2019 Summit Reflections

Sharon Parker works with her students

Scholarship recipient Sharon Parker generously sent us her reflections of her Summit experience:

By Sharon Parker

When a stone of truth is thrown into the pond of ignorance or misunderstanding, it creates ripples that extend many times beyond the size of the original stone.  True horsemen love to learn.  Whether it’s a new way to tie a rope halter, or a different interpretation of why a horse licks and chews, we are open to improvement and growth.  We find great satisfaction in sharing newfound knowledge and applying that knowledge to improve life for horses and the people with whom they interact.

Following the Best Horse Practices Summit, my personal pond is full of wonderful new stones, nuggets of truth and improvement.  Let me share some of these stones and how they’re rippling:

Director Maddy Butcher and keynote speaker Steve Budiansky visit at the welcome reception. Nina Fuller photo

In a time when science is under siege, Stephen Budiansky clearly established the difference between true science and the assumptions which, sadly, are the basis of much misinformation and mistreatment of horses.  His simple, logical comparison set the stage for open mindedness for the entire weekend.

Dr. Sheryl King presented a statistical-based analysis of tick-borne diseases in horses and humans.  The biggest ripple I received from it was her practical, calm evaluation of the dangers.  I had never heard the term Nature Deficit Disorder, but I’ve reassured parents that just riding in the woods would not ensure their child’s contraction of Lyme Disease.  Now, I’m armed with real scientific proof that it can, indeed, be safe to go into the woods.  Hopefully, this ripple will be generational.

Dr. King (right) visits with Summit attendee. Photo by Nina Fuller

Dr. Stephen Peters and West Taylor provided a stone that has already rippled to a young woman I work with. She’s a trauma victim.  I brought a yearling into the barn for her to groom as part of her non-mounted lesson.  The colt came through a sale from Montana and has tremendous fear and distrust of humans.  Because this woman has a medical background, when I used brain science terms, she immediately grasped the concepts.  We repeatedly triggered releases in the colt and identified the physical ramifications visible with these blood chemical changes.

As we made these observations in the colt, I saw in her eyes the understanding that if a colt can build trust and learn to self-regulate blood chemicals associated with behavior, humans can as well.  I didn’t insult her intelligence by connecting the dots for her.  She got it.

Dr. Peters presents on brain science

In addition to dealing with her past trauma, she is under stress as a student.  If she can learn to deal with stress, she can complete her medical training.  She recently texted me, celebrating a high test score she had received.  The ripples from the Summit’s brain science presentation will go on and on as this woman is able to reach her goal of assisting sexual assault victims during the early steps of medical treatment and evaluation.

I have a friend who has the same equine foot fetish as Dr. Robert Bowker!  During his presentation I kept wishing Ginger could have been there.  I took careful notes and sent them to her.  She is working to relieve symptoms in two laminitic horses she has taken on as projects.  With trimming methods rather than invasive shoeing, she has achieved positive results. She has been inspired to research Bowker’s work online. His research reinforces scientifically what she has done and observed in real life situations. More ripples. Stream Bowker’s 2017 presentation here. (Scroll down from Part I and II)

Katrin Silva. Photo by Nina Fuller

As our planet is quickly being affected by the growing threat of climate change, we often feel helpless.  The problem is too large; what difference can a small operation make?  This helplessness and fatalism was addressed by Alayne Blickle.  She offered a multitude of very practical tips for equine operations, even suburban landscaping, to treat our shared lands, water, and invertebrate inhabitants in more responsible ways.  One stone from her was a vinegar-based weed killer.  When many small stones are cast, a web of ripples develops, reinforcing a shared creation of community results.

Amy Skinner, Katrin Silva, and Jec Ballou integrated presentations dealing with balance, softness, and biomechanics that amounted to a huge boulder and a resulting tsunami of ripples!

In giving lessons, I am finding myself using their phrases and then explaining them.  I am seeing the act of riding through the lens of the horse.  It is not just holding the perfect form of the rider, it’s about working synergistically with the horse for mutual balance and comfort.  Because of the inspiration provided by these smart, fit, funny women, I have begun yoga as a way of making myself more accommodating and worthy of my horses.  I can send these ripples through to my students, hopefully for many years.

By the final Summit sessions, these various ripples were holding us together in a bond based on more than a shared hobby.  To be in the presence of those with shared horse passions felt like being in a thick, strong river.

Summit board member Josh McElroy. Photo by Nina Fuller

There was a purity of motive which resulted in a Summit community of caring, nonjudgmental, accepting folks with a common goal.  I felt this on a personal level.  I am nobody important in the horse industry.  I work with folks with disabilities and teach beginning-level, able-bodied riders.  I came prepared to be intimidated by folks who are important in the industry.  Instead, I was met with kindness, equality, and was overwhelmed by small acts of kindness.  Initially, I was greeted by director Maddy Butcher.  I was struck by her authenticity.  This strong, slender lady had no need for rhinestones or bling to draw eyes to her.  Her open smile, obvious love of life, and simple warmth drew me to her instantly.

Josh McElroy invited me to the Summit, and though I work with him regularly, I had no idea he was in a Summit leadership position.  His sharing during the Storytelling session touched me deeply because I have seen and heard his strong leadership with troubled young men.  He is the real deal.

Attendees during a Summit break

When I met special guest Chris Lombard Friday night, I didn’t know he was a published author, but I was touched by his spirit of inclusion and kindness.  I was a stranger among folks who were obviously old friends.  He drew me out with questions and actually listened to my answers.  He promoted me into the circle of conversation and acceptance.  With his book, I hope to develop that social skill and, again, expand the ripples, helping others feel valued.

Other acts of authentic kindness include having my supper purchased by a couple I had just met and Summit board member Julie Kenney going out of her way to pick me up from my lodging to get to the conference. The very fact I was able to attend was due to the generous contribution of a scholarship by Kimberley Loveless of Gin Lot Farms.  Her generosity inspires me to continue the ripples as I use horses to help people, and train people to better understand and care for horses.

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