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Mindful Monday: Memory, Mindfulness and the Marathon

Remaining compassionate toward others is an exercise in endurance these days. The Armageddon folks are probably having a field day with the earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and such. There does seem to be a lot going on with Mother Earth. And then there are the personal catastrophes.

Mara and Samsara are cyclical, never-ending. Things are always happening to people. I’ll bet each of us knows someone who has recently suffered some loss, some tragedy, some illness or injury that has changes their lives. And as compassionate, mindful people, we jump to offer comfort, support and maybe even a casserole.

When my daughter became catastrophically ill back in 1996, community support kept me from going over the edge. More than a year of assistance from her school, family friends and neighbors, as well as her father’s work acquaintances buoyed us through the dark days. People gave of their time and hearts to a child and her family in grave danger of death in every way. I am grateful to this day.

When a friend in Virginia finally got her very own horse after 30 years of catch riding and leasing, there was a celebration. She hacked out and showed with well-earned pride and a palpable happiness after so many years. Finally she was able to bond with a horse who was truly hers, and vice versa. It was a match made in heaven. Until suddenly the horse died. She was surrounded by love and support as she worked through the loss and grief.

The thing is, I wonder how it is for her now. She hasn’t gotten a new horse. Many months later, I know she is still grieving. No horse, no equestrian life, still catch-riding. I do not have to wonder how it was for me in the ensuing years after the initial catastrophe with my daughter. It went from dreadful to unimaginably worse, with the added burden of managing it alone.

But as with a string of natural disasters, folks get compassion fatigue. Seeing me exhausted and near the edge of insanity, people would recite to me the (they thought) wise analogy of putting the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on your child. Then they wandered off to make sure that their golden, healthy children got to soccer practice on time. I didn’t resent them for that, but I did resent the lameness of their unsolicited advice. If they’d taken the time to look (which was awfully hard when protecting themselves from the pain that comes along with compassion overload), they’d have seen that my arms were too tired to lift the oxygen mask.

The initial frenzy of empathy and assistance for Courtney King-Dye has hit its zenith. From personal experience, I envision the downslope. Attention will wander toward personal matters. Because raising your own family, caring for your own horses, doing your own job, are understandably a priority. And then there is the next big disaster. Novelty renews compassion without fatigue.

Let me share with you from my experience this fact: while attention from others wanders, and the initial danger eases, struggle goes on. Reports of Courtney’s continued and seemingly miraculous progress pile up, and we may feel that it’s OK to turn our attention elsewhere. And it is, to a certain degree. Spreading the compassion around never hurts. But remaining mindful of the evolving struggle of others keeps our hearts open.

In six weeks, six months, a year, Courtney King-Dye will still be battling the aftereffects of her accident. If we care, we will be there to help. But but but, you say, humans don’t have that long of an attention span. Sadly, we don’t. Especially when it’s not us that’s the issue. Two years down the road, I could have certainly used a casserole on the rare nights I left my daughter in the hospital for a few hours rest in my own bed and respite from stale sandwiches from a machine. It would have been nice to have some of that early frenzied assistance paced out so that I didn’t have to clean up after dogs who’d been waiting patiently for my return, or find a way to get the grass mowed after a six-week absence. Courtney and her family will face the same dilemmas.

What can we do to remain mindful of her continuing battles? If we don’t know her personally, then the casserole idea is pretty much out, along with offering to mow the grass and walk her dogs, or exercise her horses. But there is an option I can think of, and it’s a simple one. The Courtney King-Dye Medical Fund eBay Store has been very successful. But predictably, numbers are down.

If you have a Twitter or Facebook account, you can easily help by posting about it. The rewards of offering something for sale (service or goods) are great. Watching as your item is bid on is fun, and it feels good to know you will help defray the costs of care that are not covered by insurance. For those in the equestrian/equine business, offering something for sale is excellent PR/advertising. As everyone who is reading this knows, riding horses does not pay. You can also bid on items. The prices are well below retail. Planning ahead for gifts throughout the year will help not only your own awareness of Courtney’s strivings to regain her life, but also of the good fortune of your loved ones.

Currently the store has 12 Troxel Reliance Dressage helmets (that normally retail for $159.95) up for grabs with a minimum bid of only $50. The helmet safety campaign t-shirts are also now available in the store for $22.75. These were designed with a very catchy slogan “Strap One On – Everyone’s Doing It” by single mom and dressage rider Jeri Bryant of CA in order to help support Courtney.

Lendon Gray said yesterday that Courtney is making excellent progress. This is very encouraging, but the road to recovery will be a very long one, with lots of physical therapy and specialized rehab. Run solely by Lyndsey White of SUCCEED for no personal gain, the eBay store aims to hit the $10,000 profit mark before the end of this month. That will go a long way toward helping Courtney in her marathon for recovery.

To contact Lyndsey if you want to offer an item for auction in the eBay store, email, or call (859) 420-1006. You can also find progress reports on Facebook and Twitter.

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Mindful Monday: So Many Days, I Feel Like Lisa

I guess it’s worth pointing out that life and spiritual seeking is a journey. You’re not there.

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Science Friday: How “Natural” or Humane Are Equine Shock Collars?

Science Friday: How “Natural” or Humane Are Equine Shock Collars?

Just when I start to have faith in the intelligence of trainers and horsepeople, a reader question to Julie Goodnight on the category of horse behavior, on her website sets me back.

The questioner relates problems associated with a four-year-old draft mare in training under harness who is respectful to people but aggressive toward a pasturemate gelding.

Generally they get along fine. However, sometimes she just lays into him kicking, biting, running at him and charging him. Sometimes we are in the pasture with them when this behavior is going on. Needless to say, we are a bit nervous about getting caught in the crossfire.

Two questions for you:

1) Some of this is no doubt just normal horse behavior. Is there an underlying training issue though that we should be addressing with our mare?

2) She has never demonstrated any tendency at kicking towards us. We do recognize the risk to our safety when she is acting this way towards the gelding and we happen to be in the way. But is it likely that a horse acting this way with another horse will start getting that kicking tendency with humans?

Clearly, the questioner is new to horsekeeping. That’s not a problem. Everyone is new in the beginning. They depend on good, safe advice from those who have experience. One would think that well-known trainers like Goodnight would dispense sensible, time-tested advice on how to deal with such issues. This is the problem: wait until you read what Goodnight suggests as an alternative to learning about horse behavior and how to handle horses on the ground. I wonder if she gets a kickback from the manufacturers of the product she obliquely endorses.

While the behavior you describe could be chalked up to normal herd behavior, some horses can be classified as bullies. These horses are unnecessarily aggressive towards others. In other words, even after dominance has been fully established, they continue to attack other horses around them—seemingly for no good reason other than just to pick on them. If the gelding is not doing anything to deserve these attacks, then I’d say your mare is a bully.
There is one sure-fired method of curing aggressive horses and I have used it a few times for this purpose. It is a shock collar. It straps around the horse’s neck and is operated off a remote control, issuing a mild and brief shock when you push the button on the remote. Shocking her for her two or three times for her unwarranted and dangerous behavior would probably be all it would take to permanently resolve her of the aggressiveness.

The Vicebreaker

It is intended for use with extreme behavior that is harmful to horse, humans and/or property and it is highly effective. I’ve used it for stall and trailer kickers, for aggressive horses and for a tantrum throwing horse, who threw a wall-eyed destructive tantrum any time you’d take his buddy away. In most cases, one or two training sessions resolved the bad behavior; for the tantrum thrower, it took a few more.

Many people are initially turned off by this approach—I suppose thinking it is cruel or too harsh. But in my opinion, in certain circumstances, it is the most humane approach. I know of a horse who has now kicked and killed two horses by kicking them and breaking their legs. Then, take the case of a stall kicker—whose behavior can cause him serious injury and is destructive to property (and may result in him being evicted from a boarding barn). The most common training technique for this vice is to hang “kicking chains” on the horse’s hind legs which wrap him in the legs every time he kicks (and bumps his legs every time he moves). It will discourage him from kicking but you have to leave the chains on forever—not a very nice thing for the horse. Whereas one or two sessions with the shock collar would permanently cure him of stall kicking and prevent him from injury.

I would think it might have even more effects than that. Like shock collars for dogs, this seems to me to be a case of thoughtless overkill. The horse’s sense of touch is very keen. To assault him via this avenue strikes me as cruel and extreme. But maybe I’m being naive. There are situations in which horses can be even more dangerous than the horse the reader describes. This from Stopping Aggression Problems With an Equine Shock Collar from the AAEP Convention, 2004 by Stephanie L. Church:

Veterinary expense, property damage, loss of use of affected horses, and the emotional cost associated with the death of an animal if injured severely during an aggressive act all demand a reliable way to change this behavior in the horse. Kennedy has experienced success in using an equine electronic collar with a number of horses.
Aggressive behavior in horses results in a range of injuries that often must be attended to by a veterinarian, from minor cuts and bruises to career-ending or life-threatening injuries. These injuries are a direct result of being bitten or kicked, or chased through or over a fence.

We have all seen horses that have experienced these injuries. We have all pondered how to prevent them from happening. First step in prevention: veterinary examination to rule out health issues that might contribute to the dangerous behavior. Cryptorchidism, ovarian cysts, pain, conformational issues that negatively affect perception can all cause aggressive behavior. Stop right there if these and more are detected. You know what to do. But what if no possible medical cause is detected? The next step is determining how to stop the undesirable behavior.

Isolate the horse?
Rehome the horse?
Euthanize the horse?

This article says,

some horses are emboldened by a barrier since they know the target horse will be less likely to show retribution since a fence is in the way. Not every horse owner is blessed with dead space between fence lines, and many boarding stables aren’t able to accommodate a horse requiring isolation. Isolation can lead to further behavioral problems. Then we reach our final option, which is to sell the aggressive horse. Many do not want to do this because the horse may be exceptional in every other way–they just have a hard time getting along with others.

What does the research say about the effectiveness of equine shock collars? Do they eliminate aggressive behavior in the short or long term?

One study looked at a group of 15 horses that were either aggressive toward a new horse in the pasture, aggressive toward a horse on the opposite side of a fence, or aggressive within an established herd.

About the collar used: The collar rests anywhere behind the throatlatch, and it does not matter where on the neck the receiver is touching the horse.

When you see the horse doing what he shouldn’t, you push the button. Start at the lowest (shock) level–I didn’t count horses that were just posturing with their ears back, I only corrected them when they made an aggressive move toward another horse,” she explained. On the transmitter, which has six levels of intensity, the required levels ranged from 2-5 to stop the aggression, with a mean of 4. One to four stimulations were used on each horse, but most only required two to change their behavior.

Aggressive mares in a pasture responded to stimulation when they were aggressive toward a new mare added to the pasture. Upon the first stimulation, aggressive mares would have instant posture changes. Those mares tended to follow the new mare around for a few minutes, apparently trying to figure out if the new mare was responsible for the shock. After the second shock, the aggressive mares apparently decided to befriend the new mares, seeking to graze next to them and accepting them as part of the group.

he total time before first and last stimulations required to change the behavior ranged from 10 minutes to 2 and a half days. Collars remained on the horses for one week, and aggressive behavior was monitored for a period of 30 days following the initial correction period. None of the horses exhibited aggressive behavior during that interval. The collar was determined to be extremely effective in deterring aggressive behavior.

The authors of the study say that the collar is effective because the correction is instantaneous and concurrent with the undesirable behavior, and invisible. There is no apparent agent of discipline. As such, they say, the collar can be used to deter aggressive behavior against humans, too.

Most issues are not mean horses. Usually it’s a lack of respect, and they know that they can dominate the owner and can avoid a whip. Most know it’s bad, but think they can get away with it. If the client can be consistent in observing the horse, the collar can work well for cribbing and stall walkers as well. These types of behaviors won’t be stopped by one or two sessions of use. However, many cribbers can become collar-wise and any time the horse is likely to crib, the owner needs to be present with the transmitter.


Group 1: Pasture Aggression (Six Mares)
Number of times stimulated: 1–4
Time between first and last stimulation: 10 minutes–1.5 hours
Total length of time collar was on horse: 1 week for all horses
Levels used: 3–5
Number of horses that reverted to aggressive behavior in the month after the removal of the collar: 0*

Group 2: Aggression With Barrier (Three Stallions, Two Mares, and One Gelding)
Number of times stimulated: 2–4
Time between first and last stimulation: 15 minutes–2 1/2 days
Total length of time collar was on horse: 1 week for all horses
Levels used: 3–5
Number of horses that reverted to aggressive behavior in the month after the removal of the collar: 0*

Group 3: Paddock Aggression (Two Geldings)
Number of times stimulated: 2–4
Time between first and last stimulation: 1.5–2 days
Total length of time collar was on horse: 1 week for all horses
Levels used: 2–4
Number of horses that reverted to aggressive behavior in the month after the removal of the collar: 0

Group 4: Aggression Associated With Feeding (One Mare)
Number of times stimulated: 4
Time between first and last stimulation: 2 days
Total length of time collar was on horse: 1 week
Levels used: 3–4
Number of horses that reverted to aggressive behavior in the month after the removal of the collar: 0

*Other observations that were made in the pasture and over fence groups were that the results, although long-lasting for that particular neighbor or new horse, did not extend to a new neighbor or additional new horse being introduced and the process had to be repeated.

I honestly believe that the same results can be achieved with less harmful and, if you’ll pardon the pun, shocking means. Training and companionship with humans along with other horses by professionals and well educated owners cannot be replaced by a torture device. If a horse has aggression issues, a lack of “respect” may be the result of many deeper causes. Only with time, patience and inquiry will these issues be discovered and resolved. A shock collar is a cruel bandaid.

I am appalled that Julie Goodnight would hawk such a contraption when her claim to fame is the training of horses. If we can’t trust the trainers who are supposed to teach us how, then who can we trust?

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BIG News on the Dressage Front

But not big in the way you expect, given the recent spate of FEI-related posts. And now for something completely different:

From Fran Jurga, a report that on Friday, July 16th, under the motto, the heavy brigade is on its way, 70 draft horses of various breeds (called “cart horses” in Europe), as well as carriages and working teams will compete in the First North Rhine-Westphalian (NRW) Cart Horse Day at Aachen.

The dressage riders and show jumpers will need to keep a tight rein on their mounts when these fellows rumble by. The refined warmbloods will be face-to-face with their cold-blooded root-stock. And they’d better watch out that the big boys don’t steal their show, or at least inspire a children’s book or two.

My all-time favorite and most beloved mare is a Percheron. Millie taught me everything. Maira is half Percheron. Windsong’s Justa Firestorm is a Percheron stallion. His son, “Buster,” is Perch/TB. You get the drift. Their nobility and grace, and courage in stressful times cannot be matched. Millie and I tried dressage. It was an unparalleled disaster. Not only am I terrible at dressage, but Millie’s typical but beautiful draft conformation naturally made it difficult for her to rock back on her haunches and carry herself properly. It was a battle. Why torture her for no good reason? We decided to stick with what we do best–hunt for a couple of hours and go home, triumphant. Trail ride and enjoy it immensely.

Below I have posted a YouTube video of a Percheron training that really takes me back. I believe that what you see in this video is typically what you get when trying to get a draft horse to do dressage. Draft horses. Conformationally appropriate? No. Willing? Yes. Capable? Yes (????)

I hopehopehope that the beauties of Aachen wow them with more than just the rumbling of the earth! I’d give quite a lot to be there.

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Mindful Monday: On Impermanence and Winter Weather

Mindful Monday: On Impermanence and Winter Weather

For many reading today, it’s the depth of winter. Getting out and riding can be difficult, unless you are blessed with a heated indoor arena. I always had a really hard time making myself do more than visiting my horses on the short dark days of winter, particularly when it was raining or snowing. You may even feel guilty that it’s hard, and that the weather and the shortness of days has sometimes prevented you from spending adequate time with your horses. I say, don’t.

Solomon’s message, ❝this too shall pass,❞ or the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence (Pāli: अनिच्चा anicca; Sanskrit: अनित्य anitya), reminds us that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is in a constant state of flux. Nothing, absolutely nothing has a permanent state. I find this a comfort when enduring painful times or even when I’m just plain uncomfortable.

Someday soon, it will be spring. Not only will it be physically easier to get out there and play with horses, but it will also become a kind of instinctive call. Nature will summon us to enjoy the warmth of the sun and share the company of our warm-blooded outdoor friends. It’s a biological, evolutionary imperative for humans. For the time being, for those of us who are daunted by the prospect of entering the dark frozen landscape, no matter the reward outside, it will be a kindness to ourselves to hold in awareness the knowledge that this too shall pass. Instead of feeling guilty or forcing yourself to do something that makes you dreadfully unhappy, consider the following:

• If you hold in your awareness the fact that this time is impermanent, it may be easier for you to get out there in the cold and visit or ride.
• If it is essential that you feed, clean stalls, maintain the facility, then you have no choice. Having no choice is an excellent opportunity for practicing radical acceptance. Reminding yourself that “this too shall pass,” even while fully experiencing each moment, the coldness of your fingers, the dry icy intake of your breath, the damp footing in the aisles, places you in greater contact with the flux of reality.
• If you cannot force yourself to get out there, it is no great disaster. Do not feel guilty. If your horses are lucky enough to be in the company of others and to have the care of hired professionals at a boarding stable, then know that they are receiving the care you have generously arranged for them. They are in their natural company. They are taking care of themselves, and probably welcome the break. You need add nothing more. Take care of yourself.

While you’re waiting for the thaw, here are a few things you can do with your horses if you can’t ride.

1. Groom, groom, groom. I have a friend, Debbie, who has used the bad weather to elevate the grooming her horse Laddie to an art. Not only is Laddie the most beautiful Belgian cross around, but he also gleams with the joy of Debbie’s close contact and touch.

2. Massage. Do bodywork. Find the elusive magic scratching spot. There’s no time like the present to practice what you have been learning in those videos you rented. If you haven’t, get some! Your horse will thank you. He gets plenty of exercise outdoors. Maybe he doesn’t get enough muscle love from you.

3. Perfect that special braid you’ve always wanted your horse to sport. Equine Ink has two excellent posts on braids. Check them out. Do yourself a favor, though: wear some fingerless gloves.

4. Learn to trim your horses’ hooves yourself. This is a long term project requiring lots of education. It’s worth it.

5. Try something totally new. Something you would NEVER try when you are in work. Maybe something you can do right there in the stall. Clicker Train your horse to do a useful trick like lowering his head for the halter or even kneeling for mounting.

Maintaining an awareness of each of those moments, celebrating them even as we are mindful of their impermanence honors our lives and those of our horses. Got any more ideas to help take advantage of the moments we will never experience again this winter?

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The Color of the Tongue Is Not the Issue

The Color of the Tongue Is Not the Issue

In a January 3 Daily Mail article on 2012 Olympic Boycott Threat, Roly Owers, of the World Horse Welfare charity, said of the use of hyperflexion in dressage training:

In the right hands it is a valuable training method, and it cannot make a horse’s tongue go blue, no matter what people seem to think.

Has he seen the video and photos? Even if the video and images had been enhanced (and this is NOT an intimation that I feel they have), heaps of other evidence prove that hyperflexion is harmful to the horse in both body and spirit.

In contrast to Owers’ statement, Lady Sylvia Loch, dressage trainer and author, told the Observer,

It is a shocking symptom of where the sport is going, it’s the tip of the iceberg. What is going on behind closed doors in the training of these horses is very wrong.’Rollkur is so, so cruel. The horse can only see its own feet, so it is reliant on the rider for balance which is simply psychological torture.

Patrick Print, chairman of the British Horse Society, has written a letter to the FEI, asking it to investigate. In it he wrote,

Please note that we pass no comment on the aesthetics of seeing a competition horse contorted in a way it never appears to choose for itself. Our concern is only to speak out when we believe that the welfare of horses demands it.

Esthetics? I was unaware that mere esthetics were the issue. Why the British Horse Society bothered to comment at all is a mystery when I try to parse the actual meaning of the sentence above. They are speaking, but what are they saying? Have they been taking lessons on communication from the FEI?

Maybe they had just read A Beginner’s Guide to Rollkur, where I found this image reproduced from Horsetalk NZ. If they tried out the head and neck position depicted here, it’s possible that their clarity of focus and communication were compromised.

I’m delighted a rag like the Daily Mail has taken up the cause. No one likes a good kerfuffle like the British newspapers. Awareness outside the realm of the insular horse world may just bring the kind of scrutiny needed to call a halt to this crime of training methodology.

Take a look at two nice posts about the nature and disadvantages of hyperflexion at In Pursuit of Classical Perfection and Writing of Riding

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