In their new book The Compassionate Equestrian, world-renowned veterinarian and author Dr. Allen Schoen and long-time trainer and competitor Susan Gordon introduce the 25 Principles of Compassionate Equitation, a set of developmental guidelines that encourage a profound level of personal awareness during not only interactions with horses, but with all sentient beings. By developing deeper compassion for our horses—and for ourselves—equestrians take the first step on a path to transcending differences and disagreements, learning instead to empathize and connect more closely with the “global collective” of horses and horse people.
The 25 Principles are simple changes any horseperson can make that will ultimately have a vast impact on his or her relationship with the horse, the state of the horse industry, and the world as a whole.
In chapter 11 of The Compassionate Equestrian, Dr. Schoen and Gordon discuss the concept of training with common sense:
Principle 11 states:
We acknowledge that common sense is a component of compassion. We agree that our hearts be open to the bigger picture of how the horse industry has evolved, and how it will evolve into the future, as kindness, tolerance, and forgiveness are restored to all aspects of the equestrian world. We must be sure we do not mistake compassion for being overly naive about a horse and allowing dangerous behavior, or putting ourselves or the horse in jeopardy. Discipline—distinguished from punishment—is common sense. An animal (or human) that doesn’t known appropriate boundaries can be dangerous. As the behaviors of a spoiled horse can often mimic behaviors of a horse responding to pain, it is important to be as clear as possible in determining the difference. Spoiled or in pain, the horse’s size and quick reactions can lead to injuries for a human handler. By using common sense and having respect for yourself and your horse, you are being compassionate because you are not increasing risks for the animal. If the horse is spoiled and allowed to continue to be, somebody else will have to discipline him. The horse may also inadvertently harm another being. It is compassionate for all involved to have a well-trained, well-behaved horse that won’t be in the position of having bitten, kicked, pushed, or run away with someone. Practical horsemanship is based in common sense and designed for the safety and welfare of both horses and their human handlers and riders….We do not want to see compassion mistaken as a lack of common sense regarding the training and handling of horses. With this in mind, when compassionately applying common sense to horsemanship, follow these basic guidelines:
- Be nice to your horse, but teach boundaries.
- When something appears to be causing your horse pain and discomfort, acknowledge it.
- Trust your instincts if you feel a training method is detrimental to your horse’s progress, or mental or physical well-being.
- Listen to your veterinarian, farrier, and other knowledgeable individuals if they question your horse’s behavior.
- Be humble enough to ask for help when you are unable to correct your horse’s behavior by yourself.
- Do not breed poor-quality horses with conformation faults and genetic predisposition to disease.
For more information about The Compassionate Equestrian Movement, visit www.TheCompassionateEquestrian.com.