THE LITTLE MARE THAT COULD

“Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.”- Buddha

Everybody remembers “that” kid from school.  The one who looked different, behaved differently, and was generally teased, bullied, left alone, the last one picked for gym teams and the one nobody expected to succeed at anything.  They might have had one friend or two but otherwise, nobody ever took the time to find out what the oddball was really like, what their passions were, why they were so “different” or what actually made them tick.  Who knows what great stories, performers, artists, scientists or athletes might have been hidden behind the funky clothes, eccentric behaviors or unusual choice of hobbies.  In my case, the “unusual hobby” that was the cause for a lot of teasing and rejection from other kids in high school was my devotion to my horses.  To make matters even more dramatic, my choice of horse was a loudly spotted appaloosa that stood out like a “sore thumb” in a crowd of exquisite imported European show jumpers and fancy thoroughbreds at the facility where I was boarding him.  I resigned myself to being “different” and concluded that animals would always be better friends than most of my human counterparts.  Humans frightened me with their hurtful words and aggression.  It was only through having animals that I developed enough confidence to deal with people… and so it went throughout my professional career as a horse trainer.

Fast forward several decades later:

There were many different types of horses at the desert ranch I was teaching at.  Morgans, Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, Arabians, Paints, Pintos, Thoroughbreds, Saddlebreds, Navajo ponies,  Miniature horses, “mutts” and even mules made their home at the scenic red-rock lined facility.  Along with the variety of horses came their people, as colourful and diverse as the horses themselves.  For the most part, everybody got along and most of us became good friends, with the exception of the occasional controversy that popped up, causing doubts and rifts to surface that put a chink in the confidence and friendships of people who would normally have gotten along just fine.  Not unlike scenarios that play out in so many barns everywhere you go, whether they are specialized show barns or a mix of everything.

At the centre of one such controversy was a Half-Arabian Pinto mare who pretty much drove everybody in the “upper barn” crazy.  At 12 years old, she had been raised from a baby by her owner, an elderly gentleman who rode western and used her only for trail riding.  Nicknamed “Baby”, the colourful mare was hyperactive, for lack of a better term.  She paced constantly along the fence-line of the outdoor run attached to her box stall.  She pulled constantly at the reins on the trail, which left her with a high-headed carriage and a built-up muscle on the underside of her neck.  She never seemed to quiet down even in a barn that was full of quiet, older horses.  She probably annoyed them too.  Nobody seemed to like Baby very much, and as her owner grew older, he found one of the teenagers at the barn willing to take her on to give her the additional exercise she seemed to crave.

I hadn’t paid much attention to her either, other than to take note of the stressful frame she was ridden in due to her constant desire to “go” when ridden.  One day as I was finishing up lessons and about to head home, I saw Baby in the arena for the first time, with the young teen lungeing her over a small jump.  I watched in both awe and amusement as the hyper trail-horse, wearing only a halter and the long line, scampered around and around the girl at full tilt, enthusiastically leaping over a cavalletti that she just as easily could have scooted around had she not wanted to jump it.  Mira did not have to encourage Baby at all, in fact the line was on a loop as the mare actually had to cut into the circle a bit to navigate the jump.  It was obvious this horse had a desire and a talent that nobody had noticed before.

Image

Celerity a.k.a “Baby”

“The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.”- Buddha

With the blessing of the owner we started the small but pretty paint over fences.  This was not an easy horse to ride, by any means.  She had gotten away with being “inside out” for so long that her back was hollow and she could evade contact with the high head and strong pulling muscle.  My program breaks down into very small chunks with a lot of walking over poles, flexibility exercises, and plenty of seemingly mundane but important details that slowly build a horse’s ability to jump in confidence and with correct form.  I wasn’t even sure if we’d really be able to get this horse into the show ring as it didn’t seem like her awkward form would allow for anything other than small jumps and her tendency to charge full speed didn’t help any.

Baby seemed to have her own agenda however, and the plucky young lady who rode her had already impressed me enough with her ability to handle her extremely flighty thoroughbred gelding.  So we continued.  Each step of the way surprised me as the fences went higher, so did Baby.  As the gymnastics became more complicated, she managed to handle them, rarely making a mistake.  I just let the progression of her training happen organically, and realized at one point we could start showing.  Baby’s owner was completely enthused at his horse’s new career and eventually let us have full control over her development.  He understood the need to reshape her body and build a different set of muscles for jumping.

In spite of all the positivity in the horse’s progress, I had to put up with the doubters and the skeptics at the boarding stable.  We heard everything from “the horse doesn’t like to jump”, “she should only be a trail horse”, “she’s a terrible jumper” to “the running martingale is dangerous”.  I used a running martingale to help stabilize her high head carriage and give her something to lean on a bit, which prevents the rider from getting hit as a horse pulls their way to a jump.  Great jumpers will pull like a freight-train and can easily go past their striding if they get too strong.  So I found myself having to defend my methods and apparatus, just like a scientist breaking ground in a new modality.  Except this wasn’t exactly rocket science.  It was just developing the confidence of a horse and rider in a niche they were both meant for.

“There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.”- Buddha

The nasty comments were divisive and hurtful enough that while trying to ignore them, I was eager to figure out how to move this horse and rider into a competitive situation and let them demonstrate what an “underdog” can do when given the proper handling and encouragement.  I was determined!

I recalled how all of that teasing and negativity from high school made me feel and how isolated I had to become to rise above it and be even remotely successful at what I really loved to do, which was train horses.

As Baby was ready to show we discovered her registered name was “Celerity”.  It means “Swift”.  Hmm… a quality imprinted at birth perhaps?

We were getting around courses.  Not big ones, but good enough to start at local shows.  The careful flatwork and slow progress paid off in ribbons from the get-go.  Baby’s hyper nature didn’t wane much and she remained a handful, but so many good jumpers are like that.  Instead of being aggravated by such a horse, I’m always inspired by them and let them be who they are.  My best horses have always been “quirky”.  I guess just like I was in high school 🙂

Mira and "Baby" at a Scottsdale Arabian show

Mira and “Baby” at a Scottsdale Arabian show

I enlisted the help of an Arabian trainer at the barn since Baby was Half-Arabian and eligible for recognized classes at the big shows in Scottsdale, Arizona, which was only an hour’s drive from our barn.  The best Arabians in the country came to those shows and the challenges were certainly as good as could they could get.  Baby and Mira started pulling ribbons consistently at that level too.  The glamour and glory were thrilling for all of us, and for awhile, the doubters and skeptics remained a little more quiet than usual.

Then disaster ensued.  At a local show Baby sped over the first fence of an early morning jumper class and stumbled in the deep sand footing on the landing side.  She fell right in front of the crowd from our barn who had come to watch the former trail horse that had established a somewhat celebrity-status after her spectacular debut in Scottsdale.

Mira was shaken and all the people who had ever doubted that this mare could be a show jumper grabbed her before I could, stripped her tack, and decided that was the end of her life as a jumper.  They were both actually fine with no injuries and could have easily gone on to finish out the day and jumped some more rounds.  I was concerned that thanks to the negativity of the other people their confidence would be destroyed beyond repair.

Back home, the owner of the barn decided that Baby should return to trail riding only and was sending other people out on the trail on her without telling the owner.  The teenager who had gained so much confidence and ability by riding and showing the mare made the decision not to ride her any longer, and I can only imagine what was being said about me.  It wasn’t a friendly atmosphere, that’s for sure.

I was still determined that this horse had such a will to jump it would be awful for her to have to go back to being yanked around on trails again and never realize her full potential.  So I recalled a top trainer I whose barn we kept our training horses at for awhile in Phoenix that specialized in Arabian jumpers.  She had been a Maclay-medal qualified equitation rider and state junior equitation champion before turning pro, and I thought she would be a perfect rider to carry on with Baby’s career.

Thankfully, the owner was still on my side so off we went for a trial ride.  It was a match made in heaven.  He left Celerity at the new barn and never looked back.  She returned to the shows in Scottsdale that year, picking up more ribbons, and eventually went on to become Reserve National Champion Half-Arabian jumper before she was sold to a jumper rider in the midwest.

Exceptional indoors at the Scottsdale Arabian Show Gambler's Choice Jumper Class

Exceptional indoors at the Scottsdale Arabian Show Gambler’s Choice Jumper Class

The lovely teen who started off her illustrious career acquired a wonderful, young, big paint gelding of her own and we both got him going as a competent hunter and blue-ribbon winner before she went off to college.  She was the only freshman accepted to ASU’s Intercollegiate Equestrian Team and eventually went on to become team captain, competing successfully on their hunter/jumper roster thoughout her college years.

Who knows what would have happened to either horse or rider had the doubters and skeptics been allowed to shut down both of them and prevent their passions from shining through.

Being doubtful and negative is not being compassionate towards another being.  In this case, horse and human were affected.  The feelings of doubt that were inflicted on all of us by people who deemed it necessary to project their own fears and skepticism on us created many situations where enthusiasm and positivity would have been far more welcome, not to mention much less stressful.

* * *

Dr. Schoen has many wonderful stories himself in The Compassionate Equestrian that demonstrate his passion for healing animals and having to overcome skeptics too.    Thankfully current research is beginning to confirm more of what he recognized in animals many years ago.

Dr. Schoen notes “I was allowed to create my own unique integrative program taking courses in both human psychology as well as applied physiology and applied animal behavior.  My master’s degree was another step in my continued evolving awareness of the similarities, rather than the differences between humans and non-human animals.  When studying pig behavior in confinement, I felt their suffering.  My research was to see if pigs in confinement did better if they were handled each day by humans vs. not being handled and just being in confinement pens.  Interestingly enough, the piglets that I handled seemed to end up higher in the dominance order in their litter and with that improved their weight gain a bit.  It does not seem unreasonable to extrapolate that caring touch improves “confidence”. ”

“Throughout veterinary school, I also kept questioning inside, how are we considered so different, and not more similar.  When a cynical veterinary resident questioned me about why I thought animals felt pain when there were no significant studies on it, I was shocked that how could they possibly think otherwise.

Since then, throughout my veterinary career, I continued to be surprised at how so many people treat horses with little compassion or consideration of their sentience, their sensitivity to pain and suffering.

My career took me on a journey of exploring an inner question that persisted in my life… ‘what is ultimate healing?’  I explored many different healing modalities to help animals that did not respond to conventional medicine and surgery.  That seemed to be my passion as a veterinarian, always searching for new approaches to help.”

* * *

Sometimes your passion simply drives you to find what works in spite of those who tell you it can’t be done, won’t work, shouldn’t happen, or are quick to provide you with a negative opinion at the first opportunity.  Even if we don’t agree on training methodologies or equipment, or any of the issues people get into with each other, especially over horses, a compassionate equestrian will not try to ruin someone’s good moments of joy, success, and free will by imposing their own fears and doubts on that horse or rider.  We must learn to let events “pass through” us, as in the long run, we’re really all just “walking each other home”.

The intention behind a compassionate trainer, and a compassionate veterinarian comes from the same place for the benefit of all beings, and that would be the heart.

Our wish is for all of our equestrian colleagues and friends to always be blessed with the most wonderful, caring, compassionate veterinarians, trainers, and “cheering sections”.

“Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.”- Buddha

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Us Watching Them Watching Us

We’re all interacting,  we’re all interconnected.  It’s a very integral web of interactions from everyone’s mind.  We can joke and say that every person on the planet is their own human universe.  So each horse-person is seeing that same horse barn through their unique filters based on their own life’s experiences.  The good, the bad and the ugly!  So they bring all of that to their perception of the barn.  Every person in the barn brings their own perception of the world, and their activity with the horses, and the horses are bearing the brunt of the good, the bad and the ugly.  All the other horses are bringing their own experiences.  So whatever number of horses there are on the planet, that’s how many equine universes there are based on each one’s experiences.

One of the things I’ve found with all animals that interact with people is they’ve actually evolved to a different level of awareness in consciousness.  I chuckle and say “when a horse is in a herd, it’s just horsing around.  It’s just being a horse”.  When the horse is interacting with people, they’re such great students of human behaviour.  They’re watching us in their predator-prey form so they’re still feeling like prey and they’re interacting from that fearful and cautious mind, but they can also evolve into the most compassionate, loving being, or the most dangerous, frightening 1200 pounds on earth.

Dr. A. Schoen, Introduction to The Compassionate Equestrian

There are many moments in my 30+ years with horses that stand out, and some of the most profound are when I simply stood by and watched the horses interacting with each other.

I recall one cold morning in particular, at a forested, mountainside property that was the backyard of my then-husband’s parents.  We were between commercial barns at the time and he had built a small barn for our 5 horses.  They were quite a herd.  Two off-track thoroughbreds, one nervous part-Standardbred jumper, my appaloosa gelding and a semi-wild buckskin filly.

We opened the stalls to let the horses out for the day and the chestnut thoroughbred mare that was turning into my primary jumper mount bolted out of her stall and raced to the knoll above the roofline of the cramped barn.  She then stood on her hind legs and pawed at the air as though the Lone Ranger were on her back shouting “Hi-Ho Silver awaaaay!”

The other horses did not participate in her exuberant display of wanton freedom and wild-stallion emulating antics.  I’d never seen her act this way before and I don’t think they had either.  We all stood watching below the hillside, marvelling at the rearing mare.  I was in awe of her athletic prowess and ability to balance on her hind legs on such a steep slope.  My first thought was “Huh!  I have to ride this horse!”.

The image of Ali’s ability to rear never quite left my conscious mind and it was a good thing I’d seen her do it on her own, even though she only pulled off the acrobatics twice under saddle.  One of the times I should have known better.  We were riding at the walk in a large field after she’d been on stall rest for a couple of weeks for a minor injury.  She seemed quiet enough so I thought it was safe to hack out.  Wrong.  All of a sudden and without warning, there was a repeat performance of her “hi-ho” movie- horse act and luckily enough I was able to ride it out.

The fact was, as Dr. Schoen noted, this hot chestnut mare was bringing her experiences from the race track, her experiences from the cowboys who tried to make a cutting horse out of her at the barn we were managing, her first lessons over jumps, and her subsequent development into a champion show jumper.  Her abilities to react quickly, snap the front legs up and push off her hind end over large jumps were evident during her “play” time and correlated with the observations I’d made watching her interact with the other horses.

So what made the different between thinking this is a compassionate, loving horse, or this might be a really dangerous horse that could seriously hurt me?  I believe we were both good students of each other.

Susan and Ali

Susan and Ali

For me, the difference came from all the times I’d just sat in silence and observed the horses in their own environments.  What they’re like when they eat by themselves, or with others.  Who’s the bully?  Who’s the clown?  Which one was the first to pick up a stick and try to get the others to play “tug of war” with him?  Who’s the first one to nicker when the back door opens and the human appears?  They’re like a class of kindergarten children who never grow up.  They’re very good at watching how the “adults” behave too and emulating their behaviour.

There’s lots of programs now that encourage bonding with horses and developing a relationship with them, and this is wonderful.  It takes many years of riding a lot of horses to really know them well though, and to be able to use the powers of observation to determine the best “niche” for each horse, plus how to keep them happy and sound under saddle.  Many times they are happiest doing what they’re bred to do, but circumstances might alter their future, such as the former race-horses. New activities have to be managed within their scope of willingness and ability.  In many cases, suitable bonding on the ground might still leave the horse difficult to ride and manage under saddle and this is where the skills and experiences of the rider need to match up with the personality, experiences, and abilities of the horse.

My other horses at the time would never have thought to rear and strike out as the mare did, but neither were they as sharp or talented over jumps as she was.  They had their own “stuff” going on however and each one is a story unto themselves.  All different, and much safer for the average rider to get on and have a pleasant ride.  I had a special bond with all of them, but the hot red-head mare and I could communicate with each other in a way that other people couldn’t.  She was too sensitive for my ex-husband and they would both get angry with each other.  Very angry.  She was terribly spooked by the cowboys who thought she might make a cutting horse – about the furthest thing from her background or abilities – and she was tense as a steel guy-wire when I first rode her.

Was this a compassionate horse?  She jumped everything for me and tried her guts out every single time.  I think we even went beyond her actual physical capabilities sometimes.  I knew this horse wouldn’t intentionally hurt me and the fact that she could be explosive didn’t bother me.  I wasn’t intimidated by her and I believe she knew that.  I had to learn how to breathe with her breaths, think with the quickness of her mind, and coordinate my rhythm with hers.  Yes, she could be dangerous if she wanted to be, but there was a lot more depth to our relationship than the physical one.  We knew each other on a whole different level.  Science is beginning to come up with some explanations about that kind of relationship with animals and the heart-to-mind connection we can have with them.

SG

What it boils down to so much is not just our mind, but our hearts and mind and the heart and mind of everyone in the barn.  To me, ultimate healing is bringing that awareness to all animal lovers and to all horse lovers everywhere.  For everyone who’s interacting with horses there’s an opportunity that has arisen now as neuroscience has advanced and continues to develop.  It’s documenting all the ancient traditions about the benefits of lovingkindness and compassion for all beings.  As these two areas converge into a new field, sometimes called neurospirituality, or the neuroscience of behaviour, we can better understand the positive, or negative impact we have on the animals we interact with.

That’s what this book is about.  It’s from the horse trainer/instructor who has over 30 years of experience with the mindfulness of decades of meditation practice, along with the veterinarian who has been trained in conventional western medicine and surgery and acknowledges the value and benefits of it, but in addition has undertaken a personal, professional and spiritual journey realizing all the different options for healing animals and people and that the healing is a full circle.  The more we become aware of how we can be of benefit through developing lovingkindness and compassion in ourselves for all beings, then we can help the animals that way, and subsequently they become all they can be, and they will then support us in becoming all we can be.

The more one understands neuroscience and neurobiology the more we realize we share similar brain patterns and brain programs with animals, rather than differences.  One of the paradigm shifts I’d like to see is to change from having to prove what’s the same to having to prove what is different in the way our thoughts and moods function from those of animals.”

Dr. A. Schoen

 

Secondhand Stress… Really?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/09/secondhand-stress_n_4556964.html?utm_hp_ref=healthy-living

We all know how secondhand smoke can affect a non-smoker, but how about secondhand stress and its effect on the wellbeing of others?

Yesterday morning as I was waking up to my radio-alarm clock a program came on featuring several people whose lives were made very stressful by working for minimum wage and struggling to make ends meet.

There were a couple of young mothers working two or three part-time jobs. One lamented that she couldn’t afford to buy good food as even a bag of her favourite apples would alone cost $10 for her and each of her kids to have just one.

I felt so sad for her and could relate to the stories I was hearing, as I too, have been “horse poor” most of my life as I built a reputation for training and teaching while struggling to pay expenses on my own horses. It’s not unlike having children to feed and care for as you don’t ever want them to know why their favourite food isn’t forthcoming or that you may have given up on a new pair of shoes for yourself in order for your dependents to have a new pair themselves.

It’s a situation most professional riders can relate to, as can students who have massive amounts of debt to pay off by the time they can even get started in their chosen careers.

The longer I listened to the interviewees on the radio show the more stressed I found myself becoming… and this was before getting out of bed! I started to worry about my own future and how expensive food is becoming and on and on. Not really how I like to start my day since it usually begins with a good raw breakfast, meditation and yogic stretches. I finally had to turn off the radio and try to shake off the effects of the “secondhand stress” I was experiencing.

Stressed?

Stressed?

I’ve learned over the years how to reduce the effects of both mental and physical stress and it doesn’t just happen by accident. It takes study, practice, and more practice, especially if your environment at home and at work is not as supportive as it could be to your peace and wellness.

When Dr. Schoen and I have a conversation about The Compassionate Equestrian and the Principles of Compassionate Equitation, we frequently find the mere act of having a good dialogue about our respective backgrounds and stories to be soothing and therapeutic. Dr. Schoen is not only an advocate for meditation, he practices it with a deep conviction and thoroughly understands the transformative power of regular contemplation, even before entering a barn where he’s about to see his veterinary clientele.  He knows from experience how it affects not only the horses, who then watch him intently and actually want to be his patients, but also their owners and everyone in the barn who can sense the positive shift in energy when he’s in attendance.

Imagine being in his shoes for a moment, or that of any veterinary practitioner working with your horse or other animals, as he must take on responsibility for the diagnosis and treatment protocol for that animal. Not only that, but he has to explain his findings and treatment to the horse’s owner, the trainer, and perhaps the groom and barn manager, and then also deal with the horse itself.

The emotional stress is potentially enormous, given how horses react when they’re in pain, and also how they may respond to a veterinarian if they’ve been treated roughly by one in the past.

Our Principle #13 states:

“The Principles recommend that one takes a few moments of silence to become heart-centered, allowing for the release of any destructive emotions, prior to working with any horse in any way.”

#14 continues with:

“This allows both the individual and the horse to interact from a place of inner calm, peace, awareness and mindfulness, thereby allowing for the most positive, constructive outcome from all interactions between humans and horses.”

Over the years of working many horses a day, and dealing with all the different personality types that come with the horses at the show barns, I also discovered the value of maintaining that centred calmness and noticed the actual physiological changes that take place in both the heart and mind when one maintains a regular practice of compassion and meditation. That’s not to say I haven’t had many moments where I “lose it” and the ego wants to override thoughts and judgement, but now I know how to come “home”, and am getting better at staying there.  In fact, I think it’s possible to spread “secondhand peace” too.

Not stressed

Not stressed

Dr. Schoen says:

“Differentiating self from other promotes suffering, and the trainings in which you see that everyone is suffering and that you’re here to be of benefit to others then those areas in the brain responding to joy and bliss light up. The Buddhists talk about altruism being of benefit to others and that may be a more positive, higher evolutionary form of thinking beyond survival mode.

What this means regarding The Compassionate Equestrian’s perspective is that if we can bring compassion – the awareness of the intelligence – the personalities and awareness of the neurochemistry and neuroscience that horses and all other species have the same mind-traffic and all the same fears and survival mechanisms that we do, then theoretically being more intelligent we have the ability to go beyond that base-level mode of survival instincts and train ourselves to be more compassionate. By spreading that mind-stream in a horse barn, show, or any place where humans and animals interact we set a whole new bar for compassion and it can evolve person-to-person, person-to-horse, barn-by-barn, and so on.”

While the effects of secondhand smoking have been highly documented, it seems like we’re just beginning to understand how secondhand stress can affect us too. By becoming aware of this fact, and how it will also affect our horses when we show up at the barn, it presents us with the opportunity to determine how we will change ourselves to be more conscious of the effects we have on others, and how we can make the world a more compassionate, less stressful place for everyone we encounter.

123rf.com stock photo

Secondhand peace 🙂

A Symbiosis of Two

In another life I would have been a scientist.  “Zoologist” was my choice, in fact.  I love the research and putting together original ideas to formulate new theories or prove existing ones.  Back in the 1970s though, when I was in high school, there was little thought given to directing girls towards fields of science.  I fell behind in math after a change in school systems and nobody seemed to notice or care much, and I was too shy to ask for help.  Meanwhile, I found myself with a four-year-old appaloosa filly and a yearling appaloosa colt that turned my analytical mind to that of wonder at how I, a slight teenage girl, could develop such a close relationship with horses as to be able to manage these two young training projects and not get hurt in the process.

I studied the works of great classical master trainers and was always excited to try out their techniques on my horses, then go back and study more.  The colt wasn’t even rideable until he was two so I “played” with him for a year and a half while he grew into a full stallion.  By the time I had started him under saddle we could practically read each other’s minds, and he seemed to clearly understand what I was saying to him in the way that a small child would act and respond to body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and actual words.  Sometimes his responses were startling and very unexpected.  I believe we developed what the researchers in the story at the subject of this blog post from TheHorse.Com have termed “co-being”.

This young horse, in my opinion, actually evolved in his intelligence above and beyond what he would have had he been left in the wild or simply turned out with other horses and not interacting so much with a human in his formative years.  I believe I also developed what I refer to as a “sixth sense” of reaction-time and horse-like responses to visual and auditory stimuli as a result of handling not only such a young horse, but one with the developing hormones and behaviours respective of a typical stud colt.

The 2 year-old Top Canadian & Susan

The 2 year-old Top Canadian & Susan

I am grateful that researchers are now identifying the drivers behind such evolutionary development, and am extremely thankful that a veterinarian such as Dr. Allen Schoen emerged as an early pioneer in the field of integrative, holistic veterinary medicine, and has never stopped exploring the ways animals can be healed and communicated with beyond conventional approaches.

His theories regarding the energetic fields that develop between a horse and rider support the possible reasons that my young horses and I were able to merge together and feel as though we could respond to each other’s thoughts and emotions with split-second timing and clear understanding.

* * * *

Please enjoy Dr. Schoen’s commentary on the article:  Some Horses, Riders Have “Co-Being” Relationship:

I am pleased to see these universities undertaking these studies on what they term “co-being theory”.

In my book “Kindred Spirits, How the Remarkable Bond Between Humans and Animals Can Change the Way We Live” that I wrote in 2001, I proposed what I call “co-species healing”, how we both can heal each other.  I also began to describe what I feel more and more confident actually exists, is actually, a new level of conscious evolution in all animals when they are in the presence and continued interaction with humans.  Recently, I have termed and copyrighted the terms “Trans-species Field Theory”©  and the “Compassionate Field Theory” © proposing that new energetic fields actually develop between humans and animals when we are interacting regularly together.  My theories are based on a combination of the research documented by HeartMath between humans, the latest in neuroscience and the latest in research in mind body medicine and compassion.  I extrapolate all this research to interactions between humans and animals when they interact with each other.

In my blog, Kindred Spirits Project, I have collated videos and articles that document the interactions between different species that transcend our current beliefs and knowledge about how they “should” interact with each other.

I believe we are co-creating an entirely new field based on an expanded level of awareness of human animal interactions.  I believe that animals that interact regularly with humans are developing areas in their brains that create new firing of neural nets and then new wiring of their neural nets to encompass a new level of awareness and consciousness in regards to interacting with humans. They are evolving beyond just “horsing around” or being in a herd and acting out of herd behavior, even beyond mirroring or mimicking humans. I believe they are developing new levels of communication with humans, based on their observations of human behavior and new levels of trans-species communication at many levels.  We then co-create a “trans-species” field, transcending the individual field.  Rupert Sheldrake has coined the term “morphic fields” between animals, like fish swimming together or birds flying together  Sheldrake; Morphic Resonance Introduction.  I feel that there are actually these “trans-species” fields of interactions that develop.  When we take responsibility for our part in creating those fields, and then focus our intention on compassion for all beings and have that intention as part of our energetic field, then we can create the “compassionate field” that I observe clinically in my practice and call the “Compassionate Field Theory”©.

I am excited to see that there are variations on this theme evolving elsewhere, especially at universities.  I used to be a Clinical Assistant Professor at both Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine as well as at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, but now focus more on how these theories may be demonstrated and manifesting in clinical practice in horse barns as well as anywhere where humans and animals interact.

 Dr. Allen Schoen, DVM, MS, PhD (Hon)
Dr. Schoen with a client's horse

Dr. Schoen with a client’s horse

Joy to the (Horse) World!

Image

Silver

Our recent discussion about the Principles of Compassionate Equitation © turned to thoughts regarding “joy” and how all the seriousness of training and competition sometimes leads us to forget about what it means to be joyful.

Principle #10 in The Compassionate Equestrian states “the Principles accelerate the evolution of joy and respect between humans and horses and allow for a more expansive, conscious interaction between humans and our equine companions.”

Dr. Schoen and I both know that by practicing compassion, one does become happier overall, as you learn to keep your heart open and accepting.  It’s not necessarily easy to do, especially in the situations that frequently arise in our microcosm of the world that exists within every barn.  Tension can come from the management, the trainers, grooms, other riders, or even the horses themselves as they will also react to a stressful atmosphere by acting out in ways that may not be too much fun for us.

As we discussed the need for joy in our lives, I thought of one very special horse who brought joy to everyone who rode him, and always made me smile every time I looked at him.

The trainer I worked for at the time was looking for a horse for a young male student and we got word that a large Quarter Horse gelding was available on a feed lien.  His owner had abandoned him and he had been basically stall-bound for several months, so the barn had the legal right to sell him for board that was owing.

Not expecting much, we went to look at him and it took about 2 minutes to make the decision to purchase the big white gelding.  His name was Silver.

He was obviously happy to be let out of his stall as we inspected his conformation, jogged him for soundness, and tacked him up for a trial ride.  He was over 16 hands… quite tall for his breed.  His head was less than classic, with a bit of a Roman nose.  He had good bone though and while he wouldn’t win a conformation class, he was attractive enough that anyone could look good on him.

Not only was Silver impeccably trained, but he was the calmest horse one could hope for.  As we watched a young rider from the barn put him through his paces, Tim, the trainer, tossed a hat right in front of Silver’s nose as he jogged by.  The horse didn’t flinch.  Sold!  This was a beginner’s dream horse.

Back at our own barn Silver settled in immediately.  He got along with every other horse, and we rode him a few more times before having Tim’s student come to try him out.  Excited for the meeting of the two, who we thought would be a perfect match, the day finally came that Silver was to meet his potential new owner.

It didn’t go quite as planned.  At least not according to our plans.  Silver apparently had something else in mind.

He literally quivered on the crossties when the boy and his mother came to meet him.  Wondering what was going on, we thought perhaps they could bond in the round pen, with the big Quarter Horse roaming freely so he, the mom & her son could just “hang out” and study each other’s personalities.

Silver seemed highly suspicious of the two and was not his typical friendly self.  Tim and I had no particular answer as this seemed out of character for the horse even though we’d only known him a short time.  Finally, the boy’s mom said “I don’t think he likes us”.

Well, that’s not the way to sell a horse!  The pair left the barn and I put Silver back in the crossties to finish up with his grooming.  If a horse could look smug, I would say Silver definitely had a smug little grin on his face.  That’s when I looked straight at him and said “you want to be OUR horse, don’t you?”  Oh yes, the ears pricked right up and if he was a cartoon horse you’d have seen the little hearts circling his head and eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.

Tim agreed that Silver seemed to want to stay at the barn and be a lesson horse on our own string, and so it was.

I couldn’t even tell you how many kids that big guy packed around, adjusting himself to whatever level of rider climbed on his back.  Once we knew he was staying I tested him over jumps and he did that just right too.  I secretly always wanted to ditch the off-track training projects and just have some fun on Silver, who could give a thoroughbred a good run around the pasture when he felt like it.

He would memorize an obstacle course if I led him through it once, making a little 6-year-old girl feel like an accomplished rider.  He had a special “tranter” gait for youngsters just learning to canter… the front end would trot and the back end would canter, giving riders confidence until they could move him up into a true canter.  He was very happy in his job, and brought happiness and confidence to everyone who rode and showed him.

In all the seriousness of training, the stress of hauling horses and students to shows, and the everyday physical demands of working around a barn, I could only wish for everyone to have the chance, even once in a lifetime to have a horse like Silver who never failed to approach life with joyful abandon and an unsurpassed generosity.  Perhaps he was like most rescued and previously abandoned animals, as they always seem particularly grateful and eager to return the compassion that was shown to them.

Compassion takes practice, especially when we are faced with adverse conditions and situations that may make it more difficult to think about the suffering of others.  This is why I love rescued animals, and “recovered” humans, as they know how to come, literally, “from the bottom of their heart” – and with that, comes real and lasting joy.

Wishing a Happy, Joyous, New Year to All!