Digital Painting Of Paint Horse  On White Background

May your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears. 

—Nelson Mandela

In addition to the Colorado Corral’s overarching purpose of connecting our amazing and gritty local horse community, this year we are going to turn up the volume on the horses and explore ways to improve their lives and our relationships with them. Setting disciplines and activities aside, horses are horses and there are universal truths that are a baseline for all of them. As you peruse the content in this column this year, keep an open mind to consider if there is an idea, concept or method that might benefit your horse and the horses around you.

Be Curious: In order to learn, start by just being curious. Set aside preconceived ideas and what other people have told us in the past (I know I have had to a lot lately) and start being curious about the why. Why is my horse stiff to the left? Not, well, all horses are stiff to one side. Why does my horse pin its ears when I put on the saddle? Not, cut it out, Trigger, you are fine! Why does my horse turn away from me when I come to ride? Be careful not to be dismissive. Be curious—what can I do to change that and have them interested in being with me? Non-verbal communication is what we have between us and if we don’t listen, what is that doing to our relationship and who does that make us? It is a relationship, not a transaction. If we are with horses, we are horse trainers. We are either training them positive responses or negative responses in their interactions with people. Horses are pure in their feedback. Listen to what they are saying and figure out why.

Take Time: Love is spelled T-I-M-E. I get it. There is work, friends, family and you have an hour to squeeze in a ride before it gets dark or before you go to work or before you meet your friends or before the kids get home or… Minimally, you think you need to get some cardio in for your horse, practice that pattern, do some grid work, whatever that looks like for you. Well—take a deep breath! You may need to take a step back, tweak your goals, find a new time to have more time, but whatever that is, your horse can end up getting rushed around, not warmed up or cooled down enough, and worst of all, not seen and heard. It is true—and not in an anthropomorphic way—horses very much look to connect with us. They are willing partners in all that we are doing and love it, and if they do not, be curious why not.

“The idea is to seek to share their space, not force them into yours or force yourself into theirs.”

Let Them Be Horses: The idea is to seek to share their space, not force them into yours or force yourself into theirs. Most people find being with horses to be very therapeutic. You may have heard, “I don’t need a therapist; I have a horse!” It’s all true, and in the more formal and structured setting of equine assisted therapies, the effect that horses have on people of all ages is beyond profound. At the same time, and because they are so in tune to us, even if we are not quite in tune to them, we must be careful not to be a one-way road of emotional cargo that they then carry. Like any healthy relationship, the road goes both directions. Slow down and just spend time with them doing what they like to do—maybe that’s walking, grazing, grooming. Listen and figure out what they are telling you and take time to be in their world.

Horses are the medium through which many horse people learn and grow in all aspects of their lives. In other words, as we wrestle and struggle with things in our life with horses, such as mindset, grit, determination, resilience, patience, resolve, grief, humility, disappointment, priorities, success and flexibility, to name just a few—the lessons learned spill over into all other parts of our lives: personal, physical, spiritual, relational, business. Get ready to expand your thoughts!

In training horses, if the communication with them is simple, it’s correct. And the more simple the work for them, the more profound it is for us. That’s why correct work is so hard. The challenge and the work lies in learning how to ask questions and hear answers, and drop the expectation and assumption that their answer is wrong and our question is right. Horses are very honest creatures. All this to say, collectively, people don’t give horses enough credit for their intelligence, or the depth and complexity of their inner lives. If we can open ourselves up to them in that way, they’ll teach us everything we need to know about them. 

—“Being With Horses” by Nahshon Cook

Heather McWilliams ©2023