Feed on

The knowledge that humans have of horses is impressively extensive, if the number of books, magazines, research papers, websites, audio-visual documentaries and films is anything to go by, not to mention the reflection of humans’ understanding and imagination of the horse in our culture and the arts. It is testimony to the hugely important role which the horse has played and continues to play in human history, arguably more so than in the case of any other animal. Personally, I am astounded by the extensive knowledge that even ordinary horse carers have about so many different aspects of horse husbandry and training, everything from breeding and feeding through to medical treatments and the disposal of an equine corpse.

We know so very much about horses, so much, yet....

We know so very much about horses, so much, yet….

And yet, if we humans are utterly honest with ourselves, when we examine the way in which we keep, use, relate to and interact with horses, we must confess that the bulk of the available evidence reveals a profound ignorance on our part of the intrinsic nature of the horse. In almost all of the ways in which we keep, use, interact with and relate to horses we exhibit an extensive, detailed knowledge about horses but very little understanding of the horse.



We know so much about horses but have such little understanding of the horse.


Stressed horses

We have become so alienated from horses, creatures that have played such a major role in individual human lives and the development of human society in general, that we are unable to relate to them as fellow sentient beings and we fail to see that the way we generally keep and train horses is so completely unnatural and bizarre that it generates a huge amount of stress in them and inhibits their natural predisposition for the highly sociable interaction and capacity for learning that they exhibit in the wild, if equine ethologists are to be believed.

Pablo Picasso's study of a stressed horse for 'Guernica'

Pablo Picasso’s study of a stressed horse for ‘Guernica’

More often than not, this is our starting point with horses in captivity: highly stressed and traumatised creatures exhibiting stressful, if not violent or evasive, behaviour, with the result that chaos is just around the corner. This is not the natural condition of the horse but one that we humans – and no one else – have created.


Dislocated humans

With few exceptions, if any, we humans have also become so alienated from our essential nature that we have to all intents and purposes lost our humanity. We no longer know how to live consciously and joyfully. Instead, our lives are controlled by the need to fit in with other people’s agendas, priorities and deadlines, be it as an employee, self-employed or unemployed individual or in any other capacity. Joie de vivre has been replaced with either the daily struggle to survive or the pursuit of achievements, objects, the latest gizmos, gadgets, various forms of self-pampering and so forth.

Andrew learning from Gulliver at his feet

A dislocated human responding to the challenge of the horse

And when we are not doing that, our minds draw us away from life in an endless contemplation of what-if scenarios, fears and regrets. On top of this many, if not most, of us are still working through past traumas. More often than not, this is the baggage we take with us to the horse and we are astounded when the horse shows us that they want nothing to do with it. (Of course, this should not be confused with those times when a horse approaches a human with personal issues and does so of their own accord.)



And how many of us have really taken the time and made the effort to discover ourselves and to develop our potential to live a conscious, joyful life? How many of us have discovered how horses respond to joy? I am not talking about raucous laughter but calm contentment and the ability to turn frustration into a smile.

Andrew and Sonnet at Waterfall Creek

Horse and human discovering joy together in nature

Our mare, Anaïs, has a pretty direct way of communicating her displeasure or disagreement. She resists and rears majestically. In the past we used to insist and she used to resist. Now, we simply back off and turn the situation into a game of sorts as part of which she gets to choose. She picks up the energy of joy and immediately softens like butter and everything becomes possible. Nothing would have changed, however, if we had not done so as well.


The need for and reality of change

Pablo Picasso's Boy Leading a Horse

Pablo Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse

So why should we change? The reason is simple and it starts with the horse. An understanding of the intrinsic nature of the horse points to the opportunity to employ a completely new paradigm in our approach to the horse, one based on choice rather than control, connection instead of coercion, and communication as opposed to conditioning. It is an approach which appeals to the growing tide of humans around the world who are searching for a new way of being with horses, one that is more in tune with their needs and requirements as equines, which also contributes to their psychological and emotional well-being, and which facilitates understanding and trust between the species.



An understanding of the intrinsic nature of the horse points to the opportunity to employ a completely new paradigm in our approach to the horse, one based on choice rather than control, connection instead of coercion, and communication as opposed to conditioning.


This is not some pie-in-the-sky, air-fairy fantasy. Rather, it is a reality that I now experience with my own horses without tools of restraint, instruments of coercion and conscious training. And it is a dream that any human can live if they are really committed to doing so. Yet it is also in this that the horse lays down a challenge for us and it is the challenge of choice.


The challenge

Put another way, the challenge which the horse lays down for the human is this: How can I become the kind of human a horse seeks to be with? How can I become the type of being a horse chooses to follow or to spend time with doing either something or nothing?

The very first thing to notice about this challenge is that it does not concern the horse but the human. It is not the horse that we need to train and change. It is the human. You, me or any other human who wishes to become the kind of being whom a horse enjoys being and interacting with, we need to change, not the horse. Without a commitment to such change on our part we will not be able to rise to this challenge.



It is not the horse that we need to train and change. It is the human.


Yet let us assume that we are committed to undertaking the personal transformation that will enable us to accept the horse’s challenge of choice and get on with it. This leads us to the first of two questions begged by this challenge and it is this: What sort of human do I need to become, if a horse is to enjoy being and interacting with me? To answer this question we need to return to our discussion of the intrinsic nature of the horse and to re-examine what it is in one horse that will hold enough appeal for another horse to choose to be with or follow them. In short, and this is the second question, why does a horse choose to be with or follow another horse?


(Taken from the final draft of the book, Being Humans for Horses, due to be released on 4 July 2020. Click here for more information.)




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