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Judging and Being Judged copy

Over the past decade, on numerous occasions, both top dressage riders and international judges have come under heavy critical fire regarding the treatment and training of competitive dressage horses. The internet is alight with related controversy, and print articles have not been afraid to label judges around the world as “cowards and ignoramuses who are incapable of telling the difference between a horse that is correctly and humanely trained and one that has been forced to perform with dubious methods,” says FEI/USEF dressage judge and former US Dressage Team Technical Advisor Anne Gribbons in her book COLLECTIVE REMARKS.

“How are we supposed to react to this?” Gribbons, who is judging the European Championships this summer in Aachen, Germany, writes. “Ignoring the subject is not an option for anybody involved in the sport. Shrugging it off because we are not personally ‘guilty’ of any sort of deliberate cruelty to our horses is not going to make the problem go away. These kinds of allegations tend to put a dark cloud over the entire dressage community, whatever your position within it happens to be.

“Taking a step back to view dressage objectively is not so easy when you are submerged in the game up to your eyeballs. Still, with some effort, I can see all three sides of this argument, because I wear all the hats at different times.

“To be successful as an international competitor you have to be determined, brave, and incredibly focused on those few minutes in the arena that are the culmination of all your work. If you find and can develop a method that works for you and your horses and gets consistently rewarded by the judges, why should you give it up? In every sport, the pressure is tremendous at the top level, and winning is the object. Since our sport involves a silent partner, the horse, the situation is more complicated. Add to this that the kind of animal that takes the honors in today’s fierce competition is a very sophisticated and high-powered equine, both physically and mentally. Dealing with some of these equine Ferraris, it has been my experience as a trainer, competitor, and judge that anything that is forced or unfair in the training does not come out well in the show ring. It is difficult for me to imagine that training that is one long torture session for the horse could lead to something beautiful to watch in the arena.

“Nevertheless, I know there are some unavoidable conflicts on the road from green-broke to Grand Prix that need to be worked out. Anyone who thinks that a competitive Grand Prix horse offers every movement he has to learn without occasionally questioning the rider has never trained one. The journey from green horse to Grand Prix is a long, sometimes rocky, but mostly inspiring enterprise. It should be a trip horse and rider take together, and they ought to arrive at their destination both proud of their achievements and eager to strut their stuff. Not all horses are comfortable in the show ring—they may have stage fright, or they may not like being in unfamiliar surroundings—but some really enjoy showing off, and those horses are always fun to watch and to ride!

“Being an international judge is a great responsibility and, especially at major events, the pressure can be quite strong to ‘get it right’ according to the riders, the organizers, the audience, and your colleagues. You cannot please all of them all the time. The decision about each score has to be immediate, correct, and fair, and there are thousands to be made in a weekend. The job description of a judge is limited to what occurs in the arena in front of him or her, and it is impossible for him or her to assess what goes on in the warm-up ring. Naturally, most judges can tell if a horse is tense, unhappy, and appears uncomfortable, and there are ways to express your displeasure about that throughout the score sheet. Remember, however, that there is sometimes a fine line between ‘tension’ and ‘brilliance,’ and that a breathtaking performance almost always has to include a certain measure of electricity and tension to become exciting. On this issue, judges tend to disagree more than on the technical aspects, and often it is the amount of tension versus brilliance that makes the judges come out differently in the scoring. Diversity in scores is not usually appreciated by competitors, audiences, or organizers, who want to see all their ducks in a row—even the press will sometimes attack a judge who stands out. It is assumed that this judge is incorrect, while it is quite possible that this was the judge who, at that particular competition, was the only one who had a truly sharp eye and the confidence to honestly express what he or she saw.

“The observer/journalist is the watchdog of the sport, and although neither competitors nor judges cherish criticism, checks and balances are of importance. If the process of reaching the pinnacle of our sport appears to be harmful to our horses, we need to clean up our act. Unfortunately, ‘perception is truth’ to a great extent, and if our equine athletes appear ‘unhappy’ it does us no good to protest and proclaim how much we love and appreciate them. Instead of indignation and lawsuits, riders and judges have to invite both the press and the public to be part of discussion, dialogue, and participation.

“We need to show the world that we are not involved in dressage to make our equine partners miserable but to build strong and proud athletes, which, while they may not be ecstatic all the time, are reasonably pleased with their lot in life as healthy and performing stars.”

 

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For more insight into and history of the sport of dressage, check out COLLECTIVE REMARKS by Anne Gribbons, available now from the TSB online bookstore.

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Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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In her acclaimed book ANNE KURSINSKI’S RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC, the five-time Olympian and two-time Olympic silver-medalist provides step-by-step descriptions of 20 exercises to improve your position and your feel. We can all—whatever discipline we favor or breed of horse we ride—put the following lesson in lengthening and shortening the horse’s stride into practice:

Once you have the basic tools for controlling speed and straightness, the next step to master is basic lengthening and shortening of your horse’s stride length. I’m not talking about extension and collection here, but simply about developing your ability to get (and to know you’re getting) a longer stride and a shorter stride—covering more ground or less ground with each of his footfalls. For this work, you may find it useful to have a helper on the ground to confirm and correct your impressions about how you’re affecting the horse’s stride.

To emphasize the importance of “forward,” begin with lengthening:

1.     In the working walk, increase the feel in your legs with a “squeeze-soften-squeeze” sequence that almost asks for a trot, then softens, and squeezes again, in rhythm with your horse’s steps.

2.     Let your hips swing forward to follow the walk, as they should naturally do, while you close your legs and feel your horse gaining more ground by taking longer strides.

3.     And yet, your hands don’t allow him to trot, nor do your legs push quite that hard. As he stretches and nods his neck, watch this motion and allow your elbows to open and close, so that you follow with your arms but don’t drop the contact. Don’t smother him so that he can’t lengthen, but don’t let him trot. (Think of him as an accordion, expanding and contracting.)

Now that you’ve pushed your horse into a longer stride (make sure your helper on the ground confirms that you have), teach him to shorten his stride by using your retarding aids more than your driving aids.

4.     With both hands, take more contact in rhythm with the stride, as if you’re going to stop …

5.     … but keep your legs squeezing and softening to tell him, “No, don’t stop. Stay active—take a shorter step but don’t stop, a shorter step but don’t stop, almost stop but don’t stop, almost stop but don’t stop.” Keep the movement rhythmic, so you get regular short steps, not choppy ones.

6.     Keep alternating the length of steps you ask for—short, short, short, then working (regular), working, then long, long, long, and back again, in the walk and then in the trot and canter so that you feel the different lengths and rhythms and develop your horse’s understanding of your aids.

7.     As you squeeze your legs, especially in the trot and canter, be sure your contact with the horse’s mouth is elastic, so that he can stretch into the longer stride. Remember that he can only lengthen his stride as far as his nose is poking out. If he’s overflexed or very short in the neck, he may throw his front leg forward, but his stride will still be short because he has to touch the ground at a point beneath where his nose is.

Listen to your horse’s strides. In each pace, try to make them as consistent as a metronome. With practice, as you get to know how his lengthened and shortened gaits feel and what balance of leg and hand aids produce them, you’ll be able to choose and then maintain whatever rhythm you want.

 

Get more great lessons on the flat and over fences in ANNE KURSINSKI’S RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

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How did this...

How did this…

 

How to make the perfect first pony?

Take equal parts patience and naughtiness, fold in a dozen years’ experience, general good nature, and a kind heart. Add a healthy dollop of sturdiness and a sprinkle of smarts. Mix gently with strokes, treats, and a child’s adoration.

And voila. You have the beginnings of an equestrian career.

 

...become this? It started with a good pony.

…become this? It started with a good pony.

 

In his beautiful and illuminating book THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES, horseman Jonathan Field shares the story of his first, perfect pony, and how his early years bonded to a little buckskin were the reason he strives for horse-human harmony today.

“I was lucky enough to be born into a horse-loving family,” Jonathan writes. “My mother was a dressage enthusiast and my father a working cowboy, farrier, and colt-starter. Horses were a part of family conversation as long as I can remember. where my parents grew up, sometimes they actually rode their horse to a one-room schoolhouse!

“My earliest memories are of being around horses, hanging out in the barn cleaning stalls, and traveling with my mom to shows on the weekend with my first horse, a beautiful buckskin named Wee Mite Buck. Mite was the best horse I could have had as a kid. My parents did the right thing and found a really quiet, well-trained kid’s horse. Mite was a sweetheart!

 

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“I remember on my way to my first show as we drove into the show grounds and I saw all the horses, trailers, and people, I said to Mom, ‘I never want to do this again.’ I was so nervous.

“We got Mite unloaded from our little two-horse straight-haul and ready for our first class, a flat hack-style class. Thinking the worst, I reluctantly entered the arena, but I listened to the announcer and followed his directions. He would say, ‘Trot please, trot,’ and Mite would trot; ‘Walk please, walk,’ and Mite would walk. When we all lined up and my name was called to get my first-place ribbon, I began to think this showing thing was actually pretty good fun.

“It was no different in the Western and trail classes. As we drove out of the show grounds that evening, I was holding that big high-point ribbon in my hands, and I thought I was pretty good. Of course, Mite was the real star, but I didn’t know it at the time. And leaving through the same gate I had entered with such trepidation earlier that day, I couldn’t wait for my next show with Mite!

“Looking back, Mite did more for me then I could have ever imagined. She was so good that she made showing fun for a nine-year-old boy—one of only two boys on the show grounds that day. All my friends had taken up other sports, but I had Mite—and lots of girls to hang out with, too.

“For the next several years, Mite helped to build my confidence and solidify my commitment to horses. My next horse, Cody, made me realize how little I actually knew. It took everything I had just to stay on him and survive the day. If my first horse had been Cody instead of Mite, I’m sure I wouldn’t be here sharing this book with you. Without my knowing, Mite had inspired me to become a horseman.

 

How did this...

How did this…

 

“For years after Mite, I longed for a relationship with a horse similar to one I had with her. However, I couldn’t reproduce it with other horses no matter what I did. But my closeness and connection with Mite showed me what was possible with a horse, so I always kept trying…It wasn’t until I played with horses at liberty 20 years later that I got back the pure excitement and joy I had with Mite.

“My experiences have enabled me, many times, to ride off into the sunset with a happy and willing partner–my horse–and I would wish that for you, too.”

 

...become this? A desire to have fun and connect with horses.

…become this? A desire to have fun and connect with horses.

 

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Read more stories about the horses Jonathan has worked with over the years, as well as learn for yourself how fun and beneficial playing at liberty can be for you and your horse. It can be the first step to connection like you’ve never experienced before. THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

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Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

The "Flying Horse": Neapolitano Santuzza in a capriole in hand.

The “Flying Horse”: Neapolitano Santuzza in a capriole in hand.

When I outgrew my first (“free”) pony, my parents, who were not horsey and who didn’t have a lot of money, found an Appy mare that was effectively “out to pasture.” She was unused and unloved, and they could get her cheap. I remember my first reaction, as a child who reveled in the long-maned, thick-tailed, glossy horses of girlhood fantasies—she’s not pretty…she’s not going to be any good. It is so easy to judge a horse’s worth by how he looks—and to get it tragically wrong.

That mare stayed with me until I went to college. She was the safest, most surefooted mount I may have ever ridden. She packed me many, many miles on lonely mountain trails, always bringing me home to my worried parents just before dusk. She was game for every jump (up to a certain height!) I threw at her, and she put up with the half-dozen neighbor kids to whom I gave lessons, patient, quiet, and honest until the end.

My experience is certainly not uncommon. A far more striking and illuminating example is one described by Colonel Alois Podhajsky, the Director of the famed Spanish Riding School in Vienna for 26 years, in the book MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS:

One of the most brilliant caprioleurs at the Spanish Riding School was Neapolitano Santuzza. By appearing in the performances and having pictures taken of his tremendous leaps, his fame certainly spread farther into the world than that of most of the other stallions of the School…

He was born in 1936 at the Lipizzaner stud farm in Piber in the green mountains of Styria and came to the School in Vienna together with nine young stallions of the same age in the autumn of 1940. Here he experienced the first disappointment of his life. While his brothers were admired by all riders for their beauty and their good paces and were flattered accordingly, nobody even paid any attention to Neapolitano Santuzza. On the contrary, suggestions were heard that he should not be kept at the School because he was obviously not worth any serious work. I am sure he felt like the ugly duckling. It was true that he was rather small and his head was just a trifle too big for his conformation. Nor did his eyes express the ardent temperament expected from a Lipizzaner. His paces were mediocre but his character was of an indescribable good-naturedness and docility…

I admit, I felt sorry for the little chap who looked at everybody with such gentle eyes and of whose presence nobody took any notice. What had been mere pity at first slowly developed into a deep affection, which made me protect him…I assigned him to a rider of very modest ambitions who demanded very little from his horses and consequently would not do any harm to him. In this respect he led a quiet life but also progressed so slowly in his training that as a twelve-year-old he was still not advanced enough to appear in a performance. Again it was suggested we get rid of him and sell him to some private stable. But he had become so dear to my heart that I was reluctant to make any decision and wanted to give him one more chance…

In 1949 I decided to work him personally in hand…I tried to teach him caprioles and was very pleased with his reaction to my aids. Although he was of a very calm disposition he possessed an extraordinary gift for this spectacular school jump. It was surprising to everybody who had followed his training to see how quickly he understood what I wanted, which was yet another proof of the importance of sympathy and mutual understanding for any successful cooperation…

A year later, in 1950, Neapolitano Santuzza appeared in public for the first time…[his] debut was a great success and the beginning of a brilliant career. From 1951 on there was no performance in which he did not take part. He received the name “the flying horse” and pictures of his capriole in hand circulated throughout the world. Our relationship became closer all the time; he never let me down and it seemed in all those years as if nature had endowed him with everlasting youth. He never declined in his abilities and his performance remained unaltered in beauty and exactness.

 

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Read more about Neapolitano Santuzza, and many other horses that contributed to the life of Colonel Alois Podhajsky, in MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

—Rebecca Didier, Senior Editor

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

In her bestselling book WHERE DOES MY HORSE HURT? Dr. Renee Tucker provides 27 simple body checkups you can do on your horse—a DIY method of determining when and where your horse hurts, and the best professional to call to help him feel better. Here’s how you might be able to pinpoint the cause of a subtle, “mystery,” or “phantom” lameness, and keep your horse actively and happily in work for more months of the year, and more years of his life.

 

BODY CHECKUP: THE SESAMOID BONES

 

Illustration by Patty Capps.

Illustration by Patty Capps.

Common behavioral or performance symptoms that might indicate a problem with the sesamoid bones:

Very Common

> Difficulty with fetlock flexion

 Frequent

> Short-striding or “off” in front, possibly only on a circle

 Occasional

> Reluctance to jump

> Going wide on barrel turns

> Difficulty with tight turns

> Difficulty with lateral movements

> Feet landing toe first

> Tripping

 

 Common physical symptoms:

> A history of medial-to-lateral (right-to-left) hoof-wall imbalance

> Foot is “clubby” or has tendency to grow excess heel

 

What are the sesamoid bones?

The sesamoid bones function as part of the shock-absorbing mechanism of the front legs and are also a weight and power transition point. Because the sesamoid bones help transmit weight and power from the cannon bone to the fetlock and navicular bones in all directions, they need to be mobile in all directions. Their normal range of motion is most simply described as a circle. A sesamoid bone can move approximately one-eighth to one-quarter inch in each direction from its normal position.

 

Checkup directions:

Hold one of the horse’s feet up with the leg completely relaxed from the shoulder down. Cup the fetlock with both hands so that your thumbs rest on each side of the sesamoid bone being examined.

 

2  Gently slide the sesamoid bone in a circular manner, as if you were sliding it around the face of a clock. Do not use additional force if you encounter resistance in any area. The movement is very subtle. As mentioned, the normal range is from one-eighth to one-quarter inch. The key is in the smoothness of this movement. The sesamoid should slide easily along its path, rather than “sticking” or being more difficult to move in any section.

 

The sesamoid bones are most easily felt with the leg held up off the ground, as shown here.

The sesamoid bones are most easily felt with the leg held up off the ground, as shown here.

 

Diagnosis:

When there is any “stickiness” in the movement and the bone does not glide easily in all directions, it is most often a chiropractic subluxation. Be sure to check both right and left (medial and lateral) sesamoid bones on both front and rear legs. Compare the front and rear legs separately since front and rear sesamoid bones have different ranges of motion.

 

> When a subluxation is apparent, check the fetlock, pastern, coffin joint, and knee, since sesamoid bones rarely subluxate on their own, then call a chiropractor.

> When there is no movement in a sesamoid bone, call your veterinarian to X-ray for old fractures and/or calcification of ligaments.

> When the checkup is clear, yet symptoms remain, check for: hoof-wall imbalance; mineral or vitamin deficiency; arthritis in fetlock, knee, or coffin bone; or early tendon strain.

 

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Get the complete set of Dr. Tucker’s Body Checkups in WHERE DOES MY HORSE HURT?  available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

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ChainsGoneWrong

In WORLD-CLASS GROOMING FOR HORSES, professional grooms Cat Hill and Emma Ford provide much-needed horsemanship guidance—it’s like having an internationally renowned equine care expert by your side, in the barn, ensuring your horse is given the same top-level management as our Olympic competitors! Along with lots of ways to care for horses the right way, Cat and Emma also point out common mistakes.

For example, as many of us know, some horses lose respect for a normal halter and lead rope. “If your horse doesn’t stop when you stop, drags you faster than you want to walk, or bumps into you with his shoulders, he is being rude!” they write. “Horses should should walk next to your shoulder on a loose, relaxed lead. When your horse is ‘rude,’ a lead chain might be necessary to remind him to pay attention.

“However, many lead ropes are sold with a short chain, and this can be quite dangerous. There are two issues: First, the chain needs slack to be properly used. When it is held tight, the horse will quickly lose respect for it. A quick, tug-then-release is the correct action for using a chain. Second, a short chain that only reaches across the noseband of the halter is unsafe.

“It is common to see chains hooked to the noseband of the halter, as shown in the photograph. This can lead to two problems: The chain can slip below the horse’s chin, and when the horse pulls tight, scare him into rearing. Also, the long end of the snap can jam into a nasal passage if pulled too sharply and break the delicate bones there.

“Instead, ensure your chain is long enough to thread through the noseband of the halter, wrap once over the noseband, thread through the other side, and snap to the top of the cheekpiece. If you have a bit more chain, cross it under the horse’s jaw, and snap the chain to the top of the cheekpiece on the other side. This prevents the halter from twisting when you need to use the chain.”

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You can find photographs demonstrating how to correctly attach a lead chain, as well as over 1200 other photographs by Jessica Dailey and hundreds of other tips from the pros, in WORLD-CLASS GROOMING FOR HORSES, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

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Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

Yesterday TSB officially released THE COMPASSIONATE EQUESTRIAN by renowned veterinarian Dr. Allen Schoen—author of Love, Miracles, and Animal Healing and Kindred Spirits—and horse trainer Susan Gordon. Already the book has been heralded as “ahead of its time,” “ground-breaking,” and “paradigm-shifting.” Dr. Schoen and Gordon believe that a community of compassionate equestrians can positively influence society on many levels, and in THE COMPASSIONATE EQUESTRIAN they explore the simple changes any horseperson can make that can ultimately have a vast impact, not only on the state of the horse industry, but on the world as a whole.

Watch this short interview with Dr. Schoen and Susan Gordon to learn more:

This week, we caught up with Susan Gordon and asked her a little about what led her to write THE COMPASSIONATE EQUESTRIAN with Dr. Schoen.

TSB author Susan Gordon, surrounded by puppies.

TSB author Susan Gordon, surrounded by puppies.

TSB: You grew up an animal lover. When and how did you first discover you had a special bond with animals?

SG: My mom encouraged pets in the home, whereas Dad was a little more reluctant…Mom won out, and from as early an age as I can remember we had an eclectic menagerie of all kinds of animals. Our Border Collie, Duffy, had puppies when I was about three years old, and my favorite photos and memories are with that dog and her pups. I was literally “swarmed” by Border Collie puppies! At the same time, I loved my cat, Smoky, as well.

I also had a pet Bantam rooster when I was six. Dad had won him at a business conference and he became one of my closest companions. He traveled in the car with us and slept by my bedside.

As soon as I discovered pony rides in the city park, I was hooked on horses too. Mom seemed to notice that I had a special bond with animals from the time I was a toddler, and often referred to me as “different”—in a most affectionate way, of course.

TSB: Your passion for animals in general translated into a love of horses. When did you know you wanted to be a professional horse trainer when you “grew up”?

SG: I got my first horse when I was 12 years old. She was used as a packhorse and did some ranch work, so she wasn’t exactly show-ring material. I had friends who rode jumpers and entered competitions but realized my own horse wasn’t going to be anything like theirs. I began reading horse books and magazines, like the Farnam series on training and Horse & Rider magazine.

My first inclination was to be a zoologist, as I loved science and my microscope. Unfortunately, back in the 1970s, girls weren’t encouraged to gravitate toward careers in science, and there wasn’t much guidance in the school system to mete out my desires enough to translate them into a concrete program of study. We also moved a lot due to Dad’s career with an oil company. By the time I reached high school, my grades slipped from straight-As to Bs and Cs, and I realized I wouldn’t have enough credits to attend university. Looking back, it would have only taken one good guidance counselor or tutor to resolve the problem. But I turned my focus to horse training instead of a degree program.

I had my Appaloosa filly at a well-known Quarter Horse show barn and eventually, at the tender age of 17, became president of their on-site riding club. I was hired to ride and show other people’s horses and really connected with the world of professional training and showing at that time. Then Spruce Meadows started coming to our schooling shows, and I was completely mesmerized by the gigantic Hanoverian jumpers that floated around our indoor courses. By Grade 12, I dropped my dreams of becoming a zoologist and dove into a job in advertising to support boarding my horses at the stunning, now-famous show jumping venue. Still riding as a junior at the time, I knew I was far too young to embark on a full-time horse-training career, but that became my primary focus while I worked my way up to professional-quality riding and training.

Susan with her Appaloosa at Spruce Meadows in the 1970s.

Susan with her Appaloosa at Spruce Meadows in the 1970s.

Q: You spent many years transitioning ex-racehorses from life on the track to life as a riding horse. What did you find most challenging about working with OTTBs? Most rewarding?

SG:  I had married the assistant trainer at Spruce Meadows, who was an eventing trainer, and he had a Thoroughbred. The bay gelding was exceptionally well schooled, and I loved the “power-up” feel he gave me over a fence. My sister-in-law trained racehorses and used basic dressage schooling to help them run optimally on the track, so I got a lot of advice from her as well on how to handle them.

My first OTTB project was a very touchy chestnut mare, Rol Eden’s Alee (Ali) that had been used as a working cow horse, somewhat unsuccessfully, and the cowboys had given up on her. She was so hot she would bounce up and down, switching leads every other step, stiff as a board, and in a perpetual state of stress.

My husband also gave up on her after we took her over, as she just couldn’t slow down. She probably went through a grid (series of jumps) faster than any other horse I’ve ever seen! Ali was really the catalyst that finally propelled me into a full-time professional career. We got along great, and I won almost every jumper class I entered on her. Needless to say, very fast jump-offs with tight turns became our forte!

Ali taught me to be 100 percent focused on my horse, which is a skill I brought to every other OTTB and other horses since that time. If I twitched a muscle, or turned my head, or even took in a breath suddenly, she would react.

From that horse onward, I found that every OTTB had his own special quirks and needs, so each one was a learning experience. I love those horses! They really made me into the kind of rider that could mount up, figure out a horse, and get him to soften, go forward, and jump around a schooling arena or show course in a matter of minutes. I also had the good fortune of being around other great riders who rode OTTBs with wonderful style and finesse. That helped a lot.

Susan Gordon and her OTTB

Susan Gordon and her OTTB “Ali.”

TSB: In your new book THE COMPASSIONATE EQUESTRIAN, co-written with Dr. Allen Schoen, you mention eventually becoming disillusioned with the world of professional training and competing. Can you describe some of the reasons you felt you had to step away from the industry?

SG: That is a relatively long list, but reason Number One was probably because of the many horses that came through our barn that could not pass a pre-purchase veterinary exam. Young, old, OTTB, Warmblood…it didn’t matter. There were so many issues it was becoming ridiculous. I watched client after client try to find a nice horse for themselves, only to find there was something that would “kill” the sale. It was very disheartening.

People would bring horses to the sales barn and not disclose the horse’s full history,or not realize that the horse’s “behavior” problems were actually related to pain. Sometimes the pain was primary, but often secondary issues had cropped up long after initial traumas, or they would be inherent, and therefore progressive.

Then, once we moved further into the age of computers, internet, and cellphones, everybody seemed to be dashing around in a rush, too busy and too distracted to focus on their horses in the way that is most conducive to their well-being. Even living in a tiny town, known for its more New-Agey, spiritual population, the day I noticed teenagers texting each other from one barn to the other only 100 feet away, I knew that life had changed dramatically, and in a very short period of time, for all of us, including the horses. It became very difficult to get riders to spend enough time working on the aspects of horsemanship that would be most conducive to their training progress, and that of their horses.

By 2009, I decided to retire from full-time training and turned my attention to figuring out what I would need to do to try to help bring some balance back into the equine industry, primarily for the sake of equine welfare. Apparently a lot of other “old-timers” were seeing the same issues as there has since been a big push by regulating bodies to improve on welfare policies.

TSB: In THE COMPASSIONATE EQUESTRIAN, you share the story of Willie, a down-on-his-luck Hanoverian that brought you back to horses after some time away. If you could pass along one message that you learned from Willie to others, what would it be?

SG: In the book we talk about conceiving of a Life Cycle Management Policy for every horse, which I believe could effectively help keep many more horses from ending up in the dire situation in which Willie found himself. It’s a new concept for horse owners, but hopefully after reading THE COMPASSIONATE EQUESTRIAN and understanding that Willie represents thousands of horses in similar scenarios, and some much worse, we can enact new policies that will allow horses to reach the conclusion of their lives with respect and dignity.

TSB: THE COMPASSIONATE EQUESTRIAN provides 25 Principles intended to help people become more thoughtful, patient, kind, and compassionate in their dealings not only with horses, but with the riders, trainers, grooms, veterinarians, farriers, and others we come into contact with each day. What do you and Dr. Schoen hope will be the lasting effect of the 25 Principles and the ideas you describe in your book?

SG: I would love it if people could walk into their barns knowing that it is indeed a sanctuary of peace, understanding and cooperation. People want to have a good experience in a place that houses their beloved horses, and they don’t want to be mistreated by other people they encounter at the facility.

Many horse owners work long hours at other jobs or have stressful lives outside of the barns. If everyone could take a few deep breaths and spend some quiet time with themselves before entering the barn, we can hopefully begin the kind of paradigm shift that will encourage people to spend more time with their horses, and also bring up a new generation of horse lovers who are compassionate from the get-go, that will take “compassionate horse-energy” back out into the world for all beings.

There are many factors that go into creating a cooperative facility, and Dr. Schoen and I both decided that compassion would be at the foundation of those directives.

Susan Gordon and Dr. Allen Schoen, coauthors of THE COMPASSIONATE EQUESTRIAN.

Susan Gordon and Dr. Allen Schoen, coauthors of THE COMPASSIONATE EQUESTRIAN.

TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember sitting on a horse.

SG: It was on one of the little Shetlands in Vancouver’s famous Stanley Park, circa 1964. They went round and round on the carousel-like wheel they were attached to. I can still hear the tiny western saddle creaking and recall looking down at a mass of fuzzy blonde mane below my gaze. I didn’t want to get off.

TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember falling off a horse.

SG: I was mortified. My barely-broke Appaloosa filly was always a little tricky to mount, but unfortunately, this particular day was the one and only day my Grandma came to watch me ride.

I put a foot in the stirrup, and as I was swinging my leg across the Western saddle, Missy blew up. I landed hard on my back and was too frightened to attempt a remount.

Mom was visibly disturbed, but didn’t have much to say. I do recall Grandma speaking out in her strong Ukrainian accent, however, noting, “Horse no good. You sell-it horse. Put ad ‘na paper.”

I had to swallow my pride and put one of the barn’s trainers on Missy who could ride out a bucking horse. I actually kept her until we had a number of shows under our belt, and she was safe for others to ride.

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

SG: Somebody with a genuine sense of humor.

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

SG: Interest. My best horses have been more interested in people than in what other horses are doing. They watch you intently with bright eyes and seem to want to be with you. And it’s not just food-related!

TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?

SG: Vaulting. It is so pretty to watch, although requires gymnastic training, so I’d have to do a pared-down version and maybe just draw on my ballroom dance background. I’m not that flexible!

TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?

SG: Now that I’m “older” I want a pony! Or, close to a pony. My choice would be a Haflinger or other stocky, but small breed, known for its soundness and good temperament. As for a book, well, I might be biased now, but I can’t help but enjoy reading my own book, THE COMPASSIONATE EQUESTRIAN. Maybe that’s a good thing?! The stories help bring back many happy memories, and I think if you’re all alone, that’s a pleasant way to stay sane.

TSB: What is your motto?

SG: If you want to accomplish something, do it. See it, be specific, and take action.

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