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.


Episode 0004-B Emily Wolff – Equine Massage Therapist

Part 2 of interview with Emily Wolff of Heart to Hand Equine Massage.

EmilyWolff - RMT 1Would like to welcome you to Equine Business Builders

Part B –

Introduction –

Now we are going to move on to some equitation questions. Are you ready for some equitation questions?

 Yes I think so.

This will be very applicable for you. We did talk a bit about how the rider influences the horse You see that quite often right?

Why is good equitation and riding well so important?

Good question. Good equitation is so important because our balance can throw the horse off balance. If we are not riding well, the horse is always going to mirror us. It is important to give them a sense of confidence in themselves. A good horse you will be able to give them confidence. The better stronger position you have the better you can help the horse.


What is the number one thing you see. What is the biggest mistake you see in riders, I guess.

Whooo, that is a bit of a loaded question.

Not mentioning any names!

A lot of us, myself included, don’t always have that smooth following arm. I think this is from a tightness in our pecs and a weakness in our core and we are not able to hold ourselves in a position where our arms can move freely. This is a huge component, I see it time and time again, bracing the hands and breaking the wrists. Tight elbows that aren’t moving and not following, rounded shoulders. I think it is related to a weakness in the core, to the muscles in the core.

I think it is not as common at the upper levels or even mid summer when we are showing and riding a bit more. In general not having a following rein.

Do you think some riders should be fitter. To do some exercises to help strengthen their core? Do you think that would help?

Yes one-hundred percent.I think core strength is vital for us not only for us as riders but as humans.

I am sitting here as if I am sitting on a horse and I am holding myself up. I have to say I do a lot of core exercises.

And I think I have pretty soft hands…

Anyway – moving along.

What are some tips you could give right now to either prevent, stop or correct  the problem. I think we kind of mentioned it, core exercises.

Core, core strength definitely.

My equine massage therapist heart is such a big fan of grooming and currying and [taking care of the horse by] flushing the blood after we ride and stimulating the skin before we ride. And stretching exercises.

I am going to give you my favorite exercises. Is to just back the horse up in hand. Nice and slowly. You stretch the whole body basically.  Nice and slowly and quietly back up the horse in hand between 10 and 20 steps. It does a great job for the pelvisand legs and for all those muscles that are classically tight.

That is my one major tip, more grooming and whole body stretch.

Excellent – those are really good tips.

Thank you Emily. That is it for my questions here. Is there anything that you would like to add?

I would like to thank you again one more time for having me here today and this whole community you are building. The more we collaborate together the more massage therapists vets, chiropractors and riders and trainers, the more we all work together, the better it is for the horses at the end of the day.

That is my big why, so I so appreciate you having this podcast having me here and everything you are doing.

Thank you so much Emily. I really appreciate it.

It’s bringing people together for a common purpose. We all have this common theme of working and helping with horses. If we can all get together and mentor people coming up, I think it is going to be fantastic.

I appreciate saying what you said so thank you so much.

Absolutely, thanks Laura.

If you would like to contact Emily please visit Heart to Hand Equine Massage  



Episode 004 – Emily Wolff – Heart to Hand Equine Massage

Would like to welcome Emily Wolff of Heart to Hand Equine Massage

Show Notes:

I’d like to thank Emily Wolff of Heart to Hand Equine Massage for coming into the studio or rather On today.  Would like to thank you for coming to Equine Business Builders and I’d like to ask you to explain a little bit about what you do!

Thank you so much for having me. I think it is so good to collaborate and share our knowledge and that sense of community is always so important. So I am so happy to do it.

Heart to Hand Equine Massage is exactly what it sounds like. I’m an Equine Massage Thereapist. I work on a range of horses everything and every different industry. From riding horses to the standard bred industry, thoroughbreds, heavy horses, pleasure horses and a lot of ponies to.  I work on the soft tissue of the body and I’ve grown my business over the past few years and have included dogs, and recently went back to school to work on my human co-workers.

I like what you said when you said you could see the horses issues because the riders were crooked and stiff and sore. You’ve gone full circle. You realized that you could make the horses better by helping the riders. You can make the horse more comfortable and straight but if the rider gets on it and the rider is crooked then the horse will still be crooked. So you have gone full circle there.

That is right. I realized that was happening to myself when all of my horses  had a difficulty in exactly the same way. I was the common denominator there. It wasn’t that they were all crooked the same way… it was me!

I block them a bit with that shoulder. And I don’t use the shoulder on the same on both sides. So my horses, unfortunately, have difficulty softening and bending to the left, which is my stiff side.

That is so valuable. People need to hear that!

I haven’t done any formal studies on that. You know it even shows up on the driving horses.

So if the driver has a stiff shoulder or back the horses will have resistance as well?

Yes, it will usually show up in the neck, middle of the neck or the poll. With the drivers with an uneven hip or something, with their feet braced in the stirrups out in front of them, they are getting uneven pressure throughout their body as well. Those horses have such big hearts, they are just pulling through it and compensating with their body.

This is one thing that I am amazed by every time, when I put my hands on a horse and examining the tissue, “how is this horse doing its job?” And it is quite happy to do is job. It does it every day and every time. I have such respect and such compassion for the horses because I think, they’re just trying to do what we’re asking them.

If they are not doing what we want, we are not asking them the right way.

How did you get started with your riding?

I got started as a little, little girl. I may have been riding the sheep in the barn yard!

They had this really long hair you could really hold onto.

My riding career began pretty early. When I was in my late teens, I had the opportunity to work with an amazing woman in the Ottawa area, Fiona Henderson, she really taught me a lot about natural horsemanship, to see the horse a little bit differently. It set my heart on fire. I loved being in the barn and outside and the lifestyle of horses. I had never, you know, I had never looked at it from a different perspective. That there was more available to us.

I got a job working at a hunter/jumper barn on the “A” circuit in Toronto. We travelled and showed and we had some nice national level horses and some World Cup horses. I was so fortunate because not only my riding, riding nice quality horses, but by riding a lot of different horses my riding progressed.

Exponentially right?

And getting on all different types of horses. And the learning curve to. That industry, is tough, we’d travel and show every week.

And it’s not 9-5 either. Its 5 am till midnight or whatever it takes. If you have a  sick horse you have to be there. Getting ready to go to a horse show. It’s a tough lifestyle that particular lifestyle.

Absolutely. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. We did long days and sometimes at the end of the day, sometimes at the end of the day having a paycheck at the end of the day wasn’t the biggest motivation. My motivation was to make sure I am doing a good job for the horses. Especially being a groom at a top level show barn you have to do what ever it takes to do the best for them. Whether it is travelling with them, flying with them. The long days, the long nights and early mornings you have to have a really good primary purpose. And a really good team. It is such a community. You spend so much time together, your day and your evening not just the horses but the other grooms, and trainers.

I like what you say about it being a whole team. You have to depend on each other to make it work.

Do you have some new and upcoming projects on the horizon?

Right now I am working on some videos. Some stretching videos. I find I am doing the same stretches over with each of the owners. It doesn’t matter how strong we are we still have to stretch. Tissue works its best when it is strong in a long position or in a short position. So often we ride in the same way all the time. The horses need to have that range of motion that is what keeps the joints happy. So that is where I am headed.  

Visit Emily’s Web Page – Heart to Hand Equine Massage – Heart to Hand Equine Massage

Do you have a website?


Emily R-M-T Registered Massage Therapist.


Are the videos up yet?

No not yet. We started last year and we ran into the winter!

What is your driving force that keeps you going to do a good job?

This is a great question it is so important to have a really big “why”. To have a really big primary purpose. Right now I am getting up at four in the morning to head out to Guelph to work on the horses before they go out for their workout. My every day I wake up and I am say, “why am I doing this?” And for me I want to help the horses. I have gotten so much from them for caring for them and taking care of them I want to give back. I want to give back. That is what gets me up. I think for anybody who is interested in this business and working with horses it is important they have a really clear “why”.

I like what you said before, it isn’t really about how much money you have at the end of the day, although that is nice to, particularly if you are in business, you have to pay the bills and buy your food and support yourself. I like where you said you want to give back. You have your why of supporting the horses so they can feel better and so they can work better and perform their jobs better. It’s not just about the money.

Yes. For me, getting into massage and getting into equine massage and becoming an RMT it was a lot of work. I had a really clear vision of what I wanted to look like and where I was going.  I set some pretty big goals and some pretty clear dreams and focus. So I think that is the second part. You have to have a really clear why and a really clear direction.

You have to have a plan. You are starting here and you want to get there. You have to plan out all the stuff in the middle right?


I’m sure there are other massage therapists. How do you rise above and make yourself different than the others out there?

Great question. I think becoming an RMT was part of that.

You can do the full circle thing. You can get the riders in there as well. Do you have horse and rider programs. For example your horse is stiff here so you should do this to yourself.

I don’t currently but I always like to bring it up. I like the humans to be in charge of their own healthcare. Now, if someone suggests to them it may be their tight right shoulder, I will recommend that they come see me or will recommend someone in their area.

Having that community I can recommend to is important. If they are not close to me I will recommend someone close to them.

I think it is important to do both, although not everyone likes to be told what to do. I really keep my focus working on the horses. Doing a good job there.

Doing strengthening programs are so important because often with a tight muscle, they develop a weakness, it won’t be fixed right away because the muscle isn’t strong in that way. Having a strengthening program, some tools, a follow up. It is not always just one massage.

So I think building and having integrity in the relationship with the owner as well as the horse is what sets me apart from the others.

Being there, being available, communicating, following up, touching base, seeing the horse at the horse show. That follow up is essential to all of that.

That is very interesting.

We talked a bit about this before we started recording, about how we are involved in the horse industry because we love horses and sometimes we forget it is a business and I like were you said, you do the follow up and you keep in contact with the owners and the horses and touching base with people so you are available for them.

That is an integral part of the business isn’t it? Keeping tabs on your clients making sure they are ok.

Yes absolutely. I’ll often think of a horse and I will touch base that way.

I think business skill is one of those things you can never know enough about business. It doesn’t matter what you are doing. Business skills are the most invaluable skill you can learn. Even if it is something simple, it doesn’t matter what you are doing business skill are important.

You have had the opportunity Emily to develop yourself, grow yourself and develop a really good business. What do you think is the number one thing holding people back from doing what they want to do? You had a really clear idea, it’s quite clear from speaking with you that you knew where you wanted to go and what you wanted to do, but what do you think is holding other people back from having their dream job like what you are doing?

That’s a loaded question isn’t it?

Yes it is a loaded question. I had no idea I liked working with people until about half way through my RMT course. I didn’t necessarily like the interaction with people. I had a really big why that got me through that first half of school. My primary purpose was to help the horses more. I had a really clear reason why. It gave me direction all the time. Every step of the way it has given me direction. Whether it is what course to choose or how to build my website, where to put my focus during the month, the week or the day. It think that is what got me through school.

It turns out I really like working with people though, it’s good. If I hadn’t of had the clear focus; I had a really amazing woman in my life and she just told me, she said, “you should always be setting goals. Set a really big goal for yourself and then set 3 unrealistic goals.

So set a big goal and three unrealistic goals.

Ya! So something to work towards and then three things you think you could never accomplish. And put them on the list. I think that is what gave me the push to go outside of my comfort zone. That was the greatest gift I have gotten in a long time; to be pushed outside of my comfort zone and think “I can’t do that”, or “I don’t think I am worth it”, or “I don’t really like that”, I had a clear focus, I wanted to help the horses, so, If i didn’t like something and if I knew it was going to help the horses, I pushed myself outside of the comfort zone, to learn how.

You didn’t mind doing it because it was your “end game”.

Yes! So many of us get comfortable, where we are at with our riding, comfortable with our own aches and pains, to push past that a little bit to see if there might be a different way to do things, right?

My sister says, “Write your obituary and work backwards from there”. That is kind of a neat tool right?

Right! What do you want to be remembered for? What do you want people to be saying about you at your funeral? It is kind of morbid thing to think about but …

It comes back to having a very clear primary purpose, a really clear focus and a really big “why”. Goal setting and reaching toward your dreams that is what got me here.

We talked about some of your successes. Can you tell us about one of your not so big successes, a flop.

I’ve definitely had some flops.

Okay we will just restrict it to one!

I think, not trusting myself.

That is so huge. Not trusting yourself.

Do you mean not thinking you are doing any good.

The horses pick up on that in 5 seconds. They take one look at you and think, well you don’t know what you are doing. If I just trust myself, horses respond to such small amount of treatment, they respond so well to even a light touch, I have to get out of the way in order to help them.

The times I have failed I was definitely in the way. Either I was thinking about something else or wasn’t focused on what I was doing and got kicked. Or I was trying to do a good job with the owner and didn’t do a very good job taking care of the horse.

Myself getting in the way.

What do you think people in the equine business, any equine business, what do you think the biggest set back is with people who are doing their own equine business? What is the biggest set back people have. We have mentioned a few, self doubt, not setting goals, primary purpose. What do you think a big set back is for people starting out?

I think when you are starting out hearing “no” is intimidating. It takes a lot of “no”s to be successful. If you are just starting out, you have to put in the time and the effort, I did a lot of free massages, gift certificates, putting in the time and showing up at events, and just talking to people and putting in the time and the energy. If your intention is in the right place then it will definitely work out.


We are getting to repeat ourselves a bit here. What is the number one reason why some people succeed when others don’t?

I think some people succeed, and I’m going to say it one more time, they have a really big reason why. They trust that feeling and they go with it. And they don’t listen to what other people tell them, or what other people say. They kind of lead with their heart. With horses that is the most effective way to treat them.

A big reason why.

So, along your way, what were some of the major road blocks you encountered when you set out?

Focus too much on my office and not getting out there and talking to people. I’d spend all day at the computer and wonder why I wasn’t out there earning a living.

Road blocks are just opportunities to learn.

That is so good. Roadblocks are just opportunities to learn.

What was one of the major “a-ha” moments when you knew you had overcome that roadblock?Once you got your office all set up and your computer all set up, what was that big a-ha moment when you realized Hey-I better get out there and do something.

The second massage I gave on a horse. So, I gave him a massage and still a little bit unsure. I went back 3 days later, just to check his progress and it was an entirely different horse. He was happy, he was eating. It looked like he had gained 200 pounds. He was standing squarer in his back end, he had a nice shine to his coat. That was the moment I knew I had to get out of my own way because what I was doing was helping. Just that reassessment. Have another look and follow up.

Trusting in yourself that you are doing the right thing.

Horses every step of the way, even when I didn’t trust myself, horses are such good communicators, they are going to let you know. Even if it is subtle, taking a deep breath, or a sigh, or something more intimate. I just try to listen to the horse is trying to tell me, I will always have success. The more I can get out of the way the more I can listen to what they have to say. That is the biggest skill I’ve had is listening. If I don’t know what I am doing i just stop and take a step back and wait for the horse to give me some clues. They might give me some clues, give me some signs. They may reach around and scratch themselves. They are really good communicators.

Please continue onto part 2 of Emily’s interview.