- Firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values; incorruptibility
- An unimpaired condition; soundness
- The quality or state of being complete or undivided
Definition from Merriam-Webster
Recently, I have had occasion to ponder what it truly means “to have integrity”—integrity as an equestrian, as a professional, as a human being. Integrity means living your values and acting in accordance with your most deeply held principles, even when no one is watching. It means speaking up when you witness a deed or an action that violates your core beliefs, and sometimes, it means leaving a situation in which those values are violated so consistently that you can no longer function.
The equine community is fraught with situations in which one’s ability to act with integrity is put to the test. It is no secret that the horse world is more divisive than it is unified, and discord among professionals is common. When it comes to minor details of management—the “best” way to wrap a bridle, the “right” material to use in a bandage—I hope that most of us have the perspective to realize that there are, in fact, many possible (correct) answers. But when it comes to the “big stuff”— issues that truly impact the care and long-term well-being of the animals themselves—it can be harder or impossible to compromise on divergent perspectives.
When I find myself in these situations, I always try to assume good intent. In other words, if I am in disagreement with a fellow professional, but I believe that we are both operating from a place that honors our personal integrity when it comes to the care and humane treatment of horses (drawn from our education, experience and intuition), it has often been possible to resolve the conflict. These are hard conversations to have, as are any that dig down into a person’s core values and beliefs. But what of those individuals who are simply unwilling to even enter into this dialogue, perhaps because such a conversation will expose their inability to listen to others, to seek appropriate help and/or to acknowledge their own lack of knowledge or understanding?
This becomes a question of integrity.
In 1965, in response to a government report on livestock husbandry, the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council released a document articulating the minimal requirements necessary to ethically care for any animal kept under human control. Known as the Five Freedoms, these tenets have been adopted by internationally known groups including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the World Organization for Animal Health.
The Five Freedoms are:
1) Freedom from Hunger and Thirst by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor.
2) Freedom from Discomfort by providing appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
3) Freedom from Pain, Injury and Disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
4) Freedom to Express Normal Behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
5) Freedom from Fear and Distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering
These principles were first shared over fifty years ago; while progress has been made, it saddens me to know that as a whole, humankind still fails to meet even these minimal baselines in our custodianship of other species. When it comes to equines specifically, those of us who not only care for them on a daily basis but rely upon them for our livelihood perhaps should post these tenets on our fridge, on our laptop and on the mirror we look at every morning. In particular, we must ask ourselves—does my work with horses violate any of their Five Freedoms? If so, how can I, how must I, do better?
To do better requires integrity. For me, professionally and personally, in order to live with authenticity (see below), I cannot and will not tolerate those who do not act with integrity toward the animals.
- Undisputed credibility
- The quality of being genuine or real
Definition from vocabulary.com
Having integrity requires authenticity. Authenticity is living your talk, and that sometimes means speaking and acting on behalf of your conscience. Many humans do not behave in an authentic manner. They play games, play politics, and play roles. Some are addicted to power and will do whatever it takes to maintain it, acting in different ways depending on who is around, manipulating facts, and blaming others for their own shortcomings. Trying to maintain one’s own authenticity while others around you do not is a true test.
Horses, unlike humans, are always authentic. Their actions are the direct result of their biological needs or emotional state. Horses do not deliberately act in misleading ways, have an agenda, care about your goals for them or carry an ego about what they can or cannot do. Horses just are. If we are willing, horses can teach us to live in the present and to allow our inner and outer selves to come into authentic alignment.
For humans, living with authenticity takes courage and strength. It may cost friendships, jobs or clients when living with authenticity requires you to take action. But the cost of not living with authenticity is even greater, because when we compromise on our core values, the dissonance this creates will manifest itself—physically, emotionally, psychically.
In dedicating time and reflection to this subject over the past several weeks, I am reminded yet again that attempting to control the actions, beliefs or behavior of anyone besides ourself is a futile endeavor. Knowing that I have and will continue to do my best work to promote compassionate horsemanship—and that others will do what they do— is perhaps the only way I know to overcome the impacts of those who do not operate with integrity and authenticity within the industry.
I will close today’s meanderings with one of my favorite quotes:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” ~ Maya Angelou