If Changing the Way You Work with Horses Could Change the World…Would You Do It?

Susan G.:

And so begins The Compassionate Equestrian dialogue. We welcome your participation in helping us create a new paradigm of care and mindfulness toward your horses, and all living beings.

We realize many of you have just received the book and we thank you very much for your purchase. It is a lot of reading, therefore, I will pick up with blog posts on the book’s Principles starting next week.

Dr. Schoen and I are extremely grateful to our wonderful editor, Rebecca Didier, and all of the dedicated, professional staff at Trafalgar Square Books.

Happy reading, and we look forward to hearing from you!

Susan

Originally posted on Trafalgar Square Books Blog:

Photo by Keron Psillas. Photo by Keron Psillas.

In their new book THE COMPASSIONATE EQUESTRIAN, world-renowned veterinarian and author Dr. Allen Schoen and long-time trainer and competitor Susan Gordon introduce the 25 Principles of Compassionate Equitation, a set of developmental guidelines that encourage a profound level of personal awareness during not only interactions with horses, but with all sentient beings. By developing deeper compassion for our horses—and for ourselves—equestrians take the first step on a path to transcending differences and disagreements, learning instead to empathize and connect more closely with the “global collective” of horses and horse people.

The 25 Principles are simple changes any horseperson can make that will ultimately have a vast impact on his or her relationship with the horse, the state of the horse industry, and the world as a whole.

In chapter 11 of THE COMPASSIONATE EQUESTRIAN, Dr. Schoen and Gordon discuss the concept of training with…

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IT’S YOUR MOVE(ment)

“Fear of movement has repeatedly been shown to be a strong predictor of chronic disability in patients suffering from pain, and also a major barrier to exercise and activity.” 

Canadian Physiotherapy Association

\http://physiotherapy.ca/Practice-Resources/Professional-Development/Webinars/Interpretation-des-indicateurs-de-resultats/Translating-Outcome-Measures-Outlines/Archived-Outlines/Tampa-Scale-for-Kinesiophobia-%28TSK%29

Have you ever felt yourself “paralyzed” by fear? It could be mental, physical, or both. Do you think horses experience similar behaviors to our own when confronted with fear-based memories and trauma?

In the wild, the fear of movement (kinesiophobia) is overridden by the horse’s prey-animal response. Even if injured, a horse will run away if he feels threatened. The sub-cortical processes that developed for survival take over, and there is no way to soothe the frightened animal until the threat and fear of threat is removed. The horse naturally reacts much in the way the zebra is described in the article below (quotes in italics):

http://www.healthcentral.com/chronic-pain/c/23153/147406/movement/

“If a zebra in the safari injures his leg, he keeps moving as much as possible because he needs to survive. If a human injures his leg, he may stop moving because he is too scared to move. This fear of movement (kinesiophobia) is rooted in the belief that pain is harmful and threatening.”

The zebra, like the wild horse, will alter his gait, avoid the pain as much as possible, and find a way to cope. He won’t stay still and think about it, knowing he won’t survive too long if he doesn’t keep moving.

With humans, avoidance behaviors impact mental and physical health moreso than directly affecting survival skills.

“On the other hand, humans can get all wrapped up in worry; worry about not being able to go to work, worry about not being able to keep up with the house, worry about the unknown, and worry about future. These threats to basic livelihood promote anxiety, pain and the fear of movement.”

It would appear that in mammals with a more evolved cortex and reasoning skills, the body-mind connection is so acute that when we are in fear, both our physical and mental aspects are profoundly affected. In other words, physical pain can have a detrimental effect on our psyche, and mental pain, such as depression, can ultimately manifest as a reflection in our physical state.

“Physical health declines from lack of movement as the body becomes deconditioned. Mental health declines from lack of movement as the person becomes more depressed. As the overall health declines while the fear of movement grows, the pain will become worse and the cycle will perpetuate itself. If you are stuck in this fear of movement cycle, you need a way to stop it.”

For the horse that has been adapted to all factors involved with domestication, including time spent in a stall, on an artificial feeding schedule, trained to carry a rider and participate in activities not conducive to the feral state, it may be possible for him to develop the depression, physical deterioration, and a fear of movement that his wild cousins would not exhibit at all. What do we do about this human-created and human-like condition in the domesticated horse, who might have become so traumatized he is afraid to move or undertake an activity? What does that look like in the horse when we are confronted with a sudden change in his behavior that could be trauma and pain related?

Here are some examples and comparisons of horses and humans, based on actual scenarios:

Fear of movement in the horse:

Physical example: A young thoroughbred filly was enjoying her first free-jumping session. The beautiful chestnut was by one of the top racing stallions in the U.S. at the time. Her conformation was almost perfect, and she was declared sound upon arriving in the hands of the trainer I worked for. She was successfully jumped through the chute several times, and was willing each time, until, for some reason, she wasn’t.

The handler led her into the chute for another jump-through, but this time the filly’s head shot up, her body tightened, and she didn’t want to go. The trainer stepped in with stronger encouragement, and she jumped through, but without the same level of confidence as she previously exhibited.

They stopped the session after that, and put her back in her stall.

Following that day, the talented young horse refused to so much as step over a pole on the ground. She was subsequently given to me as a “project” to try to unravel what had happened and how to restore her confidence over an obstacle. I had not been present at the free-jumping session and nobody could explain why this horse’s demeanor had changed so drastically in the blink of an eye.

Mental example: Fortunately the chestnut filly’s free-jumping schooling had been video recorded, and I was able to watch the session in which she went from confidently flying over every jump, to balking at even stepping over a pole on the ground in the days and weeks that followed.

Physically, it appeared that absolutely nothing had happened to cause any pain or injury. She hadn’t hit anything, stumbled, or refused. She remained sound afterward; at least insofar as standard veterinary soundness protocol was concerned. I watched the video over and over again, trying to see what could have caused the extreme reaction.

There was a single, brief moment in which the horse’s expression and body language changed. One of the jumps had been raised slightly, and she had approached too quickly, causing her to twist her shoulders and land awkwardly while regaining her balance. It was immediately following that jump when everything seemed to go downhill. It was apparent that this young thoroughbred was extremely sensitive and her loss of confidence translated instantly to a kinesiophobic type of response the next time she was asked to hop over a jump, or even a pole. The fear in her mind was likely related to a fear of falling, as the horse instinctively knows that falling can mean “death by predator.”

How it affects the body: The beautiful conformation of the filly was almost lost to the fact that she completely tightened up after the traumatic incident. No amount of slow, calming, work from the ground or under saddle seemed to relieve her of her stress. I spent countless hours on the ground, eventually getting her to walk over a pole again without panicking. When I began working with her, she seemed to have a perpetual “deer caught in the headlights” expression, her neck held upright and rigid, no matter what setting she was placed in, or how long or briefly she was worked, or whether she was turned out or not. It was sad to see such a gorgeous horse struggling with her deeply rooted fear.

We eventually discovered through her previous owner that she had flipped over in the starting gate when on the racetrack. To me, this validated her difficulty in overcoming what seemed like a relatively minor incident at the time. She might have been injured when she fell over backwards, as well as frightened, and her seemingly minor loss of balance through the jumping chute was enough to trigger those memories.

The story seems to illustrate just how dramatically unresolved fear might affect the lives of our domesticated horses in ways similar to how it affects human beings.

Fear of movement in the human:

Physical example: An adult enthusiastically takes up the sport of running, and embarks on a training program with the goal of racing in mind. Overzealously adding too much mileage too soon causes a lower leg muscle to tear, and the pain is intense. The runner doesn’t want to give up though, and returns to activity before the muscle is fully healed, causing the injury to recur, except worse than it was before, making every step an excruciating experience. The time for healing is now doubled, and scar tissue is inevitable at the injury site.

Mental example: Even once healed, the formerly exuberant runner might now be afraid to run. As with the equine version of kinesiophobia, the response to the memory of pain that occurred while running is now causing the person to fear returning to the activity they were undertaking when the injury took place.

How it affects the body: As with horses, an injury on one side of the body can have a domino effect on other physical structures in the way of compensatory issues. Humans can explain using words as to where something hurts and how much, whereas the horse cannot. Oftentimes, however, we experience the outbursts and moodiness of a human who may be in pain, but we are personally unaware of the pain they are feeling. This is not unlike a horse in pain, and how we might experience the aftermath of unresolved trauma in the animal in the way of extreme or uncharacteristic behavior.

Gait anomalies may develop over time, as the stronger leg is favored while the injured leg is still healing. There may also be residual pain and discomfort, as nerves that are in the process of healing can fire spontaneously and make you wonder if the injury is in danger of recurring. The same thing likely happens for horses, and a bout of pain, even if temporary, causes a stress-response including an elevated heart rate and the release of stress-related hormones into the bloodstream such as cortisol and adrenaline.

One of the key issues to resolving kinesiophobia is in understanding that not all pain is “bad.” It is the body’s way of protecting itself and doesn’t always mean that harm is being done. Sometimes it is also part of the healing process, or under normal load-increasing exercise protocols, it can be a part of the building up of muscle tissue.

Overcoming the fear involves exploring where it is coming from and challenging your belief system about your pain. You may need to begin very gently, both with yourself and with your traumatized horse, and lay down a new neural pathway by beginning very slowly and mindfully so as to reduce the threat value of pain. The correlation between the activity and bodily discomfort will remain until enough progress has been made to work through the fear and the brain is retrained to accept the movement without painful consequences. This is known as graded exposure: (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17716819)

Honoring where we are at:

Imagine punishing a horse like the chestnut filly in the example above, or being yelled at by your coach because you didn’t perform your best. Maybe you were a child and a parent made you feel guilty for spilling grape juice on the rug, or not getting high enough marks in school. These childhood incidents, which may not seem as traumatic as something like the young filly’s terrifying flip-over in the starting gate, can remain locked inside and ready to surface at the next level of provocation. Chronic, unresolved feelings of guilt and shame can become just as painful as an incident involving physical trauma.

When you see someone who appears to be depressed and “curled up” into themselves—perhaps with rounded shoulders, gaze dropped, and lackluster step—they could be experiencing the paralyzing effects of long-held traumas and are literally in fear of moving forward with their lives, in both a mental and physical sense.

The horse’s body language could be similar, if not outright lame, due to residual tightness and subsequent weakness in one or more areas of the body. Mentally, it can manifest as “stubbornness,” a “bad attitude,” spookiness, or a flat-out refusal to move when under saddle, even when all possibilities for pain such as ill-fitting tack, bad shoeing, and other soundness issues have been addressed.

Whatever happened to us, or to the horse, we have to begin the healing process by accepting where we are now. We cannot rush the restorative work, because it is unique to each individual, and we cannot presume to know everything that led to the consequential mental and physical responses following the traumatic event or events.

We, as humans, are easily caught in long-term fear, as avoidance mechanisms become finely tuned. We get good at it. Even for physiotherapists, treating patients with the condition is difficult and hard to adequately assess, even though research has shown it is present in a significant proportion of their clientele. Horses are likely subject to similar losses of safety and when kept in a confined, domestic situation, chronic fear and kinesiophobia may be retained, as their instinct to keep moving has been restrained by their unnatural environment and training. Their mental and physical rehabilitation process is not unlike that for humans as well.

As Tara Brach writes in Radical Acceptance, Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha, “We are caught in the trance of fear when the emotion of fear becomes the core of our identity and constricts our capacity to live fully.” (p.168)

“…if experiences of fear are continuous over the years, chronic tightening happens. Our shoulders may become permanently knotted and raised, our head thrust forward, our back hunched, our chest sunken. Rather than a temporary reaction to danger, we develop a permanent suit of armor. We become, as Chogyam Trungpa puts it, ‘a bundle of tense muscles defending our existence.’ We often don’t even recognize this armor because it feels like such a familiar part of who we are. But we can see it in others. And when we are meditating, we can feel it in ourselves—the tightness, the area where we feel nothing.” (p. 169)

“Because the trance of fear arises from feeling cut off in relationships, we continue to feel fundamentally unsafe until we begin to experience with others some of the love and understanding we needed as children. The first step in finding a basic sense of safety is to discover our connectedness with others. As we begin to trust the reality of belonging, the stranglehold of fear loosens its grip.” (p. 171)

As we know all too well with horses, if they feel unsafe and do not trust us as a rider or handler, their fear remains, but may also be exacerbated if not re-schooled with great care and skill.

What works—making the move:

Improving proprioception…the body experience. What is happening in your body when you feel the emotions relating to the trauma. Thinking about moving is not the same as actually moving, so it has to be undertaken one tiny step at a time.

The common denominator is in slowing things down—and consciously creating a new neural pathway based in mindful movement.

Backing off the training and intensity, finding a baseline tolerance that will not trigger the kinesiophobia, and planning a careful course for progression, are the steps to gaining trust and beginning to feel safe once again. This applies to horses and humans, and addresses both mental and physical aspects of the fear.

With a process of graded exposure, it is possible to re-establish the desired activity with a joyful approach and fresh enthusiasm. The brain literally rebalances, reducing the anxiety, fear and pain, and instead sends out more positive messages relating to the chosen activity. This is a form of coping strategy that can help horses and humans move forward in their lives, literally, by overcoming their fear of movement and releasing the fear that initially shut them down.

More research is needed to help us understand how much of a horse’s resistance might be related to fear of pain versus how much resistance is related to actual pain. Studies that involve heart-rate variability in real-time could potentially provide us with better answers than we have now, by providing data that conveys obvious levels of stress in a being that is unable to verbalize his feelings. We hope this will be a positive step in the direction of improved equine welfare and lead to more compassionate training methods in the future. In effect, the research will likely help us understand how to cope with our own fear of pain, both mental and physical, and become more compassionate toward other humans too.

________________________________________________

The Compassionate Equestrian blog is written by TCE coauthor Susan Gordon unless otherwise noted. Dr. Schoen’s personal blog and website may be found at http://www.drschoen.com

About the blogger:

Susan Gordon is 55 years old and lives on Salt Spring Island, B.C., Canada. She turned professional as a rider in 1983, upon the invitation of Maclay champion (1973), the late Michael Patrick. Susan trained eventing, hunter, jumper and dressage horses, apprenticing with other top trainers in her chosen disciplines. She taught freelance from 2002 until retiring in 2010, bringing elements of meditation practice, music, dance, art, and an interest in non-invasive, holistic therapies to her work with students and their horses. She has since completed courses in sustainability (University of British Columbia and University of Guelph), and documentary filmmaking (Pull Focus Film School, Vancouver). She is a nationally ranked competitive masters and age-group runner in the 5K to ½ Marathon Road Race distances. The Compassionate Equestrian is her first book. Coming soon will be Iridescent Silence of the Pacific Shores (Gordon/D. Wahlsten 2015), a book of abstract water photography with a strong environmental statement, and DVD featuring original Orca calls and music composed by Ron Gordon, Ph.D. 

Stillness

FREEDOM AND REGULARITY

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions. When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?” 

Gabrielle Roth (1941-2012, American dancer and musician.)

Have you ever experienced one of those days where it seems like everything you do is “wrong?”

Your e-mails are misconstrued. Your best friend says something hurtful. You receive a complaint from a customer or someone with whom you don’t even have contact. Your gaze begins to lower. Your stomach tightens. Your smile fades. You had no intention of being anything other than kind and compassionate with people, yet, outside forces seem to have conspired to make you define yourself as “wrong.” You start to question your abilities and capacity to contribute to your field or peers.

You want to crawl under a rock and hide on such days. But somewhere, deep inside, you find the courage to say, “No. I did not mean to upset that person. I wasn’t ‘wrong.’” You try to fight back the feelings that arise when you begin to do battle with yourself, then more feelings flood back, and before you know it, your body and mind are both reeling from internal conflict.

How can you make yourself feel better? You want to feel better, not only for the sake of your own health and wellbeing, but because you also know that being disheartened and possibly in a bad mood will affect others around you. If you are also planning on spending time with your horse, you will take those issues with you into the barn. As much as the horse can comfort us and help resolve those detrimental feelings, is there a way to build our resilience to the down side of life? What will happen when we engage with the horse having come to him with a more joyful heart and mind if we do some “inner work” before approaching him?

If we practice a few techniques, such as sitting meditation—or as suggested with this article, movement and dance—that help us heal from those days of temporary depression (people with clinical depression, chronic trauma and those in mental health crisis require professional diagnosis and treatment), or sadness and grieving, we may also notice a difference not only in how our horse responds to us, but also how other people interact with us at the barn, at home, at school, or at work.

Drum horses! These big, talented horses are as musical as horses get - they carry the kettle drums for the Queen's Life Guards. http://drumhorseassociation.com/

Drum horses! These big, talented horses are as musical as horses get – they carry the kettle drums for the Queen’s Life Guards.
http://drumhorseassociation.com/

As much as we would like freedom from that juggernaut of negative experiences and emotions, we can’t help but default back to this mode. This is just how our brain works. It is plugged in to primitive, tribal behaviors that taught us to be alert for danger, and react to it for our very survival. As with horses, we have dedicated memory systems designed to keep us alive in the face of great adversity. Even if we work on creating more positive experiences for ourselves, as soon as somebody comes along and disrupts our joy, a little chink is taken out of our “happy place” and we have to push back to regain our equilibrium.

There is emerging research in neuroscience, according to author and psychologist, Rick Hanson, Ph.D., supporting the need to mindfully create positive experiences if we want to change our brain from its default negative mode to one of more compassion and happiness. Hanson has theorized that for every negative encounter with someone, it takes a repeated “download” of a minimum of 10-seconds worth of continuous positivity to counteract it. We have to truly absorb and be aware of boosting the capacity of our short-term memory to maintain and store the better experiences—and then work on being able to recall them whenever we need to deflect from a damaged sense of self-worth and other feelings that may include shame, guilt, fear, or grief. http://www.rickhanson.net/writings/books/hardwiring-happiness/

“Freedom and Regularity of the Paces” is part of a set of collective remarks that are given to a horse and rider as part of their dressage test score. In effect, the pair is gauged on how harmonious they appear together. The horse should appear as though he is doing everything of his own accord, free of tension, with fluid and steady gaits. Achieving this beautiful partnership takes a tremendous amount of practice and dedication, which is not unlike the process of creating “freedom and regularity” of our mind and spirit too.

Refer back to the quote from Gabrielle Roth at the beginning of this post. The first question is, “When did you stop dancing?” Her system of 5 Basic Rhythms is designed for dancers, but can be adapted to working with a horse—your dance partner! If you don’t have a horse, or wish to try the rhythms without one, perhaps with a human partner, have a look at the website and inspire yourself by reading the more in-depth descriptions for each rhythm, then try some of the movements and enjoy the feelings arising in your body.

http://www.5rhythms.com/gabrielle-roths-5rhythms/what-are-the-5rhythms/

The brain and body love movement. They love rhythm, and sound. They love drums, and hoofbeats, and deep breathing. Your body and mind crave that connection to what is most natural to us when we are feeling safe and secure…when we are protected from that which seeks to do us harm. This is why herd animals feel safe in a herd. If there is danger or conflict amongst them, it typically ends quickly. Far more quickly than it does for humans, because they do not separate themselves from that connection to others, and to nature, whereas, we do. We want to run off, not talk to anyone, not share our feelings, or stuff them down inside until they emerge in a way that causes us to react unfavorably, then we begin the cycle of negativity all over again. We need to find ways to make that reconnection to the deep, tender, yet brave part of our own soul that is our true identity in the world.

Movement is meditation, medicine, and metaphor in the system of 5Rhythms. It is a way to transform chaos into creativity by attuning to patterns inherent in the natural world. All of life is energy in motion. Here is an exercise you can try that may help take your mind away from anxiety and stress, and into a place of creativity, playfulness, and joy as you put musical styling and specific intention to your ride…

The 5Rhythms™ are:

Flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical, stillness

Extrapolating them to your riding, try this:

Flowing – mount with quiet intention, breathing deeply and sinking slowly into the saddle. Ensure that your horse is breathing with you. Then walk off, and listen to your horse’s footfalls. Connect and flow with the energy of the being below you. Be open and receptive to the feelings in your body as you merge with your horse.

Staccato – trot! This is the percussive gateway to the heart. Think of the earth, and feel the ground as the energy rises up through the now stronger and more forceful hoofbeats beneath you. Count the rhythm, and feel for a tempo that balances both you and your horse. This is truth, clarity, and what we stand up for. This is our strength, our “warrior” self, stepping out into the world.

Chaos – what is hard for you and your horse? Canter transitions? Lengthen stride? Circles? This might be messy. Keep a focus on your horse’s body language and potential for discomfort here. This is the journey from “I can’t,” to “I will.” There is freedom in light of your intention to create something from the movements. Play with your horse! Let go of preconceived notions and release tension in joints, in your reins, in your horse. He may surprise you by offering something you didn’t expect. Perhaps your lengthen stride attempt produces the best canter you’ve ever felt. Out of chaos, comes the “big dance”… the breakthrough.

Lyrical – fluid, creative repetitions of lateral movements. Subtle, soft, not asking too much, and never over-flexing or pulling. We are fair, and compassionate to the horse. The expression remains content as you find integrity and dignity in the exchange between you and your horse. In this clarity, and attention to details, we become lighter on our feet.

Stillness – free walk on a long rein. It is a mindful and humble ending to our energetic interaction with this marvellous animal that has agreed to participate in this exercise with us. Stillness doesn’t mean “stop moving,” rather, it is a continuous movement in slow motion that fuses the past, present and future and confirms the magic of the dance we have just created together. We are the vessel that contains our own wisdom, and that of the horse. Dissolve the free walk into a halt, sit for a moment in gratitude, take a breath, and dismount.

Even just visualizing this exercise may put you in a more positive place, or take your mind off something that is troubling. Listen to drumming, or chanting, and tap on a table, or your lap. Find your way to your loving inner self through movement and sound. It will not stop others from judging you unfairly, but it is a tool by which you can begin to bring mindful awareness to your brain’s normal hardwiring and how you can enact powerful, creative, and positive experiences that will possibly help you find some relief and freedom from negative emotions and self-judgments.

FREEDOM

(Ann Mortifee, In Love With the Mystery, 2010 Eskova Enterprises)

The greatest spiritual achievement is to

maintain a sustained inner equilibrium

in the midst of the fluctuating upheavals

and demands of daily life. Our moment-by-

moment behavior and mood is the

measurement of our true freedom.

Cultivate a calm and peaceful disposition.

Practice acceptance and surrender to life

as it is and spiritual freedom will be yours.

______________________________________________________________

The Compassionate Equestrian blog is written by TCE coauthor Susan Gordon unless otherwise noted. Dr. Schoen’s personal blog and website may be found at http://www.drschoen.com

About the blogger:

Susan Gordon is 55 years old and lives on Salt Spring Island, B.C., Canada. She turned professional as a rider in 1983, upon the invitation of Maclay champion (1973), the late Michael Patrick. Susan trained eventing, hunter, jumper and dressage horses, apprenticing with other top trainers in her chosen disciplines. She taught freelance from 2002 until retiring in 2010, bringing elements of meditation practice, music, dance, art, and an interest in non-invasive, holistic therapies to her work with students and their horses. She has since completed courses in sustainability (University of British Columbia and University of Guelph), and documentary filmmaking (Pull Focus Film School, Vancouver). She is a nationally ranked competitive masters and age-group runner in the 5K to ½ Marathon Road Race distances. The Compassionate Equestrian is her first book.

Stillness

The Fifth Step

   Mindfulness is a method of paying attention to ourselves, and the small details of habits, thoughts, and behaviors that affect our interactions with others. We come to know ourselves better, and understand the basis for feelings that may sometimes pull us into negative territory. You may recognize the feelings as the cause of agitation, pain, embarrassment, frustration, sadness, confusion, or any number of other identifiers. When these emotions arise, it is generally because there is a deep need that is not being met. Something is missing that is blocking your joy and happiness. Mindfulness affords us the opportunity to observe our mental experiences and change the way we respond to them.

In Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (Knopf 2011), Karen Armstrong[1] writes: “Just as musicians have to learn how to manipulate their instruments, and an equestrienne requires an intimate knowledge of the horse she is training, we have to learn how to use our mental energies more kindly and productively. This is not a meditation that we should perform in solitude, apart from our ordinary routines. In mindfulness we mentally stand back and observe our behavior while we are engaged in the normal process of living in order to discover more about the way we interact with people, what makes us angry and unhappy, how to analyze our experiences, and how to pay attention to the present moment. Mindfulness is not meant to make us morbidly self-conscious, scrupulous, or guilty; we are not supposed to pounce aggressively on the negative feelings that course through our minds. Its purpose is simply to help us channel them more creatively.”

Unfortunately, our analysis, especially when it comes to our riding and our horses, can become very self-critical and judgmental. When we are hard on ourselves, and seeking a high standard, we can have the reverse effect of positivity and instead appear to become obsessive or unrealistically engaged with our self-image. Mindfulness practice allows us to observe, but also cautions against self-judgment and realize our need to disengage from negative thoughts and emotions. It is about training the brain to respond in a kinder, more compassionate way.

Karen notes on page 106 of the chapter, Step Five—Mindfulness, “the Tibetan word for meditation is gom: familiarization.”

When we have that “intimate knowledge” of our horse, we usually know how the day’s training session might progress based on the horse’s apparent mood, or when he may need a day off. When we go to a horse show, we go with the knowledge that we will be judged by the standards for that breed and/or parameters for that particular discipline. If the judge’s opinion doesn’t meet our expectations, or the horse has a bad day, the ability to respond mindfully and kindly can make a huge difference as to how productive training rides and horse shows will be in the future.

Take the horse out of the picture for a moment, and visualize how you feel when somebody makes a critical statement about you. Perhaps you are told you are judgmental, even though you had no intention of sounding that way. Maybe you are accused of being angry or impatient, but what you’re really feeling is disappointment and a sense of helplessness. When we communicate with an awareness of the unmet needs behind those feelings, we come to accept that those experiences are part of being human, and perhaps it is that we are seeking understanding, consideration, and emotional safety, but were unable to effectively convey such needs to the other person, or even recognize those as our own needs in order to feel more compassionate and caring.

When we are not familiar with our imprinted patterns of communication—let’s say “the aids” in reference to communicating with your horse—it is easy to be misconstrued by another, and we end up ping-ponging hostile words, thoughts, or kicks and rein-pulls, at one another until finally one or the other, or even your subconscious self, ends up hurt and in retreat without an effective resolution.

Many people go through life in somewhat of a “trance,” existing, but not really being vital and alive. The one thing about being around horses is that they connect us to a present moment, to nature, and to the need to be vitally energized, yet calm, as is their natural state when roaming freely with a herd.

On page 107 of Karen’s book, she writes, “We tend to assume that other people are the cause of our pain; with mindfulness, over time, we learn how often the real cause of our suffering is the anger that resides within us. When we are enraged, we tend to exaggerate a person’s defects—just as when we are seized by desire we accentuate somebody’s attractions and ignore her faults, even though at some level we may know that this is a delusion.”

We humans are constantly shuffling from one emotion to another, one desire to the next, and other preoccupations. When we step back and observe what brings us into conflict with ourselves, other people, and even our horses, we may see how easily we inflict pain on others, as well as how distressing it is when somebody behaves in such a way toward us. There is also an awareness that arises as to how little it can take, even as much as a smile, a thank you, or a pat on your horse’s neck, that can brighten the day or change somebody’s mood for the better.

One of the world’s great mindfulness teachers, Tara Brach, Ph.D. writes in Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha, page 20 (Bantam Dell 2003), “Wanting and fearing are natural energies, part of evolution’s design to protect us and help us to thrive. But when they become the core of our identity, we lose sight of the fullness of our beings. We become identified with, at best, only a sliver of our natural being—a sliver that perceives itself as incomplete, at risk and separate from the rest of the world. If our sense of who we are is defined by feelings of neediness and insecurity, we forget that we are also curious, humorous and caring. We forget about the breath that is nourishing us, the love that unites us, the enormous beauty and fragility that is our shared experience of being alive. Most basically, we forget the pure awareness, the radiant wakefulness that is our Buddha nature.”

Being with a horse is a glorious opportunity to practice mindfulness. Watching and learning from them, and observing how they respond to our moods, behaviors, and actions, is a chance to put that awareness into action in all of our daily activities. By doing so, we will ultimately make ourselves feel better, and enrich the lives of others around us with compassion and loving kindness.

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[1] Karen Armstrong was awarded the TED Prize in 2008 and began working on the Charter for Compassion. The Charter was signed in 2009 by a thousand religious and secular leaders. She is the author of numerous books, including The Case for God (Anchor, 2010)

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The Compassionate Equestrian blog is written by TCE coauthor Susan Gordon unless otherwise noted. Dr. Schoen’s personal blog and website may be found at http://www.drschoen.com

About the blogger:

Susan Gordon is 55 years old and lives on Salt Spring Island, B.C., Canada. She turned professional as a rider in 1983, upon the invitation of Maclay champion (1973), the late Michael Patrick. Susan trained eventing, hunter, jumper and dressage horses, apprenticing with other top trainers in her chosen disciplines. She taught freelance from 2002 until retiring in 2010, bringing elements of meditation practice, music, dance, art, and an interest in non-invasive, holistic therapies to her work with students and their horses. She has since completed courses in sustainability (University of British Columbia and University of Guelph), and documentary filmmaking (Pull Focus Film School, Vancouver). She is a nationally ranked competitive masters and age-group runner in the 5K to ½ Marathon Road Race distances. The Compassionate Equestrian is her first book.

Stillness

Loving Hearts

(please note – The Compassionate Equestrian blog is written exclusively by TCE coauthor Susan Gordon unless otherwise noted. Dr. Schoen’s personal blog and website may be found at http://www.drschoen.com)

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Sometimes the best relationships of our lives appear when we stop looking for them. Perhaps circumstances have occurred that hardened our hearts, shattered our confidence, and made us turn away from the things that bring us the most joy.

As fragile as we are, it often doesn’t take much of a spark to reignite feelings of loving-kindness and compassion in our hearts. We may have given up on ourselves, yet long for a chance to come alive again. When “it” manifests, we are ready. If we open our hearts to receive compassion—as much as we are willing to give—the exchange of energy is multiplied and embraces others in waves of happy interactions.

With mindful awareness, if we notice our reactions, we can learn to view them with clarity and perhaps create positive changes in the way we go about our daily lives. Sometimes there is a catalyst, such as a person, or a horse, who helps with that awareness, and gives us the opportunity to say, “thank you” for bringing this to my attention.

As Pema Chödrön* writes, “Until we can see our reactions, we can never know what causes us to stay stuck and what will help us get free.”

In the sweet poem written below, freedom came in the form of an unexpected meeting in the auction pen:

Photo and story: http://www.eveningsun.com/ci_20144447/rescued-horses-up-adoption-hanover?source=most_viewed (posted 03/10/2012 by Craig K. Paskoski, The Evening Sun)

Photo and story:
http://www.eveningsun.com/ci_20144447/rescued-horses-up-adoption-hanover?source=most_viewed
(posted 03/10/2012 by
Craig K. Paskoski, The Evening Sun)

“One Chance in a Million”

It happened so sudden, 12 years in my past,
For the rest of my life the injury would last.
The cars hit head-on, not a chance to slow down,
The next I remember, I lay on the ground.
My hip joint was crushed beyond all repair.
“You’re too young to replace it,” Doc said with a stare,
“You will walk again, but never will run.”
These words hit me hard like a shot from a gun.

Ten years came and went, the pain more severe.
I said to my wife, “Time to replace it is here.”
When the surgery was over, Doc said to my wife,
“He can’t ride a horse for the rest of his life.”
We own our own farm with a full riding stable,
So horses and riding put food on our table.
I could sell horses and tack, and some money I’d make,
But to ride one myself was a risk I can’t take.

And then it did happen, one night at the sale,
As I stood selling halters inside of the rail.
My wife came up to me with that look in her eye.
She said, “There’s a horse out back ready to die.”
As I walked to the killer pen and looked over the fence,
There stood a starved gelding whose frame was immense.
His eyes were three inches sunk back in his head;
If he were lying down, you would have sworn he was dead.
He stood sixteen-one, weighed about four and a quarter,
His hair was three inches and not one-half shorter.
A skeleton with hide stood before my own eyes.
If he walked through the ring, it would be a surprise.

As the barn door slid open and they led him on in,
The auctioneer said, “Two hundred is where we’ll begin.”
The kill buyer said, “Two-oh-five’s all I’ll give.”
I said, “I’ll give two-ten just to see if he’ll live.”
The bids then quit coming, not a sound from the crowd,
The next word was “Sold” he said very loud.
As the trailer backed up to the wood loading gate,
I said, “Let’s get him home before it’s too late.”
He had to have help to step up to the floor,
But we got him in and then closed the door.
As I drove home that night, I looked back at a glance
And said, “If he lives, we’ll call him Last Chance.”

Well, we made the trip home, and he lived through the night.
When the vet came next morning, he said, “What a sight.”
We floated his teeth and trimmed all his feet,
Gave him wormer and thiamine and a little to eat.
My vet said his heart was as strong as a drum,
If we brought him along slowly the rest may just come.
Well, his weight starting coming and his health soon returned.
He showed us his love he must have thought that we earned.
He would whinny and nicker as I walked to the shed,
As if to say, “Thanks, ’cause of you, I’m not dead.”
He would stroll the whole place without being penned,
He’d come when I call, just like man’s best friend.

Three months had gone by since the night of the sale,
My wife had him tied on our old hitchin’ rail.
I asked her, ‘What’s up?” as I just came outside.
She said, “It’s time to see if he’ll ride.”
She threw on the blanket, saddle, bridle and said,
“The worst that could happen, I’ll get tossed on my head.”
As her seat hit the leather, he stood like a rock.
With a tap of her heels, he started to walk.
He reined to the left and he reined to the right,
The bit in his mouth he sure didn’t fight.
He did what she asked without second thought.
She cantered him on and not once he fought.
When she returned from the ride with a tear in her eye,
She said, “He’s the one, would you like to try?”
I thought to myself as I stood at his side,
If this giant’s that gentle, why not take a ride?
It had been a long time, but the look on his face,
Said, “Hop on, my good friend, let’s ride ’round this place.”
We rode round the yard, then out through the gate,
This giant and me, it must have been fate.

He gave me back part of my life that I lost,
Knew then I’d keep him, no matter what cost.
I’ve been offered two-thousand, and once even three,
But no money on earth would buy him from me.
You see, we share something special, this gelding and me,
A chance to start over, a chance to be free.
And when the day comes that his heart beats no more,
I’ll bury my friend just beyond my back door.
And over his grave I’ll post a big sign,
“Here lies Last Chance, a true friend of mine.” Dave Saunders

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*The Pema Chödrön: Awakening the Heart wall calendar 2015 features quotes from Chödrön’s book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change and is designed to help us cultivate compassion, courage, and awareness within the challenges of daily life. These insightful quotes are paired with beautifully evocative and meditative nature photography.

Yellow Lotus

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About the blogger:

Susan Gordon is 55 years old, and lives on Salt Spring Island, B.C., Canada. She turned professional as a rider in 1983, upon the invitation of Maclay champion (1971), the late Michael Patrick. Susan trained eventing, hunter, jumper and dressage horses, apprenticing with other top trainers in her chosen disciplines. She taught freelance from 2002 until retiring in 2010, bringing elements of meditation practice, music, dance, art, and an interest in non-invasive, holistic therapies to her work with students and their horses. She has since completed courses in sustainability (University of British Columbia and University of Guelph), and documentary filmmaking (Pull Focus Film School, Vancouver). She is a nationally ranked competitive masters and age-group runner in the 5K to ½ Marathon Road Race distances. The Compassionate Equestrian is her first book.

Stillness

Happy Hearts

Wishing all Kindred Spirits a Happy Valentine’s Day!  May all beings feel the deepest, profound love that permeates all of life, all dimensions!  This love is within each and every one of us.  It is not getting love from food, treats, distractions, etc.  It is giving and receiving love from the deepest truth of who we really are.  This love radiates from our hearts in every moment.  Love is the bridge between all of us, between the form and the formless, between all hearts.  Love is a key to the trans-species field theory and global coherence.  It is our old programmings, thoughts, and belief systems that prevent us from realizing this.  From this deep love, I wish you all the love that the kindred spirits project wishes to radiate out to all our wonderful followers!

Blessings to you all!

Dr. Allen Schoen (re-posted from http://www.drschoen.com/kindred-spirits-project/)

May you all find beautiful, heart-felt connections this Valentine’s Day, and every day! Enjoy this video of a wonderful, loving couple and their horses, playing in their arena at home. You might recognize the pair…Magali Delgado and Frédéric Pignon.

Frédéric Pignon

Frédéric Pignon

From the publisher of The Compassionate Equestrian, Trafalgar Square/Horse and Rider Books, you can read much more about their extraordinary lives and learn about their Six Golden Principles for training horses, which developed through their work with one particularly difficult stallion.

Born to horse-loving parents in the south of France, both Magali Delgado and Frédéric Pignon developed quite radical ideas about the treatment of horses, and when they eventually met and married, it was as if they had been made for one another. Horses became their passion and their family.

Magali and Frédéric were the founding stars of the original version of the hit “equine spectacular” Cavalia. With their troupe of astounding horses, they toured the United States and European capitals from 2003 to 2009, playing to more than two million spectators.

http://www.horseandriderbooks.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=H&Product_Code=GAFR&Category_Code=

May all beings savor the nectar of loving-kindness

to overcome the thoughts of controlling others,

bring forth serenity and the insight

to find happiness and serenity

Venerable Wuling, Path to Peace, amtbweb.org