Faith, Trust and Affection

 

Faith: complete trust or confidence in someone or something.

Trust: believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of.

Affection: a gentle feeling of fondness or liking.

Hello Compassionate Equestrians!

I hope you have had a wonderful summer, whether showing, trail riding, Olympics-viewing and/ or enjoying a well-earned vacation. As usual, time has flown by and it is hard to believe another two months have elapsed since my last post. The quandary is whether to add a newsletter or continue with the blog, as it seems none of us have enough hours in the day to ingest any more e-mails!

This one, however, is definitely worth a read. It is a story by guest-blogger and CE Movement member, Melissa Deal. Melissa has taken the message of The Compassionate Equestrian to heart—literally—and put the Principles into real action, as we had hoped many others would also be so inspired.

When we think of these 3 important words, “faith, trust, and affection,” we conjure visions based on our religion, our spiritual practices, and perhaps moments with our horses that may have required a considerable dose of all three! Personally, I follow those thoughts with feelings of gratitude and realize just how blessed I am in so many aspects of my life.

I believe we all love a great story, and I love the one as told below. Thank you, Melissa!

Susan G.


 

8/16/16 The Mane Say

by Melissa Deal

Victory Land Dressage

A brief intro: My name is Eclipse Deal. I am big, bright red chestnut gelding with chrome, thank you. I know all about the Compassionate Equestrian movement because they hold meetings here at MY farm. (My mom promised me a farm for Christmas a couple of years ago and I got it! All mine. Of course I share, because she makes me.) I even get to be the centerpiece of these Compassionate Equestrian gatherings and enjoy all of the attention: massage therapy, pictures, body work, grooming demos. Oooooo, just thinking of them makes me feel like I just had a good roll. Did I mention I am a movie star on something called Face Book and I LOVE FOOD? Oh, sorry, I am getting off track. Anyway, I’ve been asked to help out by writing this column called the Mane Say. It won’t be fancy, but it might give you a bit of insight into the mind and life of horses and their people because it is the saying of one with a mane, a horse, that’s me. They say I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but my mom says don’t believe it and she has given me the confidence to share my world with you. Ok, I confess, she is helping me – a little – (and I promise not to spook). Hope you enjoy and even if you don’t, I am pretty sure doing this will score me some extra CARROTS, yum, so I am up for it either way!

ECLIPSE WEBSITE PIC

Eclipse

My first story

I felt my mom’s energy across the paddock, before I saw her. Bristling she was and it got my attention. She practically marched toward the barn. As soon as she was close enough, I checked her eyes for water. Water in her eyes is a rare occurrence, but almost always leaks out with this kind of energy. I can’t explain why.

Eyes weren’t springing leaks, but had the eyes been leaking? I was pretty sure they had. In a very business-like manner she went for the grooming box without hesitation. No sweat, I thought. I had already done my work for the day so this likely meant pure adoration time for me. Yay!

Wait a minute. Oh come on. She was going for the tail. Bummer. Not my favorite, but definitely hers. It looks like adoration grooming will have to be after the tail. I don’t know what she does back there exactly, but I heard her friend call it therapy-whatever that means. I think I have a pretty sound understanding of the human language compared to other horses. Some words I just don’t get, though. (This lack of understanding doesn’t bother me since my mom says I am a genius, and I am pretty sure she is right). Out came the tail brush and the show sheen gel. Ever so gently, I felt brush, brush, brush. Rhythmic strokes were interrupted only by the times she seemed to be picking something out of my tail. Slowly, the pictures in her mind became available to me and this is what she shared.

Mom, in her dinky black Prius. (Dad says the Prius has something to do with hugging trees. This tree hugging thing is clearly a humanism that I don’t get. Trees are good for scratching though.) She drives down a long winding asphalt path with white fence punctuating each side. Stately oaks frame her view. Then to the left, movement catches her attention. She scowls. Her face is red and her chest thumps as she watches a vibrant young man yanking with great might on a yearling colts lead. To the left her head snaps. A fit young woman throws rocks at the other horses, one of which is trying to get in the mix. The woman is yelling at them. (What were those horses thinking? I mean, I am all about self preservation. Maybe one was the colt’s mom or something?) Then, I felt my mom’s energy shift. In the picture, her face softens and gradually she becomes sad for the suffering of innocent horses. Empathy replaces the sadness and the anger disappears entirely as her car rolls to a stop. She composes herself and prays for guidance on how to influence these unknowing people in way that will be life changing for the horses. (I know mom really puts a lot of stock in praying so this had to be really important to her.)  She puts on her best smile. She has a job to do, a mission to accomplish, a lesson to teach and lives to change. She thinks: “this can only be accomplished through influence. Anger will get me nowhere.” To influence will require proof of her ability to guide the rider to the changes they desire, regardless of whether she or the horse find them meaningful. “If I can accomplish this,” she thinks, “then, maybe I can help them see the horse, its mind and its behavior differently.” Perhaps she can soften the hearts of the young man and woman so they can feel their real feelings, not just the ones the world taught them to have. Then they will be free to act from their hearts, the hearts they had as children. She knows they didn’t mean to be abusive. She knows they are well intended. She hurts for the horses. Her heart cracks open and she mourns the state of the humans too.

She finished my tail and looked me deep in the eye with all of the love she could hold and with raw emotion stated out loud,” Here’s the thing about us humans. We will judge the actions of others, but we unknowingly do things that are just as terrible, only different, to you horses. What will it take for us to be like you, kind and forgiving more often than not? What will it take to change us? Thank you! Thank you for showing me every day how to help you, others and myself. I am so lucky to have you in my life! I am so grateful that you tolerate me and that you lead by example. (Whatever that means…another strange humanism.) I am undeserving of your trust and affection,” she says. (The last one is a big word. I don’t understand, but I know it’s all good stuff, every word). She gave the cue for a kiss and I very gently extended my neck and reached my fuzzy muzzle toward her pursed lips in a sweet caress. (The sweeter I am the more treats I get!) My muzzle fuzz touched her warm soft skin and she relaxed. (What a relief.)  A smile and a carrot instantly followed. I knew that all was well in my world, once again. Somehow it seemed, my tail and I had helped her feel better and in return she made me feel like big warm bran mash does on a frost bitten evening – loved and adored. Delicious!


 

The Compassionate Equestrian blog is written by TCE coauthor Susan Gordon unless otherwise noted. Dr. Schoen’s personal blog and website may be found at http://www.drschoen.com

About the blogger:

Susan Gordon is 56 years old and lives on Salt Spring Island, B.C., Canada. She began riding professionally in 1983, upon the invitation of Maclay Champion (1973), the late Michael Patrick. Susan trained eventing, hunter, jumper and dressage horses, apprenticing with other top trainers in her chosen disciplines. She taught freelance from 2002 until retiring in 2010, bringing elements of meditation practice, music, dance, art, and an interest in non-invasive, holistic therapies—in particular Low Level Laser Therapy and tapping— to her work with students and their horses. She has since completed courses in sustainability (University of British Columbia and University of Guelph), and documentary filmmaking (Pull Focus Film School, Vancouver). She is a nationally ranked competitive masters and age-group runner in the 400m to ½ Marathon Road Race distances. The Compassionate Equestrian is her first book. Her second book also released in June 2015: Iridescent Silence of the Pacific Shores (Gordon/D. Wahlsten 2015), a book of abstract water photography with a strong environmental statement, and DVD featuring original Orca calls and music composed by Ron Gordon, Ph.D.  Photo prints and paintings are available for viewing and purchase at www.susangordon.ca

 

Ali&I

Susan and Ali

 

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Facebook Faux Pas and Expanding the CE Movement

 

It has occurred to me that my Facebook posts of late are as long as a blog post. And the blog posts themselves have been non-existent. Therefore, I am attempting to re-boot my social media habits as of today and link a shorter Facebook post to a longer blog post. Wish me luck. Thank you to all of our subscribers and readers to date! That includes those of you who also use Twitter and Instagram. It’s hard to keep up with all the social-media networking, but I’m learning! I’m also finding that the most “likes” and comments come from the stories about personal relationships and experiences with horses and numerous training issues, as well as issues that develop in the barn with other horse-people. I love the feedback and your stories too!

 

We also have a new sign-up window on the website for those who wish to register for the upcoming Compassionate Equestrian Community Newsletter (see www.thecompassionateequestrian.com). Plans so far are for a quarterly newsletter so you don’t have to worry about having excessive e-mails from us. I realize it is a concern when signing up for anything nowadays as everybody seems to have more e-mails and more reading to do than they can keep up with. This particular blog post is somewhat of  a hybrid, but the information in the newsletter will be quite different and “newsy” compared to blog posts, which are more of a personal commentary. There’s still nothing quite like having a real book with real pages in your hands so far as we’re concerned too!

 

Since the book’s release last year (almost a year ago already!) the movement toward a more compassionate equestrian industry is beginning to take shape, and we are seeing considerable interest around the world in the form of new equine welfare statements and policies by breed and regulating bodies. This is very important, and a much-needed move to catch up with the enormous amount of abuse and neglect that still affects millions of horses in working, showing, breeding, racing, post-career, and retirement situations.

IMG_5975

This is Reine, the Canadian mare that I ride for a client near my home on Salt Spring Island, B.C. I’m not completely retired. That wouldn’t be any fun – LOL!

The Compassionate Equestrian Movement is growing, and our “first-in” barns, trainers, instructors and organizations have recently been featured in a wonderful brochure (available on our website’s home page) written by TCE’s editor, Rebecca Didier. The CE Movement will soon have a new page on our website, as it is currently in development. If you haven’t already read their stories, please check them out, and have a look at their online information for more details—links are included in the brochure’s pages found on our site. This is compassion-in-action and brings to life the many reasons Dr. Schoen and I embarked on writing TCE and formulating the principles.

* * * * *

Lastly, here is my Facebook post from yesterday in case you missed it. It’s about the responsibility of declaring that you have a “beginner-safe horse.”

 

“Safe for a beginner.” Sometimes, famous last words, so to speak. I think back to my first horse, purchased for me by my parents when I was 12. She was safe enough on trails in the wilderness, where she was raised and used as a pack horse in the mountains during hunting season. However, once we moved to a rural neighbourhood of a city and I had to ride her along roads, she became a danger to both of us by panicking at cars and trucks roaring by. It didn’t help that the community roads were lined with large, muddy ditches, deep enough to swallow a car or horse unlucky enough to end up in one of them.

Fortunately there was a riding arena next door to our house and so I resolved to keep her off the busy roads and avoid the possibility of a terrible accident.

How many times have I had clients come home with a “beginner-safe horse” that turned out to be anything but? That would be a new book in itself!

What really constitutes “bomb-proof?” How do you legitimately know if a horse is right for a first-time owner or young rider?

A repeated message throughout TCE is learning about dealing with our ego. When purchasing a horse, you are not only involved with your own wants and needs, but those of the seller, and possibly your trainer or advisor. I have had clients let go of a very good, suitable horse when they moved away and found a new barn, simply because their perfect horse was not a horse their new trainer wanted to ride.

The beginner horse is a highly valued member of the equine community. If you are looking for one, or selling to a rider who is just starting out, you have a big responsibility in your hands.

As humans, we tend to talk a lot, especially when we should be watching or listening. There are many questions involved with a horse that can allegedly take care of a newer rider. The more you know about a horse’s history…where he’s been and what he’s done since he was weaned, the better.

Yes, my horse actually was beginner-safe, but only in the situations with which she was accustomed. Once taken out of that environment, she became too fearful and reactive for a young rider to handle. Any horse can develop pain and fear issues over time, and many sellers attempt to cover up those issues. Sometimes, it may be an oversight, or the seller and buyer are unaware of changes that might occur in the horse’s behavior when the environment changes.

We can never know everything about a horse, that’s really the bottom line. We can take some control over our egos though, and view the horses and everyone involved with them with a compassionate heart and mind. If we need to move on, it is best to do so with love, understanding and kindness.

My first horse was eventually sold back to a very large working ranch where she was able to live out her life in good health and an environment that kept her happy and content.
SG

(photo: http://www.cowboyshorsesale.com/horses.html)

The Compassionate Equestrian's photo.
_________________________________________________________________

The Compassionate Equestrian blog is written by TCE coauthor Susan Gordon unless otherwise noted. Dr. Schoen’s personal blog and website may be found at http://www.drschoen.com

About the blogger:

Susan Gordon is 56 years old and lives on Salt Spring Island, B.C., Canada. She turned professional as a rider in 1983, upon the invitation of Maclay champion (1973), the late Michael Patrick. Susan trained eventing, hunter, jumper and dressage horses, apprenticing with other top trainers in her chosen disciplines. She taught freelance from 2002 until retiring in 2010, bringing elements of meditation practice, music, dance, art, and an interest in non-invasive, holistic therapies—in particular Low Level Laser Therapy and tapping)— to her work with students and their horses. She has since completed courses in sustainability (University of British Columbia and University of Guelph), and documentary filmmaking (Pull Focus Film School, Vancouver). She is a nationally ranked competitive masters and age-group runner in the 400m track to ½ Marathon Road Race distances. The Compassionate Equestrian is her first book. Her second book also released in June 2015: Iridescent Silence of the Pacific Shores (Gordon/D. Wahlsten 2015), a book of abstract water photography with a strong environmental statement, and DVD featuring original Orca calls and music composed by Ron Gordon, Ph.D.  Photo prints and paintings are available for viewing and purchase by contacting Susan at : susan.greepony@gmail.com

IMG_6006

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.

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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.

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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

Joy to the (Horse) World!

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Silver

Our recent discussion about the Principles of Compassionate Equitation © turned to thoughts regarding “joy” and how all the seriousness of training and competition sometimes leads us to forget about what it means to be joyful.

Principle #10 in The Compassionate Equestrian states “the Principles accelerate the evolution of joy and respect between humans and horses and allow for a more expansive, conscious interaction between humans and our equine companions.”

Dr. Schoen and I both know that by practicing compassion, one does become happier overall, as you learn to keep your heart open and accepting.  It’s not necessarily easy to do, especially in the situations that frequently arise in our microcosm of the world that exists within every barn.  Tension can come from the management, the trainers, grooms, other riders, or even the horses themselves as they will also react to a stressful atmosphere by acting out in ways that may not be too much fun for us.

As we discussed the need for joy in our lives, I thought of one very special horse who brought joy to everyone who rode him, and always made me smile every time I looked at him.

The trainer I worked for at the time was looking for a horse for a young male student and we got word that a large Quarter Horse gelding was available on a feed lien.  His owner had abandoned him and he had been basically stall-bound for several months, so the barn had the legal right to sell him for board that was owing.

Not expecting much, we went to look at him and it took about 2 minutes to make the decision to purchase the big white gelding.  His name was Silver.

He was obviously happy to be let out of his stall as we inspected his conformation, jogged him for soundness, and tacked him up for a trial ride.  He was over 16 hands… quite tall for his breed.  His head was less than classic, with a bit of a Roman nose.  He had good bone though and while he wouldn’t win a conformation class, he was attractive enough that anyone could look good on him.

Not only was Silver impeccably trained, but he was the calmest horse one could hope for.  As we watched a young rider from the barn put him through his paces, Tim, the trainer, tossed a hat right in front of Silver’s nose as he jogged by.  The horse didn’t flinch.  Sold!  This was a beginner’s dream horse.

Back at our own barn Silver settled in immediately.  He got along with every other horse, and we rode him a few more times before having Tim’s student come to try him out.  Excited for the meeting of the two, who we thought would be a perfect match, the day finally came that Silver was to meet his potential new owner.

It didn’t go quite as planned.  At least not according to our plans.  Silver apparently had something else in mind.

He literally quivered on the crossties when the boy and his mother came to meet him.  Wondering what was going on, we thought perhaps they could bond in the round pen, with the big Quarter Horse roaming freely so he, the mom & her son could just “hang out” and study each other’s personalities.

Silver seemed highly suspicious of the two and was not his typical friendly self.  Tim and I had no particular answer as this seemed out of character for the horse even though we’d only known him a short time.  Finally, the boy’s mom said “I don’t think he likes us”.

Well, that’s not the way to sell a horse!  The pair left the barn and I put Silver back in the crossties to finish up with his grooming.  If a horse could look smug, I would say Silver definitely had a smug little grin on his face.  That’s when I looked straight at him and said “you want to be OUR horse, don’t you?”  Oh yes, the ears pricked right up and if he was a cartoon horse you’d have seen the little hearts circling his head and eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.

Tim agreed that Silver seemed to want to stay at the barn and be a lesson horse on our own string, and so it was.

I couldn’t even tell you how many kids that big guy packed around, adjusting himself to whatever level of rider climbed on his back.  Once we knew he was staying I tested him over jumps and he did that just right too.  I secretly always wanted to ditch the off-track training projects and just have some fun on Silver, who could give a thoroughbred a good run around the pasture when he felt like it.

He would memorize an obstacle course if I led him through it once, making a little 6-year-old girl feel like an accomplished rider.  He had a special “tranter” gait for youngsters just learning to canter… the front end would trot and the back end would canter, giving riders confidence until they could move him up into a true canter.  He was very happy in his job, and brought happiness and confidence to everyone who rode and showed him.

In all the seriousness of training, the stress of hauling horses and students to shows, and the everyday physical demands of working around a barn, I could only wish for everyone to have the chance, even once in a lifetime to have a horse like Silver who never failed to approach life with joyful abandon and an unsurpassed generosity.  Perhaps he was like most rescued and previously abandoned animals, as they always seem particularly grateful and eager to return the compassion that was shown to them.

Compassion takes practice, especially when we are faced with adverse conditions and situations that may make it more difficult to think about the suffering of others.  This is why I love rescued animals, and “recovered” humans, as they know how to come, literally, “from the bottom of their heart” – and with that, comes real and lasting joy.

Wishing a Happy, Joyous, New Year to All!

Reading You Loud and Clear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

at home on Salt Spring Island, B.C.

at home on Salt Spring Island, B.C.

Welcome to The Compassionate Equestrian!

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

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