Because I Have My Horse…

 

Zoie Brogdon, Age 12

“I tried soccer, which I hated. I tried track, and there was just mean people. I tried tennis, same thing, mean people. With horses, there still are mean people, but I don’t care. Because I have my horse right next to me.”

Credit Ilona Szwarc for The New York Times

Read the NYT article here:Why Close Encounters With Animals Soothe Us

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(photo: http://theequestriannews.com/2015/12/21/harvey-simpson-honored-at-cjp-holiday-show/)

When Dr. Schoen forwarded this article to me recently, suggesting it would make a great subject for a blog post, I had to agree.

Have you ever been confronted by bullies at school, mean bosses, raging drivers, or generally unfriendly people? The majority of us are not willing to be confrontational to the degree that many others are. We may be called “sensitive” or “shy,” but in either case, we are not going to be the ones fighting back if we can help it, whether verbally or physically. However, being quiet, perhaps even introverted, and withdrawn from others can lead to inappropriate actions and behaviors that are viewed unfavorably. We may feel pushed to defend ourselves. Often times, it manifests in youth as at-risk behavior, and may stem from a myriad of other problems including a difficult home life.

We have spoken of such issues previously, and throughout The Compassionate Equestrian. They bear repeating, as human nature continues to cycle through episodes of negative influences and bombardment from a hostile outside world.

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(photo: http://www.cvlux.com/lux-daily/2015/7/1/all-about-patricia-heaton-compton-jr-posse)

Enter the horse.

I was one of those kids. Teased at school for a variety of reasons. Last one picked for teams in gym class. An alcoholic mother. Bosses who went off the rails. But there was always one reliable factor waiting for me around the corner. I believe I survived my youth and early adulthood because I had my horse.

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Your horse simply looks at you with those big, wise eyes, his gaze following you as you move about the barn, or whinnies from the paddock gate to get your attention. His ears prick when he hears his name, expecting that you will engage further. What a feeling. A being that wants to be with you. He envelopes you with an otherworldly array of soul-soothing energy that, at least for a time, protects you from the disappointments of the human condition.

If you are fortunate enough to be part of a network of supportive human beings who further your love for horses and riding, you are even more likely to respond with gratitude and the desire to expand your compassion toward others. These are the equestrians who become teachers, leaders, and impassioned creators of a brave new world with the potential to eradicate much of the negativity that currently pervades our media and leaks into schools, businesses, and public events.

What I love about the program that is the subject of this article from The New York Times is the obvious professionalism, care, and structure afforded the kids and horses. While is it discipline-specific, the youth-at-risk are made to feel special, and allowed to fully connect with the magic of horses. They are dressed elegantly, wearing proper safety gear, and taught in a traditional, correct manner of equitation. It appears as though each rider is well matched to his or her mount. This is not “elitist”—it is a condition of the necessary safety issues and respect for all aspects of equine welfare. The effect of uniformity and attention to traditional details is evident by the comments from the youngsters featured in the article, as they are given a chance to play on a level field…and that level field is filled with the generous energy conveyed by their four-legged friends.

There are many layers of deep exploration that take place in understanding just how much horses can help at-risk youth, as well as many other demographics subject to humanity’s often-difficult existence.

Enjoy this article, and please consider how the Principles of Compassionate Equitation can be of so much value to the equestrian world. What is needed? Honest evaluations and solid leadership when it comes to identifying the right horse for each situation, and compassionately allowing each horse to interact with humans on a level that relieves their suffering as much as possible. We don’t want to aggrandize egos, force horses into something they are not suited for, and make the mistake of thinking every horse is a good “therapy” horse. There are so many adoptable horses available for programs such as the Compton Jr. Posse (featured in this NYT article…scroll back to the top to read it) that we owe it to them to ensure proper transitions for them whether they are coming from show barns, deemed only “serviceably sound,” and those who may be surrendered due to compromising situations faced by owners.

Horses are such a wonderful gift to us as human beings. Let us give back to them in the same way that they let us “use” them for our own wellbeing.

SG

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The Compassionate Equestrian is also pleased to announce our alignment with The Right Horse Initiative. Please check out their website, watch the video, and read the manifesto. Spread the good word and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Use hashtags: #TheCompassionateEquestrian @CompassionEq, #TheRightHorse and TheRightHorse on Instagram.

The Right Horse Initiative

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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 57 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—in particular Low Level Laser Therapy and tapping)— 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 400m track to ½ Marathon Road Race distances. The Compassionate Equestrian is her first book. Her second book also released in June 2015: 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.  Photo prints and paintings are available for viewing and purchase at Susan Gordon website

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The Riding Lesson

As trainers, we’ve all been there in the decision-making process. And really, those of us who ride are always training (or, sometimes un-training) our horses to do “something.” At a professional standard though, we have many more questions to ask ourselves when trying to provide the best option for our mounts, and our clients. At all levels, it is typically the horse himself who provides us with the most wisdom and profound teaching.

As with any human athlete, an equine in a high-performance discipline such as jumping, dressage, or reining, attains various periods of peaks and lows throughout the development process. On a day that the athlete feels good, all the training elements might come together for a surprisingly optimal effort, transcending even the current level of fitness. Ask any marathon runner how they feel the day of, and then after the big event!

Subsequently, the euphoria reached by the athlete, bolstered by accolades—say, for example, lots of pats and a happy rider—can manifest in painful ways the day after.

We may notice very subtle signs of trouble in our horses (see Chapter 13/Principle 13 of The Compassionate Equestrian), and in the case of being the person tasked with further development of the horse, we may choose to investigate further, attempt to push through the resistance, and possibly either pursue or slightly alter the planned session for that particular day. Our choices are best made when a focus is placed on the question we often ask in the book, “what is the most compassionate choice I can make for this horse, right now?”

Maybe your horse was enthusiastic about entering the arena yesterday, but today he stops before the gate, even taking a step backwards. We ignore the whisper of the horse’s body language, and urge him forward. Perhaps he trots over a few small cross-rails with ease, then suddenly spooks at a larger coop he scaled effortlessly the day before. Or was it really effortless? Did his rider forget about the stumble he took upon landing? He feels sound enough…but why the uncharacteristic spook? Dismiss and trot on, or, get off and begin the search for possible “hot spots” on tendons, or testing for trigger points along the spinal column? Do we return to the barn and contact our veterinarian or farrier?

Oh yes, it’s very easy to get caught up in our minds and try to “fix” our horse’s problems based on our own understanding of what might be wrong in the moment. What part of ourselves is speaking at this point? We remind ourself…where does compassion begin? The heart. Why do we practice mindfulness? To learn to “see” from the heart, and trust the subtle signals that are trying to override the noise from our head. It is the best chance we can give our horses, and ultimately, the most compassionate choice.

Co-blogger Melissa Deal has once again shared a very important aspect of our riding lessons. That is, the one taught to us by our horse. Thank you Melissa and your beautiful, wise, Eclipse!

As always, enjoy the read 🙂

Susan

 

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Susan and Ali

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Eclipse takes his readership very seriously and though we both agreed that the following story needed to be shared, he declined in writing it as he’s a bit embarrassed. I assured him that shame has no place in his life, but he insisted on my writing it just the same. I am afraid that I am not nearly as humorous as he but I do hope that you will enjoy this excerpt from his adventures.

The Riding Lesson by Eclipse Deal’s mom

Yesterday, I rode Eclipse, a sensitive and affectionate horse that I am training. It was likely the best ride of this horse’s career! Eclipse was attentive, responsive, giving and accurate. He practically floated through the warm up and performed the more difficult movements with alot more ease than expected. He and I seemed connected at the deepest level. My wish was his instant act, as if he could read my mind. What more could a rider ask? My satisfaction with the second level performance offered by this first level horse was a true gift. My heart swelled with our success.

Today, a lovely day, promised an azure sky and warm sunny rays that were perfect for riding. Eclipse’s coat reflected the sunlight like a polished penny. I got on completely without expectation and no plan. I knew better than to try to repeat yesterday’s performance. It’s akin to trying to re-achieve nirvana. Here’s the story of our ride. I can only hope that relaying it will imprint the life/riding lesson in my mind and give you some forage for thought as well.

The horse seemed even more relaxed than normal in grooming and tacking today. The mounting block was relocated this morning for the first time since we moved to this farm. No problem. Eclipse walked to the block when called, positioned himself neatly and was ready to pick me up-something most horses haven’t a clue about doing. He did this despite the cows nearby, of whom he used to be deathly afraid. My leg was about to contact the far side of the saddle when I realized, no helmet. My hand signaled a request for him to stay, normally not an issue. I realize this behavior may not be status quo for everyone, but it is for him. Once inside the tack room, my eyes rested on the helmet. While I was taking it off its hook, through the window, I watched as he snuck a few steps towards the cow pasture next door.  When my “No” fell on his ears, I stifled a snicker. Eclipse’s hooves hurried obediently across the brick red pine straw back to the block. He presented promptly for mounting reminding me of a kid caught in the cookie jar.

Once settled in the tack I queried, “You want to see the cattle today?” (Yes, I am a lunatic who converses with animals out loud.) I gave him the buckle and a breath of leg so he had freedom to do as he pleased. Picture an elegant bright chestnut dressage horse marching the 100 foot distance from the mounting block to the rusty wire cow pasture fence. He was on a mission. When the fence blocked his access to the once scary and “now oh so interesting neighbors,” his neck telescoped toward the fence that held the fuzzy cattle and their young. Time and again, Eclipse bumped it gingerly with his soft muzzle.

“No give. Bummer,” I was guessing he thought.

He used to be afraid of cattle, so I am thrilled with his obvious curiosity. After about 5 minutes, I said to Eclipse, “We can’t just stand here all day.” I gave it another five. I distinctly felt that he couldn’t fathom why we couldn’t have just stayed there all day gazing at the cows. It was clear that if he had the option, that is exactly what he would have done. I grew tired of looking at the same pointy hips and swinging tails, despite the adorable young calves napping nearby. Their curled bodies adorned the green field of grass, laced with a nearby stream, as if they were decorations.

We left the cattle. I guided him as we meandered through the trees. The thick bed of pine straw beneath us muffled his hoof beats entirely. Leaving it, we entered the field and walked about a hundred yards. A path carpeted by grass led the way to the ring. His hooves left the ground so slowly that if felt as if he had glue on his them – a sharp contrast to his carrot store walk toward the cows. Eclipse’s pace dragged as if a horse heading to the knacker man.

Maybe he was weary from the past few days of arena time? With yesterday’s lovely ride in mind, I decided to let him have an easy day. We would walk through the woods on a trail. It’s a trail Eclipse has been on a few times before. Granted, trail riding has never been his strength. But, it was very short 10 minute walk at best. I hoped he would enjoy the change of scenery.

As the arena went out of sight, he perked up entering the forest and chose a sandy lane. Good! Eclipse was brightening up a little to my relief.  We traversed a few hills. (Remember, we are in Eastern NC, so a bump in the road qualifies as a hill.), I congratulated myself on my brilliant plan. I added more leg and cuddled the bit encouraging him to reach into the contact. He was really pushing well from behind-the key to all collected and upper level work. I reminded myself how good this was for his top line etc.

Suddenly, my blue heeler pup trotting alongside uttered a growl and barks burst forth from her curled black lips. Hackles stood high at the sight of a branch ahead in the middle of the trail. I thought it hysterical to see her so serious about this limb and enjoyed the ferocious display for a couple of seconds. Clearly the branch was refuse from the dreadful hurricane Matthew. Then, I felt the horse’s back tighten beneath me. His head elevated and ears pricked. Soothing words followed soft rubs on the withers. Bridge signals and praise filled his sensitive ears as we passed the horse killing branch. We stopped, and Eclipse scarfed down his favorite treats as a reward for his bravery. I was fairly unconcerned at this point. We walked on.

Soon, I noticed that his stress level seemed to be rising faster than the post hurricane flood waters in our ditches. My concern heightened. His muscles bulged tautly beneath his coppery coat. His entire body felt as if it were on high alert. Nostrils flared like morning glories as he read the balmy morning air for signs of danger. We rounded the corner to an opening in the trees. His paddock, his buddy – another chestnut gelding- and the ring popped into view. All were familiar sights. I hoped that seeing them would calm him instantly. Instead, he spooked- big without unseating me – barely. I found myself grateful to still be in the tack when Eclipse’s feet finally stopped. At the time, I guessed it was the heeler scrambling around in the woods a few minutes earlier that set him off. Later, I recalled another big spook occurring near the same location, but it was a long while back. This event was likely a contributing factor, since horses have memories second only to elephants. I tried calming techniques and more treats. His mental and emotional states were foremost in my mind as I considered the options.  Eclipse was still a bit up emotionally so instead of completing the ride as planned, we went back to the ring. I was confident that it would help him settle since it was a place he knew well. I was sure of it.

In the arena, my entire skill set was employed. All of the techniques were kind and likely to have been effective: easy walking on a long rein, close walk work with intricate patterns and gymnastics, forward and more demanding patterns, standing and relaxing for many minutes, lots of treats and canter work (just to give you a vague idea of the gamut explored). Finally, desperate for the right choice that would bring him below threshold (the level of emotion beyond which the horse is capable of coping in any given moment), I tried getting off. He responded with a huge sigh of relief. Then we attempted his favorite in-hand exercise, Spanish walk. Two steps and he spooked, again, jumping with all four hooves catching air simultaneously. I made the most compassionate and least horse trainer like choice I could muster. We went back to the barn.

After the saddle came off, another huge sigh of relief seemed to flow from his very essence. I apologized for the decision to walk in the woods and hung my head. Normally, I don’t tie him to un-tack. Today, I did. The entire time I washed him and dressed him for turn out, his head was held high scanning the horizon. Eclipse looked toward the unknown horse eating beast that I never saw. This behavior was completely uncharacteristic for an easy work day at home. When turned out after riding, he always followed me to the gate, as if begging me to stay and play. Not today. The worried horse went straight to his run in shed and stood in the corner with a watchful eye. A significant change from the confident and capable horse I knew yesterday.

What was running through my head? As a trainer, I wanted to bring him through this emotional trauma. But, I knew for a fact that sometimes, nothing can be done to bring a horse back from being over threshold. Thoughts circled in my mind. How was this different from a horse show? I had to be able to bring him back to some semblance of normal to show and have him not be terrified. Forget showing, he needed to be able to do most anything and not be terrified purely for his own well being. Anything included standing in the pasture on a day like this one, which he currently wasn’t comfortable doing. At least at a show if I wasn’t able bring him below threshold, the option of scratching and returning to the safe haven of his stall or going home existed. Today, I found his fear of life in general wasn’t as simple to resolve as scratching a class or loading up and going home, heart breaking as it was. In these times, the most compassionate choice is to do exactly what I did: put him in the place he felt most secure and give him time to settle.

The Win

In days gone by, I might have done some horsemanship exercises, more ground work, tried harder, ridden him longer or God forbid even lounged Eclipse (aka tortured him more) and then tried to ride him again. Wisdom does come from experience, and for that I am thankful. Getting off wasn’t failure. It was the right choice.

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The Lesson Learned

My only regret today is that I didn’t realize the level of his fear earlier on and dismount sooner. He would have been better off.  I would have been safer. I am concerned that the next time I sit on Eclipse he will carry the memory of today, a fearful one. It may mean putting forth a lot of effort to cover this experience with more positive ones. No guarantee involved.

Perhaps he will remember yesterday’s blissfully harmonious ride instead! Will he be fine tomorrow or will he be traumatized? Tomorrow holds its secrets. In the meantime, I will be thinking about how I can be his refuge or at least provide one in the future if similar circumstances occur. A fearful mind is misery for horses and humans alike. It goes far beyond discomfort and delves into the realm of survival, i.e., life and death. Fortunately, being scared to death isn’t the same as dying. We will both live to ride another day.

I look forward to tomorrow. It is a gift, an opportunity, to have the chance to replace his misery with relaxation and joy.  The challenges this experience affords and the lessons it will yield are yet to be fully realized. It is a wonderful journey of discovery and a privilege of the heart, this relationship with Eclipse, the horse who shares my soul.

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p.s. Not long after this ride, with veterinary assistance, we found that physical pain was contributing greatly to the fear Eclipse was experiencing and the behavior that ensued. Neither punishment nor additional training would have made a difference for him at the time. Sometimes the horse just isn’t capable of understanding the aids or his own physical state. Currently, I am happy to report that Eclipse is feeling much better with the aid of veterinary therapy.

Eclipse’s Challenge

First of all, I would like to thank all followers and readers of The Compassionate Equestrian. We appreciate you connecting with us on Facebook (@compassionateequestrian), Twitter (Susan Gordon@CompassionEq) and passing on the benefits of Compassionate Equitation to others in your barn and places of business. Please print and post a copy of the 25 Principles of Compassionate Equitation (find the poster on our website)

The blog posts have been scarce, as I don’t know about you, but I have been finding myself so inundated with e-mails that most are deleted unless very important. Most people I speak to lately also relate the same situation. We love to read, we love information, and we love good stories, but we also have families, work, and horses and/or other animals to attend to as well.

I’m hoping that it will seem more special when a TCE blog post arrives in your inbox on a more infrequent basis, rather than too often. Please let me know what your feelings are in that regard.

This month’s story is from our guest blogger, Eclipse (as written via his mom, Melissa Deal of Victory Land Dressage). It is about facing fear and using a particularly successful method for recovering from fearful thoughts and experiences.

It is possible for even a minor incident to fester and grow in our minds, manifest in our body language, and perhaps even become a serious condition such as Post Trauma Stress Disorder. Severe trauma—both physical and mental/emotional—ultimately has a negative effect on both humans and horses. Trigger-related responses in the mind and body sometimes continue for many years until a solution is found.

Rebuilding confidence and creating new neuronal connections around a traumatic incident or series of incidents, whether real of perceived (as in the case of horses afraid of inanimate objects) has been proven to be an exceptional method for modifying fear-based behaviors and altering the subsequent actions that follow a literal panic attack.

If you have ever had to deal with a frightened horse, you can appreciate the aspect of danger that also arises in the blink of an eye, and you understand how much time and patience is necessary to make changes to the horse’s internal “flight or fight” mechanism. We humans aren’t much different… and oftentimes a seeming lack of compassion for others or inappropriate behaviors could be rooted in fearful memories.

May you have a beautiful holiday season in the month ahead, opening your heart and mind toward loving-kindness and compassion for all beings.

Warmest wishes,

Susan

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p.s. I love food too 😉 Enjoy Eclipse’s story!

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11/14/16

Taste Buds versus Wildebeests-The Ultimate Challenge

Zonkey or Zorse, I vaguely hear them say as I leave the scene as fast as my hooves will fly. I put them as far behind as possible with a cloud of dust in my wake. I’ve never seen anything like it. This animal is not a horse or a mule or even a cow. Sand flies through the air as I head to the far side of my paddock. I’m outta here!

Just a few moments before, a diesel engine roar tickled my ears. My first thought was, “Are we going somewhere or is Dad just moving the truck?” Then, a rig unknown to me came sliding down the long gravel drive connecting the highway to our farm. I grazed on. Soon I realized that strange beings were about to emerge from the newly arrived trailer. I saw two stubby tiny hoofed beasts being led into a nearby paddock. Striped legs supported gargantuan heads. Their monstrous heads touted tall antennas or were those ears? I didn’t take the time to find out. Did I mention the paddock they were led into was adjoined to MY pasture??? Actually, that paddock contains MY run in shed, MY sanctuary complete with fly sprayers, delectable timothy hay, fans and shade screens! What could possibly be next?

My mind wanders as I try to pretend nothing is out of the ordinary. In case you aren’t a horse person, many of us consider our beloved owners adopted parents. Of course, dogs do this too but they don’t have a thing on us. They just they think they do, since they get to go in the house. Dogs can’t even bow nor do Spanish walk, much less carry people around. I am not worried about them for a second. Mom admits that our dogs are pets. But, she insists that horses are not called/treated like pets for safety reasons. I DEFINITELY consider myself a pet! I digress-back to the fluffy antennae carriers.

Now, I am at the far end of the pasture and I hear, “Eclipse.”

My mom sweetly calls from the other side of the paddock close to the wildebeests. I heard that word on TV at the vet school by the way –wildebeests, and I am sure the things in the paddocks with the stripes and the dinky tails qualify. Oh no. She isn’t going to talk me into it. I stamp my hoof in defiance. Not a chance I’m getting any closer. Forget that the other horses are standing calmly nearby. I take a closer look at these things my mom seems so intent on introducing to me. I am sure that those beasts, whatever they are, could mean the end. My senses scream. Stripes definitely belong to TIGERS, right? Spindly, skinny at the top, ratty at the bottom tails adorn pointy butts. Those tails are the mark of wild animals, not self respecting domesticated equines, let alone Dressage horses like me. I mean, look at MY tail. Hmmm, lemme think…Tigers, wild animals. AHGHHH!!! I can’t think, only run, run til – uh oh. Stupid fence line is always in my way. Will they ever take it down?

How many times in the past have I run fearfully from danger or apparent danger only to have this black, 4 stranded, electro braid fence dash my escape? I have grown to detest it. However, mom is always telling people that I am the only thing that keeps me inside the 2.5 acre paddock. It’s one of the safest fences made and it’s not hot. Other horse have crawled under it or jumped out just to get better grass. Not me. They left me behind as if I were a dummy foal and made fun of me. My head drooped in shame every time.

But things are different now. The truth is that I was afraid most of the time. My mom saved me by helping me learn to be brave. It involved a new noise. At first, a little yellow box in her hand clicked loudly. Slightly scary at first, but treats followed the click to let me know my behavior was on the right track. Now that I know the words she uses in place of clicks, she talks me through it. I don’t even need the click except in wildly unusual circumstances like these wildebeests. Then it keeps me grounded. (Humans talk a lot. Sometimes their words are too much to sort out when things get crazy and the click helps with that.)

My mom is very proud of my broad vocabulary. She taught me to do tricks that awe horses and people alike. I love this place where I have learned to be brave. It’s MY place and won’t go out of earshot in case mom decides to call and pass out yummy snacks. I have all these thoughts as I snort forcefully with pricked ears and tail straight up in the air, a flag. Wait, I don’t get afraid like that anymore, do I?

Mom calls again, “Eclipsssse.”

I flick an ear her way as if to say, “Forget it sister, not a chance.” She clicks. Wait, did I hear a click? I flick an ear again to double check. Click. I DID hear a click? My mouth starts to water. Treats are on the way! Will I have to look at the dangerous wild animals and get even closer to them to get those treats? Hmmm…this requires horse sense. I’ll look away while I take a step and see how that goes to test the waters. CLICK! Ok, I am in for second step. Now I’m taking a third. I wonder if my mom knows how much danger she is putting me in and all for a stupid irresistible treat. My belly rules my brain. I hate that. Well sometimes I hate it, and this is one of those times. My nostrils flare like morning glories as they fill with the strange scent of the nearby striped, skinny tailed beasts. Now, the smell of sweet carrots wafts my way. I’m on the move. The click means treats follow. Still have 50 feet to go. Did horses always have to work so hard for their food?

WAIT! Out of nowhere, pictures and noises start exploding inside my head. I hesitate. Is this a memory? My feet stop and for a second and lose sight of the present. It’s hard to explain, but horses think in pictures. We aren’t great at determining if something is happening now or in the past. Chronological order isn’t our strong point or at least that’s what I hear. When a trigger occurs, it can be like we are living a past experience in the present moment.

For a minute, it seems like it is happening now. The rope is whooshing through the air toward me. The leather at the end of it threatens to bite my skin if it comes in contact. The experience causing me to hesitate is a rope swinging toward me with the goal of bringing me closer to something I fear. Is it a tarp or could it be wildebeests? Horses poop when they are scared to lighten up for running for their lives! The hand that I see in my mind swings the rope and scares the crap out of me, literally.

Then, the senseless words, “make a good choice,” fall like rocks on my ears. CHOICE? I am scared and even more afraid of the swinging rope biting into my flank. I mean, don’t they realize I can SEE the human swinging the rope? I might not have hands, but I do have eyes and they work well. I’m not blind. I can see that the rope in their hands is completely controlled by them: the HUMAN PREDATOR!

Now, the rope image fades and my hoofs are moving once again. Moms face comes into view. Magically, my belly seems to be controlling my feet. Step by step, I float across the grassy paddock. Only a few more feet to cover and the tasty carrots are mine, all MINE!

“Good,” my mom’s praise reaches my ears. Her words reflect my efforts to come closer to the face of imminent life threatening danger. Click. Ah yes. Reward time: carrots, yum, yum. I steal a look at the newly arrived creatures munching all the while. (Crunch crunch crunch.) I did it! Wildebeests, Zonkeys, Zorses, well, they aren’t so bad after all when treats are involved. Wonder if there are some more around the corner? Could be another opportunity to earn more clicks and orange sticks-I mean carrots!

Was I scared? Well maybe – but only for a minute since I can’t resist the idea of FOOD! With food I’m Superhorse! I can do anything. I’m no longer shaking in my socks! Other horses aren’t laughing at me. Out goes my chest and flip goes my mane as I cruise by the Wildebeests one more time, hoping for another treat. Did I hear someone say donkeys?

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PS To prove how brave I am, mom is including a picture of me underneath a fire breathing machine that used to TERRIFY me. It was taken at dusk (the scariest part of the day for prey animals) too!

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About the author: My name is Eclipse Deal. I am big, bright red chestnut gelding with chrome, thank you. I know all about the Compassionate Equestrian movement because they hold meetings here at MY farm. (My mom promised me a farm for Christmas a couple of years ago and I got it! All mine. Of course I have to share, she says.) I even get to be the centerpiece of these Compassionate Equestrian gatherings and enjoy all of the attention: massage therapy, pictures, body work, grooming demos. Oooooo, just thinking of them makes me feel like I just had a good roll. Did I mention I’m a movie star on something called Face Book and I am a Connection Training Star? I LOVE FOOD. Oh, sorry, I’m getting off track. Anyway, I’ve been asked to help out by writing this column called the “Mane Say”. It won’t be fancy, but it might give you a bit of insight into the mind and life of horses and their people since it is the saying of one with a mane, that’s me. It’s been said that I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but my mom says don’t believe it for a second. She’s given me the confidence to share my world with you. Ok, I confess, she is helping me – a little. Typing is super hard with hooves. Hope you enjoy my stories and maybe find even find them helpful. I am pretty sure writing this column could score me some extra CARROTS too, yum!

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About the blogger:

Susan Gordon is 56 years old and lives on Salt Spring Island, B.C., Canada. She began riding professionally 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—in particular Low Level Laser Therapy and tapping— 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 400m to ½ Marathon Road Race distances. The Compassionate Equestrian is her first book. Her second book also released in June 2015: 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.  Photo prints and paintings are available for viewing and purchase at www.susangordon.ca

Ali&I

Susan and Ali

Faith, Trust and Affection

 

Faith: complete trust or confidence in someone or something.

Trust: believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of.

Affection: a gentle feeling of fondness or liking.

Hello Compassionate Equestrians!

I hope you have had a wonderful summer, whether showing, trail riding, Olympics-viewing and/ or enjoying a well-earned vacation. As usual, time has flown by and it is hard to believe another two months have elapsed since my last post. The quandary is whether to add a newsletter or continue with the blog, as it seems none of us have enough hours in the day to ingest any more e-mails!

This one, however, is definitely worth a read. It is a story by guest-blogger and CE Movement member, Melissa Deal. Melissa has taken the message of The Compassionate Equestrian to heart—literally—and put the Principles into real action, as we had hoped many others would also be so inspired.

When we think of these 3 important words, “faith, trust, and affection,” we conjure visions based on our religion, our spiritual practices, and perhaps moments with our horses that may have required a considerable dose of all three! Personally, I follow those thoughts with feelings of gratitude and realize just how blessed I am in so many aspects of my life.

I believe we all love a great story, and I love the one as told below. Thank you, Melissa!

Susan G.


 

8/16/16 The Mane Say

by Melissa Deal

Victory Land Dressage

A brief intro: My name is Eclipse Deal. I am big, bright red chestnut gelding with chrome, thank you. I know all about the Compassionate Equestrian movement because they hold meetings here at MY farm. (My mom promised me a farm for Christmas a couple of years ago and I got it! All mine. Of course I share, because she makes me.) I even get to be the centerpiece of these Compassionate Equestrian gatherings and enjoy all of the attention: massage therapy, pictures, body work, grooming demos. Oooooo, just thinking of them makes me feel like I just had a good roll. Did I mention I am a movie star on something called Face Book and I LOVE FOOD? Oh, sorry, I am getting off track. Anyway, I’ve been asked to help out by writing this column called the Mane Say. It won’t be fancy, but it might give you a bit of insight into the mind and life of horses and their people because it is the saying of one with a mane, a horse, that’s me. They say I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but my mom says don’t believe it and she has given me the confidence to share my world with you. Ok, I confess, she is helping me – a little – (and I promise not to spook). Hope you enjoy and even if you don’t, I am pretty sure doing this will score me some extra CARROTS, yum, so I am up for it either way!

ECLIPSE WEBSITE PIC

Eclipse

My first story

I felt my mom’s energy across the paddock, before I saw her. Bristling she was and it got my attention. She practically marched toward the barn. As soon as she was close enough, I checked her eyes for water. Water in her eyes is a rare occurrence, but almost always leaks out with this kind of energy. I can’t explain why.

Eyes weren’t springing leaks, but had the eyes been leaking? I was pretty sure they had. In a very business-like manner she went for the grooming box without hesitation. No sweat, I thought. I had already done my work for the day so this likely meant pure adoration time for me. Yay!

Wait a minute. Oh come on. She was going for the tail. Bummer. Not my favorite, but definitely hers. It looks like adoration grooming will have to be after the tail. I don’t know what she does back there exactly, but I heard her friend call it therapy-whatever that means. I think I have a pretty sound understanding of the human language compared to other horses. Some words I just don’t get, though. (This lack of understanding doesn’t bother me since my mom says I am a genius, and I am pretty sure she is right). Out came the tail brush and the show sheen gel. Ever so gently, I felt brush, brush, brush. Rhythmic strokes were interrupted only by the times she seemed to be picking something out of my tail. Slowly, the pictures in her mind became available to me and this is what she shared.

Mom, in her dinky black Prius. (Dad says the Prius has something to do with hugging trees. This tree hugging thing is clearly a humanism that I don’t get. Trees are good for scratching though.) She drives down a long winding asphalt path with white fence punctuating each side. Stately oaks frame her view. Then to the left, movement catches her attention. She scowls. Her face is red and her chest thumps as she watches a vibrant young man yanking with great might on a yearling colts lead. To the left her head snaps. A fit young woman throws rocks at the other horses, one of which is trying to get in the mix. The woman is yelling at them. (What were those horses thinking? I mean, I am all about self preservation. Maybe one was the colt’s mom or something?) Then, I felt my mom’s energy shift. In the picture, her face softens and gradually she becomes sad for the suffering of innocent horses. Empathy replaces the sadness and the anger disappears entirely as her car rolls to a stop. She composes herself and prays for guidance on how to influence these unknowing people in way that will be life changing for the horses. (I know mom really puts a lot of stock in praying so this had to be really important to her.)  She puts on her best smile. She has a job to do, a mission to accomplish, a lesson to teach and lives to change. She thinks: “this can only be accomplished through influence. Anger will get me nowhere.” To influence will require proof of her ability to guide the rider to the changes they desire, regardless of whether she or the horse find them meaningful. “If I can accomplish this,” she thinks, “then, maybe I can help them see the horse, its mind and its behavior differently.” Perhaps she can soften the hearts of the young man and woman so they can feel their real feelings, not just the ones the world taught them to have. Then they will be free to act from their hearts, the hearts they had as children. She knows they didn’t mean to be abusive. She knows they are well intended. She hurts for the horses. Her heart cracks open and she mourns the state of the humans too.

She finished my tail and looked me deep in the eye with all of the love she could hold and with raw emotion stated out loud,” Here’s the thing about us humans. We will judge the actions of others, but we unknowingly do things that are just as terrible, only different, to you horses. What will it take for us to be like you, kind and forgiving more often than not? What will it take to change us? Thank you! Thank you for showing me every day how to help you, others and myself. I am so lucky to have you in my life! I am so grateful that you tolerate me and that you lead by example. (Whatever that means…another strange humanism.) I am undeserving of your trust and affection,” she says. (The last one is a big word. I don’t understand, but I know it’s all good stuff, every word). She gave the cue for a kiss and I very gently extended my neck and reached my fuzzy muzzle toward her pursed lips in a sweet caress. (The sweeter I am the more treats I get!) My muzzle fuzz touched her warm soft skin and she relaxed. (What a relief.)  A smile and a carrot instantly followed. I knew that all was well in my world, once again. Somehow it seemed, my tail and I had helped her feel better and in return she made me feel like big warm bran mash does on a frost bitten evening – loved and adored. Delicious!


 

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 56 years old and lives on Salt Spring Island, B.C., Canada. She began riding professionally 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—in particular Low Level Laser Therapy and tapping— 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 400m to ½ Marathon Road Race distances. The Compassionate Equestrian is her first book. Her second book also released in June 2015: 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.  Photo prints and paintings are available for viewing and purchase at www.susangordon.ca

 

Ali&I

Susan and Ali

 

Saying Goodbye

The Trafalgar Square Books offices are located on a Vermont farm. We recognize ourselves as pretty lucky, seeing as in between meetings and calls with authors we can look out the windows and see both horses and Highland Cattle grazing in the green fields that slope up from the barn where our books and DVDs […]

via How One Horse Says Goodbye to Another, and What We Can Learn from It — Trafalgar Square Books Blog

5 Tips for Teachers

They say we teach what we most need to learn. When you think about it, that could be true, but it also qualifies just about anybody to be a teacher… of something. After all, nobody can know everything, even within your own specialized area of study. There’s always new information coming from various channels, whether you are a neuroscientist or a horse trainer.

In fact, becoming a specialist and teacher in a niche field is available to anyone these days, especially if you have a computer. The door to the world is open to trillions of possibilities. If you’re reading this blog, then obviously you fit that category. Yes, YOU are a teacher too. Perhaps it is your child watching and listening as you speak to someone on your phone. They will learn from your tone of voice and behaviour. Maybe it is your horse. He watches and learns your patterns as you walk into the feed room and reemerge with something tasty for him. You smile as his ears prick up at the anticipation of a bucket full of good stuff. If you are in a bad mood and clean his stall with aggressive, angry stabs at the piles of manure, he will learn to be afraid of you and possibly anybody else with a pitchfork in their hand.

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photo:  Horse-Canada magazine (article link below)

http://www.horse-canada.com/magazine_articles/pro-grooming-tips/

To our large world of equestrian enthusiasts (we refer to the collective of horse lovers as “The Global Herd”) we are recommending using The Compassionate Equestrian’s 25 Principles of Compassionate Equitation as a teaching guide and foundation for your riding and horsemanship programs. The principles may be applied whether you work by yourself, or if you are a professional instructor and trainer with a body of students. My personal background comprises hunters and hunt seat equitation, jumpers, dressage, and three-day eventing horses. In my youth, I showed Appaloosa horses in both Western and English events including trail, working cow horse, and reining classes. Reading and studying were part of my passion for training, so I gravitated to information relating to those disciplines.

Realizing the need for a book that addresses the industry as a whole, TCE is written without specific training methods as much as possible so that everyone may visualize the concept of compassionate training and the horse’s wellbeing as it relates to their own discipline, breed, and equestrian-based activity.

While there are great instructor certification programs in most countries that address the basics of ethics, lesson planning, and of course, practical application of methods and technique, the personalities and compassion of individuals are entirely up to the individual to cultivate. Being certified  does not require being a compassionate certified instructor, trainer, judge, official, or other professional.

I realize 25 Principles are a lot, but we can break it down into 5 steps for teachers (and remember, you’re ALL teachers in some capacity) who wish to begin incorporating compassion as a foundation for their personal development, and as an inspiring base from which their students can incorporate all of the other aspects of their riding/training programs.

  1. Thoroughly read The Compassionate Equestrian book (hard copy or Kindle) to understand the journey from personal development to embracing the global challenges faced by the equine industry, and recognizing those challenges with compassion.
  2. If you have students or are in the presence of boarders at a barn, encourage them to read the book also, and enter into discussions about the Principles, whether in a formal study-group session or in a more casual setting. Talking about compassion is important!
  3. Watch your language carefully as you speak to your students and/or fellow boarders and horse-friends. We recommend Nonviolent Communication by M. Rosenberg if you are unfamiliar or unaware of how commonly used words instigate feelings of hostility, negativity or loss-of-confidence in others. Teaching by bullying is not effective!
  4. Print a copy of the 25 Principles (e-mail me at CompassionEq@gmail.com) and post them where everyone can read them—daily. Even if a person is in a hurry, a quick glance at a poster will cause a few words to jump out, and if nothing else, a valuable sentence is read. Something will stick, even if it’s only a few words. If you want to be creative, you could make a poster-board, and encourage your students/boarders to pin up their own inspiring sayings or photos that relate to the various Principles.
  5. Let us know how compassion is working for you in your life, your program, and your barn. Join the conversation on Facebook, and join The Compassionate Equestrian Movement as our featured first-in members have done (see the link to our Compassionate Media piece on www.thecompassionateequestrian.com.

Ultimately, it is the great teachers who make a difference in people’s lives. You influence those who are young, old, or four-legged with your thoughts, words, and actions. If you have chosen to teach in a specialty capacity as your life’s work, then may your passion reflect the wonderful being that you are, and may your students thrive in the world as living extensions of your compassionate nature and teaching ability. We would be most honoured if you were to also incorporate The 25 Principles of Compassionate Equitation as part of your formal lesson program.

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

 

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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 56 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—in particular Low Level Laser Therapy and tapping— 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 400m track to ½ Marathon Road Race distances. The Compassionate Equestrian is her first book. Her second book also released in June 2015: 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.  Photo prints and paintings are available for viewing and purchase by contacting Susan at : susan.greepony@gmail.com

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Facebook Faux Pas and Expanding the CE Movement

 

It has occurred to me that my Facebook posts of late are as long as a blog post. And the blog posts themselves have been non-existent. Therefore, I am attempting to re-boot my social media habits as of today and link a shorter Facebook post to a longer blog post. Wish me luck. Thank you to all of our subscribers and readers to date! That includes those of you who also use Twitter and Instagram. It’s hard to keep up with all the social-media networking, but I’m learning! I’m also finding that the most “likes” and comments come from the stories about personal relationships and experiences with horses and numerous training issues, as well as issues that develop in the barn with other horse-people. I love the feedback and your stories too!

 

We also have a new sign-up window on the website for those who wish to register for the upcoming Compassionate Equestrian Community Newsletter (see www.thecompassionateequestrian.com). Plans so far are for a quarterly newsletter so you don’t have to worry about having excessive e-mails from us. I realize it is a concern when signing up for anything nowadays as everybody seems to have more e-mails and more reading to do than they can keep up with. This particular blog post is somewhat of  a hybrid, but the information in the newsletter will be quite different and “newsy” compared to blog posts, which are more of a personal commentary. There’s still nothing quite like having a real book with real pages in your hands so far as we’re concerned too!

 

Since the book’s release last year (almost a year ago already!) the movement toward a more compassionate equestrian industry is beginning to take shape, and we are seeing considerable interest around the world in the form of new equine welfare statements and policies by breed and regulating bodies. This is very important, and a much-needed move to catch up with the enormous amount of abuse and neglect that still affects millions of horses in working, showing, breeding, racing, post-career, and retirement situations.

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This is Reine, the Canadian mare that I ride for a client near my home on Salt Spring Island, B.C. I’m not completely retired. That wouldn’t be any fun – LOL!

The Compassionate Equestrian Movement is growing, and our “first-in” barns, trainers, instructors and organizations have recently been featured in a wonderful brochure (available on our website’s home page) written by TCE’s editor, Rebecca Didier. The CE Movement will soon have a new page on our website, as it is currently in development. If you haven’t already read their stories, please check them out, and have a look at their online information for more details—links are included in the brochure’s pages found on our site. This is compassion-in-action and brings to life the many reasons Dr. Schoen and I embarked on writing TCE and formulating the principles.

* * * * *

Lastly, here is my Facebook post from yesterday in case you missed it. It’s about the responsibility of declaring that you have a “beginner-safe horse.”

 

“Safe for a beginner.” Sometimes, famous last words, so to speak. I think back to my first horse, purchased for me by my parents when I was 12. She was safe enough on trails in the wilderness, where she was raised and used as a pack horse in the mountains during hunting season. However, once we moved to a rural neighbourhood of a city and I had to ride her along roads, she became a danger to both of us by panicking at cars and trucks roaring by. It didn’t help that the community roads were lined with large, muddy ditches, deep enough to swallow a car or horse unlucky enough to end up in one of them.

Fortunately there was a riding arena next door to our house and so I resolved to keep her off the busy roads and avoid the possibility of a terrible accident.

How many times have I had clients come home with a “beginner-safe horse” that turned out to be anything but? That would be a new book in itself!

What really constitutes “bomb-proof?” How do you legitimately know if a horse is right for a first-time owner or young rider?

A repeated message throughout TCE is learning about dealing with our ego. When purchasing a horse, you are not only involved with your own wants and needs, but those of the seller, and possibly your trainer or advisor. I have had clients let go of a very good, suitable horse when they moved away and found a new barn, simply because their perfect horse was not a horse their new trainer wanted to ride.

The beginner horse is a highly valued member of the equine community. If you are looking for one, or selling to a rider who is just starting out, you have a big responsibility in your hands.

As humans, we tend to talk a lot, especially when we should be watching or listening. There are many questions involved with a horse that can allegedly take care of a newer rider. The more you know about a horse’s history…where he’s been and what he’s done since he was weaned, the better.

Yes, my horse actually was beginner-safe, but only in the situations with which she was accustomed. Once taken out of that environment, she became too fearful and reactive for a young rider to handle. Any horse can develop pain and fear issues over time, and many sellers attempt to cover up those issues. Sometimes, it may be an oversight, or the seller and buyer are unaware of changes that might occur in the horse’s behavior when the environment changes.

We can never know everything about a horse, that’s really the bottom line. We can take some control over our egos though, and view the horses and everyone involved with them with a compassionate heart and mind. If we need to move on, it is best to do so with love, understanding and kindness.

My first horse was eventually sold back to a very large working ranch where she was able to live out her life in good health and an environment that kept her happy and content.
SG

(photo: http://www.cowboyshorsesale.com/horses.html)

The Compassionate Equestrian's photo.
_________________________________________________________________

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 56 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—in particular Low Level Laser Therapy and tapping)— 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 400m track to ½ Marathon Road Race distances. The Compassionate Equestrian is her first book. Her second book also released in June 2015: 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.  Photo prints and paintings are available for viewing and purchase by contacting Susan at : susan.greepony@gmail.com

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