Feed on

In the past few months the Horses and Humans group on Facebook has been inundated with posts advertising the perfect training fix for humans who have problems relating their horse. They have promised answers to all of the relationship issues that we lesser mortals encounter with horses … in return for a fee, of course. Whether unfortunately or not, I have had to delete them all because they did not comply with the group’s advertising policy. I had all but forgotten those promises of the perfect horse-human relationship when yesterday morning an incident occurred with one of our mares which left me feeling absolutely shattered and wondering whether I should not consider attending one of those courses promising the perfect horse-human relationship.

The incident

En route from the house to the walk-in walk-out stable block where we feed the horses either inside or outside depending on the weather, I encountered Vicki’s mare, Anaïs, coming to find out why I was taking so long that morning. I stopped short of the mare and allowed her to approach until we greeted muzzle to hand, as is our custom. It is then that I noticed her head covered in a shower of small white flecks of some indeterminate organic source.


My instinct was to reach out, cradle Anaïs’ head as is our custom too, and wipe the flecks from her beautiful head. I yielded to that instinct and reached out my right hand, the closer of the two to her, to do just that. She arched her head away as she sometimes does but I gently persisted, explaining to her what I was about to do. Anaïs then let me hold my right hand against her right cheek while I drew her head calmly to the left and extended my left hand to wipe her head which was now draped over my right shoulder. Aware of her left shoulder against my back, I gently began to wipe her face as she had let me do so many times before.

Together with Anaïs in the forest
Together with Anaïs in the forest

It was then that it happened. Suddenly the mare thrust her head forward and out of my hands and I felt her powerful body soar upwards behind me. I immediately swung my upper body round towards her to see what was happening. There she was before me, her forequarters well off the ground and her front hooves half an arm’s length diagonally above my right shoulder. It was not as majestic a rear as she had frequently exhibited in the early days of our relationship with her many years ago but it was enough to get my full attention.


I froze, mesmerised, and watched. As though in slow motion, I saw the horse’s head and neck arch away from me, dragging her torso and forelegs in the same direction as she began her descent. I was vaguely aware of her left forehoof slightly grazing my right hand, as her body came crashing down besides me, missing contact with my body by a whisker. She then took a couple of steps away from me and waited, her eyes fixed on mine.


The aftermath

Numbing shock, that was my first brief response before it was bowled over by rage. The nasty little boss in me, ever lurking beneath the surface but kept in check for so long now, seized the opportunity afforded by Anaïs’ apprehensive stillness to pop out and take over. She could have bloody killed me. No … you, horse … you could have maimed and crippled me. I roared thunder as I raised my arms and stepped firmly and decisively towards the mare.


Anaïs took off. She was not about to do battle with a madman however much smaller he might be physically. And I set off in pursuit gesticulating with my arms raised and hoarsely trying to scream a string of the vilest expletives that came to mind. Anaïs naturally ran circles around me while my mare, Pip, looked on quizzically before briefly joining her equine friend.


Suddenly realising the futility of my chase, I halted to catch my breath. The mares stopped well away from the madman they saw before them, waiting calmly to see what his next move would be. Sanity began to reclaim me. I turned and strode purposefully to the feed room door, reached in to pick up Pip’s bucket of hay, the walked towards the spot under the closest tree where we normally feed her and upended the contents on the ground.


Then I moved towards the mares, stopping a few body-lengths before them, the empty bucket in my hand. I stooped to lower the bucket to the ground, conscious of the mares’ gaze on the human before them. Would the crazy little boss resurface? Calmly looking at Pip, I urged her to go and eat while pointing at the hay. She stared at me hesitantly for a while before slowly moving to her pile of hay. Anaïs took a step or two forward to follow her mate and probably chase her away as she usually did. Immediately, I moved purposefully into the gap, stopped and raised my body erect before her, my eye locked on hers. She stopped and looked at me in askance. I turned partway from her to see if Pip was eating. And then I waited, slowly gathering my wits and coming to rest again. Then there she was, Anaïs, calmly standing next to me. I studiously ignored her until I felt her muzzle running down the back of my right hand, where her hoof had brushed me. I sighed with relief. We were together again and it was time to feed this huge, gentle equine presence alongside me.



The nasty little boss back in his box, I took stock of what had just happened while the mares munched on their hay. Emotionally, I was shattered. I had managed to keep the lid on the nasty little boss for so long. In fact, this incident marked the end of the longest period by far during which I had managed to do so. I was utterly ashamed. Shame soon gave way to a calm anger with myself. Then I sought to justify my actions by silently repeating my initial claim that Anaïs could have killed or at least seriously injured me.


Again and again I replayed the sequence of events in my mind, slowing them down until I recaptured the moment when her huge body towered above me. Kill me? Injure me? Really? Anaïs had turned away at the last moment, hadn’t she, drawn her weight and legs off to the side? Had I really been in any danger? Yes, momentarily but then no, definitely not. The mare had deliberately sought to avoid any physical contact with me. No other conclusion was possible.


Why Anaïs had shied away from injuring me is something I cannot explain with any certainty and I do not seek to do so. It is enough that she did. And it is entirely consistent with what she and our other horses have done in the past, even when they have spooked. All of them have gone out of their way not to collide with us.


It also occurred to me that I should have been more sensitive when I approached Anaïs to wipe her face. She is quite hormonal and can act like a stallion at various times of the month. In the days that preceded the incident she had done so now and then. Accepting her preference not to have her head touched would have been a more appropriate response on my part in the circumstances.


The perfect relationship?

A little later in the day at lunchtime after Anaïs had finished her hard feed and additives, she and I stood together outside the open doorway to the stable in which Pip was eating hers. She would have loved to have entered and relieved my mare of the hard work of eating but, as long as I stood there, she made no effort to do so.

Anaïs up close and personal
Anaïs up close and personal

Instead, she raised her beautiful head and swung it over mine slightly brushing my hair and leaving a smudge of feed on my shirt sleeve, before balefully glancing at Pip. Once, many years ago, there had been a time when she had not even bother to raise her head and I had to duck out of the way. No longer now. I looked at her and mentally acknowledged the time when she had been my primary tutor and muse before Pip had joined our family. Clearly she had not yet finished her educational duties with me.


No, we do not have a perfect relationship with each other, neither Anaïs nor any of our other three horses and me. No, I could not offer anyone a course in being trained to develop a perfect relationship with a horse. But isn’t it more appropriate and beneficial to have a relationship with a horse which is spontaneous but authentic rather than perfect but trained? Or is this just another vain attempt to rationalise a failure? 





Horses and Humans on Facebook

May I remind you that we now have a Horses and Humans group on Facebook. If you would like to leave a comment, you can do so on this blog or on the the Horses and Humans Facebook group page. All new posts will feature on that page along with additional content posted by any of our members. Please feel free to join us at:


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I also have a Facebook page through which you may contact me. You will find it at:



Equine Touch

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4 Responses to “Horse-Human Relationship: Perfect or Authentic?”

  1. Jocelyn Gray says:

    Hi Andrew:
    I would like to let you know I totally agree with you about your experience with Anais. I have a mare who is very much like that but has never reared. I believe horses do things to make a point. I felt as though she was telling you that you crossed a boundary line by not asking for permission to touch her face and then even if you did, you weren’t going to honour her wishes. I’ve been there. Wake up call and that’s what my mare has been doing with me for 7 years. Less lately as I think I’m finally getting it and she seems to have thought so too. My biggest pet peeve with “training” methods is the training. It took me a while to figure out that what grated on me with the term “At Liberty” was that it was training. I don’t train my horses. They know how to lead, how to move, how to back up, stand still, be haltered and a ton of other things that someone else taught them. I want a relationship. I want them to be able to show their emotions and react in such a way that I have to stop and say “oh yah. I just screwed up with you. sorry.” I give them choices and I walk along side them, or sometimes at the back of the line and other times I lead. That’s what I want. When I got knocked over while walking beside my mare because my gelding lunged at my mare and I was on the other side of her, she did everything she could to 1. avoid him and 2. avoid hitting me. They don’t try and hurt you, they try every way they can to avoid you. It’s up to us to make sure we aren’t standing in their way when the proverbial lion strikes and they spook. It’s up to us to interpret the message because that it is what it is about. Thank you for this story. I loved it. Yes you reacted and reverted but you also knew it, regretted it and picked yourself up and moved forward. Anais didn’t hold a grudge so send love and connect with your heart and it will all be good. That’s how I think anyway. All the best. It’s been awhile.

    • Andrew says:

      Hi Jocelyn

      Lovely to hear from a kindred spirit again.

      Your comments are spot on, especially those on how we prefer to relate to our horses, and on training.

      Be well!

  2. Laraine says:

    Hello Andrew,
    What an amazing story, I wish all people had the ability to have such unconditional love as Anais showed you. Also if all people took stock of their own reactions and analized them as you did, the world would be a much better place. Too many people are too caught up in themselves to ever say sorry. Anais knew you were sorry for the tirade and you also discovered that she was sorry for her tirade.
    Thanks for the life lessen and give Anais a pat from me.

    • Andrew says:

      Hi Larraine

      Perhaps we should thank Anaïs for the life lesson? I will certainly giver her a pat from you. She thrives on attention.

      Be well!