Tag Archives: Heart Coherence
Reader Question: Nothing Else Has Worked; I’m Considering Using A Shock Collar

Reader Question: Nothing Else Has Worked; I’m Considering Using A Shock Collar

I received this email from a reader who is considering using an equine shock collar on her unruly gelding as a last resort. I wrote about equine shock collars as endorsed by Julie Goodnight here.

Hi,

I was considering buying equine shock collar for my horse and came across your article. I’m keen to understand what the alternative is when you have exhausted every avenue in terms of seeing if the horse has physical pain and it seems it is purely behavioural.
My gelding is not on the extreme end of the spectrum I am sure but is at times dangerous enough to the mare he shares a paddock with and to me that I have considered selling him.
He generally bullies the mare and when she comes into season he becomes quite aggressive towards her, last time pinning her down with his teeth by her neck while trying to climb on top of her.
With me he is generally pushy and argues about anything I ask him to do, and if I am out riding and other horses are running around, he then puts on his best stallion impression, tail up, neck arched, screaming at the top of his voice while plunging and spinning around.
I have had countless people of all sorts of therapeutic disciplines look at him and almost all have concluded there is not a huge amount wrong with him. Vets too and I recently had him tested as to whether he is a rig and his testosterone levels came back as lower than a normal gelding would be.
So here I am, trying to work out what on earth I do. I have had a trainer out who has given me some great things to work on with his behaviour toward me (basically me being a stronger more consistent yet fair leader) and I can see that over time this will work.
However I am at a loss of what to do with him and the mare. I am fortunate to be on our property now so can separate them but this is obviously unnatural and not a nice long term solution for either of them. Most of the day they graze happily together and he even lets her share his food, but in the afternoon, when he is bored, he just starts pushing her around and bothering her. And as I say, when she comes into season this escalates quite dramatically to the point one or both of them are going to get seriously injured.
If you disagree with shock collars, what would you suggest I do?
Many thanks in advance for your response.

I don’t believe there is ever an end to the opportunities for change in a horse. A shock collar is not going to make a lasting difference because horses, like people and other animals, cannot learn while they are in pain or afraid. And that’s just what a shock collar produces.

Imagine being shocked by a stun gun at what you believe are random times during what you consider perfectly normal behavior. How would you make sense of what is happening to you? I think it would take a very long time and a great deal of inductive reasoning. I’m not sure horses are either capable of or willing to apply this degree of reasoning to painful, seemingly random events like those produced by a shock collar.

The fact that you have had your gelding checked out extensively is commendable. But in terms of exhausting every available avenue to improve your horse’s behavior, you may need to consider that there is more to the behavior of a horse than physical or training-based behavior. If you have tried a wide variety of training solutions that have not worked (have you given them enough time for your horse to really learn?), then perhaps what you have is a loosely related group of behavioral reactions caused by fear, anxiety, or the fear of pain. These often are principal causes of “mis”behavior in horses.

It might be helpful to list the “mis”behaviors and group them according to whether your horse is acting aggressively, defensively, overly playfully, or just blowing off steam. Which ones seem to be most prevalent? What happens before “what happens happens (so to speak)”? What happens when you try certain solutions? What works and what does not? Keeping such a log even for a week might show you useful patterns in finding a solution.

After reading your description of his antics, I am reminded of my gelding Buster, who everyone said was too much horse for me. He was. At 17hh (I’m only 5′) and absolutely loaded with personality and great gusto for causing trouble (play) and breaking stuff with his teeth [(investigation) (hence the paddock name)], Buster also enjoyed imitating stallion-like behavior when it suited him. And it suited him every time I felt less than confident in handling/riding him, which was quite often!

In fact, Buster nearly killed me one afternoon as we rode back home along a fence line of fillies and I tried, mistakenly, to rein in his airs above the ground and “look at me I’m such a stud” antics by exerting “control,” rather than just doing the sensible thing and getting off, asking him to drop his head, and working on his body in such a way that I would connect with his limbic system to engage his attention, calm him, and make the situation safe. I should have and could have accomplished this easily with Tellington TTouch© bodywork and a few maneuvers from the ground. There is so much I regret about how I handled Buster, but I did not know at the time that connecting with his emotions through his body could effect such a profound change. In the intervening years, I have seen astonishing changes in just this kind of behavior in all sorts of horses with consistent, calm, quiet work with the TTouch Method.

Reading your descriptions of your horse’s behavioral issues makes me think it won’t help at all to get into a battle of wills by asserting yourself as a consistent, firm leader. This just won’t work. In fact, it has not worked, according to your own admission. So why not try something else? Something different, that affects animals in a completely different ways through different pathways?

Here is an article my friend Caroline Larrouilh and I collaborated on to define TTouch. I hope it helps you to see the possible benefits for you and your gelding.

Alternative Definition of Tellington TTouch In Light of Recent Findings in Neuroscience
by Caroline Larrouilh and Kim Carneal

The Tellington TTouch Method® is a holistic approach to physical, mental and emotional wellness that seamlessly integrates body work and in-hand work (ridden work in the case of horses), promoting a state of homeostasis (or coherence*) in both animal and handler. Maintaining a stable physiological and emotional state under varying types of stresses is the ultimate goal of all organisms. TTouch has a direct effect on the natural physiological responses necessary to achieve homeostatic equilibrium.

TTouch is the first integrated system of touch and in-hand work to consciously and systematically recognize and honor inter-species communication, seeking to create a relationship between animal and human based not on dominance or the “alpha” model, but rather on the acknowledgement of the animal as an individual. Instead, the Tellington Method teaches the handler to lead by example: to approach and work with the animal with respect and empathy; to break information into manageable bits based on what we know about the way animals’ brains and emotions work; and to give them time and space to process what is asked, using feedback from the animal to guide the next step. The Tellington Method teaches the handler herself flexibility and open-mindedness when seeking solutions, requiring that they adapt creatively to the situation to help the animal learn new behaviors. The Tellington Method thus differs from more dogmatic, academic training approaches with circumscribed toolboxes that rely on ethology-based dominance or fear to force obedience rather than engaging the mind of the horse.

In each of its applications, the Tellington Method allows for an animal and handler to connect at a cellular level, experiencing a state of harmony characterized by a calm, focused awareness and trusting confidence in each other. Each species reaches emotional and physical homeostasis individually and as a unit.

The electromagnetic field of the heart is responsible for generating heart coherence.

Heart coherence in turn effects an empathetic experience while increasing levels of neurohormone oxytocin (calm connection through physical contact) and decreasing cortisol (stress) in both animal and handler.

This degree of calm, engaged trust in mutual homeostasis (or coherence) greatly enhances the learning capability of both animal and handler. Research has shown that new skills are more quickly and easily learned in a state of calm, and are better retained and more easily generalized, or applied over a range of different situations. New scientific research about mirror neurons† may explain in part why the Tellington Method is so effective. Its exercises are thought to awaken mirror neurons in the brains of both animals and humans through both the sense of sight and touch. The sense of touch, along with the physical proximity and handler state of mind, is thought to further enhance the capacity for cooperative learning and performance via

Mirror Neurons form a large part of how we relate to others.

Discovered by Marc Iacoboni, they are literally responsible for the old saying, “monkey see, monkey do.

A key difference between the Tellington Method and others is that many of the benefits for the animal are handler independent and reciprocal. TTouch at its foundation is not a one-way endeavor like some methods of animal training, “do it my way because I am lead mare” or massage where the recipient is passive and the massage therapist is active, but interactive because heart coherence, neurohormone levels, and mirror neurons amount to cellular coherence in both beings. TTouch works on the entire body, brain and mind of both species involved. TTouch benefits both animal and handler all the way down to the cellular level.

* coherence–consistency, cohesion. From Dictionary.com:
coherence (kō-hîr’əns, -hěr’-) A property holding for two or more waves or fields when each individual wave or field is in phase with every other one

mirror neurons–neural cells found in the premotor cortex, supplementary motor area, primary somatosensory cortex, and the inferior parietal cortex of the brains of humans. While studies have not been conducted on horses, it is believed that most mammals share both similar brain structures and the capacity for mirror neuron function. In monkeys, functioning mirror neurons have been found in the inferior frontal gyrus. See Rizzolatti, Giacomo; Craighero, Laila (2004). “The mirror-neuron system”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 27: 169–192.

First, I suggest moving the mare for the short term, for her safety. If you are not her owner, you are at risk of being held responsible for any harm that might come to her through his hijinks. I would not worry at this point about what is “natural” and not natural.

Second, how old is he and how much exercise is he getting? A young horse (like my Buster) with tons of energy and not enough exercise is somewhat like a bored kid with too much Mountain Dew in his system and no hall monitor. “Eeee! What’s next? What can I do with all this energy?”

If he is not getting consistent workouts in interesting and stimulating environments (I am NOT talking about being run in a round pen or W/T/C around, around and around in an arena or lunging) enough to tire him out, then it’s only natural that in the afternoon he would seek out his own stimulation. “Buster” busted a lot of stuff, including me, and eventually, himself. Don’t let this happen to you.

As far as escalation with mares in season, I suggest that after you take a serious look at TTouch bodywork and groundwork, and if you choose to try some out, that you ask him to lower his head and lead him past mares in season using TTouch ground work methods. If you have to stop along the fence line and get him calm, do so through the use of bodywork. It’s quick ad simple, and the calm focus it creates cannot be beat. You are not then in danger of being injured in a battle for control.

Once you have success with a fence separating the mares, try working him (use a partner to work the mare, for safety and to reduce the possibility of mayhem) with the mare that is most familiar to him. If you have even a small success, then you know you are going in the right direction. Keep it up.

What I am suggesting is a methodical examination of how, when why and where his problems occur and what you have done in response. What works, what hasn’t. Follow this by an equally systematic connection with your horse’s mind, body and spirit in a way you might not have done before.

I truly feel that you will not have to resort to a shock collar if you try out these suggestions. Please let me know what you think and if you find a solution. I wish you the best of luck and safety!

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Alternative Definition of Tellington TTouch In Light of Recent Findings in Neuroscience

Alternative Definition of Tellington TTouch In Light of Recent Findings in Neuroscience

By Kim Carneal and Caroline Larrouilh

The Tellington TTouch Method® is a holistic approach to physical, mental and emotional wellness that seamlessly integrates body work and in-hand work (ridden work in the case of horses), promoting a state of homeostasis (or coherence*) in both animal and handler.  Maintaining a stable physiological and emotional state under varying types of stresses is the ultimate goal of all organisms. TTouch has a direct effect on the natural physiological responses necessary to achieve homeostatic equilibrium.

TTouch is the first integrated system of touch and in-hand work to consciously and systematically recognize and honor inter-species communication, seeking to create a relationship between animal and human based not on dominance or the “alpha” model, but rather on the acknowledgement of the animal as an individual. Instead, the Tellington Method teaches the handler to lead by example: to approach and work with the animal with respect and empathy; to break information into manageable bits based on what we know about the way animals’ brains and emotions work; and to give them time and space to process what is asked, using feedback from the animal to guide the next step. The Tellington Method teaches the handler herself flexibility and open-mindedness when seeking solutions, requiring that they adapt creatively to the situation to help the animal learn new behaviors. The Tellington Method thus differs from more dogmatic, academic training approaches with circumscribed toolboxes that rely on ethology-based dominance or fear to force obedience rather than engaging the mind of the horse.

In each of its applications, the Tellington Method allows for an animal and handler to connect at a cellular level, experiencing a state of harmony characterized by a calm, focused awareness and trusting confidence in each other. Each species reaches emotional and physical homeostasis individually and as a unit.

the electromagnetic field of the heart is responsible for generating heart coherence

image courtesy nashvillemeditation.com. the electromagnetic field of the heart is responsible for generating heart coherence

This degree of calm, engaged trust in mutual homeostasis (or coherence) greatly enhances the learning capability of both animal and handler. Research has shown that new skills are more quickly and easily learned in a state of calm, and are better retained and more easily generalized, or applied over a range of different situations. New scientific research about mirror neurons† may explain in part why the Tellington Method is so effective. Its exercises are thought to awaken mirror neurons in the brains of both animals and humans through both the sense of sight and touch. The sense of touch, along with the physical proximity and handler state of mind, is thought to further enhance the capacity for cooperative learning and performance via heart coherence. Heart coherence in turn effects an empathetic experience while increasing levels of neurohormone oxytocin (calm connection through physical contact) and decreasing cortisol (stress) in both animal and handler.

Mirror neurons are a large part of how we relate to others

Image courtesy http://student.biology.arizona.edu. Mirror neurons form a large part of how we relate to others. Discovered by Marc Iacoboni, they are literally responsible for the old saying, "monkey see, monkey do."

A key difference between the Tellington Method and others is that many of the benefits for the animal are handler independent and reciprocal. TTouch at its foundation is not a one-way endeavor like some methods of animal training, “do it my way because I am lead mare” or massage where the recipient is passive and the massage therapist is active, but interactive because heart coherence, neurohormone levels, and mirror neurons amount to cellular coherence in both beings.   TTouch works on the entire body, brain and mind of both species involved. TTouch benefits both animal and handler all the way down to the cellular level.

••••••

* coherence–consistency, cohesion. From Dictionary.com:
coherence  (kō-hîr’əns, -hěr’-) A property holding for two or more waves or fields when each individual wave or field is in phase with every other one

mirror neurons–neural cells found in the premotor cortex, supplementary motor area, primary somatosensory cortex, and the inferior parietal cortex of the brains of humans. While studies have not been conducted on horses, it is believed that most mammals share both similar brain structures and the capacity for mirror neuron function. In monkeys, functioning mirror neurons have been found in the inferior frontal gyrus. See Rizzolatti, Giacomo; Craighero, Laila (2004). “The mirror-neuron system”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 27: 169–192.

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Science Friday: Heart Rate & Heart Rate Variability And Emotionality in Horses

science fridayAfter a few discussions with Bonnitta of The Horses at Alderlore about HeartMath and heart coherence, I think I might like to talk a little about Heart Rate Variability. Heart rate variability (HRV) refers to the beat-to-beat alterations in heart rate. As humans age, heart rate variability decreases. This is not a good thing, and can be an indicator of poor health. A healthy person has high heart rate variability. High heart rate variability can also correlate positively with Heart Coherence. There is no telling whether horses’ hearts and systems work in the same way.

From a summary of an article on Pub Med by Visser EK, van Reenen CG, van der Werf JT, Schilder MB, Knaap JH, Barneveld A, Blokhuis HJ., at the Division of Animal Sciences, Institute for Animal Science and Health, P.O. Box 65, NL-8200 AB, Lelystad, The Netherlands.

Forty-one Dutch Warmblood immature horses were used in a study to quantify temperamental traits on the basis of heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) measures. Half of the horses received additional training from the age of 5 months onwards; the other half did not. Horses were tested at 9, 10, 21 and 22 months of age in a novel object and a handling test.
During the tests, mean HR and two heart variability indices, e.g. standard deviation of beat-to-beat intervals (SDRR) and root mean square of successive beat-to-beat differences (rMSSD), were calculated and expressed as response values to baseline measures. In both tests, horses showed at all ages a significant increase in mean HR and decrease in HRV measures, which suggests a marked shift of the balance of the autonomic nervous system towards a sympathetic dominance. In the novel object test, this shift was more pronounced in horses that had not been trained.
Furthermore, statistical analysis showed that the increase in mean HR could not be entirely explained by the physical activity. The additional increase in HR, the nonmotor HR, was more pronounced in the untrained horses compared to the trained. Hence, it is suggested that this nonmotor HR might be due to the level of emotionality. HR variables showed consistency between years, as well as within the second year. These tests bring about a HR response in horses, part of which may indicate a higher level of emotionality; and horses show individual consistency of these HR variables over ages. Therefore, it is concluded that mean HR and HRV measures used with these tests quantify certain aspects of a horse’s temperament.

Sometimes I can barely figure out what these things say, much less interpret them. I think this says that the authors theorize that more emotional horses display a greater HR response and a decrease in HR variability in novel object testing. Leaning toward sympathetic nervous system dominance is never a good thing with a horse, especially if you’re on it! The trained horses seemed to show significantly less variability, meaning that training can help shift the horse into the parasympathetic nervous system and away from fight or flight responses.

Thoughts?

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Affirmations of Awareness for Horsepeople: On Perception

Affirmations of Awareness for Horsepeople: On Perception

I strive to ensure that my perception and my horse’s perception of what I am asking are the same.
From my post on demanding the horse’s attention and many valuable sources, we know that horses perceive the world in a much different way than we do.

Does your horse see the same thing you do?

Does your horse see the same thing you do?

When it comes to working with horses, I’ve found this awareness of perception to be especially important. Over the years, I’ve repeatedly seen that a horse’s perception of us and of what we are asking from it can be so far from what we really want or need that trouble is bound to occur from time to time.

–Mark Rashid

Given the fact that our sensory systems are so different, how can we expect our horses to have an accurate perception of every single thing that we ask of them?

Truly mindful horse trainers and riders carefully examine the undesirable behaviors of their horses. They know that when a horse is having trouble learning something, that it’s not that the horse doesn’t want to learn. Most horses have more than enough “try.”

As a part of this affirmation, it’s a good idea to remember that, evolutionarily, horses are cooperative animals. That’s herd instinct. That’s how they have survived as a species. They want to cooperate. But they may often perceive the request and the surrounding situation differently and believe that the trainer or rider is asking for something different. The rider or trainer may also mistakenly perceive their misunderstanding as aggression or disrespect. This is where heart coherence, clarity, gentleness and consistency come in.

Heart Coherence* The state in which your heart and your head come together in a unified field. Horses are by their very nature heart coherent. Humans, unfortunately, often feel one way and behave another. Horses are pretty savvy at sussing out when there is incoherence in a human.
• Clarity Making your cues clear and unambiguous.
Gentleness No need for excessive force. Use the lightest cue necessary to get the desired response.
Consistency Be consistent in your cues, your level of gentleness, and maintain your heart coherence at all times with a horse.

From Mark Rashid again:

I truly believe that if we can look at the things that our horses do or that we do with our horses with just a little different perspective, it will allow us to find ways to get along with them that don’t always initially mean having to exert dominance over them. That opens the door for them to begin to see us as a true leader … someone who can be depended upon to make the right decisions for them most of the time.

* Heart Coherence “When you have a coherent heart, you are at your best. If you are accustomed to being appreciative, caring, compassionate, etc., all of which lead to a coherent heart, the favorable heart-rhythm patterns your heart sends to the brain trigger responses to these feelings that you’ve had in the past: Say, for example, that generally, when you sense certain situations could benefit from a caring attitude, you routinely respond in a caring way, perhaps uttering a kind word, giving a simple nod of support, maybe even tendering a gentle and loving reprimand. Your heart processes your caring attitude and responses into coherent rhythm patterns and these are sent to the brain, which in turn triggers remembered responses appropriate to or learned from previous similar situations.” From The HeartMath Institute

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Mindful Monday: Tonglen Explained–Working With Animals Is Working On Ourselves

Mindful Monday: Tonglen Explained–Working With Animals Is Working On Ourselves

MINDFUL MONDAY image courtesy growabrain@typepad.com

In Soap Making for Horses I wrote, I have only a hazy, and ill-defined idea of that shifting point in space where spirituality and horsemanship collide. If I can keep my eye on that bullseye, that’s what I want to write about. That eye has been a-wandering of late, and I”m going to bring it back to the bullseye on Mondays. With that in mind, I bring you Mindful Mondays.

Today’s subject is an article I read this morning.

Verena von Eichborn, P1, of Vernon B.C. wrote of using the Buddhist technique of sharing compassion called Tonglen with her fearful Dachshund in the July-September issue of TTEAM Connections. Understandably, von Eichborn’s exploration of Buddhist thought and the practice of Tonglen was limited and aimed narrowly toward the application of human/canine interaction.

Of her relationship with her fearful and depressed Dachshund, Disa, von Eichborn says,

I couldn’t disconnect the ‘unholy umbilical cord’ that connected the two of us, each reacting to the feelings of the other before we even showed them.

The unholy umbilical cord von Eichborn speaks of seemed to transmit more pain and suffering than joy. Von Eichborn reports that through an intuitive veterinarian, she learned that Disa was using the practice of Tonglen. I cannot dispute this statement; however, I must dispute the implication that Disa was suffering from a “blockage” of the negative energy she had absorbed from others. Unless somewhere Disa received improper instruction in the practice of Tonglen, or was failing to breathe out the peace and joy dogs seem universally to share, the so-called blockage must come from another source. My intuitive feeling is that Disa was mirroring von Eichborn’s own fear.

Von Eichborn says

…the major help for her was to be reminded of joy because we are so much stronger healers when we come from a place of joy.

She goes on to say that learning of Tonglen has made a tremendous difference in her life. I believe that if she had a clearer view of traditional Tonglen practice, von Eichborn might find it even more liberating. Using Tonglen, von Eichborn might learn to open her heart to everything Disa feels, to allow it to touch her heart, and yet not to be destroyed by it. One of the benefits of her brush with Tonglen practice was that Von Eichborn realized that her dog’s depression and fearfulness paralleled her own. It illuminated the way in which all beings are equal; all animal condition is the same.

Though all her emotional buttons were pressed in the period in which von Eichborn learned this practice, the thimbleful of courage it took to get started multiplied into a bucketful by the end of the process. Von Eichborn describes a transformation in her abilities to deal with humans and animals in bad situations. Fearlessness and open heartedness took the place of the umbilical cord. With qualified instruction in Tonglen techniques, Von Eichborn would be able to make changes in her life based on the realization that fear alone has prevented her from moving forward. I do not suggest that I am in any way qualified to teach anyone Tonglen. I can only relate to readers the way in which I was taught, and provide reference to reading materials and avenues of further learning.

Tonglen, as described by Pema Chödron in her book The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness is the practice of sending and receiving compassion. According to Chödron, practicing Tonglen cultivates fearlessness and opens the heart more fully.

Learning to use Tonglen can develop beneficial Heart Coherence, because in a situation where there is potential emotional or physical pain, you begin to realize that fear for a beloved animal or person has something to do with wanting to protect your own heart. If you are afraid that harm will come to your heart, then your reluctance to open it and to use it fully in the service of healing another being will be impaired. This is harmful to both of you. For more information on Heart Coherence, visit http://www.cap-coherence.com/html/cardiac_or_heart_coherence.html.

buddhawatercolor1

When you do Tonglen, you invite pain in. That’s what opens your eyes…seeing pain, seeing pleasure, seeing everything with gentleness and accuracy, without judging it, without pushing it away, becoming more open to it…In Tonglen, not only are we willing to breathe in painful things, we are also willing to breathe out our feelings of well-being, pace and joy. We are willing to give these away, to share them with others.

What exactly is this Tonglen Practice, anyway? Put simply, it is breathing.

According to Chödron, the essence of the practice is that on your in-breath, you become willing to accept the pain and suffering of the creature you are working with: for example, your horse is injured and anxious; your dog is ill; your child is upset. You become willing to acknowledge the suffering of the world with the suffering of the individual. Your own bravery and willingness to feel that part of being alive cultivates heart coherence and compassion. You become less afraid of damaging your own heart while bearing witness to the pain of others.

No running away.

You breathe it in, feeling it completely. It’s the opposite of avoidance: being completely willing to acknowledge pain (yours, that of a stranger, your animal, your child). That’s the in-breath. You don’t get completely trapped in that because the out-breath is coming! This is a great reminder of the way life is: breathe in, breathe out. No dwelling on pain. No need to prefer the pleasure to the pain or vice versa because each has its place.

The essence of the out-breath mirrors the flip side of the condition of living creatures. With every out-breath, your heart opens more, connecting with your own joy in living, well being, and tenderheartedness. Your own experience of pleasure and pain become a means for connecting with all sentient beings. The out-breath is about all the good stuff of life. What we would want life to be if the suffering did not get in the way. You breathe it out so that it spreads and can be experienced by the other. This is not merely esoteric. It’s useful and practical, for you and your subject. Try it and see.

All you need in order to do Tonglen is to have experienced suffering and to have experienced happiness.

In other words, if you are an ordinary human being, you can use your breath to share pain and happiness with another being. Breathing in, breathing out is a technique for being completely awake to the needs of others and of showing compassion: “I will accept and witness your suffering, and share with you my joy.” It is important that the in-breath not be used to assume the suffering of a subject. You are offering your open heart and awareness. That is everything, and that is enough.

Tonglen is not merely a practical tool for dealing with immediate circumstances of the suffering of horses and companion animals. It has far-reaching implications in life. Buddhists who do Tonglen practice expand its focus to include all sentient beings. It cultivates a fearless heart that does not turn away from any circumstance. It is always wide open so we can be touched by anything.

At the same time, it draws boundaries that prevent too much emotional harm from the pain of others. For those with few boundaries, those who suffer from an excess of empathy, and who feel the pain of others too sharply without being able to breathe out the joy of existence, learning to locate and share that freedom and joy shows them a way to experience it more fully without being waylaid by the pain. That’s what we all seek: the enjoyment and mutual sharing of spirit with our loved ones without becoming overwhelmed by the everyday sorrow that is the Buddha’s First Noble Truth: Life is Suffering. It is how we respond to it in our hearts that makes a difference in how we live.

In my practice as an equine massage therapist, Tonglen is integral. Each time I lay my hands on a horse, I take a metaphorical and literal in-breath. I accept the physical pain, confusion, and stress into my hands and body. I bear witness to it. It cannot hurt me, because I know that the out-breath is coming. With my hands and breath, I will ease that pain, confusion, and stress, and remind the horse of the joy of living. In this way, my work with horses keeps me inspired to live in constant contact with these beings and the whole of the animal kingdom. One of the things that differentiate the effective bodyworker from the purely mechanical body worker is the concept of Heart Coherence. Without it, you’re just moving the muscles around. Same goes for training and groundwork. If you’re not willing to see into the heart of the animal, to share intimately the experience, then you’re moving four feet and imposing your will on another, and that’s all.

I was delighted to read of von Eichborn’s discovery of the concept of Tonglen practice. I really hope she and others who read her article and mine will be moved to learn more about it and to give it a try.

According to Pema Chödron,

This practice will introduce to you the whole idea that you can feel both suffering and joy—that both are part of being human. If people are willing even for one second a day to make an aspiration to use their own pain and pleasure to help others, they are actually able to do it that much more.

☛Just a few more days to enter the guest blog sweepstakes to win an autographed copy of Linda Tellington-Jones’ Ultimate Horse Training book!☚

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