Horsemanship

Boosting the Horse Industry’s Bottom Line

Two trailblazers guide the equestrian world toward compassion

©flickr/Iain Smith

In 2013, Harvard Business Review published an article by Bronwyn Fryer entitled “The Rise of Compassionate Management (Finally).” The piece formally announces the growing acceptance, and indeed, preference, for compassion to play a role in successful business.

Citing leading companies, such as Google and Whole Foods who have chosen to align themselves with the Conscious Capitalism movement (thinking about capitalism and business in a way “that better reflects where we are in the human journey, the state of our world today, and the innate potential of business to make a positive impact on the world.”), Fryer explains that concepts once mocked in the boardroom are proving over time to benefit the bottom line.

Consider one of her examples, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, who (she writes) told the audience at a Wisdom 2.0 conference that “he is on a personal mission to ‘expand the world’s collective wisdom and compassion,’ and that he had made the practice of compassionate management a core value at the company.”

On June 13, 2016, Microsoft announced it was acquiring LinkedIn for $26.2 billion, the largest in Microsoft’s history. Not bad for Jeff Weiner’s bottom line.

What does all this have to do with horses?

While we can tell ourselves that human and horse interaction the world over is built on a foundation of “relationship” and “connection,” the perhaps sometimes ugly truth is that the equine industry is big business—surveys in the last 11 years put the number of domestic horses in North America alone at approximately 10 million (see American Horse Council and Equine Canada). And with the billions of dollars in related spending that accompanies horse ownership, care, and competition, perhaps we can begin to see the parallels between the admittedly grand story of LinkedIn’s compassionate mission and ultimate success, and what we can perhaps hope for the vast number and type of businesses that represent and support equestrians and their horses.

Bestselling author and noted visionary of integrative veterinary medicine Dr. Allen Schoen (“Love, Miracles, and Animal Healing” and “Kindred Spirits” are two of his best-known books) lives most of the year on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, and it was there that he met retired horse trainer Susan Gordon. The two discovered that while they had followed very different paths of experience through the horse world, they had a common goal: to fundamentally change the way the equine industry works, how it affects the lives of those within it, and how they, in turn, influence the world as a whole.

Dr. Allen Schoen (Photo by Susan Gordon)

“At a conference, I was asked how I integrated creativity and compassion into my veterinary practice,” remembers Dr. Schoen, who was just named one of the 15 Most Influential Veterinarians, “and I shared that actually, that summed up my career: having compassion and wanting to help animals that could not be helped any other way. As I reviewed the scientific research on the benefits of compassion I felt that perhaps it was time to develop a compassionate care program as a foundation for every way we interact with horses. I became aware of Dr. Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion [her TED talk on the subject won the TED prize in 2009], and decided to find a way to contribute to the charter from an animal health care perspective.

Dr. Schoen and Susan Gordon.

“Susan Gordon introduced herself to me during that time as someone who had similar interests from a horse trainer’s point of view …We decided to collaborate on a book, “The Compassionate Equestrian,” which we see as the beginning of a global horse community focused on creating Compassionate Equestrians.”

Gordon left her lifelong equestrian career in 2009 (she began riding at Spruce Meadows in the 1970s as a teenager and turned professional in 1983) when she grew disillusioned with the scene and disheartened by the stream of “broken” horses she watched constantly rotate through her barn. Any horse lover can recognize the weight of such a decision when you’ve made your life’s passion your life’s work, and Gordon acknowledges the difficulty of her choice—and explains the reasons for it.

“Many horses that came through our barn 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,” she says. “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….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.”

“The practice of compassion is not an easy path, but it is one that creates an extraordinary lightness and joy, and a palpable difference in the areas of our lives that most need improvement.”

Combining forces, Dr. Schoen and Gordon conceived 25 Principles of Compassionate Equitation that they felt provided manageable, reasonable steps for caring for and working with horses in a more conscientious, compassionate way. By developing deeper compassion for horses and for other horse people, equestrians can begin to transcend differences and disagreements (regarding breeds, disciplines, training techniques, tack and equipment—you name it) and learn instead to empathize and connect more closely with the “global collective” of likeminded individuals. These 25 Principles, outlined in their book “The Compassionate Equestrian”, have been applauded as essential for positive change by leading names in the equine industry, including Dr. Hilary Clayton, Mary Ann Simonds, Linda Tellington-Jones, and Philip Richter.

Yvonne Allen founded Compassionate Organization Horses Help Kids in British Columbia. (Photo courtesy of Yvonne Allen)

“The Principles are a deep, personal set of commitments that may enhance your experience as a horse person and as a person in general,” says Gordon. “In the process of writing them with Dr. Schoen, I found I had to let go of the last remnants of my old trainer’s mindset…I now see that in many ways over the years I likely provoked some of the very circumstances I would love to see change between other horse people and in how they interact.

“It actually took a long time before I really feel as though I evolved into a more compassionate trainer. My concerns were always for the horse’s welfare…but sometimes I failed to make myself vocal enough if I saw someone else doing something that didn’t seem in the horse’s best interest, especially if the rider happened to be the person I was working for! As I grew older, that began to change.

Connie Funk runs the Compassionate Barn Woodylane Farm in Washington. (Photo by Damian Vines)

“The practice of compassion is not an easy path, but it is one that creates an extraordinary lightness and joy, and a palpable difference in the areas of our lives that most need improvement.”

Dr. Schoen and Gordon believe that the Compassionate Equestrian Movement can help people better their relationships with their horses and enjoy more fulfilling experiences in the saddle, which will create barn and showground atmospheres that are positive and life-affirming for both horses and humans; and improve the work atmosphere and ultimate profitability of businesses related to the diverse needs of equestrians and equines. They have developed a “stamp” that announces an individual, group, or business’s pledge to incorporate the Principles of Compassionate Equitation and invite others to join them in their effort to co-create a horse industry that is ultimately for the good of all involved—and for the bottom line.

If you are interested in learning more about the Compassionate Equestrian Movement or would like to Pledge Compassionate, visit TheCompassionateEquestrian.com. The book “The Compassionate Equestrian” is published by Trafalgar Square Books and available now.

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