Updated: Sep 7
There are many different ways to work with horses. The hard truth is that most are dominance-based, and many common practices are often needlessly brutal and unhealthy for the animals.
Horsemanship is much more than riding, and relationship-based horsemanship is much more than horsemanship. Compliance can come without trust but a genuine friendship requires it.
In RBH, we work to cultivate a relationship not program a robot. We adjust our objectives as we learn more about our horses. We communicate, cooperate, and compromise. We do not dictate and or make them to do things with their own bodies that are overly difficult or unhealthy for them. I think its important to ask ourselves why we would want to force a horse do something that makes him not want to spend time with us, dulls him to the interaction, or degrades his nobility and spirit. Why do so many horse people ignore the fact that they regularly cause their horses pain and discomfort? Why can't the general public see that jockeys are chasing child horses down tracks with whips? Why is it ok to put a piece of metal in their mouths and then yank them around with it at high speeds? Why are judges in equestrian sports rewarding practices that compress their backs and force them into unnatural contorted positions and postures. These things are wrong ... and we all know it.
I struggled with my own demons regarding these truths for many years and made a personal decision to find other ways of educating these animals that focus more on the quality of the relationship then specific training objectives. These days I know what is possible when I allow my horsemanship to revolve around how the horses perceive me. This allows me to use nature as a barometer for growth and expand the horse's cognitive abilities as efficiently as possible without creating fear or becoming untrustworthy. Combined with a study of equine biomechanics and behavioral science, this approach has helped me offer many horses better lives and enabled me to build some powerful bonds and partnerships along the way.
If we are patient and attentive to our actions and senses, the process of creating healthy relationships with horses is incredibly fulfilling. This is probably why my path has brought me to rehabilitation work. Helping scared, confused, and misunderstood horses is not only meaningful but also more absorbing than one might think. We build the relationship and then face challenges together rather than fight each other through them. We compromise to find solutions. If I slow down for him instead of forcing him to speed up for me, he is able to synchronize, and then we find flow together. This flow creates rhythm and becomes something the horse begins to gravitate towards. His sessions become more increasingly more desirable to him and I then challenge him with new tasks so he doesn't get bored.
The mindfulness and meaning that relationship-based horsemanship can bring to one's life is extraordinary. It has made me a better human being. I find it difficult to watch equestrian sports these days. To me, the beauty of the horse-human relationship does not come from establishing submission, jumping a four foot fence, or executing a perfect pirouette. To me, the most beautiful, bone chilling moments are when he and I become completely present with one another, when he understands that we are communicating, and when I am able to slow down enough to observe the recognition of the moment in his eyes.
Experiencing this with these animals has completely changed the way I work with them. It has made me more aware of my own actions and truths. Nothing is skipped, nothing is not earned. Its the right way and they makes us do it the right way if we let them guide us like this.