Susan Gordon – Co-Author of Compassionate Equestrian

Podcast Show Notes

Equine Business Builder, Laura Kelland-May, horse business, horse podcast
Susan Gordon – Co-Author of Compassionate Equestrian

Could you tell us a bit about what you do?  

I refer to myself as a “retired” trainer, although I am not officially retired from anything! I am heavily involved in everything I love to do, which includes continuing to ride for one client at a private home, pursue photography and art, and run. I race competitively and am currently preparing for two upcoming track meets. As well, I have a show of photography and paintings going up next week for the month of August at our local library.

How did you get started with your product/book/ riding?  

The book came about after several decades in the equine industry. My riding obsession began as a junior with a grade mare in the little town of Williams Lake, B.C., famous for its Stampede. Prior to acquiring my own horse, I was dragging my Mom to the pony rides in Vancouver’s Stanley Park as a youngster. That’s where I really got hooked on horses. I loved to study horse training and got my hands on as many books as I could, as well as reading magazines. “Horse & Rider” was my go-to mag in the early days. I was 14 years old and boarding my Appaloosa filly at a mixed-use, primarily Quarter-horse show barn in Calgary when I was introduced to jumping. I eventually sold my Western tack and switched over to English. In 1977 and 1978, Spruce Meadows started coming to our barn’s schooling shows. I approached Mrs. Southern and was fortunate enough to have her allow me to move my newly-acquired Appaloosa colt to the now-famous facility. I turned professional in 1983, after moving back to B.C. I was running an eventing barn with my ex-husband, whom I had met at Spruce Meadows. Soon afterward, I was hired by the late Michael Patrick to ride for him at Pine Meadows in Aldergrove. The Compassionate Equestrian is the cumulative result of all those experiences, and my personal journey through the joys and disappointments of riding and training as a professional. It is also a statement regarding some of the changes of heart and awareness I would like to see take place in riders that I believe would have a very positive effect on many riders of all ages, and hopefully the industry as a whole.

What do you think is the number one thing holding back people from doing what they want to do? 

Listening to other people, who—for some reason that usually stems from their own experiences and limitations—tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t be doing something. Yes, you must be realistic, but if you operate based solely on the opinions of others, especially if they have made you feel as though you’re doing something wrong when you know you aren’t, or are simply working toward becoming better, then a good practice of self-compassion is highly recommended. Remove the toxic people from your life.

Confidence is so important, and that confidence is conveyed through your product or skill. People appreciate authenticity more so than ever these days too. There is so much “noise” in the average person’s world, it is hard to find the appropriate balance between promoting oneself and skills/products, yet not becoming one of those annoying spammers whose posts and e-mails get deleted before being read.

There are popular clinicians and authors who travel consistently and I think it becomes a very wearying thing for them to carry on with at some point. The costs and cumbersome details of travel, especially internationally, have become prohibitive, and justifying costs against profits can be a challenge. I’ve chosen to promote The Compassionate Equestrian primarily through social networking rather than personal travel. It has been interesting to keep a close eye on trends via the multitude of online groups, individuals, and businesses related to the equine industry, all over the world. The book is meant to have a global reach, and technology allows us to have that reach very quickly.

How did you come up with your idea for your book?  

I had given up on teaching and training after 2 major issues arose while I was in Arizona. One, being climate change, and the other, the economic crash of 2008. Between the ever-increasing strength of the wind and dust storms and unusually high heat (even for Arizona), and the fact that some clients could no longer afford lessons, I eventually gave up. I went to film school in Vancouver with the intention to make a documentary about the plight of off-track thoroughbreds. My instructor encouraged me to look into the “dark side” of racing and the ultimate horrific demise of many ex-racehorses. The process led me to a woman who was very well versed in the industry and gave me a lot of insight into the backstories behind the slaughter issue. I was mortified, and realized I would need a huge legal team to go ahead with the documentary. So I shelved it. Then I made an exploratory trip to Salt Spring Island, just of the coast west of Vancouver, and ended up staying in a house that was owned by a client in the U.S. It was for sale, so it was a fortuitous set of circumstances that allowed me to stay there for the past 3 years, writing The Compassionate Equestrian. The idea flowed out of my desire to make the film, but quickly turned to thoughts of a book after I met Dr. Schoen on the island. We had very similar feelings about the state of horses, showing, and training from our personal perspectives and backgrounds, so our dialogues just worked out in a manner that was conducive to what became a rather lengthy tome.

What do you think is the number 1 reason people succeed when others don’t?  

Focus and willpower. I always told my students that if you want to do well at something, you have to do it a lot. It also helps to have an inspiring and very experienced mentor, which was most certainly the case in the form of my first riding instructor, the late Senior Judge and TD, Margaret Ellard of Calgary. My determination and perseverance with the horses, in spite of not being wealthy, is what got me through every situation I faced during my career. I knew I had been taught well, which got me through down times and criticism from others.

What was one of the major “roadblocks” you experienced when you set out on your journey?

As a trainer, I had only my reputation to work with, and the fact that I was riding for one of the continent’s top equitation stars. My own horses had to be sold due to limited expenses, including a fantastic young Hanoverian that would have been good enough to take to Grand Prix. I knew I was still learning, but appreciated every opportunity to ride Michael’s horses. They had a feel unlike any others I had ridden, and it was due to his talent that instilled an extraordinary jump even in a horse that may not have jumped so well under a different rider.

As for the book, there wasn’t much of a roadblock to the process. The words seemed to emerge without constraint and before I knew it, I had a much larger manuscript than anticipated. Coordinating times to get together for discussions with my busy veterinarian coauthor was probably the biggest challenge due to his active practice in New York and Connecticut. We made all the deadlines however, as once again, that focus and perseverance I was taught early in my career as a rider paid off!

What was the big “a-ha” moment when you knew you overcame one of the major roadblocks?  

I knew my own talent as a rider was confirmed when I won two gold medals in show jumping in the B.C. Summer Games in 1983 on a little b-track Thoroughbred mare who had failed in her second career as a cutting horse. She sold right after the Games, and then Michael approached me to ride at his barn. It was an opportunity I leapt at. Not having a top show jumper of my own did not seem to matter at the time, as I had done enough with a horse that was literally handed to me as a project only a year prior. She was so difficult nobody else enjoyed riding her, so it was a huge breakthrough for me to overcome the feeling that I needed a more extensive background with my own horses before being accepted into a top A-Circuit show barn as a professional.

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 – Where Susan Gordon gives some equitation tips.

 

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