“Just” a Trail Horse

 

Many times when I’ve asked people about their horses they’ll say, almost apologetically, “oh, he’s just a trail horse”.  It’s as though their horse isn’t important enough for those of us who made a career with show horses to acknowledge as being relevant.  Or that it doesn’t require any special breeding or talent to be a trail horse.

Well, in the Principles of Compassionate Equitation, we see equality in all horses, just as we do all sentient beings.  They were given a life, just as we were, and all are subject to suffering, just as all humans are.  Everyone deserves the same amount of compassion, no matter who or what they are, or what they do.  Including trail horses :).

Recently I had the opportunity to spend time in one of my favourite places, Sedona, Arizona, on the back of a sweet, reliable trail horse who is as careful and kind as they come.

Shadow

Shadow

This is significant because my past experience with horses on trails has not always been so favourable.  My first horse, White Cloud, was a ranch horse.  When we moved to the suburbs of a large city, I had to ride along busy roadways to reach the trail system.  I was only twelve at the time and didn’t know better.  I thought that since the stocky white mare was so good on country trails, nothing would bother her on busier roads or trails either.  How wrong I was!

I was lucky we weren’t hit by a car.  We held up traffic a few times while Cloudy panicked at the sound of loud, fast vehicles passing and spooked by throwing herself into reverse.  As the area we lived in was lined with large ditches, her behaviour was quite disconcerting, not to mention dangerous.  Her tension translated into my tension and I was forever nervous about riding horses along busy roads after that.  I’ve never really gotten over it.

When we moved again, Cloudy was sold to a rancher and lived out the remainder of her life in a happy place.

The next horse to come my way was a very young, barely broke (in fact, badly-broke) appaloosa filly.  She was also born and raised on a large ranch and had no concept of behaving on multi-use trails or in traffic.  I really tried to overcome my fears and hers as I still enjoyed a gallop across a hay field or a pleasant trail ride down to the river, which required some riding along roads to get there.

Miss Demeanor, appropriately named, was one “incident” after the other.  I was still in my early teens and learning about training horses.  Determined, I kept taking her on trail rides, hoping for improvement.  One day she managed to thoroughly embarrass me on a group ride by running backwards down a steep hill until she finally backed into a tree, even with the reins thrown at her.  Then she scared herself and scooted forwards, spooking some of the other horses who had gone ahead.  I just seemed destined to not ever have a pleasant trail ride!

Trail running!

Trail running!

One day I was finally brave enough to ride “Missy” the few miles down to a beautiful spot by the river.  I let her take a drink out of a creek that fed into the river and in the blink of an eye, she was down and rolling in the muddy bank with me still on her.  I had to ride all the way back to the barn with one side of her plastered in mud so thick you couldn’t see her spots any longer.  I never did get all the mud out of the carved leather of my western saddle either.

I was in awe of people who could simply saddle up on a nice day, head out on the trail, and return still smiling with a happy and relaxed horse.  I had no idea why this “trail horse” thing was so elusive!

There was no problem in the show ring.  Even my spooky filly could open gates, walk over teeter-totters and tarps, drag a tire or a cow-hide, and jump a small fence.  Why didn’t that translate to the great outdoors?

Eventually I gave up on the idea of enjoyable trail riding, especially as my next horse was an appaloosa stallion, and confirmed “city boy”.  The first time I led him down a little hill he had no clue how to navigate it and promptly squatted on his hind legs and sat there in a half-rear.  I should have expected such things from my horses by now.

One day I was offered a beautiful big dappled gray warmblood gelding to ride on a charity trail event.  He was a lesson horse at the show barn I was riding at and generally very quiet.  Oh no, not on the trail however.  He spooked at… invisible trolls?  Maybe it was the shrubbery.

Finally I was married to a three-day eventing trainer and we were running a barn that was situated next to a cross-country course and thousands of acres of trails, accessible without riding along any roads.  Surely this was to be trail-riding heaven!

Sigh.  The appaloosa complained about the rocky footing.  The thoroughbred gelding pranced sideways thinking he was still a field-hunter and wouldn’t settle until after a full-out gallop. The off-track mare spooked at the cattle.  The part-Standardbred jumper bolted over the beaver-fall.  Was there anybody out there who wanted to be a nice trail horse??!!

I was starting to resign myself to having to ride in an arena forever, or continue having unusually adventurous trail experiences.  Gee, what was it like to have a safe, relaxing ride where I could drop the reins and enjoy the scenery?

The last barn I taught lessons at was a mix of many types of horses and riders, most of whom went on the rugged, rocky trails of Sedona on a regular basis.  I was still more comfortable jumping fences than going on a trail ride and stayed in the arena.

Finally, having really retired this time (it took a few tries), I thought I’d attempt trail riding again.

I know those trails from having run them on foot.  It’s very easy to twist an ankle or trip and there are many hazards on desert pathways.  Sharp cactus plants await along every edge and the rocks can roll underfoot or be as slick as ice when worn smooth by eons of erosion.  Deer or javelina can appear out of nowhere and in the warmer months there’s always the possibility of a rattlesnake coiling closely enough to do some damage.

Remembering to breathe, at first I guided Shadow, the pretty chestnut Arabian gelding, as I would in the arena, “helping” him negotiate the continually changing angles of the terrain and hoping he wouldn’t slip on any of the slick-rock.  I worked as hard as he did, staying off his back on the uphills and shifting a little rearwards on the downhill, monitoring his balance and speed.  Hoping not to annoy him, I tried to do as little as possible, telling myself he knew what he was doing.

He’d spent many more hours packing riders around these trails than I had spent riding horses on them.

Shadow was also lovely in the arena, and in fact very well bred to be a show horse too.  His gentle disposition and good training seemed to add up to his ability to be an all-around great guy.

At the end of our 3-hour ride, my reins were loose and I was letting him pick his way home, carefully stepping over boulders and not tensing up when his shoes slid on the steep downhills.  Yes, this little horse knew what he was doing alright.

What a happy day.  Now I know what it’s like to have a genuinely pleasant trail ride, with no spooking at wildlife, cars, dogs, cyclists, or loud noises.  What a special horse it takes to provide that kind of experience.  I can’t believe I had to wait so many years to enjoy such a ride.

Happy trails to all!

Happy trails to all!

I can tell you for certain that nobody ever needs to apologetically refer to their horse as “just” a trail horse.  They are a special breed unto themselves, no matter what their breeding or background, and they deserve every accolade that a top-notch show horse receives.  Trail horses also deserve the same kind of mindful care, compassion, and healthy environments as the most expensive, highly bred animals in the show-ring.  After all, horses don’t know how much we paid for them, or how much we pay for their training and board.  All they know is how they are made to feel in our presence, and you really can’t place a dollar sign on that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 

IN HORSE, WE TRUST

Whenever we get on a horse, whether it’s the first ride or one of many hundreds of rides, we have to put some degree of faith and trust into the fact that the horse won’t cause us harm.  After all, so many things could go wrong when mounted on a 1000-pound animal that could take a misstep and fall, stop and duck out of a jump, throw a bucking fit, bolt, or any number of potential scenarios that might end with us and/or the horse injured.

So what is it about the brain and mind of a rider that allows us to place our faith in an animal, trust that it will help keep us safe from danger, and in fact, have a truly pleasurable time throughout our interactions with it?

Free-jumping the young stallion, Clarucci C. www.camposstallions.com

Free-jumping the young stallion, Clarucci C.
http://www.camposstallions.com

In the world of show jumpers and three-day eventing horses, the “danger” factor increases exponentially and so many elements have to work together to produce the best performances.  In the beginning of a jumper’s career, the trainer has to have faith that the horse wants to jump, can jump, and will stay sound long enough to make it to the pinnacle of its jumping potential.  It doesn’t take much of a set-back for that faith to be shaken.  One needs a tremendous amount of fortitude, skill, and faith to start with an untrained horse and make it into an athlete willing to go airborne while packing a human on its back.  I suppose the horse has to learn to have a considerable amount of trust in its rider as well.

It’s always been amazing to me that a horse will jump obstacles for a human at all, as I wouldn’t say it’s something they’d “naturally” want to do.  There’s an absolute heart-pounding thrill whenever a jumper takes hold of the reins and actually pulls you to a big fence, as all of the good ones will.  They genuinely want to get there and then get to the next one.  A seasoned show rider will tell you a great jumper feels “bigger” as they enter the arena.  They pump themselves up and are looking for where that first fence is going to be.  It’s certainly easier to place your trust in a horse that is willing and ready to take you around the course than one who isn’t.  Everything else comes down to your faith that the training and preparations have been sufficient to support the horse’s – and the rider’s – desire to complete the jumper or cross-country course without incident.

Candillo Jr. at Hamburg

Holsteiner stallion Candillo Jr. at Hamburg

A lot of mental preparation goes into every athlete’s performances, but I believe the uniqueness of competing with a partner who isn’t human adds an extraordinary element and a level of faith and trust that non-horsemen would have difficulty comprehending.  There’s just nothing to compare to sitting on the back of a living being galloping full speed to a large, solid obstacle, and trusting that it will leap cleanly, land safely, and carry on galloping to the next fence.

Many years ago when I was riding a lot of horses every day and training for bigger jumping competitions, one of my thoroughbreds tripped and fell over a small 2-foot, 6-inch single-rail vertical fence that we’d trotted into.  Had I not rolled out of the way when he came down he would have fallen right on top of me.  We were both uninjured, but I was definitely shaken.  It took a long time to get over the incident and regain my confidence over low, slow-approach jumps, not just on this horse, but any horse.  I could gallop down to the big fences but remained apprehensive every time I had to begin trotting warm-up jumps.

This is why we believe it’s so critically important to approach the horse and its training from a foundation of compassion, and treating the horse as we would wish to be treated ourselves.  If the horse is stressed, overworked, and resentful of the pressure put on it, how could we not expect a mishap or refusal at some point?  Horses can be pushed both mentally and physically to the point of a complete breakdown and become distrusting of their humans to lead and guide them through a course of dangerous obstacles.  Then what do you do with those horses?  We feel it’s best to be as compassionate as your abilities and skill levels allow and always trust yourself to recognize when your faith in a particular horse may also be misguided.

Not all horses have the training background, conformation, movement, or mental prowess to perform the activity or level of activity the rider and trainer is hoping for.  If they do have all the qualities, and errors are made in the training process or trauma of some type occurs along the way, trust may be lost and the horse may or not allow itself to be re-schooled for the same activity or might not be able to reach the levels originally intended.

The thoroughbred who fell with me, Dusty, was a former racehorse.  His second career was that of a field-hunter, where both his good nature and athleticism were useful, and I thought the combination would also make him a successful show jumper which is what I’d purchased him for.  He could sail over huge fences with ease but there was something I just couldn’t trust about his form and the feeling I got over bigger jumps.  It may have even stemmed from an undisclosed injury or previous accident on the track or hunt field.  The fall took away the remainder of my faith in him to make it as a jumper so we re-evaluated and leased him to a junior rider who was quite successful with him in the 3-foot hunter classes.

There’s always a convergence point in the training of the horse where a compassionate trainer will either say “this horse is done”, “this horse needs a rest”, or “this horse is coming back beautifully from its set-back and we can move forwards”.  Trust is a fragile thing when the minds and hearts of two species must work together to understand each other and find a common language that allows the two to have faith in their abilities to keep one another safe and happy.

Dr. Schoen’s methods for quieting the mind and taking a slow, mindful approach to the care and training of horses is a wonderful practice to make a habit of each time we work with a horse.  If all trainers would also take a few moments of quiet contemplation when working with students and their horses, they might be quite pleasantly surprised at the level of trust those students will then exhibit towards their horses and the instruction they are receiving.  A calm mind and open heart create an atmosphere highly conducive to receptivity and learning, as scientific studies are now proving.

We love the “Just One Thing” newsletter by neuroscientist Rick Hanson.  We can apply his insights to the equestrian world and our horses in so many ways.  Below is his current post with a couple of valuable exercises you can do as suggested or alter a few words to reflect having faith in your horse, your ability as a rider and trainer.  Consider the most positive qualities of your heart and how having faith in yourself can translate to wonderful experiences with your horse and your riding as well as everybody you encounter and inspire as you go about your daily activities outside of the world of your horses.

_________________________

In what do you trust?

Have faith.

Why?

Try a little experiment: in your mind or out loud, complete this sentence a few times: “I have faith in _________.” Then complete another sentence a few times: “I have no faith in ________.” What do faith – and no faith – feel like?

In your experience of faith, there’s probably a sense of trusting in something – which makes sense since the word comes from the Latin root, “to trust.” (“Faith” can also mean a religion, but my meaning here is more general.) Faith feels good. To have confidence is to have faith; “con+fide” means “with+faith.”

Faith comes from direct experience, reason, trusted sources, and sometimes from something that just feels deeply right and that’s all you can say about it. You could have faith in both biological evolution and heaven. Sometimes faith seems obvious, like expecting water to yield each time you prepare to dive in; other times, faith is more of a conscious choice – an act of faith – such as choosing to believe that your child will be all right as he or she leaves home for college.

What do you have faith in – out there in the world or inside yourself?

For example, I have faith in the sun coming up tomorrow, my partner while rock climbing, science and scholarship, the kindness of strangers, the deliciousness of peaches, the love of my wife, God, and the desire of most people to live in peace. And faith in my determination, coffee-making skills, and generally good intentions.

In your brain, faith (broadly defined to include assumptions and expectations) is an efficient way to conserve neural resources by not figuring things out each time from scratch. The visceral sense of conviction in faith integrates prefrontal logic, limbic emotion, and brainstem arousal.

Without faith in the world and in yourself, life feels shaky and scary. Faith grounds you in what’s reliable and supportive; it’s the antidote to doubt and fear. It strengthens you and supports you in weathering hard times. It helps you stay on your chosen paths, with confidence they will lead to good places. Faith fuels the hope and optimism that encourage the actions that lead to the results that confirm your faith, in a lovely positive cycle. Faith lifts your eyes to the far horizons, toward what’s sacred, even Divine.

How?

Sure, some skepticism is good. But going overboard with it leads to an endless loop of mistrusting the world and doubting yourself. You need to have faith that you’ll make good choices about where to have faith! Which means avoiding two pitfalls:

Putting too much trust in the wrong places, such as in people who won’t come through for you, in a business or job that’s unlikely to turn out well, in dogmas and prejudices, or in a habit of mind that harms you – like a guardedness with others that may have worked okay when you were young but is now like walking around in a suit of armor that’s three sizes too small.

Putting too little trust in the right places, such as in the willingness of most people to hear what you really have to say, in the results that will come if you keep plugging away, or in the goodness inside your own heart.

So, first make a list of what you do have faith in – both in the world and in yourself. You can do this in your mind, on paper, or by talking with someone.

Next, ask yourself where your faith might be misplaced – in dry wells or in dogs that won’t hunt. Be sure to consider too much faith in certain aspects of your own mind, such as in beliefs that you are weak or tainted, that others don’t care about you, or that somehow you’re going to get different results by doing pretty much the same old things.

Then pick one instance of misguided faith, and consciously step away from it: reflect on how you came to develop it and what it has cost you; imagine the benefits of a life without it; and develop a different resource to replace it. Repeat these steps for other cases of misplaced faith.

Second, make another list, this one of what you could reasonably have faith in – in the world and in yourself. These are missed opportunities for confidence – such as in people who could be trusted more (including children), in the basic safety of most days for most people, and in your own strengths and virtues.

Then pick one and see if you can have more faith in it. Remember the good reasons for relying upon it. Imagine how more trust in it will help you and others. Consciously choose to believe in it.

Third, consider some of the good qualities and aspirations in your innermost heart. Give yourself over to them for a moment – or longer. What’s that like

Try to have more faith in the best parts of yourself. They’ve always been faithful to you.

Just One Thing (JOT) is the free newsletter that suggests a simple practice each week for more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind.A small thing repeated routinely adds up over time to produce big results.

Just one thing that could change your life.

(© Rick Hanson, 2014)

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