Do you love being with your horses but have noticed certain issues when dealing with other horse people? With situations at barns and horse shows? With business related to the equine industry?
For example, maybe you are frustrated by the number of horses you see in your riding group that are not staying sound. Maybe you work with a rescue organization that’s overwhelmed by requests to take on even more “unwanted” horses. Perhaps you struggle to maintain peace amongst boarders at your barn.
Two years ago two residents of Salt Spring Island in British Columbia came together to conceive what they called The Compassionate Equestrian. Pioneer of integrative veterinary medicine and renowned author Dr. Allen Schoen joined forces with horse trainer Susan Gordon to help others understand compassion and how it relates to the equine world. Their goal was to demonstrate how we can apply compassion to the equestrian lifestyle.
“Compassion takes practice,” say Dr. Schoen and Gordon. “It is an acquired skill, just like learning how to groom, tack up, post a trot, apply the correct aids to canter, maintain position without stirrups, and any number of other lessons accrued along the way to becoming a good rider. When riders become highly accomplished, they often apply their expertise to teaching others. This is one goal of The Compassionate Equestrian Movement is to nurture an understanding and practice of compassion that may be extended to include what we term the ‘Global Herd’—our worldwide family of horses and fellow equestrians. Compassionate Equestrians will also have a positive influence on their non-horse-related friends, family, and businesses so as to become community and global leaders in creating a compassionate world for all.”
One step in becoming a Compassionate Equestrian is what Dr. Schoen calls Quiet Focused Intention or QFI.
“My presence has repercussions,” he writes in the book he and Gordon released. “It is one stone thrown in to a pool of water, and all the ripples from that one stone affects every person and all the horses I am about to encounter…. When we do not take a moment to regroup and become present in the moment, and our minds are still back in the traffic or on the to-do list and we are irritable, we bring that energy with us into our next experience, whether it is with a horse, groom, trainer, rider, or someone at work or at home. We can all recount numerous examples of what has happened in situations when we were not present mentally. Think of that ripple from the stone: it disturbs the water bug, distracts the fishing bird, and steals a little sand from the shore. If we can simply learn to catch ourselves as we fall prey to the human weakness of dwelling on the past and consciously switch to being in and focused on the present moment, it will prove to be better for all of us.”
You can teach yourself to take a certain amount of time, whether it is one minute, or 10 minutes, to make sure that when you walk into the barn, you’re coming from a place of open-hearted kindness and tolerance for all creatures.
“What I personally try to do when I arrive at a barn,” says Dr. Schoen, “is take in a few deep breaths, slow down, and become more centered (redirecting my energy to my physical center of gravity), because mindfulness is all in the breath. As I breathe slowly, in and out, I go ahead and recognize that I may have just been in traffic, I may be a little irritable, I may be an hour behind, people may be waiting to talk to me, I may be coming in for a second or third opinion and everyone has their agenda of what they want from the horse and everyone’s agenda for the horse is different…. I close my eyes, take deep breaths in, and I exhale, letting all that frenetic energy from the drive release.”
To get you started with a simple practice to relax and clear your mind prior to working with your horse, try these steps.
- Once you have turned off your car’s engine and quieted the car (this happens quickly if you drive a Tesla or other electric car!), sit in your car and quiet your own engine.
- Gently close your eyes and take in a slow breath through your nose, inhaling deep into your chest, lungs, and filling your abdomen.
- Allow the breath to “sit there” for a comfortable moment.
- Then slowly exhale out through your chest, throat, and mouth.
- Repeat this full breath at least three times.
- If you like, visualize the in-breath as a calming, loving, white light permeating your entire body.
- Visualize, sense, and feel all the tension leaving your body through your out-breath.
- If you feel it to be beneficial, “shake off” any lingering tension by moving your hands and feet and “sigh out” any inner tension through your mouth.
- Then perhaps say to yourself, “I am here, now, in calm, loving presence, for the benefit of my horse and for all beings in the barn.”
- Sense how this statement feels, how it changes your body.
- Repeat as needed.
- Create your own variation, using a theme that resonates with you.
To find out more about how to become a Compassionate Equestrian, look for the book The Compassionate Equestrian by Dr. Allen Schoen and Susan Gordon, visit www.thecompassionateequestrian.com.
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