Book Of The Summer Club – Tao, Part 2

Though just a couple of people chose to read The Tao Of Equus along with me, a vibrant conversation ensued anyway.  I want to thank those who particpated in that discussion, along with everyone else who takes the time to post their thoughts on other topics.  Without interaction the blog is nothing more than me seeing myself in print.  And while I find myself entertaining (insert *smirk* here), it’s infinitely better when others express their thoughts and opinions.  Part 2 of Tao is a much larger section of the book, covering about half its entirety.  I’ve picked just a few points to discuss.

‘Joy’ is a client and begins the ‘equine therapy’ program that the author runs.  On Joy’s first day she’s shown to a paddock of four horses and is asked to assess each horse’s personality and placement in the herd, then to pick the most appropriate one to work with based on her assessment (and including her own limited equine experience and personality).  She is immediately attracted to the horse which approaches her boldly and nibbles at her clothing.  She thinks the horse is cute, friendly.  She’s wrong.  As it turns out the horse is the bully in the herd and was just recently saved from slaughter because he was too aggressive and dangerous.  To make a long story short, Joy also picks the same kind of men in her life and it’s one of the reasons she begins the program.

How many of us know (or have heard of) someone who’s picked the wrong animal?  Be it dog, cat, horse, doesn’t matter.  They quickly find themselves in over their heads and unable to deal with an animal that has taken over their lives.  It’s why animal trainers/behaviorists like Caesar Millan and Jackson Galaxy have successful businesses and TV shows, and why *equine gurus* have become all the rage.  The inability to correctly assess temperament, personality, emotion etc… in an animal is a huge barrier for many to overcome.  And that’s not even considering the knowledge required to train the animal.

The author believes it starts with (and goes back to) incongruence in people, in ourselves.  If you don’t know who you are (particularly in the moment), you can’t know who anyone else is (in that same moment).  You also can’t correctly identify what’s behind those big, almond shaped eyes.  It’s not necessarily *our* fault.  Many times we grow up not knowing, having learned incongruence from our parents and later experiencing it in our peers, co-workers, authority figures.

Do you know what you like in a horse and why?  Do you know what you don’t like in a horse and why?  Can you identify those traits in an individual even if they’ve come from a trying situation and therefore unlikely to be their true selves in the moment?  Do you know that the horse that cowers in the corner and trembles is more likely to hurt you when you aren’t looking than the one who aggressively comes at your face with teeth bared?  Can you tell the difference between the horse that acts out because of insecurity and fear over the one that acts out because it wants you to cease to exist?

Which brings me back to the incredible popularity of *equine gurus*.  The author talks at great length about this phenomenon (and not always in a positive light). The seemingly instant miracles, the extensive marketing and promotion of specialized tack (required of course to get desired results), videos, books and of course the ‘apprenticeship’ model whereby a student can rise through the levels and ranks to become a clone of the guru himself.  She discusses how participants in clinics fork over wads of money and go home with arms full of product and a head full of ideas only to find that implementation of the methods isn’t nearly as easy as the guru made it look.  There’s a lot wrong with the entire process, but it boils down to the fact you can’t teach someone how to effectively communicate (long term) with a horse by having them spend gobs of money on specialized tack and a few minutes imitating you.  It takes years to develop the unspoken nuances of horse training, the ability to assess a situation and adjust your approach on the fly, and the humility to accept that today might not be the day the horse allows you to ask that of it.

The author also talks of laying down a horse and how it can induce a form of disassociation which changes the horse’s personality instantly, and is akin to the survival ‘freeze’ response that happens to prey animals just before they die.  I posted a video of just such an occurance not too long ago in another blog entry.  If you recall, I’m against laying down a horse.  Very against it.  It makes me physically ill every time I see it done.  Asking a horse to lay down because you’ve introduced a series of cues in a systematic way so you can perform it on command is a different story; the horse always has the option of saying, no.  Forcing an animal into a position of pure submission against its will is despicable and speaks to the person’s (at the very least) ignorance and (at the very worst) their cruel nature.  The author claims to have witnessed a way to lay down a horse in the moment and to prevent disassociation, but you’ll have to read the book to get the nitty gritty details.  I’m inclined to agree with her, especially the point she makes about it requiring a skilled horseman, but I’m still against it.

Other ways to create disassociation in a horse and change its personality;

  • Tying the head tightly, often times for extended periods of time
  • Application of conflicting aids, over and over again causing confusion and frustration until the horse can no longer stand it and checks out
  • Drilling exercises, especially if conflicting aids are also utilized
  • Unfair and/or inconsistent treatment
  • Repeated abuses
  • Poor management practises that rob the horse of its very nature; lack of social experiences, lack of adequate movement

When I think of all that I’ve seen done to horses, it makes me wonder why they ever trusted us in the first place and I’m equally amazed they’re ever willing to particpate in human therapy programs (of all kinds, not just the author’s) to help us.  Do we really deserve that kind of generosity?


Note:  I’m taking off in a few days for a week’s time and there’s likely not going to be a blog entry until I return, unless someone drops me a line ( with their own contribution, which of course I encourage you all to consider doing. 


39 thoughts on “Book Of The Summer Club – Tao, Part 2

  1. I’m still slogging thru the book, but just about done with part 2. So I’ll post my thoughts in a few days. But yes, it is hard not to be sympathetic to the therapy that is done for people who have been in tough situations.

    • I’m expanding my vocabulary. As I read part 1, I came across words I’d never seen before, like sociosensual (a word repeated ad nauseum in part 2) and experiential.

      The author is also constantly repeating that we, the readers, are not tuned into our horses. It’s like she’s trying hard not to slip back, an example of this behavior would be; say we have a friend that is a bit chubby. The friend decides to loose some pounds, and now the friend is constantly giving lectures on the proper way to eat. This person is trying hard to stay on the diet by constantly telling others how to stay on it.

      At one point she’s trying to expand her business, which is OK.

      Part 2 becomes increasingly full of quotes and interpretations of other people’s work. There is some horse stuff, but mostly this mumbo jumbo.

      “As Lao-tzu illustrated 2,500 years ago, an over emphasis on force, rigidity, territorialism, logic, planning, and single-minded self-assertion only serves to alienate people from the ultimate source of power in the universe.” This is an example to the bulky sentences she writes. That’s OK if she is able to take the reader a little farther. But I keep getting lost.

  2. Gender Personality Intelligence Work Ethic Energy Level Respect for humans Herd Behavior

    Mare Affectionate Average Submissive Low High / Natural Loner

    Mare Alpha Above Avg Evasive High / Jiggy High / Taught Independent

    Mare Aloof Average Argumentative Avg Avg / Taught Dominant/overbearing

    Mare Curious Average Evasive High Above Avg Insecure

    Gelding Juvenile Average Superb for age Low/Avg Avg/ Taught Food aggressive

    Gelding Lover Average Above avg Low/Avg High / Taught Submissive

    Gelding Needy Avg/low Easily distracted Avg Low Passive Aggressive

    I put this list together to describe the horses I care for daily, to look at them more closely, and find out why I enjoy some more than others. Mare 1 wins for being a very willing work partner. She’s a people horse, gentle, trusting and gives 100% when she’s working. She’s a gentle soul, looks for communication, returns it and is extremely respectful though she sometimes feels insecure with herself. Jennifer Anniston type.

    Mare 2, though more complicated and challenging, is the horse I would trust with my life. Her intelligence and confidence on trails, roads, ocean rides, anything she does, is second only to her dam. Demi Moore type.

    Mare 3 has been a challenge. Her previous trainer hated her. She is insecure/dominant. A tough combination with her fight responses. It took aggressive discipline to turn her around – not abuse – but buckets flew, whips cracked and voices were raised. Her personality will never change but respect for people has turned her into a reasonably pleasant horse to be around. One that now says please instead of eff you. Sharon Stone.

    Mare 4 is a work in progress, OTTB with a high energy level. She had no interest in people last fall and now wants to be the center of anything we do. She trusts, she respects, she’ll stand all day to be groomed or bathed. Riding is more of a challenge but we trudge on, she unlearns. Brittany Spears.

    Gelding 1 has a bright future ahead of him after he gets through his teenage years. Curbed some bad behaviors early on this season and now he tries hard to please. Great work ethic, Tom Hanks type. Likeable.

    Gelding 2 is just a sweetheart. Non horsey types love him, very social, affectionate, playful and wants to please. Matthew McConaughey (I can pretend, right?)

    Gelding 3 is the one who gets under my skin the most, like all the time. He appears affectionate, he’s certainly not ‘mean’, but he’s always trying to one up you. He did the duck, turn and run to his owner a few times last year on the lunge line. I decided I’d fix it. I am not easily dissuaded. He ducked, he dove, I held on….made the first 2 canter strides before I hit the mud, still refused to let go of that line, dragged across the arena, head first into a 4×4. Then I let go (tweety birds…) but he thought I still had him. Stood stock still, eyes wide, knew he was in deep shit. Finished the lesson, no more duck and dive to date. This horse is the hardest for me. He’s most definitely a passive-aggressive. This personality type with mine is a bad, bad mix. He doesn’t really respond to discipline unless it’s extreme. He needs constant attention, has a poor work ethic and tests every change he gets. He will never be a trustworthy type, I’d never completely relax on this horse. He makes dumb decisions that are dangerous to himself and his handlers. Charlie Sheen, blech!

    • That’s a cool list. Had you done it previously or did you just do it now? If recent, then was it enlightening in any way?

      My top two picks would likely be mare 3 and gelding 3. Those two are right up my alley. I get (understand) them and I suspect they are way smarter than they are given credit for. The others all pose their individual challenges, but most people with at least a bit of common sense and knowledge can survive around them.

      • I just put it in writing, love topics like these, and seeing it in print gives room for thought. I spend a lot of time observing them and how they respond, learn, grow. Each is individual to itself and needs an individual education. I love the psych aspect of horses and delving into what makes them tick, opening the lines of communication, developing trust, respect – partnership. I also love a challenge and difficult behaviors are often misunderstood and fear/insecurity can present as aggression. Solve the trust and the respect comes while others need a hard line to respect but then become solid citizens and happier, more secure with the boundaries. Horses are just cool!

        You can have gelding 3 with my blessings! Good thing he’s not mine. Did I mention he regularly tests the electric fence then runs away farting? He stands with his nose less than an inch from the wires, ears up, kind of sniffing. Who does these things??? 🙂

          • the ones that are always thinking, solving problems, and would be seriously dangerous if they had opposable thumbs.

            Gelding No. 3 sounds like the type that really needs to be involved in the decision making about his own training. The kind of horse where the rider sets it up and lets the horse figure it out. To do any less creates one fight after another. Such horses, because they are hyper aware (not in a jumpy sense, but a looking and thinking sense) will become good at being sneaky if their opinions are ignored and their actions punished rather than shaped, because they will have their way. The challenge is to make sure eventually their way and the owner’s way become one.

            Danny the Windshield Smasher, he who was born to rule the world, is the easiest and simplest horse of mine to lead, to instruct in what you want done, to rely on as to how he will act, he doesn’t spook, and is endlessly patient with humans, when worked with in this way. Woe betide the person who thinks they can force that horse to do anything.

          • jrga – I would never allow this horse to make a decision that involved my or his well being! He’s quiet but has zero attention span and always chooses flight over ‘think’. He’d think nothing of flattening someone if he was startled and you were in the way. He likes his way and is unimpressed with the typical cluck or tug. It’s hard to get his eyes on the handler, he’s easily distracted and pushy. He lunges his owner quite well. It’s like he’s manipulating! That is part of the problem, his owner is very soft and lets him push boundaries all the time. He’s actually the opposite of your guy, he has to be ‘made’ to do things rather than choosing the easiest path – unless it’s 95 and humid in which case he seems to be a whole lot more agreeable! I’m sure many would love him, he’s just not at all a horse I would choose to develop a relationship with….but I feed him well.

          • I would suggest that his zero attention and choosing flight over *think* is because; a) he’s self-aware and a whole lot smarter than he’s being given credit for (after all, he longes his owner and knows that a cluck or tug is totally ignorable given that he’s bigger and badder than it, b) he’s a whole lot smarter than he’s being given credit for (yes, I’ve repeated that) as a horse that’s easily distracted is either a baby (which this one isn’t) or knows that he’s on his own because he knows more than the human at the end of the leadline and therefore the human can be ignored, and c) despite his dominate personality he’s insecure (why he flees at the first sign of upset) because he’s really not a natural herd leader, but he’s been forced into that role by a wishy-washy owner.

            I agree with jrga, he’s a thinker, just not the kind most associate thinking with. He’s the intelligent juvenile delinquent who acts all badass and people wonder why he doesn’t follow the rules and do something with himself. They say about him; ‘He had so much potential, but never seemed to have the desire.’ That’s because inside he’s scared out of his mind. He thinks the world is going to end, that he’s going die unless he puts on the tough guy face. Everything is a façade, a show.

            Definitely this isn’t a horse for everyone, or for the many and that’s okay. The point is for people to be able to recognize what’s in front of them and know if that’s a good match for them. And why. The why is important, imo.

          • I’m not sure about the being smarter part…he rolls in the stall up against the wall every single time, feet flailing, knocking water all over himself, getting stuck, sounds like the barn is going to come down. Did I mention he drives me nuts? You’re right on with the wanting a leader description of him. He absolutely is in the position of having to lead with his owner as she doesn’t have the ‘leader gene’ at all. Nature designed him to be a follower but nobody has led him and he is therefore insecure and basically alone. He was born here, I owned his sire, his dam came here when she was 9 months old. He is exactly like his mother in personality yet looks like his sire. I know he would be happier with a more demanding owner, he would find security in having boundaries, having some decisions made for him, building his confidence and trust. He’s case in point that all the love, cookies, pets and spoiling will never, ever give this type of horse what he genuinely needs to become stable and useful. All the reasoning I try to give falls on deaf ears. Some people don’t have the ability to be leaders and I’ve never found a horse that isn’t happier, friendlier and more stable when it has boundaries and a confident handler. Good call. You nailed him.

          • I nailed him because I own him. Certainly not having met him, I might be wrong, but any of the ‘not so bright’ horses I’ve met, don’t behave in this manner.

            Mine often laid down where he shouldn’t, particularly in the beginning. Once he almost died and had it not been for my husband coming home from work at 3am on one of the coldest winter nights (-30C) and having a gut feeling he should check on him, the horse would have died. The second equally disastrous occasion resulted in surgery being required to remove a piece of dead cannon bone. And said horse also broke more fence than ALL the other horses I’ve owned in more than 25 years, but he moved out of that phase when he felt secure.

            He’s lost and doesn’t know what to do with himself. He’s surviving the best way he knows how, but he’s terrified (and probably angry, and confused, and a whole host of other things).

            Yep, I understand he drives you crazy. It’s a tough nut to crack and he’s likely got a bag of tricks deeper than Santa’s toy sack. I only hope that he doesn’t hurt someone and get labeled a bad apple because it’s not his fault.

            I don’t envy the position you’re in with his owner.

          • Blondemare

            Nobody makes Danny do anything, how do you think he got the name Danny the Windshield Smasher? Somebody tried to make him do something. Danny has confidence, not only in himself, but in me as his handler, which is something the gelding you mention apparently lacks, so they are clearly not the same in terms of how they are now.

            It is possible to build confidence in a horse, both in himself and his handler, but, of course, his owner is the one that has need of deciding to pursue that relationship building aspect of his education. It sounds like she has no interest in that.

            None of my horses acts as you have described this gelding. But it still think that you have described a thinking horse, one who takes his own survival seriously, has no confidence in humans ever understanding his needs so he is on his onw in protecting himself, even though he thinks like a horse and simply doesn’t understand the human world so he makes mistakes. It sounds like he is continually set up for failure rather than success.

            There are actually ways to train the attention span up, the first step really to any kind of successful training. I have a youngster with a terrible attention span, he’s too busy taking over the world to stay on topic, more Danny like without ever having been provoked by humans to the level of violence that Danny was. But he’s learning, and once he has decided he’s ok with something, he is rock solid on that issue from that point on. That is another thing that a passive owner may not understand, that the horse has to own the decision to do things, and that comes from trusting that the handler will make good decisions that relieves the horse from worry over its survival.

  3. Hmm . . . I’d like to think I make smart choices here. Personally, I love more laid back horses. My favorite horse ever was my half percheron gelding, who was willing to do what I asked, and smart enough to figure out what that was, but if left to himself would just kinda stand there and be a giant sofa. If I ever own another horse, I want another one just like him! I’m much happier dealing with a lazy horse than a spooky / excited one.

    That said, I’ve ridden a number of different horses, and the only type I will refuse to ride are the ones who are a threat either because they’re aggressive, or because they ignore or fight with their rider. I’m just not up for that.

    Currently, the main horse I ride is a very spooky, herdbound, high energy mare. In some ways she’s the opposite of what I want in a horse, but when she’s not actively spooking, she loves attention and listens to her rider really well. I’m riding her because her owner isn’t really able to handle her anymore; while she was exactly what the owner wanted 15+ years ago, the owner isn’t really comfortable riding such a high energy horse anymore. So I get to ride all I want for free 🙂

  4. Hmmm. I wonder a little about my horse.

    Gender: Mare
    Personality: Alpha
    Intelligence: Above Avg
    Work Ethic: This is hard for me to categorize.
    Energy Level: High
    Respect for humans: Hard for me To categorize.
    Herd Behavior: Aggressive.

    As far as work ethic goes, my little mare will go longer and harder than any other horse, and tries her heart out at activities she enjoys, but some things are a completely different story. I am having a hard time teaching her beyond the basics: lateral movements, collection, etc. Part of this is that I am still learning myself, I’ve mostly ridden horses who knew what I was asking for, and this is my first horse, and the first I’ve worked with since she was an unbroken three year old (Yes, I have both a trainer and an instructor). Part of this is that her conformation doesn’t particularly lend itself to easy collection. I humanize her a little too much I think- I can almost hear her voice when we start this work: “Trot poles. Again! This is Boring. Stupid. Pointless. Too Hard.” First she evades, avoiding contact if she can, throwing her weight on the forehand. Then, when this doesn’t work, she tries a little tantrum, stomps her feet, crowhops, etc. I must respond assertively in order to keep her from escalating – Absolutely-Not-You-Flea-BItten-Nag, but I can get her past this and we’re good. Until we try something “difficult and pointless” again.

    Her respect seems to last as long as you earn it. She is wonderful on the ground now, and I trust her to behave because I have made it clear I expect it. Every single time I let her get away with anything, she will repeat the behaviour ad nauseum.

    She is probably the exactly the opposite of what I wanted in a horse, admittedly, I am the kind of person who likes to spoil and pamper and coo. I am, in short, an Enabler of the worst kind, and this carries over into my life, relationships, etc as well. So perhaps, I didn’t get the horse I wanted, I got the horse I needed.

    As a side note, I will tell you that my horse has been layed down on several occasions. The ranch I bought her from believed in letting their colts and fillies range until they were trained/sold/used. As a result, all the young stock and a few broodmares were vaccinated, trimmed, etc on a tipping table. Training my mare to farrier was a nightmare, especially since I just wanted to coddle my poor frightened baby. One particularly nice old farrier offered to trim her if he could lay her down, and I agreed hesitantly. She needed to be trimmed desperately, and I was nearly at the end of my rope. It was done competently with minimal fuss, and certainly none of the “make her think she’s going to die” stuff I read about. He was in the area again three months later, and trimmed her again, but he had to lay her down again, which astonished him. He said he’d never met a horse before that he needed to lay down twice. Honestly, the laying down didn’t seem to affect her one whit. There was no drastic difference in behaviour, or any change at all, actually. Her turning point came much later when I finally had enough of trying to ease her into things, and decided to completely change my approach – less carrot, more stick.

    • A few points I’d like to comment on. You came to a correct realization…the horse you needed, rather than the horse you wanted. Very insightful.

      You also connected the dots and that your relationship with the horse reflected other aspects of your life. That’s very much what this book is about. Very insightful.

      You’ve made changes and in doing so you’ve seen improvements with your horse. Also very insightful.

      But as you know, there are still issues so you have much more to learn, but if you’re open to learning, I’m quite confident you will.

      Striking a balance between carrot and stick is not easy for a lot of people. Not easy in their personal lives and in their relationships with other people, so it’s no surprise for it to also be an issue with their animals.

      In terms of advancing your horses general training under saddle, I suspect that there’s not enough preparation prior to asking for the new, more difficult exercises and movements. That your horse isn’t being resistant to just give you a hard time, but rather it’s her way of saying…’I’m not ready for that.’

      In terms of the general fight that goes on for repetitive work that she’s capable of doing, I’d suggest that she’s telling you that the repetition is unnecessary and that it might indeed be harming her in some way (causing certain muscles to be overworked etc…). If you persist longer than her eventually she gives up trying to tell you. One can only bang their head against a wall so long. Even the most persistent amongst us.

      I had a mare who literally became offended if asked to repeat an exercise more than twice in a row. And think about it, if someone said touch your toes and you did, then said touch your toes again and you did, then said it again, and again, and again…just how many times would you do it before you told them to shove it up their ass?

      My suggestion for you is to reevaluate your lesson plans. Pick one aspect of training per lesson that needs to be worked on, whether increased suppleness or improving the bend through the ribcage on the stiff side, or, or, or. Then take the time to figure out what variety of exercise and figures will a) warm her up in preparation, b) gently challenge her body and her mind during the working phase, and c) will cool her down afterward.

      On the topic of work ethic. I’ve never met a lazy horse. Certainly there are some who willingly choose the path of least resistance and others who seem to willingly haul the long, hard road. Every single horse that I’ve had an owner label ‘lazy’ had a darn good excuse for being unwilling to put forth an effort for that person. Without exception, every single horse. And without exception, I’ve had no problem changing the horse’s mind about giving me an effort they would not afford their owner.

      By nature horses are generally very willing and generous. If you come across one that isn’t, there’s a reason.

      One way to increase work ethic is to be very clear and very consistent about when it’s time to work. All of my horses know that once a piece of tack (any tack, even a halter) goes on, play time is over. That’s the rule and I don’t deviate from it. I don’t encourage bouncing around on the end of a lead line or longe rope…you had the last 23 hours to bounce around in your paddock. But then I’m also very careful to not coop a horse up in a stall for 6 days straight and then toss a saddle on and expect cooperation. Also, there must be consistency in the aids given. A leg that bounces all over the place with no control, rhyme or reason is rightly ignored as nothing more than white noise.

      Another way is to be on top of, and stay on top of your horse’s health. Nothing will ruin a horse’s willingness quicker than not feeling well. Aches, pains, poor feeding practices, not enough social interaction with other horses and a whole host of other poor management practices will kill the horse’s willingness to please.

    • Don’t discount the “voice” that you think you can hear, I hear that “voice” every so often, and all it means is that you are connected to your horse enough to get a vibe from her.

      As for your farrier being “astonished”, let’s look at that. Every horse I have had has been an exception from the norm, and I would guess that most horses are. That’s why I dislike any trainer or book, and yes, Tao is one, that doesn’t take that into account. Yes horses are horses, and they have general traits, but any so called expert that is astonished by the action of a horse is not in tune with them. Think of your own horses. I’ll bet that most of them have some personality quirk, some physical thing, etc. that is not supposed to be the norm of horsedom. Your horse, ponyfan, did not curl up and psychic-ly “die” like the Tao book said she would, she was able to handle it. I’m sure it made an impression on her, but she did not wither on the vine, and in time I’m sure that you and she will make a great team.

      • That’s not what the Tao book said about a horse being laid down. The author talked about disassociation that can happen when it’s done without understanding (ala incorrectly). She also talked about a *cowboy* (name escapes me) whom she’d seen lay down horses without the disassociation happening (indeed, praised his relationship with his horses) and she gave a clear explanation (and quite lengthy and referenced back to it a number of times) why the disassociation didn’t happen in those horses. It wasn’t because the horses were ‘special’ or in some way ‘unique’, it was because the cowboy understood on an intuitive level what to do and what not to do.

          • Gift? Bah! It’s called horse sense. And anyone dealing with horses had better figure out that every horse has the potential to surprise and be able to roll with the punches. The mumbo jumbo that this book is bringing out here in this forum is beyond me. But I am impressed with the intelligence of the conversation.

          • You don’t think some people are gifted when it comes to dealing with horses, or animals in general? You don’t think some people are gifted when it comes to dealing with people? That there aren’t people who display a natural talent for communicating effectively with others, know just what to say, and how to say it to comfort, inspire, anger, or whatever other outcome they wish to see occur? Do you really think anyone can learn to be a horseman? And that the general lack of horsemanship skills seen in all equine industries is just people who haven’t figured out that the horse has the potential to surprise and be able to roll with the punches? Really?

          • In direct terms to the ‘gifted’ cowboy mentioned in the text, the author gives examples of how the cowboy’s string of horses behaved differently than the other cowboys’ horses. His were waiting for him at the gate, fighting over which one would get to spend the day working etc.. You’re reading the book, you know what I’m talking about.

            With that in mind, are you saying that his only advantage over all the other cowboys was that he knew that horses have the potential to surprise and be able to roll with the punches?

            If that’s the case (and there’s absolutely no talent, ability or *gift* involved in displaying the exceptional horsemanship of this particular cowboy), then the vast problems seen in the horse world can be fixed or eliminated by simply repeating that over and over again as a mantra to any and all involved in horses.

          • Here’s a scenario. My previous farrier, owner, equine competitor for 30+ years had issues in his personal life. He was angry, broken. He was having increasing difficulty working on my mare’s hind feet until the one time he yanked her leg, she freaked, and I blew up, going up one side of him and down the other about him ‘knowing better’ and that he was way out of line. That was the last time he worked for me. Enter next farrier, lifts leg, allows 2 seconds (literally) of forward, upward pull by said mare, leg relaxes, mare never moved another muscle….it’s been years, she’s perfect to shoe. The difference being the presentation of the request; “give me your foot asshole” vs “I need to work on your foot, ok?”. That said, I have a young horse that’s been allowed to misbehave with his feet. He’s been known to kick at the farrier. He is NOT scared, he doesn’t want to be bothered with the effort of standing on 3 legs. If he starts pulling, I bark at him and if doesn’t stop immediately, he gets whacked hard enough to make an impression. I haven’t resorted to whack in 2 months, my voice gets the point across, even that is rarely used. Two different horses, the same misbehavior, two completely different resolutions. Whack the mare and she’d be terrified, too passive with the gelding and he’d stop allowing his feet to be handled. Knowing what each needs is paramount to a healthy relationship with them. Many people can’t tell the difference. This cowboy has the gift to read horses in the blink of an eye, identify the problem, and get it fixed in front of your eyes. He deserves more credit than he is being given.

    • I’m going to take a slightly different angle on your post. I’m with Mercedes on the need to find balance between the carrot and the stick. I think sometimes we go into horse ownership hoping that the horse will save us from our own personal demons. In a lot of ways they do. A relationship with a horse opens every emotion we and they have. It is complete truth on a level that is infinite and can become the deepest level of communication. Some questions for you to ponder: Do you feel the need to be coddled and spoiled? Do you feel the need to beg your horse to love you because rejection seems imminent? Who are the people in your life you have the most respect for and why? What makes them strong leaders? Why do you feel lesser than them? Answer these questions and I can almost guarantee your riding will improve. The fact that you’re questioning yourself and your horse tell me that your mind is open and you are close to where you need to be. Your horse didn’t over-react to being laid down because she wasn’t handled in a threatening way. To her it may have been less traumatic than clipping, trailering or some other ‘normal’ handling woe. Humanize yourself and let the horse follow your lead. Do not pity her. Do not bribe her. Be firm, fair and keep her mind occupied. Change it up and repeat certain exercises later in the ride instead of one after another. If you have thoughts that she can’t do something, she won’t do it. Clear that from the hard drive. Go in the ring with “we’re going to” rather than “she’s going to hate this”. Find that confidence and show it to your girl. Best to you both and keep the updates coming.

  5. I definitely agree with you on these points. I have considered that her resistance is due to not being ready- on the other hand, my trainer feels that this resistance is something I have encouraged/developed in her by spoiling her previously. I am still not convinced that this totally is the case either. Probably, it’s somewhere between the two. When I am working her, I try to end things and cool out as soon as she makes an honest effort – reward the try, release, etc. . .

    She definitely is offended when I ask her to repeat an exercise. She is very smart, and usually gets things right away. The trouble is that, as a rider, I need that repetition. Although, I consider myself a decent rider at the basics, I still have a long ways to go to develop myself for more advanced riding. There are still muscles I need to build, reflexes I need to learn or forget. I have found that repetition is so vital for building consistency in my riding. For a couple years, I caught rides on everything I could to advance my skills, I rode a lot of horses that were even greener than my mare, I rode a lot of lesson horses, even went so far as to lease an experienced show horse. At the end of that period, I just felt that . . . I would have rather spent the time, money and energy on my own horse.

    I will admit that I’ve taken a bit of a break from her to mull things over, and my expectations of her have been really quite low, which is probably why she is so resistant right now. I’d much rather play in the pasture all day too.

    • What you need and what she needs are two different things. Do you think it’s fair to ask her to accommodate your needs, when you don’t accommodate hers? How is that a relationship of trust and respect when you push her to do things against her nature?

      Striking a balance between your need for repetition and her need for variety is what separates riders from horsemen.

      How about this? Rather than doing a single exercise five times in a row, why not pick three difference exercises that meld together well to achieve a specific goal (like increase suppleness) repeating them five times? This gives your horse the variety she seeks and the repetition you need. Best of both worlds that eliminates the fight and likely advances both parties quicker.

      Leave the expectations at the door other than the most important, most basic ones. Example: My main expectation of my horses is that they don’t deliberately try to hurt or maim me. That’s about it. Oh, and that when it’s work time, we work. Though, I’m open to a horse having an off day or not feeling well and will often adjust the day’s agenda accordingly. After that, I’m open to anything else that’s possible.

      Instead, set goals for yourself and your horse. Short term goals, and long term goals, and maybe a wild dream or two. Consistently review those goals and the progress you’re making toward them and make necessary changes.

      Lastly, there’s not a thing wrong with enjoying each other in the pasture. But don’t use that as an escape to hide from the struggles.

  6. I need to find a copy of this book, I think I would really enjoy it. I’ve never considered a correlation between the types of horses and the people in my life before.
    I feel as though I know what I like in a horse, they must be brave and honest and I much prefer forward, hot even, to a slow balky clod hopper. I guess because for me it’s easier to slow a horse down than it is to speed one up.

    Marshall used to be a “gelding number three” but he’s a completely different horse now

  7. Hmmm. Choosing a horse is like choosing a man because you typically get a stretch of time to try-out, free lease or date before you know what you’ve got on your hands and make a decision to commit. Unless of course you fall head over heels in love at first sight, or buy something on impulse at the auction. On the other hand, what we do with our horses changes them much more, for better or worse, than we can ever expect to change an adult man. In that way, it’s more like a relationship with an impressionable child. And by and large, people don’t get to choose children carefully, whether they are born, adopted, fostered, or even just if you’re a school-teacher: children turn up and you make do and try to shape them (I am *not* speaking from personal experience here 🙂 ). I say this because with horses, there is what you choose and there is what you make of what you’ve chosen. I’ve noticed that when people have multiple horses, or have a number of horses in succession, those horses end up resembling each other in outward temperament and way of going, despite probably being very different underneath. I watched one girl go through half a dozen “problem” horses in a year, even ones that came to the barn certified safe and sane. I’ve seen other people take “problem” horses that were being discarded, switch up a few things, and have them happy and quiet in a few weeks. And while it’s true that good ground work is the foundation for good riding, it doens’t guarantee it by any means. You can have good ground skills but be doing something in the saddle that is making the horse crazy, like thumping on its back at the canter or reefing on the inside rein or riding the horse rolled under with a death grip. Some horses put up with this and some don’t. And bad riding can certainly be authorized and even required by your coach or trainer, so having expert help is no guarantee you aren’t making your horse crazy. This leads to another interesting question, which is why people “trade up” their horses, even when they are going well. I think sometimes an intermediate rider reaches a plateau with a horse that has more to do with their riding and training than with the horse’s innate ability, but the solution appears to be to buy a hotter and more “athletic” horse, rather than change the riding. I would say this often doesn’t have the desired outcome. A related situation is people choosing horses that have personality problems or are hot or reactive beyond their riding skillset because they want a “challenge” so they won’t be “bored.” But as I see it, proper schooling itself is a fascinating and unending goal, and you can’t do that well until you have the personality problems under control, so why not start with a sane, kind, level-headed horse? It’s not like there is any lack of them around.

    • I was all-in until the second to last sentence, which seemed to contradict all the points that came before it. It’s not that I disagree with the suggestion that people (most) should start with a sane, kind, level-headed horse…that’s just good sound advice, it’s that a horse can possess all those traits and be turned into something else (therefore be *hiding* those traits) by everything that you stated prior in your post. I both agree and disagree with your last sentence. I think more accurately the sentence should read: It’s not like there is any lack of POTENTIAL for those traits to exist in many/most horses.

      Which brings it right back to the original question I asked: Can you accurately assess a horse, even if in the moment he/she’s not themselves? Can you see beyond the moment of the horse who boldly walks up to you to nibble at your shirt playfully and know he’s a bully of the first degree and is just biding his time, waiting for you to turn your back, to rip a chunk out of you? Can you see beyond the moment of the horse who hangs it head and is disinterested in its surroundings and know that once the ailment that is affecting that horse is resolved that you’ll have your hands full?

      You touched on another point; knowing you can’t change the husband. So why then do so many people work against the nature of their horses, instead of with them? Is it that they do believe they can change the husband, or is it that they are unwilling to change themselves?

      Case in point, ponyfan; (and I apologize for using you as an example, my dear, but you’re handy and thusly the guinea pig :-)) has a horse who’s been quite explicit about not being receptive to repetitious work and yet ponyfan has failed (to this point) to change herself to work with her horse. She placed her need for repetition above her horse’s need for having variety. She’s been insisting all along that her horse change for her. Any successful relationship I’m aware of requires 1) acceptance, and 2) compromise.

      • In response to Silverhorses1 and you, we always want to change our horses. We want to change them from animals whose first instinct is to tighten and hollow away from a rider’s weight, we want to change them from animals more concerned with their herdmate’s location to animals concerned with our location, we want to change them from animals that feel they need to flee us (even when we are seated on their backs) to animals that trust us. We can change these things in every horse we come in contact with, and should. Because these kinds of changes make life more pleasant for horses that have to be around humans.

        I think sometimes people lose sight of one of the primary purposes of the conformation information and don’t relate it back to the horses they are working with on the ground or under saddle. I realize you are just getting the most basic information out, it is coming piecemeal, but folks need to remember the reason Mercedes is talking about the horse’s body, how it really works, is so that people can start letting go of preconceived notions of what we do and why we do it, and start getting to the real fundamental point behind knowing how a horse’s body really works. If you know how the body works, you can let go of some many bad pieces of training and riding instruction, and just learn to ask in ways that make it possible for the horse to say yes, to stop unintentionally making things harder for horses or even actually painful for them, and learn to recognize when you finally got your self right in your balance, cues, etc. so the horse can do what you ask. Because all these problem horses that just don’t want to do something, it is because some human is in the way of their being able to do it.

        Another thing that books like Tao try to teach, even if they end up being rather badly written books, is that the horses are unaware of any need to separate their bodies and minds, what their body feeling is showing in their brain and spirit, what is in their brain and spirit is showing in their bodies. They do not have emotional incongruence. We have big brain parts that function only to fool us into getting out of touch with our emotions and our gut, they allow us to rationalize, discard information that doesn’t fit our beliefs, to ignore what is for a fantasy world where what we want is what we perceive to be real.

        Once a horse knows how to respond to cues for flexion, they love to give it up to the point where we won’t release and keep nagging, because it feels good. If they can’t maintain it or evade it, it is not because they are plotting to be disobedient. One has lost balance or stiffened in the body or hands, started to hold instead of give back, pulled the rein, etc. Once a horse starts to learn how to use himself better, one of those things we always want to change in a horse, he maintains that posture on his own, and you will see him use it when free because it feels better to move that way,

        A horse that is relaxed and comfortable in his body, and with what you are asking him to do is relaxed in his mind. If you make him feel comfortable, he trusts you and will start looking to you to resolve any issues of what he should do, because he trusts you know best. Dorrance called it making yourself the ‘quiet center of the storm’. When everything else is falling apart, your horse knows you can make it better. That knowledge will change your horse for you forever, and solve so many problems you thought you needed exercises and repetition for, etc.

      • I guess my last comment was thinking more about people who “trade up” to horses that are way beyond their skillset so they get a “challenge” rather than see the challenge as schooling a horse that will actually listen to them. This is a problem of the overconfident beginner or intermediate, rather than the really good trainer, who could be expected to solve the horse’s problems rather than run into disaster and throw the horse away. As far as being able to see the real horse even in the moment they aren’t being themselves, I’ve never done any horsetrading and would be cautious about my own ability to quickly assess a new horse, but I’d ask for help from two or three people I know that can see the real horse. They have some apparently amazing fast successes, because they are able to pick good horses who are acting out in a bad situation, and avoid the ones who are deeply troubled. They’ve been given $30,000 or $70,000 warmbloods for free that have burned out. It almost seems like the more expensive the horse, the more likely the owners are to toss it out when it gets unhappy. So I think that answers the question about changing what you’re doing if it doesn’t work for your horse. No, because you are a brilliant rider with the best trainer, and if your horse isn’t happy, that’s the horse’s fault, you give it away for free (or auction or horse rescue) and pray that it never turns up on the show circuit again to embarass you 🙂 As one of my friends said, what would happen to the horse breeding industry if everyone got one good horse and kept it sound, sane and competitive for 20 years?

        • Ha! That’s food for thought. Excellent post here. Although I do think that some people (not necessarily anyone here on this forum) over thinks their situation with their horses. There are some people who really are masters, and can do stuff like cantering backwards, those (like me) who are good at getting the horse to do what they want it to do on a more limited basis, and those who will always be at odds with or bored with a horse. And I don’t think that that calls for considering anybody “gifted”. We as human beings all have our different “gifts.” And bowing down and trying to emulate someone’s “gift” is never going to give you that “gift”. Be aware of the type of horse sense you have, approach each horse as an individual, be able to pass on a horse that is to much for you, and you will always end up with a horse that you love and is useful to you.

  8. My horse is definitely a challenge, but I think that’s why I love him. He’s very smart, and he picks things up very quickly – but his next thought is, how do I avoid doing that properly? He’s always looking for an easy way out, or a cheat. When I ask for flexion, he’ll drop his nose, but not flex his vertebra. Just little things like that. It can be annoying, but at the same time it always means we have something to work on. He can be very friendly when he wants to be, but a lot of time he’s indifferent towards you. I once saw him get chased off his feed by a yearling filly -_- Make of that what you will – he is a 15.2hh gelding and built like a brick shit house. He certainly isn’t perfect, but I do enjoy riding him, I love the challenge he poses, and I love his personality. I didn’t really choose him for either personality or looks, we just sort of came together. But I certainly wouldn’t change him.

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