Feed on

brumbiesSince my visit to Ian and his horses at the beginning of the year, I have found myself frequently reflecting on the changing relations between horses and humans, especially the type of humans involved. By all accounts there is a surge in the numbers of humans who are actively seeking a relationship with horses which is one of friendship and, as such, is based on mutual trust and understanding. A growing number of these humans are relatively new to horses and are as unsure as to how to relate to them, as a wild Australian brumby taking its first cautious steps amongst humans. And yet we humans are so tempted to act, to do anything straightaway, even if we genuinely believe it is in the horse’s best interests. Perhaps we can learn from the brumby as it stands there looking at us, guardedly to be sure, but there it remains calm and still, breathing and waiting to see what the human will do.


The numbers

In the past year I have seen the readership of this blog triple. In addition to the comments which some readers leave in response to the various posts, Vicki and I also regularly receive emails from readers scattered across the globe. Some are from friends. Most are from people whom we have never met from countries relatively close by here in Europe but also from as far afield as Australia, Pakistan, South Africa, Brazil and the United States of America to mention a few.

Most of the humans who contact us have not been interacting with horses for very long or have only been doing so on and off over the years. Some do not even have a horse of their own. Yet all are fascinated by horses and what they allow us to learn not only about our equine friends but also about ourselves and the kind of humans we would like to be.


A comment from afar

Every once in a while an email comes our way which I feel an urgent need to share with our readers. One such message recently came from a young woman called Jade in Western Australia. This email was preceded by a comment left on our blog just after Christmas in response to my post entitled Finding Joy in the Land of Hairy Bicycles. I am repeating it here:

Dear Andrew and Vicky,



I have been following this blog since you both started writing it and I have learned so much in the process 🙂 I have also been following Eva and Jesse since they started putting videos on youtube and I would say that reading this blog and watching their videos has kept me going with my young horse even when I felt I wasn’t right for him. About a year ago I had never ridden, been around or even remotely had anything to do with horses. One day a friend of mine took me on a trail ride at a riding school and I instantly fell in love. About a month later I looked into leasing a horse so I could learn to ride and do what I thought you had to do if you had horses (ride them every day/lunge them endlessly/put shoes on/a bit in their mouth etc). I met Cisco, my 5yo Andalusian cross gelding, and everything changed. He taught me very quickly that the conventional way to be with horses wasn’t for me or him, I did not want to train him to be a robot and he did not want to be a robot. When I first leased him he was very stubborn, very pushy, even a bit dangerous when he really disagreed with you. So, naturally, I bought him 🙂 About 3 months and several agistment centres later he and I found the perfect place to settle in. It’s now a few more months later lives in a 30 acre paddock with several paddock mates and is very happy. We go for several walks, play together in the massive arena and he gets regular body work to keep him feeling good 🙂 We are in a good place. He will never have shoes on or a bit in his mouth again and our relationship with always be based on love and respect for each other.



I am mostly writing this now because in the last week I was involved in a brumby rescue and now have found myself with another horse. Dougie is a 2 year old brumby colt 🙂 He is a chestnut awkward-looking gangly thing and he is beautiful! Because of the similar timing to when I got Cisco, I now feel like my journey is starting all over again 🙂 I just wanted to let you know that I am so glad that people like you two and your blog and Eva and her videos to follow because it makes the journey a little less daunting and a lot more exciting and clear 🙂

Thank you so much for posting your wisdom online!


This comment stopped me in my tracks and it did so essentially for two reasons. Firstly, it was left by someone who is relatively new to horses. And secondly, its content breathed spontaneous wisdom. Think about it. Jade essentially says the following:

  1. until about a year ago she had absolutely nothing to do with horses;
  2. she was smitten with horses from the very first encounter;
  3. she wanted to learn to interact with horses the way convention currently dictates that we should;
  4. her horse objected to that;
  5. but she kept going with her young horse ‘even when I felt that I wasn’t right for him’;
  6. she instinctively decided to listen to her horse and learn from him;
  7. horse and human share time doing what is good for both of them.

I am utterly amazed to note that Jade has adopted an approach towards interaction with horses, which has taken some of us a great deal of time and tears to move to. She has managed to do so, I believe, because she has come to horses without the baggage of the conventional practice of humans in their efforts to impose their will on the horse. Jade has relied on instinct and intuition instead. This is something I have also seen in others who are relatively new to horses or who have come to interact with them by relying more on their instincts and intuition than conventional ‘wisdom’.


The email

A few weeks later the email came and I just knew that I had to share it with you. Jade has kindly consented to this.

Hello Vicki and Andrew!

I commented on your blog a few weeks ago, explaining how reading your blog had helped me and my horse Cisco and how I will be getting lots of inspiration from it with my new brumby rescue colt, Dougie! I just wanted to show you what you have helped with 🙂 Especially since you have introduced your horses to everyone who reads your blog. It’s only fair that once in a while someone introduces their horses in return!

Going for a walk with Cisco

Going for a walk with Cisco

The first picture is of my Andalusian cross Welsh Pony, Cisco, on one of our various walks out on the roads of rural Western Australia. I had not had the idea to take Cisco for walks until I read that you did it with your mares and how it helped your relationship 🙂 I love walks with Cisco because not only does he love being out and about, but it gives us the opportunity to work together as a partnership as we decide where to go next, where to stop, how to get over and through various obstacles. Lately it has been very hot in WA, almost 2 weeks of full 40 degree weather! This means Cisco and I haven’t been walking or working together as much. As with every situation, there are positive and negatives to this. The negative being that I don’t see him as much, the positive being that I have been given an opportunity to spend a lot more much needed time with Dougie.

The second photo is of Dougie and the beautiful QH stallion he is paddocked with, Rebel. In this photo Rebel is affectionately resting his head on Dougie’s neck, a common sight to see when they are seen together. Dougie is my 2 year old Brumby colt 🙂 He

Dougie and Rebel

Dougie and Rebel

was 1 of 8 horses rescued from a property that had wild horses running on it. The rescue was organised when the property promptly had to be sold and the new owners way of deal with the horses would of been to shoot them. Most of the other horses were either mares or geldings except for Dougie, a colt, and herd leader Sarge, a 5 year old stallion. The other horses were quickly found homes but unfortunately no one seemed to want to take on an unhandled colt and stallion. Eventually they went to a lady that had her heart in the right place, but she really didn’t have the experience or means to take care of them. That’s where I came in. I donated wormers and my time to help with handling. It went well for a while but it soon became apparent that the boys were going to need to find new homes. The owners of my agistment centre ended up with Sarge the stallion and I ended up with Dougie 🙂 Both boys have beautiful temperaments and an amazing ability to learn! This all happened about a month ago and both have come very far. Dougie took to domestic life very quickly and loves people, he is very curious! He was castrated 2 days ago so at the moment we are focusing on getting him healed up and healthy before moving on to other things like doing his feet and teeth 🙂

Sarge is taking a lot longer to adjust. He still doesn’t trust humans and has not been comfortable enough to be touched yet except for brief forehead pats which are always on his terms. His owner and I are spenting lots of quiet

Relaxing with Sarge

Relaxing with Sarge

time with him to get used to humans and their quirky ways, which is helping a lot! His owner also is doing a bit of clicker training with him to get him used to ropes and halters. He loves his lessons so much he calls for his owner if she doesn’t come on time!

The third picture I have sent you is just one of the ways we spend time with Sarge. In this photo I am reading a Mark Rashid book and relaxing with Sarge in his stall.When I first started helping out with Dougie and Sarge I found myself reading through your blogs over and over and writing down all the different bits of information and authors I could look up that I thought might help. Mark Rashid has been a big one for me, especially his non-confrontational way of communicating with horses. I am going through all of his books at the moment and it has helped immensely! Especially with my perspective on working with horses and even life itself 🙂

You two will never know how much reading your blog has helped me with my approach with my horses 🙂 If you don’t believe me, just ask Cisco and Dougie!

I hope both your beautiful mares are going very well and that the sticky situation with your livery is getting sorted out! I would love to know more about your mares and where your journey is at the moment, if you ever feel like you want to talk about it 🙂

Thanks so much,


Dougie and Jade

Dougie and Jade

In a follow-up email accompanying her photos Jade writes:

When I first got Dougie to the agistment centre, I would do short regular training sessions to get him ready for being gelded and lots of handling. One day we were in the middle of a session and Dougie decided to drop down and go to sleep! After this photo was taken he laid flat out and started to snore. I was very honoured that he was comfortable enough to sleep around me 🙂


My reply

The reason why I have shared this email with you is because it deals with what I believe is the key to connecting with horses and ultimately to coming to terms with who we are with or without the horse. This I consider in my reply to Jade.

Dear Jade

It is heart-warming to hear that our blog is helping humans, such as you, to find their way to horses, such as Cisco and Dougie. Ultimately though, we are just as much on a journey with our horses as you and other humans are with theirs.

The only difference though is that we put it all ‘out there’, as it were. Some of it is disappointing, devastating, heart-wrenching and sometimes simply downright embarrassing. Other parts of it are exhilirating, soothing, inspiring and sometimes simply utterly nurturing. At the end of it all though, it is simply what it is. And this is all that matters.


Intuitively knowing

At present I am reading a book by Linda Kohanov called The Tao of Equus. It is a book that we have carried around with us on our wanderings for some six years but it is only now that I have felt ready to read it, and I am glad I waited, because it rewardingly intellectualises (a process required for understanding as opposed to knowing) what is ultimately the very straightforward process of being (and through that intuitively knowing).

It seems to me that in your interaction with Cisco and Dougie you have not so much applied what you feel that you have learned through our blog as you have instinctively sought to find a way of simply being with your horses in a way that is beneficial to both you and them. You have intuitively known what to do by observing your horses and tapping in to your own wellspring of empathy and empowerment. Their trust in you is evidence of that. What you have read through us and the guides whom we refer to has simply helped you to flesh out the approach that you and your horses had already embarked on. Take confidence in that, for it is yours.

Dougie greeting his sire, Sarge

Dougie greeting his sire, Sarge


Escape and evasion

It is probably because of this that your young brumby, Dougie, has taken to domestic life and humans very quickly, whereas his wild mate, Sarge, is taking a lot longer to adjust. In her book Linda Kohanov makes the point that, ‘As a prey animal, a horse simply isn’t giving his full attention to the lesson when he feels threatened; he’s figuring out how to escape’ (p. 151). Although she was referring specifically to the phenomenon of horses resorting to evasion while being trained, the awareness of a perceived threat and the urgent need to escape it, represent a primeval instinct for survival which is at the forefront of life in the wild.

Nature may be beautiful but it can also be uncompromisingly hard, particularly in the conditions in which the wild brumbies of Australia live. Add human intervention to the mix in the form of regular culling expeditions (many if not most of which are barbarous to the extreme) and it comes as no surprise that brumbies are predominantly guided by their survival instinct.


Brumbies evoke different responses amongst their fellow Australians.



So how do you go about connecting with a horse that is preoccupied with the need to survive? Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling insists that trust-nurturing dominance is required in the human. The theory is that, if the human is dominant, the horse will no longer have a reason to fear and can trust the human to ensure its survival and look after its needs. This trust will help create the bond required for horse and human to connect with each other. The problem with this approach is that it works with some horses but not with others. Indeed, evidence is available to suggest that it has the potential to create a ‘dangerous’ horse.

You have also mentioned that Sarge, the untrusting brumby, is responding well to clicker training. I am not an expert on clicker training and therefore do not feel capable of commenting on it. However, I would question – and I use this term in its literal sense as opposed to an expression of doubt – its value firstly with regard to the nature of the connection it creates between horse and human. Is the connection that it produces purely mechanical or does it facilitate the sharing of a constantly interactive flow of sensory energy which is so typical of a magical or true connection? Secondly, what type of horse does it ultimately produce: a conditioned robot or a genuine willing partner in full control of its faculties. Put another way, is clicker training empathetic and empowering?


Another approach

There is another approach and that is simply to allow the horse to be in conditions which are safe and comforting, allowing the human to become part of this to the extent that the horse permits and encourages this. As the horse settles down in his daily routine, the human can increasingly become part of this by simply sharing space with the horse. Carolyn Resnick employs this approach as part of her ‘waterhole rituals’ and one of her students, Stina Herberg, has used it to good effect as part of the process of rehabilitating and training a herd of feral horses at her home on a Caribbean island.

In January 2007 Herberg took on the surviving seven of an original herd of 16 former racehorses from Barbados which had been sold as ‘riding horses’ en route to the slaughterhouse. They had gone feral, were malnourished and were very distrustful of humans. This video introduces the herd.


Some 18 months later the horses had settled down and fattened out.



Of methods and replication

Stina Herberg learned a great deal from Carolyn Resnick and is very grateful to her for her input and inspiration. Not only does she recommend Resnick to others but she has also become a certified Carolyn Resnick instructor. In The Tao of Equus Linda Kohanov warns of the dangers of following a method and attempting to replicate a trainer who is as intrinsically innovative in the use of her method as Resnick herself. However, the fact that she is, is no guarantee that her students and certified instructors will also be intuitively creative. Indeed, marketing a method and replicating a mode of instruction are processes which inherently militate against intuition, creativity and innovation.

Writing of methods and replication, Linda Kohanov has this to say and I quote it with wholehearted consent (although I must confess to having misgivings about the use of the term, ‘equestrians’):

Most of these methods work because they were created from a responsive, innovative state of awareness. If this mindset is discouraged in the apprentice, how can he or she truly represent the essence of the clinician’s vision? The notion of The Method capable of automatically giving anyone who follows it the powers of an innovative trainer must give way to dedicated equestrians willing to support each other in exploring the ethical, experiential, emotional, sociosensual, and intuitive qualities that bring those methods to life. (p. 177)

Put another way, the notion of being anyone’s certified instructor should yield to an acknowledgement that all trainers worthy of the title have as unique and innovative an approach as those from whom they learn.


The Herberg approach

Fortunately, Herberg appears to have developed her own approach. Although she is nominally a certified Carolyn Resnick instructor, it is clear that Herberg is anything but a method practitioner or a Resnick clone. The following video is a case in point. Although it pointedly recommends Carolyn Resnick at the end, you would be hard put to find anything in that trainer’s repertoire of videos which coincides with this one. And so it should be for both are unique, even though they share much in common as good trainers do.


Having said that, the Herberg video which I would like to leave you with is one which ostensibly applauds ‘The Carolyn Resnick Method’ but actually celebrates not only a very important part of that method but of any meaningful interaction between horses and humans: having fun just being together and in doing so, building understanding and trust. I keep going back to this quote but it cannot be said often enough: ‘Understanding and trust have nothing to do with training.’ Amen and thank you, Michael Bevilacqua.


Congruence and authenticity

Where we humans differ from horses in terms of our immediate interaction with our surroundings and the creatures that inhabit them, lies in our ability to become incongruent or inauthentic. As Linda Kohanov points out:

In horses it appears that memories are stimulated by emotion and the physiological sensations that give rise to those emotions. However, these animals do not actually separate thougth and memory from feeling and sensation. The four are always connected. (This is why an action like lowering the head will calm a frightened horse.) (p. 162)

Unlike horses, humans are capable of differentiating thought and memory from feeling and sensation. We are more inclined to define ourselves according to what we think and remember rather than what we feel and sense. Where the sensory and the cognitive coincide, we are congruent or authentic. Where they do not, we are incongruent or inauthentic.

Put in everyday terms, if you are going through a particularly stressful patch at home or work and you allow your mental preoccupation with it to override what you would like to feel and sense in the moment when you go to your horse, you will be perceived to be incongruent and inauthentic by your horse. Mutually beneficial interaction between horse and human will become difficult if not impossible.


The physiology of stress

Whether a horse is wild (like the Przewalskis or Asian wild horses), feral (such as the American mustangs or Australian brumbies) or domestic, there is always a little bit of brumby in it. Yet its survival instinct and the fear it begets in threatening conditions is something that is not unique to the horse. It is something that we can find in the human as well.

Referring to what she calls the ‘physiology of stress’, Kohanov quotes a study which ‘concludes that particularly traumatic or repetitive stressful experiences in childhood actually shape the brain’s structure’. She goes on to state:

The brain develops by creating circuitry patterns in response to experience. Severely abused children, to use the most extreme example, consistently associate the feeling of stress with negative, even life-threatening outcomes. Unless this pattern is counteracted and other brain pathways are created, these people continue to respond to the slightest sense of pressure or uncertainty as an emergency, immediately falling into the flight, fight or freeze mode. (p. 152)

This sounds very much like the condition of a wild horse trying to survive in conditions where it is next in line in some other creature’s food chain. Indeed, some of us have even come across a less acute version of this phenomenon in domestic horses that have been abused. And it does not take much to abuse a horse. It can be as simple as leaving a horse in a stable for far too long every day. Even those humans amongst us who have not been severely abused as a child may be able to recognise a mild version of this primeval fear in the seemingly incessant worrying that characterises our waking moments.


Embracing the brumby

The challenge lies in embracing the brumby in us and accepting it for what it is, a fear which in almost every case has absolutely no basis in the reality of the moment in which we currently find ourselves. To do this we are not called upon to succumb to this fear by making it the constant subject of our conscious thought. Instead, we are challenged to reunite our consciousness with our feelings and sensory awareness of the here and now, to the point that all we become conscious of is the moment in which we find ourselves to the exclusion of everything that has no place in that moment. In this way we can make our thoughts congruent with our sensory and emotional awareness, and by so doing rediscover the authenticity of the self.

This is the challenge of the horse when we enter its presence. As Kohanov puts it, ‘A mind tuned to embrace the entire body – while connecting socio-sensually with the body-mind of the horse – is the key to equine success’ (p. 165). Essentially, it is not about us but about the horse yet, ultimately, it is through the horse that we can rediscover some of our lost self. Kohanov is almost poetic in her conclusion:

Even mortal horses can lead people to secret springs of lost knowledge, and they’re fully capable of carrying the living dead, those lobotomised by the current paradigm, to a hidden realm of emotional and creative vitality, a kingdom that is within us all. (p. 166)

Jade, together with your horses, you seem to be well on the way to discovering that kingdom within you. May all of you journey safely together!

Be well!




There he is, standing there looking at us, waiting to see what the human will do. And what the brumby sees, intrigues him, for the human does nothing or at least nothing directed against the horse. The brumby turns back to its pasture. And so they pass the time, horse and human, together but apart. Then the human leaves and the brumby returns to its grazing. The next day the scenario is repeated and the day after that and so on until the human’s visits become routine. The horse becomes accustomed to the human and tolerates his presence, until one day the brumby succumbs to curiosity and approaches the human. So there they stand, the horse’s breath gently caressing the human’s hair. And in the horse’s breath the human discovers stillness. The precursor to the dance has begun.

2 Responses to “Stillness in the Brumby’s Breath”

  1. Dear Andrew – great blog post!!


  2. Jade says:


    Wow, what an amazing blog post on your behalf! You truly know how to write properly!
    And again, thank you so much for posting my email/comment and thank you for writing this brilliant blog 🙂

    It gave me a lot to think about and get inspired by! Particularly that last Carolyn Resnick video. Horses and humans together just relaxing, having fun and enjoying each other 🙂 Now to find an old couch and drag it into the big paddock!

    I understand your questioning of clicker training and I too am interested to know what kind of connection is truly being made between sarge and his owner. I think time will tell, but at the moment he is coming along slowly but surely and seems to be enjoying himself 🙂

    The boys and I are still doing what we usually do, just relaxing together. More so now that I am back at university and I have lots of study to do (which I do in the paddock). But I will keep you updated with our adventures!
    And please keep me updated with yours!

    I hope you are all staying safe and sound!