By Susan Gordon
Compassionate Equitation accelerates the evolution of joy, respect, and gratitude between humans and horses, and allows for a more expansive, conscious interaction between humans and equine companions.
The Compassionate Equestrian is essentially divided into three parts. Initially, we are learning about the meaning of compassion and how to develop it within ourselves. It requires study and practice. While Compassionate Equitation is specifically focused on those of us with an equestrian lifestyle, it is inevitably connected to all those around us too.
After absorbing the lessons of compassion for ourselves, we can then apply the knowledge to the better training and handling of our horses. This also has a direct effect on people who are in the immediate vicinity at a public livery or boarding stable, or at a horse show. And finally, we begin to think about how we can take Compassionate Equitation to a greater good, outside of ourselves and our own neighbourhoods.
Principle 7 introduces the possibility of accelerating the pathway to mindful, conscious interactions between humans and horses. In today’s world of everything moving faster and faster, it almost seems prudent to navigate our compassionate journey as quickly as possible too. In this case, the benefits lean more to the positive side, rather than adding more stress to our endlessly busy lives.
Principle 6 provided exercises for becoming centered and developing techniques for letting go of the issues that disturb our peace the most. If you have been successful at generating a calmer, less reactive version of yourself, you have probably already noticed changes in others around you, and most likely your horse/s as well.
The methods are effective almost immediately. I have witnessed horses both accelerate stress behaviours, and stop the behaviours within minutes depending on the energy of who was closest to them, and how that person responded to the excited or aggravated horse. While humans may not outwardly display their level of tension, it is certainly felt internally and as we well know, can eventually fester into all kinds of health problems. Ultimately, horses sense what is going on inside us, even if we’re trying to hide our emotions.
Sometimes the sheer contrast of grief to joy is enough to make us appreciate the small gifts of happiness that might otherwise go unnoticed. In the silence of sitting in tears, perhaps angry and frustrated with someone, we might be able to take a deep breath and find gratitude in a moment of solitude, the bright starry night we are sitting beneath, the sound of horses munching hay, or the aromatic scent of the tack room. It is in taking those deep breaths, that we take the first step toward the acceleration of joy, respect, and gratitude.
You may notice such qualities where their presence might not have been clear to you in the past. Suddenly you are a participant in a field of gratitude that you weren’t aware of previously. It feels good, so you want to maintain those moments, and hopefully you’ll want to create such moments more quickly, and more frequently.
This is how I work with my students in their riding lessons. I want to accelerate their good moments, and have those last ever longer as they become more proficient riders.
Everyone has frustrating issues with their horses. A lot of the chronic problems I’ve seen have come from the lack of resolution and the amount of time that the issues have been occurring. The unfortunate horse and rider have forgotten their “happy zone,” or the baseline that is always the confidence-building, safe exercise to return to for the restoration of calm. This is typically slightly different for each horse and rider combination.
One of the first things I teach is to ensure that the rider knows what to come back to as soon as they and/or their horse becomes overwhelmed, frustrated, or angry. This is equated to the “release” part covered in Chapter 6.
With this method, we make considerable progress in a short period of time, because horse and rider can reconnect in joy and gratitude every time an issue becomes difficult. It might be that the horse is much stiffer on one side than the other, has previous trauma regarding jumping, old injuries, or current, limiting health problems.
When the training is aimed at correcting biomechanical imbalances along with consideration for any health and soundness issues, we can easily convince the horse that every time a part of the exercise becomes too much pressure, there is an immediate return to a “happy place” that will relieve both him and the rider of any tension. Then we try again, release again, and respond with extreme joy and gratitude for each small step forward. The method seems to work well with humans too.
If we are continuously mindful of conducting our lives in this place of joy, gratitude, and respect, it is surprising as to how quickly things can change. As to the acceleration factor regarding Principle 7’s guidance, it’s starting to look like a pretty good idea.
Susan Gordon’s “Alternate” Bio (a.k.a. the non-horse life)
Susan Gordon was born in Vancouver, B.C., in 1960. She developed a love for ponies at about age six, and contemplated life with a horse from that time onwards. However, she was not officially a “horse owner” until the age of 12. In the interim, and through adult-hood, a few other activities and interests made for a rather unusual trajectory at times.
Her mom was a ballroom dance instructor, so Susan likes to claim she was practically “born on the stage” and danced in many competitions and exhibitions until her early 20s. She has been a passionate artist from an early age as well, always drawing and painting animals.
She studied advertising and fine art at Mount Royal College in Calgary, Alberta, after finishing high school, then put her knowledge to work in her first job in advertising as a traffic coordinator for a western Canadian department store.
She trained in graphic design at Vancouver Community College soon after returning to Vancouver in 1982, along with sound recording.
In 1986 and ’87, influenced by Vancouver’s punk and emo music scene, new abstract acrylics emerged as did a second stint in advertising. Susan found herself working in production and general management for two agencies, including one of her own, in partnership with a filmmaker.
In 1989, a trip to Santa Fe proved life-changing, inspired by the land that famed artist Georgia O’Keefe loved. She was called to the American Southwest, where she met a fascinating list of who’s who in the strange world of the paranormal.
She became known in the UFO world in the 1990s as the drummer for the eclectic rock band, UFAUX. She had met her future bandmates, Jim Dilettoso and Jerry Wills at Tim Beckley’s New Age and Alien Agenda Conference in Phoenix. Her extensive research and lectures on the paranormal included information relayed by an otherworldly intelligence that conveyed the necessity to heal the planet from environmental destruction, and to help humans address critical health care issues via non-invasive, regenerative technologies.
As part of the important public health issues noted by her “contacts,” she took a great interest in programs that were aimed at preventing youth substance abuse, devoting considerable time to volunteer activities for several agencies in Scottsdale, Arizona. Following her stint in Phoenix, she spent a decade in the beautiful red rocks of mystical Sedona, Arizona.
In 2008, after semi-retiring from horse training, she began running competitively and has garnered many age-group gold medals and championships from track to the half-marathon distance, becoming one of the top Masters in her category in Canada.
Susan returned permanently to Canada in 2010. Her artwork has won awards in B.C. and Alberta for both Symbolist and equine art. In 2012, she began a new series of abstract paintings, “The Contemplative Meditations,” and in 2016, produced the “Iridescent” series. She joined the local Painter’s Guild in 2017 and has co-authored two books and participated in several art shows each year since then, including 2019’s solo show, The Horses That Were My Teachers.
She has lived on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, since 2012. This is where The Compassionate Equestrian was written, with quite a few hand-written notes from the spectacular rocky shoreline at the island’s north end.