HH: Name & Occupation:
CC: Carol Cerussi, Mom and CEO of "Stable Minds," and equine meditation business launching in 2021.
HH: Name of your horse(s):
CC: Sly San Lena and FloJo
HH: Out of all the horses you have met, who is your heart Horse:
CC: Tough question. Sly is my heart horse because I am so proud of what he has overcome, and he has earned that special spot in my heart because of it.
HH: Can you tell us more about what he has overcome this year:
CC: This year, we started riding western dressage and decided to enter the Western Dressage World Championships – the biggest western dressage show you can go to. It's a ton of training under normal circumstances, and then it went virtual because of Covid-19.
So it was even more work because we had to film all our rides. We worked tirelessly every day, so many hours, and then on the last day of filming, Sly came up really, really lame.
We did not know what happened but, after doing research, we found out he had EPM.
HH: Can you tell us what EPM is:
CC: Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM) is an equine disease that affects their central nervous system.
Horses can fall out behind, and they can fall and lose their balance. It destroys their nerves, and if it has gone too far, horses are generally euthanized. So when Sly was diagnosed, it was a severe blow.
HH: Is there a way to maintain or control the disease?
CC: Symptoms can be similar to Lymes disease. It will always be dormant, and stress-related things can bring it back up to the surface. He might have had it when I got him, but it was probably dormant. We think that the intense training brought it up to the surface. We will never really know for sure.
Sly is the type of horse that really wants to please. So, when he was in training, he must have been in pain, but he never once showed me he was uncomfortable. He just kept on going as if he knew the practice was for something important.
However, on that last day of filming, he really tried for me, but he just couldn't keep going.
We took a step back, assessed, and got him the medical attention he needed.
Once he was better, well, he got us where we needed to go. And in a big way.
We ended up placing 9th in the world!
He would give, give, give so much "one more time sly one more time," and he would do it for me.
This win was so emotional. After everything Sly went through to get this award, it meant so much more. My trainer and I were in tears. I was so proud of him.
We made sure that he got the rounds of medication he needed, and now he is better than ever.
He was my heart horse before all of this, but now he will never have to worry about anything. He is my forever horse.
HH: And how do you feel like that experience changed your life?
CC: It just showed me just how determined, loyal, and dedicated horses can be, especially for the humans they love. This is a story of real connection, and I just had to share it.
HH: Tell me a little about your other horse:
CC: FloJo was a hand-me-down from someone who moved away. She is 25, and even though she is older, I saw her value. Sometimes a number is irrelevant.
She will run a barrel for my son and win a blue ribbon, or you can put a 3-year-old on her back, and she will walk carefully.
She is smart enough to know how to act based on who is on her back.
When I walk with her and do meditative rides, she will speak to me through her actions. She exhales heavily when the person on her back is relaxing. She tells me where we need to go, then she drops her head and stops when the person is fully relaxed.
HH: Can you tell me a bit about what you mean by "Meditative Rides?"
We invite people to meet our horses at the farm, and we gauge their reactions to them to see how to proceed.
Often we will have them walk alongside the horse and put their hand on the horse's neck, and as they get comfortable, we will do a guided walking meditation. A person can get on the horse, and we will do a "body scan release meditation." The rhythm of the horse will help you to release any stress that you are holding on to.
We do some stretching to release tension in your body to find more space in your mind.
So, if you find yourself in a stressful situation later in the day, you can bring yourself back to that time and place when you were on the horse feeling peaceful and calm.
HH: That's so cool!
CC: Meditation is making space in your brain so that you can be present.
HH: And you do this with riders and non-riders alike?
CC: Yes, you do not have to ride.
I think it is more fun for people who don't ride. It's a different experience for people who do ride.
I have found that people who do ride horses like it because we often get on our horses and "just go." We don't think about connecting with them before we get on.
Many times we think, "my horse isn't with me," but if you stop and take a moment, spend 10 or 15 min just getting your breath connected with your horse, you will find that you will have a better ride.
I have had times where my horse wouldn't even let me get on him. Circling the mounting block because he says, "You are not ready for Me." So we do some walking and breathing, and then everything is in sync, and off we go.
HH: Can you tell me one of your best memories with either of your Heart Horses:
CC: My best memory with FloJo was working with a girl detoxing from alcohol and drugs.
We were working with her every day. I could see how taxing it was for Flo Jo after a whole week trying to work with this young girl. The emotional energy was draining her.
On the last day, we finally got the girl past her fear of sitting on FloJo.
FloJo let her get on even though the young girl was shaking uncontrollably.
We walked around the ring, and because FloJo is so solid and has such a sound mind, she kept the young girl safe and secure, and it finally allowed her to be in the moment.
I think any other horse would have been "I can't do this, just get her off," but FloJo gave the young woman a place to relax and sort herself out.
I know how privileged I am to be able to observe daily how generous horses be. How they can handle all of our stress and emotion, help us work through it all just for some pats, carrots, and hay.
These experiences have changed how I see things, and I am so lucky to have such an impressive horse like FloJo.
HH: Incredibly, they have that ability to be so generous of spirit to us flawed human beings (laughter).
CC: Yup. Stressed out, detoxing, sweating, shaking, anxiety - FloJo stayed calm through it all.
HH: What was your takeaway from that moment?
CC: That this defiantly needs to be something more than just an isolated incident. This horse can help so many people, which is where the kernel for my new business was born. This needs to be available to people. I don't know anyone around here doing this. I live in the northeast, and it is primarily hunter, jumper, western, horse riders.
I think we could do with a place where we can focus on just connecting.
HH: And would you say that your experience with the young woman and FloJo was your lightbulb moment for your business?
CC: Yes, 100%!
FloJo volunteers with a veteran's group too. She is so calming, and she has a fantastic effect on people.
One day there was a veteran who just walked around and sang to her for about a half-hour. It was just beautiful to watch. Some of the veterans we work with are in recovery and are detoxing. The horses can have such a calming effect on them.
These horses have changed their world and life.
HH: What is your best memory with Sly?
CC: There was a snowstorm, and we were out on a trail ride – it wasn't a ground-shaking moment, but the moment filled my heart.
It was one of the most pleasurable and gratifying experiences we have had together.
I could tell from his energy that he was having so much fun.
We barreled through the snow, and everywhere you looked, tree limbs were covered and glistening white.
We waked over snow-covered paths with snow falling all around us. It might have been the most beautiful picturesque thing we have ever done together.
I love these moments, and I genuinely feel that it was a bonding experience for us both.
HH: You were just in the moment!
CC: Yes! Over and over, I am blown away by these animals. They let us ride on their backs, keep us safe, and they do this for us because they love us. I am so lucky and that day riding in the snow was just one of those beautiful moments. I will never forget it.
HH: What is the worst memory you ever had:
CC: It had to be the last day of filming for the World Western Dressage Show when Sly went completely lame. He did not show symptoms of EPM previously, so I was afraid our training for the games triggered it. I must confess that I did beat myself up about it.
It was the worst moment.
HH: And with FloJo?
CC: I don't know if I have ever had a bad moment with her (laughter)
HH: Hey, you don't have to have one!
CC: She's just…
HH: She's solid!
CC: I don't have any bad moments with her. She is just a winner all the time.
HH: That's awesome.
HH: My last question would have to be, what does "Heart Horse" mean to you?
CC: To me, it means a horse that has entered your heart and has made a home there. It is never going to go away – it's like they have branded themselves on to you and your heart. I just don't think you can let that feeling go; maybe that horse will pass, or you will get another horse. Still, that horse will always leave a brand on your heart, in a particular place, special memory, good, bad, or whatever that might be, they will leave it there.
It will stay in your heart forever.
HH: I love it. Thank you.
CC: Thank you.