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!