Good Hands, Good Seat, Good Heart

Dear Compassionate Equestrians,

I’m happy to reconnect with you for what has become a single yearly blog post. I hope life has treated you well, and I wish you an excellent New Year.

2023 marks a decade since the concept for the book began, and I would like to encourage anyone who has a story that would inspire others to embark on the process of doing so, whether it be through the written word, a podcast, social media posts, artwork, music, or any other creative endeavour. I guarantee it will be a treat for your soul and help raise the spirits of others who need to hear your message.

Everyone in my circle of family, friends, clients, and acquaintances has had a different experience with the pandemic and the many changes affecting the world. Still, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that for many, it has been a struggle to retain joy, optimism, and clarity about the future of humanity. I try to resist sliding into a state of pessimistic contemplation, but in searching for methods to stay balanced, I refer back to the teachings of The Compassionate Equestrian and put into practice the exercises presented throughout the book.

Image by Rebecca Scholz from Pixabay 

I started sitting outdoors in the morning for a few minutes of meditation. It was lovely in the summer, but I’ve found myself continuing the practice as we move into winter. A blanket and a hand-warming gourd of yerba maté tea make it comfortable to sit and listen to bird songs, frogs, the wind, rain, and sounds of the neighbour’s horses and alpaca. The practice of the present moment is a beautiful way to shut off the mental chatter that pulls and pushes us into the future and past.

As an exercise in self-reflection, I’ve looked back on my youth and reminded myself of what made me happiest and most satisfied with life. What were my ambitions, what materialized versus what didn’t, and why? Animals, music, art, nature, and dance were featured themes throughout my developmental years and remain so as I reach my golden age. 

Creativity is an excellent release for pent-up emotions and stories buried in our subconscious. Here’s an art exercise you can try yourself; no, you don’t have to be an artist. You only need a few supplies, even as simple as a piece of paper and a pen or pencil, along with something that adds colour, either ink markers, paint, or crayons.

  • Take a trip to a paint store or any hardware or department store that sells paint. Or, focus on an object, a book, or a card—anything that grabs your attention with its colour. At the display of paint chips (bits of paper that you can take home to match or coordinate colours with decor), choose a colour that makes you happy, or choose two if you can’t decide. You don’t need any reasons why the colour brings up that feeling of joy. Take the coloured paper samples home with you.
  • Sit quietly with your paint chip, and let images arise in your mind that correlate happy times with the colour. It could be an object, a person, a place, a horse, or a related event or period of your life.
  • Make a drawing of anything that comes to your mind. It could be shapes, representational symbols, or indiscriminate blobs of colour and random lines. Just retain the idea of your happiness as your draw and paint.
  • Keep your finished art where you can see it and refer to it when you need a mood booster.

I tried this exercise months ago with a group of professional artist friends and found it surprising and delightful. The woman who introduced us to the process specializes in abstraction and the psychology of design, so there was no expectation of realism in the artwork, only a representation of our joy as it connected to the colour.

I stared at the pile of paint chips she placed on the table and was attracted to a deep teal piece titled “Whirlpool Blue.” This dark blue-green isn’t a colour we’d typically associate with “happy.” I surprised myself, but this was the shade calling me. It took me a few minutes to figure out the association, and then I remembered.

In 1977 I moved my recently-purchased Appaloosa colt to the newly opened show jumping facility in Calgary, Alberta, Spruce Meadows. Their logo colour has always been the hue of a Blue Spruce tree, one of my favourite trees. Besides being the horse of my young girl’s dreams, a beautiful bay with a spotted blanket on his rump, Top Canadian was perfectly mannered, easy to train, and a delightful clown of a horse that enjoyed attracting hordes of people to his stall during big events at the soon-to-be-famous equestrian facility. These were some of the best days of my life.

 I was amazed that a teal paint chip could rustle up all these memories and associated emotions. I took the coloured bit of paper home and began to paint. An abstract based on my horse’s spots emerged after a couple of hours of painting. It is one of the more unusual paintings I’ve done over the years, but I still feel the deep emotion that first hit me when my eyes fell on the Whirlpool Blue paint sample.

“Appaloosa” 9 X 12, acrylic on canvas paper, Susan Gordon

Another method to reconnect to a happy place is to listen to music that takes you to another time and place. Barn chores, cooking, cleaning, and even riding go well with your favourite tunes. I’ve also had a great time returning to my Western roots, switching tack on my client’s lovely Arabian gelding, following Cowgirl Magazine online, and watching videos of ranch riding classes. As a teenager, I started training and showing Appaloosas—a sweet satisfaction in bringing some of that past into my current life. It’s another exercise in staying grounded in familiar, safe places and good memories. I believe the art exercise set off a series of spontaneous events in my psyche, which continue to emerge as a necessary healing process. It is a personal journey that I encourage each of you to undertake, no matter where you are in your life.

A sense of giving to oneself and giving to others, being generous in mind and spirit, is something this world needs. We’ve experienced more divisions in surprising and disappointing aspects of life than we’ve ever seen on a global scale. We must return kindness, compassion, elegance, and grace to one another. Follow your heart.

In the horse shows of my youth, there were equitation classes that focused on “Good Seat and Hands.” It takes a long time and an excellent teacher to instill this fine-tuning in a rider, yet, next to primary care and welfare, it is one of the greatest gifts we can give to a horse, that of correct, balanced riding, creating a picture of beauty. Horses always amaze me with their generosity and kind nature, allowing humans to ride on their backs and put them through paces and exercises they wouldn’t typically do in the wild. They are inherently altruistic. 

Image by soulfirephotography_ from Pixabay 

Good hands give, a good seat follows the horse’s motion, and a good heart is benevolent towards all. The same aspects apply to the non-ridden horse in providing a giving hand and mindfulness toward the horse’s needs and personality. These elements align, creating coherence and extending into a larger, radiant field. It is an extraordinary chance to let help others and let horses help us. At this time of fragility on Earth, let’s take every opportunity to find a positive path forward. Take more steps, however small, to restore joy and lightness to yourself and others. 

I’d love to hear about your creations based on the suggested exercises or something you may have discovered about yourself and your horse/s after reading The Compassionate Equestrian. 

May peace prevail on this planet and all sentient beings be free from suffering. 

Susan

December 23, 2022

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