit, put her in the slaughterhouse auction.

As with other animal slaughterhouses, horse slaughterhouses are terribly cruel and brutal. Most of the meat is sold to Europe and Asia including gourmet markets in France, Japan and Belgium.

Sit quietly with your family and celebrate the coming of Fall. Reflect on the bounty of your harvest and the balance of darkness and light in your lives. See if you can model a lifestyle for children that includes compassion for all life and the end of the use of animals as slaves of the entertainment, recreation and food industries.

And say a prayer and make a commitment to act for the thousands of horses who live a life in bondage or who one day find themselves in the truck on their way to the slaughterhouse.


1. To learn the details of the horse slaughter, visit Equine Advocates at: http://www.allrealgood.com/equineadvocates/hs/index.html

2. The Dream Catcher Farm Horse Sanctuary is another horse rescue group at http://www.horsesanctuary.com/our_mission.htm and the Equine Placement Network has a website at: http://members.tripod.com/~SueE/down.htm

3. The American Association for Horsemanship Safety keeps statistics on human horse related injuries at: http://www.law.utexas.edu/dawson/

4. Learn about what you can do to end horse abuse and slaughter at: http://www.allrealgood.com/equineadvocates/hs/help.html

5. Find out who your Congressional representatives are and e-mail them. Tell them what you feel the priorities of our space exploration efforts should be. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html or you can search by state at http://www.webslingerz.com/jhoffman/congress-email.html. You can also find your representatives at http://congress.nw.dc.us/innovate/index.html

[Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle. He can be found watching the Olympics but shuddering when the equestrian events come on. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at: jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his website at: http://www.healingourworld.com]