The Benefits – or Not – of Freedom

Imagine the Earth before there were any countries or borders of any kind. No lines, no names of this or that, no maps, no fences… nothing. The only sounds were the sounds made by Nature. There was no “time” according to human parameters. Just the continuous, ever flowing cycles of life. All creatures were free to wander wherever they would, or could. They were unbound by man-made constraints and the defining qualities brought about by the human tendencies of wants, needs, and ownership.

We couldn’t leave well enough alone, could we? We had to make countries and borders then create weapons of war to protect the countries and make enemies of those from other places. Horses were captured and domesticated to assist humans in their pursuits to “divide and conquer”. Unwitting participants along our path of so-called civilization.

It’s almost like we’ve painted ourselves into a corner after centuries of nation-building and social development. Are we free or not free? We’re surrounded by borders and rules telling us where and when we can and cannot go to visit or live. What of all the animals we’ve domesticated and bred? If we and they have wonderful, fulfilling lives, should there be judgement placed on how such great societies have been created? What about the millions of people and animals who still suffer so greatly on this planet, with no freedom to escape bad situations? If we have compassion for all beings, how can we be at peace until all beings on Earth are at peace?

According to Professor Lori Gruen’s interesting viewpoint, there are serious ethical questions to be asked about keeping animals in cages… or in the case of horses, the reference would be to keeping them in stalls and barns as our “captives”.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201404/the-ethics-captivity-new-book-covers-all-the-issues

“Though conditions of captivity vary widely for humans and for other animals, there are common ethical themes that imprisonment raises, including the value of liberty, the nature of autonomy, the meaning of dignity, and the impact of routine confinement on physical and psychological well-being.”

Now, imagine what the implications would be if everybody just quit riding their horses, opened all the stall doors and paddock fences and set them free. It’s likely chaos would ensue. Sure, they might run amok for awhile or stop by the neighbour’s apple trees but most would be right back at the barn doors at feeding time looking for their next meal. Some wouldn’t leave at all. A few might join the wild herds, as in the deserts of the American Southwest where the economic downturn really did lead some people to turn their show and companion horses loose to fend for themselves. Rescue operations bordering desert communities have found themselves with “strays” looking for food and water.  Domestic horses don’t do well on their own.

"Nick" - photo by Natascha Wille

“Nick” – photo by Natascha Wille

Let’s face it. Horses are big animals that leave a big hoofprint on the environment. In our “non-ideal” world as Dr. Gruen refers to, we have to “do the very best we can for them while their lives are compromised to various degrees in captive settings”.

Dr. Marc Bekoff, the writer of the article states, ” let’s hope that open discussion of the issues and the questions at hand, including what we know about the cognitive and emotional lives of animals and their capacity to suffer and to empathize with others, will work on behalf of those unfortunate billions of individuals who lives are a mess because of their confinement”.

So somewhere in the middle of “let’s turn all the horses loose” and “let’s keep them confined for our own pleasure and use” is the question “what is the most compassionate way to care for and interact with our horses?”

There is new, emerging research all the time that is telling us what causes distress to horses. We know for sure that ulcers are a man-made condition in equines, caused by stress placed on them due to excessive confinement, travel and showing. In our human rush to conquer and control everything, have we gone too far with horses and committed them to a lifestyle that is so unnatural for them that we’ve changed their genetic makeup? Probably. Is this bad? What have we done to other humans with such a mindset? Even in such things as personal relationships. Are we being compassionate to our partners when we hold them “captive” according to our wants, needs, schedules and whims?

Ah freedom. Look your horse in the eye and ask if he’d rather be turned loose to run and graze wherever he wants. No more grooming, hoof trimming, veterinary care, clean hay and water or forced exercise. Would he tilt his head like a curious puppy and ask “why”? Or would he immediately start nodding his head, pounding on the stall door with the enthusiasm of a football player charging into the opponent’s end zone for a touchdown? What would happen if you told your human partner or spouse they were free to go wherever they choose, whenever, and with whom?

My guess is the equine and human responses would vary, but most would fall somewhere in the middle of the extremes. Having compassion and wishing to alleviate another’s suffering means first of all, to be mindful of the fact that they’re suffering. Is your horse (or human partner) suffering in silence and you’re not seeing it? If you opened the door to set them free, would they go? Would they come back to you after realizing how kind and compassionate you were to them? Do they recognize freedom as being of benefit to them, or are they looking for the security of the home they’ve become so accustomed to and are willing to compromise their freedom to remain “captive” in a potentially less-than-ideal situation? These are the gists of the ethical questions posed by Dr.s Gruen and Bekoff.

Freedom is not about owning and controlling. Perhaps we need to consider that with our “captive” animals and being mindful as to how they are affected by confinement and the tasks we ask of them. Horses have evolved to fit with a domesticated lifestyle, as have humans, and many of the other pets we keep. Turning them all loose would not necessarily be conducive to their health and wellbeing. We all need to depend on each other for care and love, otherwise we lead a lonely and vulnerable life. The kindest approach of all is to acknowledge everyone as a free spirit, accepting who and what they are, with a compassionate heart and mind.

 

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 🙂

 

 

 

Attached to That Horse?

Have you ever made a list of the attributes you’re looking for in a horse (or a relationship)?  Have you then gone to all the trouble to seek out exactly the horse or person of your dreams…and found them?  How did things turn out?

I’ve noticed something quite interesting about those “lists” over the years. My experience and observations have led to the conclusion that the more one pursues a relationship according to one’s list of “wants”, the more likely outcome is having chosen the wrong one.  Why is that?

First of all, whenever I went looking for the ideal horse, I ended up with a list of problems that I hadn’t anticipated.  For example, my off-track thoroughbred, Dusty.  I was looking for a suitable hunter-type for the 3′ amateur division.  There were several I tried out, but Dusty was the breed, color, age and temperament I was looking for.  He had been field-hunted after his racing career and presumably that meant he would be bold and safe over show-ring hunter jumps.  I chose him over an older, better-schooled, seasoned warmblood that would have actually been the better horse for me at the time.

Dusty was a problem from the get-go.  We’d only had a basic soundness exam done, which he passed at the time.  I was in a marriage to a horse trainer who was becoming difficult too.  I’d actually sold my horse trailer in order to purchase the perfect horse.  My husband’s mood swings were causing anxiety, and it was making me anxious about getting a new horse.  We were in a new barn and recently married, and a long way from my previous home with my parents.  I had no support system.  I really wanted and thought I needed that horse!

Dusty did not stay sound for long.  He had a crooked spine.  Interestingly, so do I.  He had anxiety attacks and purposely fell down on concrete flooring.  I was in an increasing state of anxiety at the time.  I could probably analyze every detail of my relationship with Dusty and find some way to relate his issues to my own.  He was like a mirror for my own problems.  With horses, as with people, it would probably be a valuable exercise if we realized the mirroring effect at the time, but usually we don’t.

That was over 30 years ago.  I learned to stop looking for horses after that and just let them show up in my life.  The ones that literally  “dropped into my lap” were much better overall.  The key?  I had to let go of the attachment to my list of what I wanted.  I didn’t realize the amount of suffering those attachments would cause.  Looking back, and knowing what I know now, the lessons were obvious.

I’ve had so many clients also make the wrong choice of horse.  Often against my better advice.  I don’t take commissions on sales horses as most trainers do so it’s not like my suggestions were related to money.  My preference was to see the right rider on the right horse, especially given my prior experience.  People still purchased the wrong horse, probably for reasons similar to why I bought Dusty.  You don’t even realize what’s happening or why.

Razzberry Zam.  An off-track thoroughbred who "dropped into my lap" as a sales project.  One of the most wonderful horses I've ever had the opportunity to ride.  So wonderful, in fact, he sold quickly.  His buyer was the perfect owner and a massage therapist to boot.  Love, compassion and no attachment.  I felt it with this horse and although sad to see him go, it seemed like the gratitude with which we approached each other had a most beneficial outcome for us both.

Razzberry Zam. An off-track thoroughbred who “dropped into my lap” as a sales project. One of the most wonderful horses I’ve ever had the opportunity to ride. So wonderful, in fact, he sold quickly. His new rider was the right person for him and a massage therapist to boot. Love, compassion and no attachment. I felt it with this horse and although sad to see him go, it seemed like the gratitude with which we approached each other had a most beneficial outcome for us both.

Then I learned about non-attachment.  Ah ha.  The “list” is all about what we’re attached to, whether it be in a person or a horse.  Buddhism teaches that attachment leads to suffering.  Yes.  I’m proof of that.  I’m sure many of you are too.  Those attributes we want so badly, or think we do, in a horse or in a relationship with another human, are exactly the attributes that will bring us suffering when things don’t turn out as we wish.

The perfect jumper goes lame.  Our perfect spouse sustains a head injury and his personality changes.  The horse ages and can no longer jump.  The husband decides he prefers a younger woman.  Are we still as excited about that horse or that person as we were when they fit our list of “wants”?  Can we have compassion for them when they no longer fulfill our desires, or if they’ve hurt our feelings?

Letting go of the attachments, especially an attachment to any outcomes, is a worthwhile practice.  The other is self-compassion… the desire to alleviate your own suffering, knowing that suffering comes from attachment.  I’ve found that letting go and living with a tremendous love and gratitude for all of life opens the door for loving and grateful relationships to return to you.

The surprise is that those who come into your life may not be anything at all like the list you’ve made.  The thoroughbred of your dreams might manifest as a scruffy little pony who needed to be rescued from somebody’s back-40, but that little pony could just end up being the best jumper you’ve ever had.

According to psychologist Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. “our style of attachment affects everything from our partner selection to how well our relationships progress to, sadly, how they end. That is why recognizing our attachment pattern can help us understand our strengths and vulnerabilities in a relationship. An attachment pattern is established in early childhood attachments and continues to function as a working model for relationships in adulthood.”

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/compassion-matters/201307/how-your-attachment-style-impacts-your-relationship

So we can make note of this, and then turn to the practice of compassion and developing non-attachment:

“Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities.” ~Dalai Lama

http://zenhabits.net/zen-attachment/ 

If you do go looking for a new horse (or person), my final thought on the matter is to first,  ask yourself why you want this being to come into your life.  Where are you with your self-compassion?

“When you stop trying to grasp, own, and control the world around you, you give it the freedom to fulfill you without the power to destroy you. That’s why letting go is so important: letting go is letting happiness in.”  Lori Deschene, Tiny Buddha

 

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.

How LIGHT Saved My Horse’s Life

In the late 1990s my aged Hanoverian gelding who had once been an upper-levels eventing horse and show jumper was retired to the job of a lesson horse.  Old injuries he’d sustained in his younger years as a competitive athlete were catching up with him and his level of discomfort increasing.  He had a large amount of scar tissue on the underside of his neck, bad hocks, spinal deformity and arthritic joints.  By the time he was essentially bracing himself on two legs and not wanting to roll any longer, my options for his care and comfort were diminishing.  I’d already rescued him from a trip to the slaughterhouse when he was 18, and was glad to have given him a good “second chance” in life and a far better ending than the one he’d been threatened with.  I thought maybe he’d reached “the end” for sure this time and was considering euthanasia.

Willy & I

Willy & I

Given the results I’d seen with light therapy in humans and other animals however, I decided to give it a chance as a new company had emerged at the time with a system designed specifically for horses.

For some who may not have been introduced to Low Level Laser Therapy*, this might sound like it’s straight off the Holodeck of the Starship Enterprise.  I can assure you of the science behind it however, and will present both anecdotal accounts from my own experience with this remarkable healing modality as well as scientific references.  Oh yes, and if you search for the opinions that say it isn’t effective or that there isn’t supportive research, you’ll find them, and generally they stem from sources who don’t actually quote the lengthy list of well-funded studies that do prove the known mechanisms and successful case studies, in particular the currently FDA-approved monochromatic red wavelengths.  Everyone comes through their own belief systems, even scientists.  However, I’ve now used the technology for over 20 years and still use it to speed up the healing of sports injuries, wounds, and dental surgery.  Results are consistent with both humans and animals in my experience.

Some of the contemporary history leading to the FDA-approved research came through NASA and the University of Wisconsin’s Dr. Harry Whelan, M.D.:

http://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2005/hm_1.html

Dr. Harry Whelan, M.D., has been inducted into the NASA Space Technology Hall of Fame for his research into the use of near-infrared LEDs for wound healing and the treatment of brain tumors and neurofibromatosis:

http://www.mcw.edu/neurology/facult/HarryWhelan.htm

I was personally introduced to photo-therapy, or the application of colored light, via Dr. Jacob Liberman O.D., Ph.D, D.Sc. (hon), (author of Light; Medicine of the Future  http://www.jacobliberman.org/jacob/bio/).  He invited me to attend the annual conference and professional training session of the College of Syntonic Optometry in 1991.  I then experimented with the specific frequencies of visible light on myself, on waterfowl that were rescued from various states of illness and injury and brought to our ranch, as well as dogs, cats, horses and anyone who wanted to try it for themselves.  Over and over again the results were nothing short of miraculous.

The originator of syntonic phototherapy was Dr. Harry Riley Spitler, D.O.S., M.D., M.S. Ph.D who first published the Syntonic Principle in 1941.  Scientific research that began in the 1920s speculated that the power of light was primarily transmitted to the core of the human organism via the organ of sight – the eyes.  Dr. Spitler theorized in great detail the role of the eyes in phototransduction, as well as the role of light and color in total organismic function and development.  Most of his work has been scientifically validated, and that of the work of many others in the field.  Their collective bodies of work have formed the foundation for today’s most advanced approaches to light therapy.

Glowing LEDs

Glowing LEDs

The issues up until the 1990s were conflicts between the FDA, DEA, and classifying both the devices and frequencies of light into their respective categories of drugs and medical devices.  It was NASA’s work in developing the technology with the Marshall Space Science Centre and Dr. Whelan that brought at least a portion of photonics research into the mainstream.

After I was trained in the application of colored light through the eyes, I made a set of filters and worked with those and a light source.  The technology that emerged at the time my Hanoverian, Wilhem, was literally on “his last legs” was that of BioScan Light, then out of New Mexico.  The application was quite different than what I had been taught, but understanding the mechanism of light on the cells of the body made me call a local woman who occasionally rode at our barn and had been through the BioScan training.  Desperate, I called her and had her come out to treat Willy.

http://youtu.be/mfueJv3OK9c

I found the scanning unit took quite a long time and when Sandra was finished the initial session, Willy had dots of grease pencil all over his body.  Then she treated each dot with a cluster-head set of red LED lights.  I noticed he immediately began taking deep breaths and almost fell asleep in the cross ties.  His whole body relaxed so much by the end of the session he looked like a different horse.  I was anxious to see how he moved.  His tail was up for the first time in quite awhile.  It had been clamped in chronic discomfort as his soundness deteriorated.  As it turned out, the old scar tissue under his neck had been causing him more pain than I’d originally thought too.

Conventional veterinary medicine had done all it could for this horse, saving his life when he was injured after flipping over a cross-country fence and splitting his neck near the jugular vein.  His hocks had been x-rayed, determining the condition they were in and finding a bone spur, and the farrier did everything he could to put a good, supportive foot under the big gelding’s aging body.  Everything else Willy needed, he got, but life had caught up with him and it was time to find an alternative and compassionate way to make him comfortable, or else let him end his life in peace.

Applying red light with the Respond System.  www.emersonww.com

Applying red light with the Respond System. http://www.emersonww.com

After Willy’s first light treatment I put him back out to the pasture with the other old horses and he proudly marched to the middle of the field, stood up square like a statue, then took off in an elevated trot towards the horses.  I was amazed to say the least.  The other horses saw him coming and they all took off running too!

Sandra came back two more times and each time the number of grease-pencil dots from the Bio-Find unit decreased.  I noticed the old scar tissue softening under Willy’s neck.  The real test would come when I put him into one of the outdoor pens that he loved to roll in, but hadn’t done so in months.  I believe he thought he might not be able to get back up from the deep, soft dirt, once he got down into it for a roll.

Sure enough, after the final treatment I put Willy in the turnout and he immediately tossed a big hoof-full of dirt into the air.  That was the signal he was going to drop and roll.  He pretty much had a big grin on his face, as much as a horse can actually smile, then collapsed into the dirt and rolled, and rolled and rolled!  I knew from that point on he was going to be alright.

He stayed serviceably sound and remained bright and happy.  The other horses seemed to enjoy hanging around him more as well.  He even managed to commandeer two of them to swat flies from his face out in the pasture and his gentle nature made him a favourite for babysitting youngsters, sick horses and horses that needed to calm down.

I had an LED pad custom made and began to experiment on other horses, some with horrendous spinal deformities, dropped hips and sacroiliac displacement.  The results were consistent and every horse improved, some dramatically, even just using this very basic, simple version of light therapy.  It is a completely non-invasive, gentle method of remediation for injuries involving soft tissue and seems to help with joint stiffness as well as reducing the effects of old scar tissue.  I noticed the spine and hips realign, most likely due to the release of tightness and muscle damage that was pulling the musculoskeletal system out of alignment, allowing the bony structures to move back into a more normal state.  The horses all showed a marked increase in their ROM (range-of-motion).

In recent years, many new companies have emerged and new research and information continues to support the use of LLLT.  Dr. Schoen and I are looking forward to following the progress of the latest devices to enter the market for advanced and professional delivery of red light for the healing of horses.

The MR4 Super Pulsed Laser

The MR4 Super Pulsed Laser

Dr. Schoen and myself both recommend a thorough veterinary workup if your horse exhibits signs of pain or lameness or is otherwise in apparent distress as there could be many causes.  A good lameness veterinarian is invaluable to every horse owner and sometimes they may recommend a second or third opinion also.  It isn’t unusual to find several causes of lameness in a horse and some are very difficult to diagnose.  As each practitioner comes from their own areas of expertise, you may find putting a good diagnostic team together the most compassionate thing to do for your horse’s wellbeing.  This includes a neurologic workup and checking for Lyme Disease if your horse’s behaviour has changed and he seems to have chronic, yet indeterminate symptoms of discomfort.

LLLT works wonderfully in conjunction with conventional medicine and is highly applicable as a supportive mechanism for speeding up healing along with standard protocols for treating sport-related injuries, wounds and post-surgical conditions.

_________________________________

*Laser Therapy is a form of phototherapy which involves the application of monochromatic light over biological tissue to elicit a biomodulative effect within that tissue.

Low-level Laser Therapy (LLLT) – the most widely-used name given to this form of photobiomodulation – can have both a photobiostimulative effect and a photobioinhibitive effect within the irradiated tissue – each of which can be used in a number of therapeutic applications.

source:  http://www.spectra-medics.com/llltinfo.html

OH HORSE, HOW DO WE LOVE THEE?

Have you ever wondered how a hollow, blood-pumping muscular organ could be connected to the emotion called “love”?  Every animal that has a circulatory system has a heart.  Does this mean all animals as well as humans are capable of love?  While the structure of the heart may vary among different species, it’s fundamental job is the same, and that is to pump blood throughout the body’s blood vessels by repeated, rhythmic contractions.

Circulatory system of the horse from www.serendipityrancher.com

Circulatory system of the horse from http://www.serendipityrancher.com

It goes without saying that horses have big hearts.  An average of 8.5 pounds in fact.  They have similar structures to that of the human heart, with the same four chambers and heart valves.  However, our heart electrical conduction systems differ due to the inherent stalking predator (that’s us) versus flight-driven prey (the horse) animal.  We stalk, while horses take flight in extraordinary bursts of speed thanks to a heart physiology that allows them to go from resting to almost 300 beats per minute in the blink of an eye.  Every human athlete would love to be privy to that kind of heart performance!  In fact, the flight response in horses is so ingrained that even after centuries of domestication, the horse is a species that has to keep moving.  While humans can be recumbent for days or months when ill or injured, the horse only has 72-96 hours of “being down” before life-threatening complications arise.

So in spite of our anatomical heart similarities, yet functional differences and opposing survival mechanisms, we still seem to be able to note measurable bonding and emotions coherent in both species.  Science can reduce love to several chemical responses that work between the heart and the brain.  For some reason, the predator can fall in love with the prey and vice versa.  What is it about the horse…?

Fundamentally, the “love chemistry” exists for reproduction and evolutionary capabilities of a species.  It’s not exactly what we would term “romantic” unless we find horses writing romance novels behind our backs somewhere.  The initial physiologic response when two attracted beings meet is an increase in heart rate due to a rush of adrenalin.  Yes, just like a sporting event.

In addition to the adrenalin, the brain is sending signals to the adrenal gland which is secreting other hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine.  When the heart rate goes up, it’s using more oxygen.  Another part of the brain that becomes active in the presence of the loved one is the area that produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter.  Norepinephrine and dopamine are closely related and in a performance situation, they provide both the “weak in the knees” feeling and that of focus, euphoria and motivation.  Any runner pushing through pain at the most intense part of a race can tell you exactly how it feels to have every performance-related neurohormone affecting various body parts.

In romantic love, there are three brain systems involved and they are often connected, but can also operate separately.  They involve sex drive, love and attachment.  The primal sex drive is there to encourage the seeking of many partners, while the “love” part focuses on putting mating energy into one specific person at a time, and attachment is allowing you to tolerate the partner long enough to have children with him or her.  Even the excitement of a “one night stand” produces a flood of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, making you feel deeply attached, and possibly even in love with someone.  It sounds a little cold, but this is the chemical basis for our emotional responses to others, including horses.

photo credit:  123rf.com stock photo - kislovas

photo credit: 123rf.com stock photo – kislovas

When you’re a small child in love with animals, you learn a lot about the excitement of new relationships, loss, disinterest, grief, and renewal.  They hypothesize children as young as 4 practice at love and are able to learn more about themselves before being in love actually becomes important to them.

So when a little girl says she loves horses, she really does.

The release of “love chemicals” in the body are beneficial throughout the lifetime of a human as they are found to contribute to the person’s wellbeing and longevity.  Studies on compassion and meditation are conclusive in their positive influence on brain chemistry, the cardiovascular system and subsequent health effects overall.

What’s so fascinating, is that given the primitive, inherent responses to stimuli, is the ability to train ourselves to control the release of emotion-production chemicals that affect our heart rate, and somehow, horses are acutely aware of our various states.  Without being able to monitor the horse’s brain during activity, studies have turned to Heart Rate Variable data (the beat-to-beat changes in heart rate) to determine how and why horses bond with humans.  Perhaps even exhibiting what we know to be “love” responses in return for us loving them.

It’s been almost a decade since the pilot studies were conducted by the Institute of HeartMath using HRV to measure the emotional bond between humans and horses.  It will be extraordinary to see what kind of information will emerge in this field in the coming years.

You can read the full study here:

http://www.horseconnection.com/site/archive/story-aug07.html

I was one of those little girls in love with horses.  I am also a competitive runner, and a retired professional rider.  I know exactly what it feels like to push the heart, brain, and body to the point of implosion, and because I’ve practiced meditation for so long, I also know what intense focus and concentration feels like.

Many years ago while riding very green and off-track horses, I learned the importance of focus and breathing correctly to maintain a calm state.  It gave me the ability to take a very excited, fresh horse and bring it into the state I, or the client, needed it to be in for training or showing.  Biochemically, the horses were in fact so sensitive to my respiratory rate and mind-set that they “got it” very quickly and would come into sync.

Working in a busy show barn presented huge challenges due to the broad range of personalities and emotions exhibited by horse owners and their horses, obviously “feeding” off each other.  While I can talk up a storm any other time, people eventually learned not to interrupt me or try to talk while I was riding a horse until I indicated we were “off” work and ready to re-engage with the outside world. I learned over the years to shut out everything but the bond I was creating with the horse I was on.

Was this “love” between two species?  Hard to say.  It was certainly a synchronous relationship of some sort.  Perhaps it was a classic “heart to heart” discussion using an unspoken language (heart-to-heart – openly straightforward and direct without reserve or secretiveness – FreeDictionary).

There was one particular bay gelding that I had a more unusual connection with than all the other horses though.

He was an off-track thoroughbred that we’d named Kevin.  The trainer I worked for purchased Kevin from a broker as a 5-year-old that didn’t run too well on the track.  I was assigned to re-school him on the flat and the trainer started him over fences.  He was a klutz over jumps in the beginning too.  It wasn’t until he learned balance and some degree of gracefulness through many months of dressage and gymnastics that he began winning in the show ring.

I enjoyed riding Kevin as he was a willing student albeit one who would have the occasional mini-explosion while he leapt about and kicked the kinks out of his body.  He also had a habit of digging in his stall and subsequently developed allergies to dust, in particular dusty hay.  I started watering down his hay and if I forgot, I’d find him standing forlornly over the automatic waterer as a subtle hint.

Kevin with student Mira Word

Kevin with student Mira Word

For all the dozens of horses I’d ridden, none was a “hugger” like Kevin.  Occasionally when I’d enter his stall to toss a can of water on his hay or fill in the hole he’d been digging, I’d wrap my arms around his neck and he would respond in kind by wrapping his head and neck around my body and pulling me closer to his chest.  I felt a genuine emotion, call it “love” if you will, flooding my body when we would embrace this way.

I don’t think anybody saw me doing this.  After all, this was a serious FEI dressage show barn and trainers weren’t going around hugging their horses in public displays.  Lots of praise and petting, yes, but this hugging thing was different.  Really different in Kevin’s case.  I had been riding professionally for more than 16 years at this point and while I could develop a relationship with all the horses, this was a deeper-than-usual bond.  Unfortunately he wasn’t my horse and I had to maintain the typical level of detachment I’d also learned while being in the horse business.  The horses provided rather masterful lessons in compassion themselves and Kevin was one of the best.  I loved them but I couldn’t keep them or control their lives.

I can’t tell you what kind of emotion Kevin was feeling since no researchers were there to monitor his heart rate or pull blood to see what chemicals were present at the time.

However, those hugs from the lovely bay gelding felt so genuine they always comforted me on a really tough day.  The neurohormones triggered in my body were real, and perhaps Kevin felt better too.  In any case, I would guess that when a little girl, or a grown woman says they love a horse, it really is “love” and the benefits we receive from that inter-species love is just as authentic as that with our fellow human beings.

SG

…and from Dr. Schoen:

This video shares the images of the wish of Happy Valentines Day to All Kindred Spirits:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iUhZvsuNp8&feature=youtu.be

Wishing all Kindred Spirits a Happy Valentine’s Day!  May all beings feel the deepest, profound love that permeates all of life, all dimensions!  This love is within each and every one of us.  It is not getting love from food, treats, distractions, etc.  It is giving and receiving love from the deepest truth of who we really are.  This love radiates from our hearts in every moment.  Love is the bridge between all of us, between the form and the formless, between all hearts.  Love is a key to my Trans-species Field Theory© and global coherence.  It is our old programmings, thoughts, belief systems etc. that prevent us from realizing this.  From this deep love, I wish you all the love that the Kindred Spirits Project and The Compassionate Equestrian wishes to radiate out to all our wonderful followers!

Blessings and Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!

Girl with Pony 

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

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