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riding-free-sqIn my last post I posed the question, To ride or not to ride?, and stated quite emphatically that this was not only the question, but the one all of us who are contemplating riding a horse should seriously ask ourselves before venturing onto the back of a creature whom we claim to love as a good friend. As the debate got underway two things happened which have since caused me to reconsider whether it is indeed the question that we should be asking ourselves. Perhaps there is a more fundamental issue at stake, one which I had ignored it. Then Michael Bevilacqua posted his comment and I immediately knew what it was. I would like to deal with that issue now.


So what happened?

First of all, there were the comments themselves, many or most of which, if not all, are profound. In the interests of those of our readers who find time to read the posts but not follow the discussion, I would like to deal with some of the points made, if only because they are so pertinent and valid in the light of the issues at stake.

Secondly, there was Pip. My mare decided to make a comment of her own on my contemplation of the question as to whether I should ride her or not. It was a comment which has been decidely challenging, enough to warrant a re-examination of the question, To ride or not to ride?, to the extent that it caused me to question whether the very question itself was not completely off target. Pip’s comment too I would like to share with you.


The science

Human shoulders

A human’s shoulders

It is interesting to note that only one of the comments questioned the scientific knowledge that we have at our disposal when it comes to determining whether riding is hazardous to the horse. Kelly writes the following:

I used to earn a living by taking young people out hiking in the wilderness. In the course of this full time work I weighed around 58kg and regularly carried back packs in the range of 20-25kg. The packs were carried for long periods of time, day in day out.

I know I am not a horse, but humans have the same structural make up of cells and blood vessels as horses. So why did I not suffer any pressure damage to my shoulder muscles?

On the face of it this question seems to concern the human shoulders. The context within which it is situated, however, suggests otherwise, for it is introduced as follows: “When the study of the pressure exerted by a saddle and rider are discussed, and how this pressure cuts off capillary blood circulation and starts cellular death in the muscles, the following question arises in me”. Put another way, you might restate the question in the light of its context as follows: “If I didn’t suffer any pressure damage to my shoulder muscles, how could the pressure exerted by a saddle and rider inflict such injury on a horse?”, which is of course as legitimate a question, as the one Kelly actually poses.


Human shoulders and equine backs

As I understand it, a human finds it easiest to carry a load on the shoulders, because it is not merely borne by those body parts but by the entire upright skeletal frame with the exception of the head and neck, albeit that the shoulders and to a lesser but significant extent the back and chest bear the brunt of it. Personally, I would nevertheless be very surprised to hear that any human would not suffer pressure injury to their shoulder muscles when carrying that amount of weight for a prolonged period of time. While I may not be crippled by carrying my lightweight video camera in a small rucksack on my back while on holiday, I definitely notice that I have been carrying it when I remove it. Perhaps this is just another way of asking how much injury do you need to suffer before you experience pain. Of course, once the source of discomfort is permanently removed, the body has a chance to recover and any pain, however slight, becomes a distant memory. If she could speak, Pip might corroborate this based on her experience of two years without being ridden regularly following a history during which she felt pressure on her withers injurious enough to leave vivid scars.

A horse's back

A horse’s back

Naturally, a horse’s back is very different body part and is designed primarily to carry the abdominal barrel and part of the thoracic cavity, and to transfer the dynamic energy produced by the hindquarters to the forequarters to facilitate movement. Any vet worth their oats will candidly tell you that the horse’s back was never designed to carry weight on top of it and that includes the two-legged variety. One of the reasons for this is that, unlike a human’s shoulders, an equine back has no support structure below it. In addition, it is proportionately long, which means that it is more susceptible to sagging, much like a long plank serving as a makeshift bridge across a stream. Then there is the fact that, although the forelegs carry the bulk of the horse’s weight, their bony structures are not directly connected to the spine. Instead, that weight is carried in a veritable sling of soft tissue (muscles, ligaments, tendons and so forth) supported on either side by the forelegs. By this stage you would be quite right to conclude that human shoulders are proportionately far stronger than equine backs.


Helping the horse support the human

This is also the reason why the two main styles of riding in the equestrian world – “Western” and “classical” or “English” – seek to help the horse support the human by espousing a mode of riding which tries to avoid hollowing the back. Western riding seeks to do this by keeping the head relatively low at the end of a straight neck. This has the effect of stretching (that is, relaxing) the back muscles, while engaging their abdominal counterparts. The classical tradition tries to achieve the same by encouraging the horse to step further under its body, thereby seeking to stretch the back muscles from the hindquarters. At the same time the horse is supposed to raise the base of its neck thereby shifting its centre of gravity (and hence more of its weight) towards the rear, which would also have the effect of causing the horse to bend its head down at the poll in order to maintain its balance, lengthening the back muscles from the front at the same time. The advantage of the classical tradition is that the weight is spread more evenly over all of the legs rather than predominantly on the forequarters, as is the case with Western riding.

Nevzorov demonstrating natural collection, amongst other things.


The only way either “solution” can “work” is if the horse carries itself, as opposed to being “carried” by the rider with the aid of a combination of instruments of force and restraint. In the classical tradition this is what is known as self-collection or self-carriage and what Michael Bevilacqua refers to as “natural collection”. It represents a form of movement which is safest – this is not the same as injury-free – for the horse when ridden. Unfortunately, it is also something which is quite rare to find in the classical tradition and virtually impossible at what passes for the summit of equestrian endeavours at the Olympic Games, the World Equestrian Games and other similarly saddening gatherings. You will know it when the instruments of force and restraint are abandoned and you see the horse carry itself. I know of only three public figures who have shown that they are capable of helping a horse do just this: Alexander Nevzorov, Michael Bevilacqua and Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling.


Throwing off the tack

Referring to Alexander Nevzorov, Lina has this to say and it is worth quoting her in full in order to illustrate the point:

To me it was obvious that the horses in the videos in which he rode with only the cordeo, were the same horses he had used a bridle and bits on previously. I have seen many people who have trained their horses the “traditional” way if you will… with saddles and bridles, be able to work beautifully with their horses bareback and with a halter or just a rope (cordeo) around their neck. They already knew the movements. I can do this to some extent myself with my own trail horses, as can a few of my fellow trail riders – these are not riders who compete in any way shape or form, or do haute ecole, but simply, they have ridden their horses in saddles and bridles and can then take it all off and the horses know the commands because they come from trust, the seat, the legs, the intention, etc. etc.

It may be true that Alexander Nevzorov trained his horses the traditional way first. It may also be true that Michael Bevilacqua did so as well, as did Hempfling with Ferdinand, that graceful Lippizaner which dances with him in a video that has garnered more viewings than probably any other YouTube video on the subject. It may also be true that Lina has seen many people “able to work beautifully with their horses bareback and with a halter or just a rope (cordeo) around their neck”. The question though is not whether the humans are capable of doing this but whether the horses can carry themselves in natural collection when the tack is thrown off and instruments of force and restraint are abandoned.

Throw off the tack and the beautiful collected picture collapses.

A quick search of YouTube will soon reveal that there are very few horses that are capable of carrying themselves in natural collection when the tack is thrown off and they are no longer held together in a frame. This should not be surprising, if one notes that it is possible to score 92.3% at an FEI World Cup Dressage show (the very summit of equestrian prowess, so we are led to believe) on a horse that is not even being ridden in self-collection with all of the tack on! Indeed, for much of the time it is ridden behind the bit (the bit is behind an imaginary vertical line from the poll down), with the crest of the neck as its highest point rather than the poll and hindlegs which barely reach underneath the body in trot. Now take away the tack and ask yourself whether the “beauty” of what is not even natural collection will not collapse like a house of cards.

Who needs natural collection when you can score 92.3% without it?


The bottom line

So is riding really detrimental to the horse? Michael Bevilacqua is emphatic: “There is no question about riding a horse being bad for a horse.” Yet he used to ride in the past, just as Nevzorov did, albeit only in natural collection and for brief periods at a time, once he had reached a certain level of awareness. In addition, he also quite candidly states the following:

I still support and encourage people, even if their only major decision, is to use a bitless bridle. 2013 was my last seminar, and, yet, it was like a chapter from the past of NHE [Nevzorov Haute Ecole]. Riding was still possible, if only in natural collection.

Jade has also encountered evidence that riding can be physically detrimental to a horse. She proposes a need for further research, contemplation and greater responsibility on the part of riders:

The first thing that comes to mind is that there needs to be more unbiased scientific research into the effects of riding on the horse. Both short-term and long-term, all kinds of riding styles, tackless vs with tack, durations of ride etc. Another thing to research would be the effects of starting the horse later in life, i.e when completely mature. And whether this makes a difference when it comes to riding. Hopefully, this would lead to a more responsible approach to riding for people who still think that it is a necessary part of the horse-human relationship.

Some of the science on the effects of riding.

The bottom line is that we already know from the research that has already been conducted that riding not only has the potential to be detrimental to the horse but that it can also inflict permanent injury. Although the mental anguish involved can be extreme, here I would like to confine my comments to the physical. Again, evidence suggests that, while riding in natural collection without instruments of pain for relatively brief periods at a time may place some physical strain on the horse, it is unlikely to cause harm. Having said that, I would again like to note that it is possible for an accomplished rider to ride a horse with a fairly harsh bit in natural collection on a loose rein (which of course begs the question as to why one would use a bit in the first place) while inflicting far less discomfort than someone riding with nothing more than a neck ring (cordeo) hooning around with the horse’s head up in the air, its back hollow and the neck rope collected around its throat.


Survival and learned helplessness

So what about Gary’s legitimate query:

Widely respected horsemen such as Mark Rashid, (in spite of his continued use of the bit) show enormous kindness and consideration for the welfare and well-being of their horses. And yet as a “working cowboy” he has spent on many occasions, either working cattle or running a “dude ranch”, very long hours in the saddle…….is that an unforgivable way to behave from a man so “in tune” with horses? Do his horses back away in obvious disapproval when he approaches them with a saddle after remembering that “really long ride” yesterday? I think not. I would be interested to know his view on this subject….

I would not wish to comment on Mark Rashid’s approach to riding or that of his horses, even if I felt competent to do so, which I do not. Yet I do not believe that his view on the subject is quite as relevant as that of the horse. The urge to survive is instinctive in the horse and its ability to do so is legendary. Domesticated horses employ an array of techniques to survive their humans’ attention including flight, fight and learned helplessness. In many, if not most cases they are not aware of a regime of care and riding other than that which they are accustomed to and so they learn to survive it, even if this means shutting down and doing all that is required of them without protest. You will see it in the eye. In extreme cases the light has gone out. The spirit is dead.


Riding is potentially harmful physically but….

Of course, the physical is not the only dimension of the horse. Mental, emotional and some would even argue, spiritual dimensions are also common to the horse. The challenge of being ridden in natural collection for relatively brief periods at a time may challenge the horse physically and perhaps even cause some minor stress. Penka asks:

At the same time, Olympic Athletes need good Trainers to help them push the limits and challenge the perceptions of what they are capable of? Can this be the case with horses? We probably don’t need to be on their backs to do that….

Yet even if we are on their backs when we do that, could it not be that the horse may derive some benefit from such contact with a human within its mental, emotional or spiritual dimension? Perhaps this is what Geerteke is suggesting when she writes the following:

What if ‘riding’ is part of horse’s wish to become aware? What if by denying horse’s wish to be ridden human denies horse to evolve? Would that in the core not be an equally cruel act as riding a horse that does NOT wish to be ridden?

And would it not be almost a natural consequence that dis-ease occuring in human when not listening to its inner voice will also occur in horse when horse is not being listened to its inner voice?

Is this bullshit or is there an element of truth to it?

These questions are challenging especially when viewed within the context of the relationship between horses and humans over the centuries. The species have gravitated towards each other in a symbiosis which has encompassed so many different spheres of interaction, including culture, work, sport, religion, health care and entertainment to mention a few. Those who have attended courses with Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling will be aware of the idea of a horse and a human complementing each other to produce a transfigured entity – most visibly expressed in the horse bearing the human – whose combined power and beauty are greater than the sum of its parts. Nowadays horses depend upon humans for their very survival, even in the wild. Conversely though, a growing number of humans are beginning to discover that, if they are to survive as humans and not merely as blighted parodies of the species, horses have much to teach them. Perhaps riding may to some extent constitute part of the process whereby horses and humans derive benefits from each other which extend beyond the physical dimension.



To ride or not to ride? The question is challenging if you are open to asking it. Many of us would like to ride but we have doubts about whether we should. Here are a few which some of our readers have expressed.


I also think that we do it with good intentions and we feel that we have fulfilling relationships with our horses. They are probably (‘definitely’) more fulfilling for us then for the horse and deep down we know that the feeling can be better if truly reciprocated… Yet, is this any worse than the parent projecting his ideas or life principles on the child? The rationale is obvious – good intentions, no major harm, should help, I know it better…

I know someone who feels it is okay to use a little bit of force with her horse, if your intentions are honourable, for instance, if you have just mounted your horse but it does not want to move forward. A tug or a smack accompanied by verbal encouragement such as “Come on. Let’s go. Now!”, much as you might do with a small child (so I am told, which I have to rely on, as I have never had one of my own). My response takes the form of a question: Why should the horse have to move forward with you on its back (or whatever else you are trying to force the horse to do)? Indeed, what gives a human the right to force a horse to do anything? Having said that, there are moments when one simply has to urge a horse to do something, for instance if its health and wellbeing depend on it. My experience though is that a horse tends to pick up on urgency in the energy one radiates and then responds accordingly, especially if it is a horse with whom you have a close relationship.

Stormy May: from riding instructor to horse heaven.



I am thankful to all those who have alerted us to the physical consequences of being careless and uncaring about our horses’ backs and bodies, and as a result of their research I now ride less frequently and for much shorter periods, and do a lot of ground work and play and gymnasticising to help my horse feel fitter and more supple, just like yoga helps my not-so-young body, so that his energy and enthusiasm might meet with mine and give us the pleasure of going out and about together without my feeling the compulsion to push him or force him where no horse would willingly care to go….

Noble sentiments, yet Susan immediately questions them: “Is this a cop-out on my part? Am I kidding myself just the same way as those who believe in rollkur are able to kid themselves that ‘it’s OK’?” Why question them?


My feeling (OK my imaginative speculation) is that it often comes down to the specific combination of horse and rider and were it possible to interview all horses on the subject there would be just as many who said they enjoyed carrying their rider and felt no ill effects as there would be horses complaining about a sore back and associated ailments. Yes, it could be just wishful thinking on my part as on balance I would like to ride. For the moment as you can gather from this comment, I am sitting on the fence….

I read this and thought: this is as honest as it gets.

Something also niggled at me when I read these comments. To ride or not to ride? Is this really the question?


So which way to go?

To ride or not to ride? If this is the question, what should we do? Which way should we go? Three people came up with an answer which renders the horse’s response paramount, albeit inevitably only through the human’s interpretation of that response.


The second thing that comes to mind is that, although this can be an extensive and difficult topic, the basis of it is very simple. Go and ask your equine partner. In the end, it’s always going to be about the relationship and doing what works for the individual horse-human partnership.

The herd at Waterfall Creek. What a life!

The herd at Waterfall Creek. What a life!



The TRONTR [To Ride or Not to Ride] question has been on my mind for a while and a few years back I wrote this. Simple question with no clear cut answer apart from listening to one’s inner, intuitive voice, and knowing your horse.

Now I would add, “Listen to your horse, and yourself, and if all is good then get on with it”.


The other day, in my mind, Jasper showed me clearly that he was ok with it all. He walked at liberty with me out of the paddock and away from his herd of 12 horses, he walked with me across the front lawn and loaded at liberty onto the truck. Whenever we load up on the truck the simple fact is that we are going riding. I am not trying to justify whether it is right or wrong to ride, each person will find their own way with this and come to their own conclusion, but I am saying – let us not beat ourselves up too much about it all. There are many shades of grey, and only you and your horse will know what is right or wrong in that moment.


Pip’s comment

While I was working on my last post, something happened which caused me to doubt part of what I had written. For some weeks I had been working with her to help her prepare her body for the time when I felt it would be alright to pop the question: To ride or not to ride? Would she allow me? As usual, I tried to vary our activities, yet always seemed to be focusing on the goal of riding.

Then Pip commented. Initially, I did not hear her. Pip is not like Anaïs. When Vicki’s mare comments, she raises herself majestically upright like a totem pole to impress upon one the folly of messing with close to 600 kg of perpendicular horse. It is impossible not to hear Anaïs when she comments. I tend to listen very quickly. More importantly, I have become very adept at avoiding situations when she may feel a need to comment.

Pip teaching me how to be nice to horses

Pip teaching me how to be nice to horses

Pip, on the other hand, is the introspective type. She turns inward and closes down communication. In the early days of our relationship I thought that Anaïs was the more difficult horse to deal with but she is not. In fact, she is a big pussy cat. Because she is so expressive, it is much easier to find a way to ensure that those big brown eyes remain soft as butter. Shutting me out, Pip makes far greater demands of me and I have to dig very deep to re-establish contact with her.

So what was Pip’s comment. As I understand it, she was telling me that I had become so focused on this question of riding, that the bossy little man within me had become so insistent on his riding agenda that he was beginning to lose sight of the horse in front of him and the relationship that he wants with that horse. I was ashamed.


A break

Fortunately, a break had been planned. Vicki and I managed to find cheap tickets to the Algarve in southern Portugal (I just love the language, although I can only understand one word of it: obrigado – thank you), so we headed there to celebrate my birthday. It is a lovely part of the world with relatively few people, except during the summer when the population triples.

Relaxing and reflecting in the Algarve hinterland

Relaxing and reflecting in the Algarve hinterland

The break created the distance from Pip and the demands of work which I needed to assess what I had been doing with my horse and to re-evaluate my relationship with her. To ride or not to ride? Is it indeed the question? Or was there not something more important at stake? Upon our return to Holland, I felt the answer. I knew and know what kind of human I want to be with Pip and, if that means that riding may be ruled out, so be it. And the moment I let go of the question of to ride or not, Pip and I started to have fun again and we celebrated her birthday soon after our return, reconnected once more.

No, I have not abandoned the prospect of Pip allowing me to ride. We are still doing exercises together which help her to carry herself but the goal of riding no longer dictates the nature of my interaction with Pip. If I ever ride her, this will occur as something incidental to the essence of our mutual enjoyment of each other’s company.


The question has to do with the human, not the horse

A little over a week after our return from the Algarve, Michael Bevilacqua’s comment arrived. I read it and then reread it the next day. Suddenly I knew how to formulate what I had come to feel intuitively with Pip. This quote from Michael helped:

There is no question about riding a horse being bad for a horse. However, the question remains about riding – and, subsequently, it has nothing to do with the horse but the people.

Pip's back: Dare I risk this?

Pip’s back: Dare I risk this?

We may be tempted to say that we should ask our horse if it is okay to get on its back. It is a temptation that I think we should yield to with great commitment. Yet we should perhaps be aware that the answer is ultimately going to depend upon our interpretation. Ultimately, it is the human who mounts the horse’s back and not the horse that mounts the human on its back. Put another way, the question of to ride or not to ride has nothing to do with the horse but the human and, as such, the anwer is ultimately our responsibility.


Is it not about love?

But there was more. Michael Bevilacqua wrote something which left me feeling puzzled enough to chew on and chomp over for several days:

I made a tacky, home-made video to go along with my book that was like a ‘special features’ video along with movies. In it, I did say that, sometimes, trying to explain this to people was like trying to explain how to love. [Emphasis added.]

I looked at this and kept asking myself the question, “‘Trying to explain this’: What is this? What does he mean when he refers to this. Then I had an epiphany and the light came on. What has Michael Bevilacqua been trying to explain to people? Not only have I read his book several times and his articles too but I have also attended one of his seminars. This must refer to everything that he has been trying to explain in his publications and public events. And what was he trying to explain? How to love!


The real question

Trite? No. Profound? Absolutely! There are so many humans looking for a dream horse and a beautiful relationship with that product of their dreams. How? This is what we ask. How can we develop a beautiful relationship with our dream horse? In his book, appropriately entitled Beyond the Dream Horse, Michael Bevilacqua provides the answer, just as he has been doing in all of his work with horses and humans. Love. Simply love your horse! It is the beginning of everything.

Michael Bevilacqua and Commanche

Michael Bevilacqua and Commanche

Which led me to re-examine the question: To ride or not to ride? For far too long we humans have subconsciously been basing our entire relationship with horses on this question and the answer we almost inevitably come up with: ride. We have reduced our relationship with our so-called equine friends to the interface of the horse’s back and the human’s bum and almost all we do in relation to the horse is mediated by that interface. Perhaps it is time to replace the question, To ride or not to ride? with something else. Perhaps we need to move away from back and bum to horse and human. Is not the real question simply, “Do I love my horse?” and, if it is and my reply is “Yes!”, then should I not simply go and love my horse and let all that we do together, horse and human, follow from that love?


Tales of love

Alexia’s pen is poignant:

Once one’s eyes are opened they can never be closed again in ignorance and it seems doors have shut to some of what I thought were ‘simple’ joys.

Ah, but have they shut? And if some have, have not others opened? I do not believe that I or anyone else can dictate whether a human should ride a horse or not. I do believe, however, that riding may be possible in my relationship with Pip. Yet the story that I wish to write with Pip is not of riding but of love and, if she allows me on her back, it will follow from that love.

In the meantime I would like to leave you with these tales of love contributed by two or our readers. I melted in humility when I read them, tales of love from the old and the young.


Firefly my Brumby pony is not lkely to ever be ridden,while she is in my care, yet we have a great time playing Games at Liberty . Sunny my Q.H. gelding has never been ridden for years, I took him on as basically a rescue horse that had foundered badly, & has a leg problem, but at times loves to do something just to show me he can do simple ground game at the walk, like the others. (His choice entirely) Now Cracker my “Riding Horse” also does great liberty Groundwork …….Plus Ridden Games with the ball, tarps, cavalletti, bending poles.and anything else I can find to make his ride/play interesting. We have been riding with only a neckstring lately in my arena, when we go out on a trail ride I walk with him for at least ten minutes, then mount on a log in the bush. I ride him out in a halter and we just wander about the beautiful bush tracks. (Just the two of us)………..So it is Riding!!!!!!……..But NOT.. No Nonsense Stuff without consideration for the animal that so many have to endure…. “I Trust Him With My Life”……..I believe the rides on Cracker are as pleasurable for him as it is for me, and he gets a lovely extra feed for his consideration & time with me…

Every morning I Meditate in my stable and my Horses are free to join me & they usually do,……… followed by Energy Healing with them. With heads low, yawning, licking & chewing eyes closed etc. I get my hands, arms & legs licked,hair groomed gently, a gentle nose resting on my shoulder or back or a horse cheek against my face. ….My horses know how much I love & cherish them…

Peggy's mob on her lovely property in Australia

Peggy’s mob on her lovely property in Australia


Cisco and I decided a while ago that riding is not something either of us find enjoyable to do together. So it is something we will never do. Dougie is only just three, so I will not present the concept of riding to him for a few years yet. Maybe when he is seven or eight, I will ask how he feels about it. It will be up to him. For now we have so many other activities to explore together….

Dougie greeting his sire, Sarge

Dougie greeting his sire, Sarge




Michael Bevilacqua writes of me and others: “It still surprises me that he, and others, differentiate me from NHE. I find that it is the same message.” I draw a distinction between Michael, on the one hand, and Nevzorov and Nevzorov Haute Ecole, on the other, in as much as I see a difference between his non-judgmental, inclusive approach and theirs. While I am aware that Cloé Lacroix, the dean of the NHE school and Michael’s friend and colleague, is sincerely trying to make the school more inclusive and Lydia Nevzorova and the NHE press are producing a growing number of horse-friendly publications in their efforts to make the world a better place for horses, it is difficult for NHE to shake off its history of intolerance of other approaches towards achieving the same goal.

A message is more than just its substance. It also includes the form in which it is packaged and expressed. To my knowledge (please correct me if I am wrong), NHE is still as intolerant of other trainers as Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling and Chuck Mintzlaff have previously shown themselves to be. In addition, NHE relies to a large extent on the publications of Alexander Nevzorov, a number of which read as vivid examples of the art of villification employing the most acerbic, if not barbed, wit and rhetorical devices couched in irony and dripping with sarcasm.

Michael Bevilacqua, on the other hand, includes and encourages people in word and deed, eschewing judgment and condemnation. The difference, as I see it, is immense.



16 Responses to “To Ride or Not to Ride: Is This Really the Question?”

  1. Hi Andrew

    As usual so much content, which makes commenting a lot of work, but I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your time, effort and content by at least jotting down some notes and immediate reactions:

    Re: To ride or not to ride might be reformulated as ‘to abuse or not to abuse’… on reading to the end… to love or not to love.

    Re: a human finds it easiest to carry a load on the shoulders – here in Portugal and in Africa often loads were/are carried on top of the head. This, of course, requires a certain posture and balance which is learned. However, this is obviously not appropriate to the horse, carrying a rider although adjusting posture and balance most certainly is. Hence, your next point about helping the horse support the human is well explained and demonstrated. Clearly, adjustment is necessary to move the centre of gravity back such that the powerful hind legs take the strain – but look how I phrased that ‘strain’!

    Starting the horses later definitely makes sense – note, Lips only start at six.

    Valid point about not needing the bit – look at the Portuguese bull fights where the riders carry two spears in their hands clearly guiding the horse from the seat (but also with spurs, in theory) I bet they could do it without tack but would it look so impressive! (Of course, I recognise that bullfighting is an issue but am focusing on horsemanship here:-))

    Re:Mark Rashid – from all that I have read, his horses are incredibly alive and his success has been largely a product of their communication with him and, of course, his amazing ability to listen.

    Re: Riding is potentially harmful at lots of level – the answer to this is most definitely YES. Top Portuguese bull fight riders only ride for a maximum of 15 minutes. They do this not to damage their extremely valuable horses.

    Interestingly, Klaus is using what appears to be a Portuguese saddle that is of the 15 minutes kind as defined by the most advanced traditional riders.

    From riding instructor to horse heaven – interestingly, the horses now look more like cows – but note, I love cows and their beautiful dreamy eyes:-)

    Re: The comment about sitting on the fence was very funny but apt. It is not the best of places to sit. I also liked the notion of many shades of grey which is just so true of horses literally – the colour changes so much.

    Re: Pip. If I ever ride her – yes, as I have so often heard, riding is ‘the icing on the cake’ – and the truth is I don’t care much for icing, in general, although I have been known to nibble at it on rare occasions.

    White marks on horses back – I have seen those – now I understand what they mean. In no way, do I want to be responsible for creating them.

    Re: How to love a horse – I am in full agreement with that starting point – the process is about a never-ending courtship.

    Re: the PS – a very good point, indeed.

    P.S. I came across this quote the other day and realised that it reflects the result of much of your recent learning:

    “If you want to touch an animal, bring your heart into your hands and transfer this energy and love.…Russ Krachun…

    So sweet to have seen you demonstrate this with Doll:-)

    So keep up the good work and thanks


    • Andrew says:

      Dear Ian

      It is lovely reading how you have followed every point.

      Your comment, “How to love a horse … the process is about a never-ending courtship”, is one I especially appreciate. A “never-ending courtship”: I shall have to run this by Pip and see how she responds.

      Horse beams to you and yours (including your herd).

      Be well!

  2. alexia says:

    Yes indeed when a door shuts another opens… and it is opening to previously unimagined dimensions of horse/human relationship pleasures and learnings. The sadness from the shutting door is a relic and a breaking of the habit of many lifetimes’ cultural use of the horse, mounted or harnessed, that had evolved to riding for pleasure or “sport”. No longer necessary and no longer conscionable in this new era of evolvement between our two species.

  3. Hi Andrew,
    I consider myself older but not old !.. 🙂
    Haha!!! “you are treading on thin ice” 🙂
    Hugs to all,

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Peggy

      If the story of the horse is old, then we are all very young. You may tread on thin ice with me any day.:-)

      Be well!

  4. Karen says:

    Thanks for such an informative article. Not to ride here in Australia is considered a waste of a good horse unless of course it is unfit to ride then it is considered a paddock ornament. After reading your article I no longer feel so ashamed at having horses that I don’t ride, horses that I love. Often people ask me “what do you do with all those horses do you ride” and I will reply “no not at the moment” and feel like I am doing something wrong by not riding. Thanks again, leaves me feeling much better about how I interact and enjoy my horses.

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Karen

      Don’t I know the feeling that you describe?! We still have people commenting, when they see Vicki and myself walking next to our mares in the forest. My response is usually a cheerful smile accompanied by the explanation that it is difficult to go for a walk, if you are sitting on a horse. It usually elicits a chuckle or a guffaw.

      Once we are smiling, all things are possible.

      Be well!

  5. Jade Martin says:


    Another great post, and I almost feel like we have had the same thought process over the last few posts, it’s nice to see it all so eloquently written down though!

    Just like Karen (above), I often get told that by not riding my horses, I am leaving them “wasting in the paddock”. I do try and explain to people how rewarding it is to just relax and interact with the boys without having the obligations of riding or training, but it’s a hard point to get across, especially since I have never been able to put my finger exactly on what makes it so amazing. This post has helped my realise that in those moments of us interacting with each other, we are acting out of love, with some curiosity, joy and relaxation thrown in. Love is what makes it what it is. Just the other day, for the first time (or perhaps the first time I have fully perceived it), Cisco gave me this look after I had finished giving him a head rub, and I knew undoubtedly that it was a look of love. That, to me, is so much more valuable than a quiet, compliant riding horse.

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Jade

      You are way ahead of most of us in your relationship with Cisco and Dougie. It gives me comfort to see young people like yourself taking the lead. Give your boys a scratch from me.

      Be well!

  6. Jen Williams says:

    I enjoyed your article about to ride or not to ride and I appreciated all the time, research and effort that went into it. I think it should be compulsory reading for all equine owners!!

    Basically, I am one of the “lucky” people that due to natural ability can listen and communicate to our horses. I have always been psychic but the animal communication came later in life.
    Before this, I had always felt very strongly about the age at which a lot of horses are started under saddle. One of the horses I rode in the past that was enthusiastic and keen wasn’t started properly until she was about 10 years old.

    Anyway, at present we ride a pony that wasn’t started under saddle until he was 7 years old and he wasn’t gelded until he was 6yrs. SO had good amount of years to mature properly.

    We often spell from riding and we always ask our pony Nelson if it’s okay to ride. He chooses the path and the speed and we comply. He also tells us when it’s time to get off.

    For a while I was heavily contemplating riding and I stopped riding him on the trails but continued to take him out for walks at liberty. I got to thinking about the energy that passes between us at liberty on the ground or when I’m on his back.

    Basically (sorry this got longer than I expected) Nelson said to me one day while out walking “this would have been less complicated and quicker if you had just ridden” so I discussed the energy that flows between horse and rider and what a horse can gain or if it’s all one sided. Nelson confirmed that the intense positive energy that flows between and gives a little “high” to both beings, when in harmony, in sync on the trail is beneficial to him as well.

    I believe there are several reasons why I achieve this positive energy flow with Nelson, down to the fact he is physically sound from not being started as a youngster, he is kept in the best environment with upmost care (proper shelter, plus trees, plus pasture, good quality hay, fresh water, minerals etc), bare foot and allowed to develop tough all terrain hooves, proper dental care, if tack is used bitless bridle and if saddled, saddle that was professionally fitted and adjusted with proper spine clearance, sits properly over wither.
    The most important part is we ask first and sometimes on the trail Nelson will say “can you get off now?”

    We have a new filly and at this stage we are uncertain whether we will ride her. We do a lot of work at liberty and if we start her under saddle, it won’t be before 5 years old.
    We don’t use bits, we don’t shoe, we keep everything as natural as possible. We are not interested in competitions and shows.

    I can’t speak for other horses but I feel if people “must” ride, they should follow a basic plan like ours and give their horses the best start in life. Proper care, shelter from the elements and consideration.

    I often think back to Star the quarter horse that was started later in life. She was confident and forward, opposite to me. She opened my eyes to a different way of thinking and she pushed me out into the world. She was the only horse that was keen to take the lead and explore on the trail and the only horse that never wanted to turn towards home.

    Thanks again Jen Williams

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Jen

      When I consider all the horses that I encounter every day (at least 18 including our mares), I can only think how lucky yours are to have such a caring friend. Your story is special. Thank you for sharing it with us.

      Be well!

  7. Kay W says:

    A friend of mine sent me your piece, here. I’m a middle-aged owner of seven horses. I don’t ride much anymore because of arthritis in my back, but that’s not to say I don’t get just as much enjoyment from my horses as I did when I was non-arthritic.

    I’ve started all my horses bareback with a rope halter using positive reinforcement and one of the first things I’ve trained is for the horse (at liberty) to stand beside a gate so that I can mount them from the gate (I don’t like scrabbling onto them from the ground.) Interestingly, when there are several in the corral and I climb up on the gate, a dominance battle ensues for who gets to get their spot at the gate. There is no doubt in my mind that they have no problem with me being on their back, with the exception of an older mare who has had a history of ovarian problems and who I no longer mount.

    But BEING on their back vs. actually riding somewhere are two different topics. IMO, the real question is not to RIDE vs NOT RIDE, the real question is, who gets to dictate when and where we ride, how far and how long, and, if the horse isn’t into it, do we quit or keep going? It’s a question of control and self-determination. A friend of mine has an endurance horse who loves competition so much, he would drive the truck to get to the races if he could. From his point of view, he’s young – full of himself – he’s never been injured, never felt serious pain, and he’s at the top of his game, enjoying every minute of a journey surrounded by fellow horses in interesting places. It’s what he was bred for and born to do, and now that he knows the joy of doing it, he’s not happy when, if my friend has to work, days go by that he’s simply out to pasture.

    At the other end of the spectrum is my non-ridable mare. She wants and craves human attention – for about ten minutes at a shot – and she gets jealous of the others working with me, but there’s simply no question that riding hurts her and that’s that. If I were a different sort of person, I might insist on riding her and she would comply, but it would be at a cost to her and to our relationship.

    I’ve raised children and the thing which I learned from them is that sometimes, we must persuade – even put some pressure on – another living being to do something they don’t want to do because in the end, it is in their best interest. (Being polite, picking up after themselves, sitting still and listening, reading books, etc.) But at the same time, if, once the living being has tried something – given it a shot, so to speak – and hates it and if that this isn’t something necessary to its happiness (violin lessons, hockey practice, etc.) then the living being should have the right to take a pass on it.

    So with horses, I believe all horses should be gently introduced to what humans might require of them: standing still, trailering, being groomed, being driven, being ridden, etc. WHEN THEY ARE APPROPRIATELY MATURE (you can’t teach a nine-month old human advanced algebra, either), but the human who’s doing this ALWAYS needs to be reading the horse’s reactions and responding appropriately in an understanding manner.

    To care for another living being is a great responsibility. Once you have brought a domesticated animal into this world, you are responsible for it for its happiness for life. If every animal breeder would accept that fully, our world would be a far, far better place.

    By the way, your entry about the easiest way for a human to carry something is on his shoulders is wrong when it comes to women. The easiest way for a woman to carry something for a distance is to put the weight around our hips – hence, fanny packs. Humans were designed to travel long distances with weight tied around our waist. Now, I might not LIKE to take a 20-mile walk carrying a child on one hip and a basket of laundry on the other, but it would actually be much better for me, physically, than sitting at this computer typing.

    Some horses (not all) are physically designed to travel distances pulling something. Some breeds are far more suited for driving and shouldn’t be ridden. Some breeds are more suited for riding. I have no idea about the gaited breeds – still haven’t been able to figure them out.

    • Kelly Bick says:

      Kay, what an interesting post. Especially:
      “But BEING on their back vs. actually riding somewhere are two different topics. IMO, the real question is not to RIDE vs NOT RIDE, the real question is, who gets to dictate when and where we ride, how far and how long, and, if the horse isn’t into it, do we quit or keep going? It’s a question of control and self-determination.”
      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

      • Andrew says:

        Dear Kelly

        You have highlighted a passage containing words, such as “dictate”, “control” and “self-determination” and I am not sure why.

        Perhaps Ian has the real question: “To love or not to love?”

        Be well!

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Kay

      You are obviously a very sensitive and caring person. Your horses are clearly fortunate to have you as their carer.

      As you rightly point out, there are times when we, as the humans who bear ultimate responsibility for our horses, need them to do or not do certain things, if only for their own good and well-being. To this extent, the lesson which you have learned from your children is appropriate: “…we must persuade – even put some pressure on – another living being to do something they don’t want to do because in the end, it is in their best interest”.

      Of course, this begs the question of what is in their best interest. Perhaps the answer is dictated not by “what humans might require of them”, as you suggest, but by the love for them which we profess to have. And in the process of discovering what such love might entail, should we perhaps not also bear in mind that horses are not our children but a different species whom we, not they, have chosen to bring into our lives?

      Be well!