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Articulating the Feeling

Barbara Isaacs and Calvin Pony

Anyone reading this will have definite, positive feelings about living in the company of horses. Entire books have been written about man’s relationship with horses, and the impact they have had on our evolution and history. I’ve written about the physiological aspects of the horse / human relationship that mediate the feelings we experience.

I’m interested in how horses make you feel, personally.

My friend Caroline, who does equine body work has graciously gotten the ball rolling:

The best I can explain is when you are in your loved one’s arms and all is quiet. You are each aware of the other yet the consciousness of where one begins and one ends is blurry like sky meeting sea, the horizon line faded to nothing. Separate but one and bathing in absolute trust and stillness, almost drowsy from every cell in your bodies singing softly and greeting one another like long lost family.

Lucky are those who know these moments. They make anything less, less.

What do you feel when you are with horses?

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Turnabout Is Fair Play

My dog Ruby and I put in a few miles every day. Keeping a Beagle, essentially a running dog, happy in a condominium is an exercise in, well, exercise.

Each day we walk out about three times, in addition to numerous potty breaks. This keeps Ruby sane and the benefits for me have been a weight loss, increased cardiovascular fitness, and a greater knowledge of the area I live in. Plus, walking a cute little doggie helps you met people.

I’ve been searching for places Ruby can run around off-leash. Short on habitable land, this island is not a particularly dog-friendly place. I’ve fretted and grieved over this for a long time. My heart breaks remembering her white-tipped tail swinging back and forth to the beat of her heart as she trundled happily through the fields at home in Virginia, in search of bunnies and other game, which she never seemed to catch (OK with me) but still sought with vigor and glee.

There’s plenty of “game” for Ruby here in Hawaii, too. The mongoose is a tantalizing target, along with the sneaky and ubiquitous feral cats. But Beagles are noses with dogs attached. There’s no telling what will happen when freed from the bonds of a leash. As sad as it has made me to keep her leashed (and to be fair, she doesn’t seem to mind), I really really want to let her loose.

Lately we’ve been joining the ranks of the golf course scofflaws and walking there after hours. At five o’clock, we set out on the makai (or sea-ward) section of the course and walk it until we get to the sea just in time for the sunset. This involves split second and cooperative timing with the maintenance guy who rides around in a cart turning the sprinklers on and off. I’d heard horror stories about what happens if you get caught with a dog on the golf course. I planned to plead innocence and haole (derogatory term for white person from the mainland) stupidity, proffering my poop bags and sporting my un-tan as a defense. Turns out it wasn’t necessary, because they guy likes Ruby. He always waves and winks, which I take as tacit permission to be there. I pray for his good health, because I never want to meet his fill-in.

I finally worked up the courage to let Ruby off the leash on the golf course, and it made my heart sing to watch her gallop across the grass, stopping short to sniff any promising olfactory features. Beagles are not known for obedience. Their ears stop working when their noses are engaged, so I was pretty impressed that she came to me when I called her. This elderly lady of the mountains does not have to learn new tricks, but she is willing and cooperative. Dogs amaze me.

After watching the sunset with some appreciative tourists who welcomed the licks and drool (they missed their dogs at home), we went home, Ruby pleasantly exhausted and filled with a new sense of freedom, me vibrating with triumph and the sense that I’d found a way to make her happy in a world I’d worried would not be kind to her.

The next day, it got even better. We walked to the place I call Disneyland because for Ruby, it is loaded with underbrush, briars, two inch long thorns and every small, furry animal species on the island. It’s heaven for a nose and bundle of hunting instinct. We had always gone to Disneyland on the leash because I was afraid of losing her. All the underbrush grows on piles of lava rock, and the holes and small caves are hidden from view. Until you step into one. The mutual exclusivity of hearing and sniffing virtually guarantees a refusal to come when called. I didn’t want to have to chase her down and break an ankle. But I want Ruby to be happy. Sometimes happiness involves risk, doesn’t it?

Swelling with the triumph of yesterday’s off-leash run, I removed Ruby’s leash and said, “go on!” And she did. I heard her sing in a way I haven’t heard in almost a year. The voice of a hound who has “found” produces goosebumps, or “chicken skin” as they say here in Hawaii. Soon she found a little lava tunnel covered in old grass and briars which held some secret, promising quarry. What happened next was both beautiful and amusing.

Short “finding” yelps accompanied frenzied bouts of digging (no need to clip this dog’s nails!). Gradually I watched Ruby disappear into the tunnel until only the happy tip of her tail metronomed out of the entry. Incredibly, cantaloupe-sized rocks hurled out of the hole. I can’t imagine how she did this. Occasionally Ruby would back out for a gulp of air, bark, and scoot back in. Then she took to backing out and approaching the tunnel from what she though was the rear entrance. It was a fascinating lesson in Beagle hunting.

I stood and watched her for over an hour. In the blistering afternoon sun. It had recently rained, so the black flies were out. Eugh. As it always does, attention wandered. I watched a group of Lavender Waxbills among the blossoms of the enormous Schefflera tree that provided the only shade–an area I could not safely get to. I began to get impatient. I was too hot. The little bag of poop I was holding was a fly magnet. My back hurt. I had a lot of work to do. Ruby was taking too long to have her fun.

Then that little voice in my head said,

It’s Ruby’s turn to make you wait!

And that started me thinking about the human-domestic animal relationship, and how often and how long we ask them to accommodate our schedules, our desires, our convenience.

Ruby waits for me all day long. In fact, every hour we are not walking, she is waiting. Waiting to walk, waiting to eat, dependent upon me for the execution of any and everything that would ordinarily fall under the umbrella of her canine free will. Domestication. It’s a b*tch.

Horses are different. At least if they have adequate turnout. It seems all they want to do is graze. Loll about in the weather, whatever it may be. But there are times when I get the distinct impression that they are waiting. And that feels wrong.

Your thoughts?

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Science Friday: Mirror Neurons Support Need for Compassionate Horsemanship

From the Metta Center, a statement by my favorite neuroscientist and all-around Renaissance man, V.S. Ramachandran,

There is no real independent self aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world and inspecting other people; you are in fact connected…quite literally connected by your neurons…and there is no real distinctiveness of your consciousness from someone else’s consciousness. This emerges from an understanding of basic neuroscience.

Harm or violence can be defined as “coercive action based on an illusion of separateness, or the inability to recognize oneself in the other.”

How much of horse training and horseback riding involves coercive action, albeit what we think of as kind coercion? You can’t do much with a horse without, well, getting him to do something you want him to do. Whether or not you “make it his idea,” it’s coercion. I’m not equating coercion in horsemanship with violence and harm, though it seems that way from what I’ve written thus far.

I’m trying to delineate those two ideas, if possible. Radical animal rights activists will say that no delineation is possible. these are the people who advocate not keeping pets, etc. because it’s demeaning and abusive to them and an unnatural state. I see their point, but in my humble opinion, it’s not realistic in today’s world. If you choose not to have a pet based on this assumption, that’s great. It does not solve the companion animal population crisis overnight, nor does it address the issue of where the breeds came from in the first place. They are here to stay unless there’s a mass extermination, and I don’t think they want that. I merely want to think about the ways in which we interact with these animals, and to examine the core principles that inform our common activities.

If our core value is not compassion, loving kindness, and the will to do no harm (in short–met(t)a horsemanship), then we delude ourselves. Minute failures in metta, coercion without kindness, amount to violence against our horses. When we do violence to another, we do violence to ourselves. As V.S. Ramachandran states above, there is no duality–the Golden Rule, Do Unto Others As You Would Have Others Do Unto You–is not just an aphorism, but a necessity for living as a human being. We are all one being.

To go one step further, watching another doing violence (read: in the media, TV, video games, in our family relationships and in our relations to animals), we also experience that violence ourselves. Remember how you felt the last time you witness something unpleasant occur between two beings. See what I mean? Mirror Neurons virtually guarnatee that we experience this kind of empathetic response, because violence is based on an illusion of our separateness. Itt affects us all as interconnected beings.

Unfortunately, we can raise our tolerance to violence and even our ignorance of its existence by taking more of it in. You’ve watched horse training videos or presentations in which there was great violence against the horse, cloaked in modern training-speak and perpetrated by charming media-savvy stars. I’m willing to bet that, like me, you’ve come to realize that methods you accepted in the past are not compassionate, as and such do not recognize the inherent oneness of the human and horse. You have resolved to find a better way.

Nonviolence is a force that reveals itself via an ability to see ourselves in the other, a realization of the non-separation between ourselves and those around us. Research on mirror neurons … can help us to begin to understand the science behind this interrelationship between ourselves, other beings, violence, and nonviolence. This video, and the scientific paradigm of which it is a part, is worth watching, and worth developing.

I’m curious to know what you think. What are your opinions on the subject? With posts like this, have I gone off the deep end? Addressing the foundations of horsemanship or strayed too far?

See also, Sage by Nature: Horses Drawing Out Our Goddess Force

We really are all ONE.

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Do No Harm (Ahimsa, or the Vow of Non-Violence)

Ahimsa, अहिंसा (Devangari) is a Sanskrit word meaning “do no harm (literally: the avoidance of violence – himsa).” From Wikipedia:

Though the origins of the concept of ahimsa are unknown, the earliest references to ahimsa are found in the texts of historical Vedic religion, dated to 8th century BCE. Here, ahimsa initially relates to “non-injury” without a moral connotation, but later to non-violence to animals and then, to all beings.

Researching Deepak Chopra the other day (After obliquely slamming him, I thought I’d better check him out carefully. Turns out I should have kept my mouth shut), I ran across a website that caused me to have one of those little moments. Ever have one of those? To call it a lightbulb moment would be to label a pair of Manolo Blahniks footwear.

The idea isn’t new to me (the word, ahimsa was part of my email address for years). In fact, the idea of ahimsa is the foundation of Enlightened Horsemanship. I had just been unable to winnow my way down to the core in order to articulate it. Enlightened Horsemanship Through Touch is not a “brand” of horsemanship. I don’t teach anything. But Met(t)a Horsemanship IS my brand: developing and sharing the benefits of compassionate horsemanship is my mission.

When I stumbled upon this website, I discovered that I’d failed to specify an enormous element of Met(t)a horsemanship: the root of compassion, which is ahimsa. For those of you who are put off by the use of non-Western terms in languages like Sanskrit, I would be fine with using “non-harming” or “do no harm,” but they are awkward when a noun is called for, so forgive me.

I am thrilled to put the last puzzle piece in place. Ahimsa, or the vow of non-harming is fundamental to compassionate living and the basis for met(t)a horsemanship.

Here is the mission statement from Do No, authored by each and every one of its supporters.

We seem to be living in a world that is getting less hospitable every day. Look closely at any endeavor our species has engaged in and it appears we are unaware of the harm we do, we ignore the harm we do, we intentionally do harm for our own gain, or sadly in some cases we do harm for our own pleasure and enjoyment.

Has no one taught us to do no harm?

If we haven’t been taught to do no harm, we see no harm in doing harm. We cause harm and shrug it off. We cause harm and laugh about it. We cause harm and brag about it.

Sadder still, our children bear witness to our actions and never learn to do no harm themselves. Above all else we must teach our children, by example and instruction, this basic moral principle of life.

We must begin to make better choices and treat each other, the other creatures who share this planet with us, and this planet we call home with greater respect and compassion.

We believe that the first and most basic moral law is, “Do no harm.” Because we can feel pain and suffering, we can imagine the pain and suffering of others, and we can act accordingly to minimize the harm we cause.

What does “do no harm” mean? Ultimately it means to give thoughtful consideration to our actions. “Do no harm” simply means to consider how our actions may affect the world we all share, to be compassionate in our dealings with all creatures, and not to thoughtlessly despoil our planet.

Doctors are asked to “first do no harm,” why not lawyers, businessmen, religious leaders and politicians? Why not us? Why not now?

It sounds like a simple idea because it is a simple idea, but it may be effective over the long run. Will “do no harm” solve all the problems in our world? Perhaps not, but this is an effort to decrease the suffering in the world and to increase the kindness.

We hope that “do no harm” becomes that little voice that guides our actions.

–c.c.keiser & clyde grossman

If you wish to include this essay or link to the the Do No Harm website, please do so. If you wish to change the wording or write your own, that’s equally OK. If we are to change our world for the better, we simply must share the Do No Harm message with family and friends, with neighbors and our community. If you should decide to take the vow, your name will be added to the list of the authors of this statement.

Don’t forget about the Horsemans’ Manifesto Workshop (see below) and the free goodies you can get just by participating. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Report from the Tellington TTouch CELLebration in Santa Fe, NM

Report from the Tellington TTouch CELLebration in Santa Fe, NM

Rachel Allen, TTouch P1, and Linda Tellington-Jones at La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, NM

Heart Coherence is a term describing a state of being when all bodily systems are synchronized at a high performance state. When a group comes together sharing a common intention, each individual is like a tuning fork resonating to the vibration of others nearby.
At the 2009 CELLebration conference in Santa Fe, NM, 77 TTouch inspired human beings experienced profound heart coherence from the moment we gathered together. Linda Tellington-Jones, the founder of the Tellington TTouch Method and TEAM, led us to a place of higher awareness and connection through her presence, her compassion and her infinite wisdom.

The church bells of the neighboring Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi serenaded our conference with regular chimes, a melody that has been heard in downtown Santa Fe continuously since 1887. From the deck outside our conference room a statue of the Saint could be seen gracing the church entrance. In the type of synchronicity that seems commonplace with TTouch, St Francis of Assisi is historically known as the patron saint of animals. I believe we all felt his presence as our conference delved deeply into the realm of compassion for and communication with animals. Read more…

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