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