Book Of The Summer Club – Tao, Part 3

I don’t have a whole lot to say about the last section of this book.  I thought it rather serendipitous that the author would mention Nikola Tesla, but that doesn’t belong on this blog.  Mostly she talked of results within her program and otherworldly connections between mankind and animals.  It stretches the beliefs for even the most spiritual.  Whether you buy into any of it or not, if you have any ability to see from another perspective or are willing to accept that sometimes things happen that you can’t explain, then there’s something to take away.

At the very least the author explores that special, often undefinable, connection that people have with their horses.  We sometimes forget it exists until it’s not there anymore.  I’ve had to say goodbye to my horses for the time being and it changes how I feel – about everything.  The empty void and restlessness can only be cured by a moment of contact with horse flesh.

There’s something magical about the horse.  Be as left brain as you want, it can’t be denied.  We all know it exists.  The author explores that cover to cover, and while you may not agree with her conclusions there’s enough every day evidence to know she’s right to ask the questions and explore.  Just listen to those who work in therapeutic riding programs describe how their uncommunicative pupil suddenly lights up; a poetic soliloquy erupting from their mouth as they nuzzle against the horse, or how that juvenile delinquent on a collision course for a long term jail cell quiets the rage inside and takes back control of their life simply by having to be responsible for a horse.

Winston Churchill got it right when he said, ‘There’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man.’  But there’s more to it than that.  There’s also something inside the horse that’s good for us all.

Thank you to those who’ve read this book along with me.  It was a tough read at times.  And thank you to all the others who participated in the discussion anyway.

38 thoughts on “Book Of The Summer Club – Tao, Part 3

  1. I didn’t read the book though it sounds like the author at least appreciates the passion a horse can stir in the soul. It is a marvel that we can take these animals, nearly 10 times our size, and not only love them from the ground, we also climb onto their backs and trust them with our lives. After great rides today, I sat with a friend over Sunday sundaes discussing our rides, in awe over the speed in which these animals learn and how the relationship is deeper in many ways than human to human. Horses are always capable of change, of adapting. The lonely track horse, full of flight for having no comprehension of the wants of humans, develops trust, confidence and a sense of humor when shown a new way to be. It can start as simply as a wither scratch and a few kind words and grow into a friendship that will last a lifetime. There is no logical reason for horses to do all that we ask of them yet they do and they forgive when we are wrong and they try again. I can’t imagine a life without them.

    • Excellent points. Another Ray Huntism: It’s easy to change the horse, it’s hard to change the human.

      If we learn to communicate better, the horse immediately responds to our efforts. I think they live in the now better than we do, they have excellent memories, but if what you are doing now is different than what you did before with them that didn’t work out well for them, and the now is working, they put aside the past. Humans harbor so many more preconceptions, biases and grudges for past actions, we don’t do ‘the now’ nearly as well.

      • So true. And those who have learned from the horse how to live in the now are all the better for it. A comment that I frequently hear is that a horse can’t or won’t do “insert request” because it was abused. There is usually no rationale behind the statement, rarely is this abuse witnessed. I find that statement to be the failure of the owner/handler as THEY can’t move out of the past. The horse absolutely will change and grow when shown the way by a confident leader. Show them pity and they retain fear and insecuirty, show them strength and they become strong. Amazing animals.

        • There was an article in a recent Oprah about life coach horses, similar to the Tao author. Unfortunately, non horsey authors who write about this make it all too mystical and romanticized, but I do think that horses as life coaches can work if a person takes the time to learn from the horses. That was much the same as Mercedes’ points about the success of programs with the disabled and trouble youth. The local women’s correctional facility has a program where inmates are now working with rehabbing the excess number of rescue horses the state has had to impound. It is a small program, three to four horses at a time, but I think it has been successful and they auction the horses once they are rideable to help recover costs.

          • My State does the same thing. When horses are seized, they are taken to a sanctuary to be cared for by inmates. At one time, there was a waiting list for inmates wanting the opportunity. Horses are a direct reflection of their handlers. It takes a good amount of soul searching to communicate with horses and people who are ‘locked up’ can benefit from the honesty of it all. And what a dose of humility they can dish out!


            this is the woman from the Oprah article. First I will note she trained with Monte ‘the Horse Whisperer that wasn’t’ Roberts. The second article on corporate leadership seminars is relatively short and worth the read to discuss. More accessible than the book because it is so much shorter. I think it would be worth critiquing.

          • Read the article and was pleased with the final lesson taken away in terms of honesty. That quality is really missing in people on many levels.

            But I’ve always had an issue with ‘join-up’ and I’m not sure I can express it in words. It reeks too much of control (on the person’s part) and submissiveness (on the horse’s part).

            I dislike seeing horses turn into the circle and approach the person. I always think, ‘is the person too lazy (or controlling) to walk their butts out to the horse?’ And frankly, having the horse stop on the circle and stand while the person approaches into the horse’s personal bubble (and the horse remaining there) is a far greater accomplishment than having the horse coming into the person’s personal bubble, imo.

            Having said that, I can’t remember the last time I actually ‘went to’ a horse to retrieve it out of a field. I don’t even retrieve horses from their stalls, I always wait for them to come to the door. So I know I don’t have to ‘join-up’ to get a horse to come to me; carrots work just fine. 🙂

            I think maybe I view leadership differently than the author. I’m really okay with the horse flipping me off now and again. I likely deserved it. And I’m really okay with the horse making some of the decisions in our partnership, afterall, they have areas of expertise and I’d be stupid not to consider that. I don’t need my horse to chew and smack its mouth in a submissive manner, and I don’t want that.

            It’s good to hear that horses are being used in different ways to help people. We need all the help we can get.

          • Mercedes

            I think we all agree horses are good for us, and that we can all learn important life lessons by being in the now, the focus, the investment of ourselves 100% in a effort to communicate and achieve teamwork. It is just the more I read about this, the more the ‘magical’ aspects are emphasized and the real hard work of learning to communicate are underemphasized, and each horse is a challenge, a wild or abused horse. The drama smells bad and is bad for real horsemanship. Just my not very humble opinion, of course.

          • I don’t disagree with you, jrga. The packaging matters to people in the same way that what you wear matters to people, or what you drive, or how you talk matters to people.

            In the end, does it matter how it’s presented as long as people are getting out of it what they need? Sometimes I’d answer that question no and sometime I’d answer it yes.

            In the example of Sarah Ferguson: Does it matter that the two women guiding her are full of it? Or is it simply okay that Ms. Ferguson got something constructive out of it for herself?

            I’m most disturbed by the potential for injury to Ms. Ferguson in that clip. I want to smack the two women’s heads together and ask them what the heck they were thinking. Secondly I was disturbed by the lack of education they gave Ms. Ferguson before sending her in there. Talk about putting her in God’s hands, especially if the horse was really as ‘wild’ as suggested (which I’m doubting greatly).

            So I would say, in this case, I’m more peeved about the *horse* crap that went on, than I am about the foofoo stuff, which neither hurt anyone or had the potential to hurt anyone.

          • I also thought Sarah Ferguson stood a good chance of being double barrelled. And I have gone to BLM auctions where the horses were loaded only through shutes, no halters could have been put on them, they weren’t walking anywhere on a lead line, and in a round pen they were terrified, running full out, sometimes challenging the pen walls, trying to kick or climb their way out, etc. This horse was clearly broken to lead, was not terrified, it could walk into the round pen across concrete through a narrow door calmly for pete’s sake. Maybe it was never round penned, but quite frankly, I doubt that claim.

            The reactive response of the equine coach, after Sarah was already backing away, was useless. If she was good, she would have been warning Sarah well before that moment. And Sarah, while no longer royalty, was probably on many a horse outing, she would have less fear and more ability than many women.

            I think what I have seen from the Oprah site is mostly a good idea done badly. Sarah kept saying the horse was healed, who would feed out such stupid nonesense to someone really trying to find the life lessons. That horse didn’t need healing, it just needed to find out if Sarah was too big an idiot, and therefore, too great a threat to its own survival, to allow her to approach. Why do the snake oil salesmen always rise to the top, get the publicity and ruin things by having their adoring acolytes give horse women a bad name?? Blondemare is almost ashamed. 🙂 She shouldn’t be ashamed, she should be full of righteous indignation that these women are being exploited by way of other women claiming they are being healed of insecurities and fears instead of really giving them the skills they need not to be exploited. Because, quite truly, learning to coexist, and yes, even demand and receive obedience from a 1000 pound animal, without having to be macho, does give one confidence and important life skills.

          • Compare this other video and the exercise, they have too much of the talking, not enough of the horse/human interaction, but does anyone think it was just less fear that got the horse to pick up its foot or was some other dynamic involved?

    • OMG, I feel bile rising. Yeppers, that most certainly is a ‘frightened wild Mustang…right down to the dually halter! And you my friend can have one too for the low, low price of $589 + tax!! You too can be a pro and become a life coach for other terrified animals! (vomits)

    • LMAO! Yep, that’s the most escareded horse I’ve ever seen in my life.

      Really, you send Sarah Ferguson into a round pen without any (enough) education and no longe whip? Were they trying to get her double barrelled in the chest or what?

      Unlike blondemare, who felt bile rise, I actually puked in mouth.

  2. I think the transformative aspects of working with horses come out of learning some real skills, whether in the saddle or on the ground. These can be as simple as learning to walk with confidence, keep your chest open, learn not to nag, yell or talk in a high-ptiched baby voice constantly :), make all your movements around the horse deliberate, calm, consistent and meaningful, and pay attention to every flicker of the horse. OK, these are getting to be not so simple, I suppose! But I’m thinking of all the ways being around horses makes you stop thinking about yourself, get out of your own head, and be alert to what is really going on. I just think though that it is going to take longer than one session to learn these in relation to horses. And much longer than that for someone to transform her human relationships by applying these lessons. All or most of the humans around her (who don’t live in the moment either and don’t appreciate clarity, usually, unlike horses) will want her to go on being who she was, anxious, self-defeating, etc., as that makes it easier for them to continue as they are. I suppose I don’t really believe in true quick long-term psychological fixes, with or without horses in the mix. People will feel wonderful after almost any counselling or human potential session, seminar, weekend, just like they feel wonderful after almost any horse groundwork clinic. But whether that euphoria, and even valid insights, can be sustained into real long-term change is another question.

    • I think they could be if you worked at it long term, but a weekend seminar, most people would revert to old habits immediately. Some people might be able to nurture their acorn into an oak with no further help, but I don’t think most people could.

      I totally believe that equine life coaching would be good if there was more emphasis on learning how to change yourself, and that certain things work in the physical sense better when you have no fear, no emotional baggage in the way, but do in fact work to some degree even with those things. and some things won’t work at all if your emotional baggage, anger, fear are too intense.

  3. M – I agree that a horse should not come to the human when being lunged, well, maybe at the end of the lesson occasionally. Whoa should be just that – stop feet right there and now thank you. Do not swing hips out, do not approach me, just relax and enjoy the break until asked to move again. You should also be able to control speed and stop the horse by stepping in front of (imaginary) the horse’s space. If the horse’s head is at 12:00, hips at 2:00, I want to step towards 11:00 (ONE step) and see the brakes start to come on with eyes on me. If I only wanted a slowdown (half halt) I will step back where I came from allowing the horse to proceed. It sounds simple enough, the horses certainly get it, but most people can’t do it.

    Watching Sarah Ferguson reaffirms to me that horses are smarter than people. People lie (obviously not anywhere near a wild horse in any way, shape or form), people embellish (letting someone think she is in control of a horse when she is not) and they will put others in danger for the sake of an interview. Foo foo bullshit. Nobody without horse knowledge should be in a roundpen of all places with a “wild” horse. Horses spook, horses kick up in delight, they kick up in domination, they knock people over every day of the week. You want to grow as a human through horses? Muck stalls, pick hooves, stack hay, lug grain, fix fence and THEN you get to play horsie. It doesn’t just magically appear in a roundpen with a dually halter. I can’t think of a better way for people to coach themselves into reality.


    Video of exercise in Miraval Spa with Wyatt Webb, participants are asked to pick up and clean the feet of the horse. Webb uses it to find patterns of behavior for clients to work on, his philosophy is that the way you do one thing is the way you do everything. Additionally, extremely fearful or angry people, tenative people afraid to assert themselves, won’t be able to pick up the hoof.

    My question is, is it fear for these ladies or something else that was going on?

    • I get the theory behind this but what I find extremely annoying is how people want the entire world to know about their pain, they want pity – enter violins and kleenex. Not to say that there’s anything unusual about all of us being in some kind of pain, and these women certainly had traumatic experiences, but why be so overt about it? Come one come all to the self pity wagon for a ride! But no, we see Gayle acting for dramatic effect and then a woman, who earlier touched a cannon bone, now pinching a tendon and voila! Horsey picks up his foot, all problems solved. Someone stole this from 29 Days and Sandra Bullock.

      • … the movie would be 28 Days. My theory on life is to keep pushing on as hard as possible, be thankful for what I have and live life on my own terms. Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger but pity is a dangerous road to travel.

      • I asked the question earlier: In the end does it matter how they got there, as long as they got there? The women are there to heal something broken inside them and it just so happens that horses are the median.

        Doing an Oprah episode certainly isn’t my approach to dealing with stuff. I don’t want to talk about it with most anyone, least of all in front of cameras and thusly millions of viewers. I prefer the rant and rave at my husband for two minutes and then move on for most things. And the stuff that a man wouldn’t get…that’s what your BFF is for. But for some people, unloading to a stranger works. *shrugs*

      • I don’t think those women were looking for violins and pity as much as a reassurance that what they were feeling was normal, that they were normal and that they would feel okay again. Burying trauma of that degree just creates a monster in the closet that will eventually get out and destroy relationships, happiness, etc. We have to let go of our ‘hard spots’ and ‘braces’ to be able to work the hard spots and braces out of our horses and other relationships. I think Oprah overplays the melodrama, it is what she sells, so she probably edits to increase the pathos.

    • Most negative emotions and actions are based in fear. Anger is fear based. Aggression is fear based. Bullying is fear based etc… So on some level, I don’t doubt these women are afraid. Afraid of being alone. Afraid of being attacked again. Afraid of losing another loved one. Whathaveyou. That kind of fear can paralyze aspects of your life and personality. That’s real.

      I know this; whenever my farrier walked into my barn and was having a bad day, rest assured the horses would give him a hassle. If he was having a good day, everything went smoothly. He never liked that big, grey mare and she knew it. Every opportunity she got to annoy him, she would…including stealing his tools while he was working on other horses. 🙂

      I’m not sure these women were particularly fearful in that moment of having to pick up that horse’s hoof, but temporarily acknowledging and then dropping their baggage certainly changed their approach and would have changed the energy they were putting out.

      Picking up a hoof and cleaning it out is a pretty simple task and yet I’ve seen hundreds of people struggle to do it even after years of working with horses. Is it because of some emotional baggage they’re carrying around? Maybe, sometimes. Is it because they try and pick the hoof up when the horse is weighting that leg and therefore not balanced over it’s other legs allowing it to actually pick up that foot? Probably a lot of the time. Is it because they haven’t positioned themselves correctly, or that the horse has begun to give the foot and the person doesn’t follow through with the support? Probably a lot of the time.

      • Most peoples’ biggest problem is that they expect things to change without a thought of changing themselves. The horse ‘should’, he ‘knows’ and they continue to pull on the cannon bone without, as you say, checking for balance of the other 3 legs. So they blame the horse. And sometimes the horse is being lazy, and surely does’t want to work any harder than necessary so he hangs his head and snoozes. Surefire way to pick up a front hoof, pinch the chestnut, hind hoof, pinch the hock. Works Every time!

      • This takes me back to things that Ray Hunt and Buck Brannaman point out, that the horse’s mirror us, whatever we are bringing to the horse, the horse shows it back to us. Fear, agression, distrust, lack of confidence, anger, etc. When you listen to either of them on a video or in person, they talk about, and their students talk about how much working with the horses in a positive manner, accepting responsibility for not just the welfare in the sense of taking care of the horse, but being the teacher and the guide to learning how humans do things so that the horse doesn’t have to be afraid for its survival, changes people. It teaches the people to let go of fear and anger, to develop trust and patience and acceptance and it affects all parts of a person’s life. In that sense I agree with Wyatt Webb’s premise that how you do one thing is how you do all things.

        Brannaman is coming to Clemson University this fall, it will be my first chance to see him in person without going halfway across the country (ie, an hour and a half drive instead of a full day’s drive). I am looking forward to it. I think his life story is interesting, and I think between living on the ranch with his foster parents and then meeting Ray Hunt shortly after he graduated high school, allowed him to find these things and avoid being one of the children who grows up to be an abuser because he was abused. Learning horsemanship, to put the animal first, to learn to communicate without language and the fictions language allows us to create, can cure most human problems because we have to confront so much of our history and let it go to get good at working with horses.

        • There you go again, teasing me…first Ray Hunt, now Buck. Hard to get anyone who isn’t do H/J or Dressage to clinic in New England. Buck is awesome, he is raw truth with himself and with horses. Things are what they are, communication is much more (and less) than words. What I admire most about those who helped Buck along the way….they were teachers and never pitied him but gave him the tools he needed to sort things out for himself. He comes from the core. Love him.

          • but I only get to watch this time, not nearly as impressive as getting to ride. If he is scheduled to return, ie, this is going to be one of his stops for a few years in a row, I may try to get on the waiting list to ride. The next closest places he has ever been are about nine hour drives away. I’ve shown in Ed Garrison Arena (many years ago) it is a really nice place.

  5. Yes, it really seems to be *that* Sarah Ferguson. Have to wonder why she didn’t learn all about horses from her in-laws while she had the chance!

  6. First, the idea of the “wild horse” seems overly romanticized in much natural horsemanship as the true original state of the horse, and the starting point for thinking about how to work with horses. But most horses aren’t wild, and many pet “problem” horses have the opposite problem: they are overly-confident around people. Yet because the “wild horse” is the reference point, people will focus on techniques that might be redundant for domesticated horses.

    I did read somewhere that roundpenning for “join-up” was pointless for a pet horse. There might be value in “sending around” a frightened or belligerent horse until it turns to you as herd boss. I’ve never had the opportunity to see or do this myself, so can’t say if its the best method or not. But for a pet horse who already wants to follow you around the pen with his nose in your pocket, the leadership issues are different. You are still going to need to send him away, back off, but the moment of “join-up” isn’t going to be the key breakthrough. I don’t think a lot of newbies realize how easy it is to get a horse to come when you whistle. It looks so impressive, but as someone said above, it just takes a few carrots.

    Second, even the “wild horse” is in fact a feral domestic animal. Like feral dogs and cats, feral horses do seem to have an innate ability to re-connect with humans and become domesticated, certainly if you get them young enough or they haven’t been too traumatized. This of course is part of what makes taming the wild mustang so appealing to the imagination and a plausible goal for someone with the skills and guts. It’s not like trying to tame a true wild animal: raccoon, deer, bear, tiger. Even pet chimps that wear diapers and ride trikes have to be sent away as adults, when they get big enogh to kill their owners. Can you imagine roundpenning an adult moose — or even a zebra?

    So I guess I’m saying three related things, which I hope aren’t contradictory 🙂 First, much natural horsemanship over-emphasizes the “wild horse” as a reference point, because taming a wild mustang makes a better story than bringing up a foal to be quietly backed and trained for saddle at an appropriate age, with no drama, bucking or resistance. But taming a wild mustang only works because you are in fact dealing with a feral domestic animal, which can usually be socialized to be indistinguishable from other domestic animals, just like you will have better luck rescuing a litter of hissing spitting orphaned barn kittens than buying a tiger cub. Indeed, the success rate for taming feral horses is probably higher than for feral cats 🙂 .That said, the techniques needed for the early stages of re-socializing a feral animal may not be the ones you need for solving problems with a pet animal. And very few of us are going to be the first human contact for a feral horse.

    So the emphasis on the “wild horse” in many of these discussions is a bit of a distraction, and leads to peculiarities like video of Sarah Ferguson. The horse in the video needs to be “wild” for this particular story to make sense. But the horse, it seems, isn’t truly “wild,” just out of control enough for this to be a potentially dangerous situation for someone that doesn’t know horses: so a certain amount of “fail” on many levels.

    • too many natural horsemanship people understood half of what they were taught, they could mimic the motions and get them to work, but not the understanding. You need to be able to block and send any horse on command, that is a root to almost all horse handling and riding. Because that is what horses learn in the herd. It is the horse not getting in your space (block) and moving away a respectful distance when leading because you said so (send). That is whoa and go when you are riding. It is the decision to stop at a gate leading a horse and send it on past you first, or it stops and lets you precede it through the gate. It is trailer loading. It is round penning if the horse is dangerous to be too close to. It can all happen on a lead line with a colt handled from birth with no obedience issues. To really experienced handlers, to round pen or move the group of young horses before the colt starting class tells the handler a lot about the horses’ personalities and issues, dominant, submissive, order in a herd, sensitivity to cues, shut down or hyper aware, agressive, no attention span, etc. They can and will tailor what they do to each horse. The really good people rarely have to spend much time at all round penning to get join up. It was widely reported Tom Dorrance just had to walk into a pen, sit on his stool and within minutes every horse would come to stand next to him, without him visibly doing anything.

      But ultimately, using a round pen, a lead line, or hanging out in pasture, we all ask the horse to submit, and when the horse makes that choice, he’s made the choice to trust us with his life. He has given over control. It is no small gift and we should work to be worthy of it.

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