A Happy Horse, of Course!

We do everything else online these days so why not learn how to be happy by taking an online course too!? I had to think about this for a few days, and try to compute what “happy” really means. Especially to a horse. Does a horse think “happy thoughts”? I think with humans, part of the problem is we think too much. Part of being happy is to stop it. “Thinking” too much that is. At least so far as instructions in mind-training go as we are taught to let go of binding attachments to desires and things and just “be”. Yet even when taught to observe the mind as an instrument of desire, we still have wants and needs. It’s part of being human. It depends on what those wants and needs are. Do we want “stuff” or do we want to be of benefit to all beings?

For a horse to be happy, does he have to stop thinking or start thinking? Perhaps with animals, it’s simply a matter of how they respond in the moment as opposed to deciding how they will do everything from selecting a partner to where they will live and work and what they will acquire that will supposedly “make” them happy. They go about their horse-business and seem to be most at peace when they’re turned out in a pasture together and can function as closely to their natural herd behavior as much as possible.

The "herd" waiting to be brought in for dinner.

The “herd” waiting to be brought in for dinner.

What’s interesting about the fundamental ideas behind the “happiness course” is that they sound a lot like the way a herd of horses naturally operates. “Strong social ties”. Check. “A sense of purpose or connection to the greater good”. Check. “Reading people’s emotions”. Oh yes, horses are really good at that too. Do they have compassion? Empathy? I believe many of us who have worked with horses a long time can cite stories of horses displaying all the qualities this course teaches us about being happy. How fascinating!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/23/why-thousands-of-people-a_n_5175603.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular

“The [course] starts with the idea that happiness and health are fundamentally about strong social connections and being immersed in a strong social community,” says Keltner, citing research that strong social ties can add years to your life. “We’re going to zero in on things that build strong social ties and communities — things like compassion, empathy, how to read people’s emotions, gratitude, charity, generosity and giving.”

The course emphasizes two main (scientifically-proven) keys to happiness: Strong social ties, and a sense of purpose or connection to the greater good.

Granted, the definition of true happiness can be somewhat broad-based and subjective. A quick online search for the definition provided this description:

hap·pi·ness
ˈhapēnis/
noun
the state of being happy.
“she struggled to find happiness in her life”
synonyms: pleasure, contentment, satisfaction, cheerfulness, merriment, gaiety, joy, joyfulness, joviality, jollity, glee, delight, good spirits, lightheartedness, well-being, enjoyment;

For horses, that could translate to the pleasure of eating a bucket full of tasty grain or taking off across the field, bucking and playing as a delighted free spirit with the rest of the herd. Sounds similar to what humans find satisfying and joyful. Eating, playing… it appears all beings might be looking for the same thing.

Can happiness-seeking take a wrong turn? I can see all the heads nodding now.

This goes back to our desire for self-satisfaction and thinking we’re going to find that either through others, or through the acquisition of material goods. It looks like the online happiness course is scientifically-backed to prove there are definitely errors made in human thinking as to what will make us happy.

I had a landlord once who lived right below my apartment. He and his girlfriend were generous, caring souls, but he was convinced she was supposed to “make him happy”. It’s a fragile way to maintain a human relationship. As soon as he was “unhappy” the arguments would ensue and it became an unpleasant environment not only for them as a couple, but for everyone else in the vicinity who was subjected to their unhappy behaviors. They would eventually make up and the entire cycle would start again.

Horses don’t seem to have these problems.

I’ve watched horses respond to other horses in distress many times. They don’t like it when a herd-member is in trouble or hurting, even if they only know the horse as a stable-mate who lives in another stall in the barn. They will exhibit signs of stress and call out to the distressed horse. Is this not a sign of compassion and empathy? I’ve seen an entire herd of pasture-mates form a procession and circle around one of their own who was dying. Is this not a sign of sentience, intelligence and compassion?

I believe that amongst domesticated horses, we humans are often thought of as part of their herd. Perhaps more so by some horses than others, but I’ve seen signs of acceptance in that regard as well. It’s probably why so many people feel so protective and emotionally attached to their horses. It’s hard not see them as objects of desire and “things” that exist to make us happy, but they are so much more than that.

As the happiness course indicates, the factors that make for true happiness are strong social circles and caring for others. So our real happiness with horses comes from that aspect of being with them, and not so much from the aspect of how much they cost, how much fancy tack we can dress them up with, or how many ribbons we can win in the show ring with them. All that “stuff” simply pales in light of the real reasons horses can bring us true happiness. No wonder they’re so inherently happy 🙂

 

 

 

FORWARDS and STRAIGHT

Many years ago I was living at an FEI-level dressage barn as the assistant hunter-jumper trainer. It was a fabulous place to watch and learn from some of the world’s best and most educated riders and clinicians who came to ride, teach and show there. I’ve learned throughout my years as a professional rider that those rare horsemen who are consistently at the top of their game in the Olympic disciplines are also the quietest. They tend not to talk a lot and have dropped the egoic bravado that comes with so many trainers who are still out to prove themselves. Getting specific information out of them isn’t always easy… more likely gained by observing and the occasional politely asked question.

One day I was watching the head trainer, a soft-spoken, elegant German master rider, schooling a working student on an upper-levels horse that had been allowed by its owner to make flying lead changes incorrectly. Every other canter stride or so the student-rider would ask for a lead change and the rangy warmblood gelding would swing his haunches well off the track to the left or right. It looked awkward, and in fact, such swaying off the track results in a relatively low score in a dressage test due to the incorrectness of the movement. It also indicates a resistance in the horse and would eventually lead to unsoundness.

The trainer spoke in German – a language I don’t understand beyond a few words – and the next time the series of flying lead changes were attempted they appeared nearly perfect.

Surprised, I asked Uli, the trainer, what he said. “I told him to keep the horse straight” was his answer.

The difference a subtle change in the ride made to this horse was such a profound lesson I wished I could have had a video camera in my hand at the time as the teaching from this one apparently simple thing was quite dramatic. However, it’s the right combination of so many elements, including the keen eye and years of experience of such a trainer, plus a student who also came from the program in Europe that made the rapid change in the horse’s form look easy.

Candillo Jr, an imported Holsteiner stallion, now owned by OSJS Sporthorses of Canada.

In the classical training method the two key words that lead to a healthy, “finished” horse are deceptively complex. If it were a simple matter to ride a horse both forwards and straight, we’d all be riding relatively problem-free horses that stay as sound as possible and carry a rider without stress or discomfort.

Unfortunately, especially in North America, there are only a handful of trainers who still follow the programs of master trainers and not too many riders who have had the opportunity to sit on a horse that has reached a perpetual state of “forwards and straight”.

Horses naturally track with their shoulders closer to the rail and haunches more to the inside due to their shape. If you look at a horse from the top view, you’ll see the width of the shoulders is narrower than the hips, so it’s just a more comfortable and natural way for them to track. It also means they naturally drop an inside shoulder as they make a turn and counter-balance by shifting their heads & necks to the outside.

Running free without a rider, this is fine for the horse, as there’s nothing to upset their balance and muscular development. The moment we humans climb aboard however, we have to undertake a proper series of exercises so the horse builds up a correct athletic form and the musculature to be able to carry a rider through all of the movement we request of them.

It’s at this convergence point of “natural” vs. “training” that we seem to have broken the smooth process of the classical training pyramid as too many horses are pushed too quickly through the levels, whether they be destined for dressage, jumpers, or other show disciplines. Very few people who have the time and money to support show horses also have the patience to wait for a horse to develop correctly through lower levels.

Depending on the breed and conformation, some horses never progress out of a basic level of training, yet should still be given the opportunity to have a genuinely correct base that instills rhythm, suppleness, and a willingness to take contact with the reins.

In the “old” classical system, a horse is never punished by being ridden in reverse – i.e. pulled on or jerked by the reins – and the standard that was taught is to “correct forwards”.

This works for both exciteable and lazier types of horses, and all breeds and disciplines. Even a good western lope has to be forwards and straight and is an art unto itself. Not all horses can achieve a good lope, even the ones bred for it. Same with an extended canter for a warmblood. Not all of them will get there.

A horse that is ridden forwards, what we refer to as the “back to front” ride will develop an increased bend in the joints of the hindquarters, allowing for more freedom of the joints, which also helps keep them lubricated and healthy, and allows for the muscles of the lower back and haunches to develop “pushing power”. This is different from rushing, as that’s a balance issue.

A good illustration of the difference is to hold a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your knees and hold the weights with a bent arm, fairly close to your body. You feel strong and balanced. Now lean forwards a bit and hold the weights in front of you (careful – don’t get hurt!). You’ll immediately feel the stress in your back and want to take a quick step to keep your balance. Horses experience the same thing when all of their weight is carried in the forehand and not transferred to the hindquarters.

So far as straightness goes, look at a great athlete. Skier, skater, runner, etc., and notice the body symmetry. Straightness means efficiency and optimal performance. It’s no different for horses. When you ride a horse that’s been trained to go straight it’s like the difference between driving a high-performance sports car compared to an old 3/4 ton pickup truck with manual steering. Unfortunately, finding a straight horse to ride so you can experience that difference for yourself is not always an easy thing to do.

If all riders had the opportunity to learn on this type of horse, we’d have a lot more sound, rideable schoolmasters in teaching programs than we do now. Dr. Schoen treats horses repeatedly for musculoskeletal misalignment and subsequent pain that is frequently a side-effect of incorrect training methods.

I’m barely even scratching the surface here on the concept of “forwards” and “straight” as the training techniques and level of experience required to get a horse there would take up volumes of books and many years of study. Yet, out of compassion for our horses and knowing how beneficial a correctly trained horse is to the equine world, isn’t that kind of worth the time and trouble it takes to learn?

RIDE IN BEAUTY

We all love and understand the beauty of horses, but what about the importance of the aesthetics of the places we ride and keep our horses at?  Do you think our surroundings have an effect on our own mental states as well as that of the horses?

My personal experience has included everything from keeping horses in my backyard to boarding at less-than-ideal establishments to one of the most beautiful, peaceful equestrian centers you could ever imagine, and running several training barns.  Speaking from such broad experience, I can share with you the insights I’ve gained about the effect of beauty, and ugliness, on both horses and riders.

The beautiful Spanish Riding School of Vienna

When I was 13 and still learning about having my own horse, my dad was transferred to another city.  The former ranch horse that was now my “beginner mount” had to learn to live in a box stall for the first time in her life while her shed and paddock were being built at our new home.  The closest barn was a dark, damp, wood-frame building with muddy paddocks and unscrupulous, horse-dealing managers.

I don’t remember all the things that were said to me there, but I sure remember how I felt, and how spooky my normally-quiet horse was at this place.  Not knowing too much made me vulnerable and the “helpful” suggestions were more like insults.  All of the people seemed to be “up to something” and none of the horses, in my memory, were very happy.  They were dirty, smelly, and the entire place was just unpleasant.  I couldn’t wait to bring my horse home and luckily, we didn’t have to stay there for more than a couple of months.

When we were transferred again a couple of years later and I needed to find another boarding barn, I found a home on a ranch for my mare, White Cloud, where she lived out her life in great comfort and truly in her element.

At 17 I had moved to the now-famous show jumping facility, Spruce Meadows, with my appaloosa colt.  What a contrast to the stable White Cloud had experienced. I’d had an appaloosa filly at another barn in the new city and was not pleased with the environment there either.  The horses were chased by the owner’s dog from the pasture into their stalls each night and my horse had been seriously injured as a result.  The staff were unapologetic and I later found out they had not been giving the filly her pain medication for the hock injury she’d sustained.  She also became terrified of men in cowboy hats.

I don’t like having to go to a barn with the feeling that I’m likely to find something wrong with my horse, the place is a mess, the staff are angry, or the stress levels are so high that riding isn’t the joyful experience it should be.

Walking into the barns and arenas at Spruce Meadows was like being in a cathedral.  It even smelled different than any other barn I’d been in.  The horses were bedded knee-deep in straw, and everything was spotless.  Soft music played in the indoor arena and the temperature was kept constant, even in Alberta’s cold winter weather.

http://sprucemeadows.com/

I’d never been at an equestrian facility where the first words coming to mind were “elegant”, “beautiful”, “peaceful”, “grace”, and “calm”.

We were required to keep our tack clean and hung a specific way and we followed a protocol that wasn’t so much rigid as it was to the benefit of everyone’s peace and wellbeing. The grounds  were lined with gorgeous flowers and trees and it was always easy to let out a big breath and sigh of relief every time I drove through the gates.  At this place, I found myself wanting to spend time there not just to enjoy my beautiful horse, but to rise to the level of elegance and old-world classiness – not an “elitist” attitude by any means – more like a kind of simplicity that allows you to settle into a calm, clear state of thinking and focus on what you are there for.

When my colt turned two I started him under saddle myself, having observed the German riding master’s guidance of the stunning Hanoverian horses that had been imported and bred on site.  Unless there was a show on, the peace and quiet could be counted on consistently and the horses also seemed to thrive both mentally and physically from the reliability of their environment.

http://www.horseandhound.co.uk/news/what-music-do-horses-like/#

I never had to worry about being insulted, anything irresponsible happening to my horse, angry staff, or bad management that affected the entire chain of events down to the boarders and guests.  It is no surprise to me that this establishment has won the accolades it has.

Dr. Schoen has been the veterinarian to many major show barns and we have written about the importance of a healthy, holistic environment with the best quality of care and food provided for the horses.  With the Principles of Compassionate Equitation, the kind of equestrian environment that supports the wellbeing of both horses and riders begins with caring, compassionate management and permeates the entire chain of day-to-day events at a barn.

While it may sound difficult to get an entire barn of human personalities to become compassionate, we believe that not only is it possible, but a necessary step for the sustainability of our industry and our beloved horses.  In today’s fast-paced, expensive, stressed out world, how could we not want to be in a “sanctuary” that supports our joyful interactions with horses, and helps us learn to extend that joy and compassion to all beings?

It is our wish that all horses and horse-people have the opportunity to live in health, happiness, and beauty.

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!

Reading You Loud and Clear

A number of years ago I was attending a clinic at a barn in Wellington, Florida.  The instructor was one of the best professional dressage riders and trainers in the U.S., and the weekend clinic was based on her program for training the rider as an athlete.  I was impressed at not only her kindness and awareness of her horses and every subtle nuance of the ride, but how authentic she was with the attendees.  She immediately felt like a friend.

We weren’t riding that weekend, but horses and riders were used to demonstrate the principles of her program, which some of the ladies attending had apparently assumed they could be certified for.  As it was made clear to them during the final session of the workshop that further training outside of the equestrian field would be needed to qualify for certification in this particular program, tension began to rise in the group as the instructor was being challenged.

From where I was sitting I had full view of the barn with the horses that were there in training for the winter show season.  Having seen several in the arena over the two days I knew how calm and quiet they were and how beautifully cared for each horse was.  The entire row of about 5 or 6 horses had their heads out the back windows of the stalls, watching the discussion group with great interest and ears pricked.  They knew their rider was part of the group too and were fixated in the direction of her voice.

As the disgruntled attendees became angrier and their voices rose, I could see the other participants growing more tense and most certainly the instructor was trying to finish up a great weekend on a positive note.  At the same time I noticed the horses becoming restless as well.  One of them started weaving, slowly swaying from side-to-side in its stall.

The other horses who had been watching with ears pricked and pleasant expressions also became more agitated.  The weaver picked up his rhythm, while the others now had their ears back and were obviously getting upset, yet they remained fixated on the group.

I stopped listening to what was being said as it was becoming quite an argumentative discussion and focussed instead of the reaction of the horses, also noticing that nobody else seemed to be aware of the change in their behaviour.  I pointed it out to the lady who was sitting next to me.  I always like to have a witness to confirm what I’m seeing when it comes to determining more esoteric circumstances like this 😉

I felt sorry for the instructor as we had gotten friendly over the weekend and communicated via subtle cues that genuine horsemen use to signal each other that we’re on the same page.  Much like the horses were doing in picking up the emotions being relayed by the upset women towards the rider they knew well, and who probably rarely, if ever, radiated such energy towards them.

I sensed that this was an unusual situation for these horses and it fascinated me to see them go from so calm and soothed to being obviously distressed by what they were seeing… or hearing… or sensing… perhaps engaging all of their herd instincts in feeling the negativity directed at their “herd leader”.  Maybe they wanted to rescue her from the apparent danger, and then bolt to where it would be safe from the “predators”.

As the group began to disperse my friend showed up to drive us back to the hotel and I didn’t have the chance to talk further to the instructor or see how the horses were after everyone else was gone.  I did note the one being ridden in the arena had become quite spooky however and thought maybe it had also picked up on the other horses in the barn and their level of stress.

It confirmed for me that horses who have been conditioned to exist in the company of humans think of us like being in the company of their own wild herds.  It’s very important to them and reinforces how much of our energy they actually pick up on.  It should remind us to be as calm and stress-free as possible when we’re around them if we want them to be that way as well.  The Principles of Compassionate Equitation are a program of personal development that will lead the rider through a series of exercises and awarenesses that will help in this aspect of enjoying our own horses by calming ourselves and alleviating stress-related reactions, and becoming mindful of the “global herd” that needs attention, care, and compassion as well.

at home on Salt Spring Island, B.C.

at home on Salt Spring Island, B.C.

Welcome to The Compassionate Equestrian!

Susan Gordon and Dr. Allen Schoen DVM extend a warm welcome to everyone who wishes to make compassion a part of their equestrian lifestyle.  By following the program we have developed, you will obtain the ability to reach a new paradigm of caring and expanded awareness in your chosen training and handling methods.

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The Compassionate Equestrian is the forthcoming book and guide to a heart-centered, science-backed program for everyone who rides and handles horses. It is based on The 25 Principles of Compassionate Equitation outlining the most current, peer-reviewed research studies that identify and support methods of training, handling, and caring for horses that constitute a safe, healthy, non-stressful and pain-free environment for equines, while encouraging their human counterparts to approach their training and handling with compassion and a willingness to alleviate suffering not only for their horses and themselves, but for the benefit of all living beings.