Time. This human social construct that helps us to navigate our existence. So elusive, yet constant. An ever-present reminder that life goes on even when it feels like you’re standing still. I feel like I’ve traveled back in time, to memories I thought I’d lost, but my senses tell me they’re very much alive and present in me. The noise, the smells, the heat and humidity, and the distinctive rhythm of life in a crowded city, set against the background staccato language of my childhood. The moment I landed in Hong Kong, I knew with all of my being that I was “home”. Not my home, the place that I call home, but the place which birthed me and still lays claim to a part of my being. The “home” where I should belong and the home where I have often felt I least belong.

It’s been 10 years since I last visited my birthplace. In some ways, that time has flown by, and in other ways, it feels like an eternity. I recognize how much I’ve changed and how I’m much less entangled in the insecurities I carried with me on previous trips. I noticed that I was walking through the crowds with more certainty in myself and felt less self-conscious about my now, less-than-fluent Cantonese in conversations. While this trip was family-focused, I did manage to sneak in some horse time, which offered me profound confirmation of the healing available in the presence of horses.

Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997 when it was returned to China under a 100 year lease agreement. I was there on July 1st, 1997 on Handover Day as the British flag was lowered and the Chinese flag raised. Never had I more acutely felt my inner cultural dissonance when witnessing the Chinese in the room cheer and celebrate as the English ex-pats cried, recognizing then that I inhabited both worlds. Colonialism and independence from it have always been part of my lived experience, shaping both my ways of being with humans and animals.

On this trip, I had the opportunity to visit the equestrian center at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. This facility is for lessons, boarding, and training of non-racing horses, separate from the racetrack facilities. I was given a tour of the center, which boasted an enormous covered arena and multiple outdoor arenas catering to all English disciplines (not a Western saddle in sight in the tack room), clearly a legacy from British rule. The facility manager took pride in showing me the 250 stall barn, built on a hillside to accommodate a basement level row of stalls with windows, and the turnout pastures available to the horses. The resident farrier showed me the rows of custom shoes for the horses, the resident saddler explained how he was trying to find the perfect fit for a young horse, and the resident veterinarian gave me a quick peek at the state of the art minor surgery suite on site. I watched the resident equine bodyworker and chiropractor at work. The barn care team explained that feeding occurs 5 times a day, and every horse is groomed, and/or exercised, and turned out every day, and while the horses are in their stalls, poop is scooped immediately upon deposit into a designated bin for each horse so that in the event of any health concerns, they have easy access to fecal samples. The staff all clearly prided themselves on quality care and service of the horses. From stable hands to grooms, to instructors, and equine health practitioners, these horses seemingly have all their needs met, and more. Most of the horses are OTTBs with a few warmbloods and Welsh cross ponies in the mix that are part of the riding school program.

I was in awe as we walked through the facility. Yes, I was impressed by the facility itself, albeit that it only caters to the elite of Hong Kong society given the expense of horse ownership and participation in equestrian sports in Hong Kong. Yes, I was glad to see how well the horses were taken care of and the holistic practices that were part of their daily routine (as well as can be accommodated within the confines of a concrete jungle). And yes, it was great to see so many retired racehorses being loved and cared for. While the remnants of colonial influence were clearly present through the adoption of British Horse Society standards, I also saw evidence of the integration of indigenous practices: acupuncture, pressure point release, herbal remedies based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Chi Gung were all being utilized. But none of this impacted me as much as the realization that this was the first time I had ever been in the presence of so many Chinese horse people! Despite my less than fluent Cantonese, despite my “coming back from overseas” and no longer being a Hong Kong local, and despite my never having had a conversation in Chinese about horses, I felt seen and heard and a sense of belonging. I am not an anomaly here.

As we walked through the barn, a dark bay OTTB stuck his head over his stall door. I paused as he reached out his neck to sniff my head. I scratched him under his chin and he lifted his head and took another step towards me, then lowered his big head behind my shoulder and pulled me into him. I reached up with both arms to scratch him on either side of his neck and stuck my nose into his chest and took a big sniff. “你回来了”, said the facility manager, “Welcome home”.

“Win Win Charity” declared the stall plaque: Foaled 2018. Retired 2023. 12 races. $0 Prize Money.

I think he’s worth his weight in gold.

Veronica
Executive Director

I don’t know about you all, but 2024 has me exhausted already! I feel like I’m constantly running late, trying to catch up with my never ending to-do list, while spinning in circles to put out the fires I see every which way I turn.

This feeling isn’t new to me. I know that it’s my nervous system dysregulation staying on high alert because I’m so used to being in a state of crisis response that I forget that there’s an alternative way to be. And while it feels like this is happening 100% of the time I’m awake, I also know that it’s not true, that I do have moments where I feel at peace and settled. It’s just that those moments seem to be fewer and further apart. This was highly evident last week when our senior dog, Tyson, was sick with a GI issue and needed to be let out every 2 hours throughout the night. While my husband was able to take him out and fall asleep within minutes of coming back inside, it took me at least an hour each time to fall back asleep, my mind spinning with worry over Tyson.

So, when I woke up the other morning to find a comment on our Facebook page questioning our trauma-informed, social justice lens as to why we are discriminating against white folks in rural areas who want to access training with us by only offering scholarships and discounts to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), I felt my entire body respond on high alert. This is what Resmaa Menakem and other scholars refer to as a racial trauma response. I know it well and I have learned to navigate these instinctive reactions with mindful breathing, movement, and reaching out for support to ensure that I respond from a place of solidity rather than reactivity. I also knew that because this was in a public forum, many of our HERD Community members from marginalized spaces would likely be experiencing the same nervous system dysregulation in reading the comments. Not only did I now need to find support for myself, I also needed to hold space for others. As the comments thread grew throughout the day, I found myself expending emotional labor, time, and energy that was drawn from a rapidly draining well to attend to the conversation as it unfolded. It was a long day that was hijacked by one social media comment.

While the original comment was later edited to say that it was an innocent question to invite discussion, as the author felt “taken aback by the backlash” as others chimed in, I’m left wondering what impact they were hoping for? If the question was asked in innocence, it would suggest an expectation that it’s up to us to educate them about power differentials and the myth of reverse racism, or at the very least that we owe them an explanation of our admissions policies. Despite the fact that the comment was made in response to a post that outlined all the different discounts that we make available to increase accessibility – that they were actually eligible for – they focused on our BIPOC discounts. Did they want clarity on why that exists? If so, they came to the right place.

Because I’m not broadcasting this to elicit additional responses to the original thread. Nor am I sharing this as a “woe is me” narrative. I’m here to say that at The HERD Institute, we are firmly committed to increasing diversity, equity and inclusion, and we offer discounts and various scholarships to make training more accessible to meet this goal. For us, being trauma informed also means being social justice informed and that means working within a framework of cultural competency, which necessitates us all to look at our own perspectives and how we came to them. We are aware that this is a point of discomfort for some and we are open to sitting in that discomfort with people if they are willing to engage in that process. There are many training providers in this field and we encourage people to find a provider that fits with their values. We are not here to persuade you to see things our way. Our aim is to support our students who have chosen to train with us because of our values, to question how we know what we think we know, and how that impacts the world around us, specifically in the context of horse and human connections.

As the day unfolded, I noticed something magical. While holding space for our community, I received numerous messages from members checking in to ask how I was doing, effectively holding space for me. It was in this mutuality that my nervous system began to regulate, calm, and settle. I felt connected in the midst of the storm. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from Gestalt therapists, Erv and Miriam Polster*, that in these moments connection “can only happen between separate beings…I am no longer only me, but me and thee make we”. As I exhaled, I realized that the only way to attend to my self-care is to recognize that it cannot be done in isolation. Healing happens in community through shared experiences, a sense of belonging and solidarity. I am proud of our HERD Community for leaning in, embracing our Commitment of Belonging, and putting it into action. It’s only when we can acknowledge that we are all connected, and that what happens to one of us, happens to all of us, that we can begin to challenge, change, and create a more inclusive way of being in the world.

With this in mind, I am thrilled to announce that our 2024 HERD CAMP: Journey to Alignment is now open for registration for HERD students, graduates, and General Members. CAMP stands for Compassionate Attuned Mentored Practice. We’ll be digging deep on how to take our Commitment of Belonging into Action during our time together. Look out for information coming your way on how to sign up!

With a grateful heart,

Veronica
Executive Director