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.

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. 

Book Of The Summer Club – Tao, Part 1

If you decided to read Tao Of Equus then you noticed that it’s conveniently divided into three parts.  Here are my thoughts on part one.

I might as well start by addressing the elephant in the room.  There will be some who call BS right off the bat; predictive dreams, horse ancestor ghosts that provide training advice, a well-versed in alternative healing practises psychologist and some sort of out-of-body-into-horse-mind experience.  I can’t claim to have had any of those experiences in my life, therefore you’d think I’d have no basis in which to relate to them.  But I sort of do.  I’ve seen and experienced some odd things in my life, such that I won’t automatically dismiss what someone else claims to have experienced.  Let’s be real here, millions of people (I’m not one of them) believe in God (as per the Bible) and not one of them can provide proof of his/her existence.  The author discusses several cultures over the centuries, all of which believed in something otherworldly.  Maybe the entire human species is crazy?  But I know what I’ve experienced.

Several years ago I was having lunch in a mall with a friend and co-worker.  I’ll call her Anita (because that’s her name).  It was February and we were discussing a recent change in company policy whereby yearly bonuses would be given out on employees’ birth dates rather than on the previous once a year fiscal date.  I promptly blurted out (and with conviction) that I didn’t care when they gave out the bonuses because I wasn’t going to be there (at the company) by the time my birthday (December) came around.  Anita raised her eyebrows and looked at me, and I looked back and said, “I have no idea why I just said that.  That just came out of nowhere.” 

The truth of the matter was that I had no intentions of leaving that employ.  I enjoyed that job immensely, my co-workers and my boss.  As it turned out, the singular and simple event in May of a neighbor cutting down a tree led to my husband and I putting our hobby farm up for sale.  We placed just one ad in an area newspaper and sold it privately for almost the entirety of our asking price within two weeks.  We had also already found the property we wanted to buy within that two weeks, and by August we’d moved to our new farm two hours away.  I quit my job and was long gone from the company before I was due for my yearly bonus.  Somehow I’d predicted a future I’d had no mental awareness of.  I’ve done it a number of other times in my life and always it comes from me blurting out things from left field that have never crossed my mind previously.  I will also admit to having very strong ‘gut feelings and instincts’ that I always listen to because they never steer me wrong.  In the end, though, I’m not sure it matters what we believe or even if we agree on an origin.  It probably only matters if you want to satisfy your curiosity or if you need to place responsibility somewhere to feel at ease.  I suspect a lot of us just simply dismiss these sorts of events in our lives because it’s easier that way.

Mostly, I like to claim being a logical thinker with my fair share of common sense practises.  I have to give the author some credit as she continually questions her thought processes and even wonders if she’s going crazy.  Mixed amongst her struggle to find answers there are a lot of really good tidbits of equine advice.  She seeks out professional training services and input from those more experienced, gets second opinions from healthcare professionals, she applies theory to practical, learns from mistakes (hers and others), and follows a logical path.  Even if you can’t grasp ‘the other stuff’, you can (should) appreciate the rest that she writes about.

The flowery metaphors and poetic prose are not my favorite writing style to read, but then I’m not entirely sure there’s a simple, bland or blunt way to write about some of the topics.  References to Freud, Jung, Sheldrake et al…are a reminder that she’s not in fact talking about anything new or particularly ‘mysterious’, though it comes off that way.  I’ve never studied those particular men and I don’t possess their sophistication, but they do make me go ‘hmm….’ in a good and interesting way.

I loved the historical and cultural data presented by the author, much of which wasn’t about horses.  The development of belief systems is fascinating whether you buy into it all or not.  Mythology, shamanism, religion, spiritualism; all of it has been part of the human existence from the beginning of time.  I’ve got nothing against someone incorporating it into their equine practices as long as it works for the human and the horse.

I also really enjoyed the reference to anthropomorphism versus the more accurate anthropopathism, and the entire Sympathetic Vibration section where the author got all scientific about the sympathetic nervous system, the enteric nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.   That alone was worth the read.

On the equine front there were so many good tidbits I can’t list them all, but I will comment on a couple.  In the latter portion of this section the author takes her Arabian mare out to the desert for the day, to do (basically) nothing.  She’d already come to the conclusion that even though her horse would not be the performance superstar she’d planned for because of her injury, the mare still had much to offer.  This is an important shift that many people never experience.  So often horses are viewed as disposable commodities, like a keyboards.  Bang away, every day, until it breaks, then toss it and go buy a new one.  I hate that. 

In a similar vein, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard of people purchasing a new horse only to immediately climb aboard and start riding/showing it without ever giving the horse a chance to adjust to its new environment.  Then a week or two later the horse has a meltdown and everyone stands around scratching their heads wondering why.  I call those first few days/weeks ‘the honeymoon’.  Once it’s over then you learn what you’ve really got on your hands.  I’ve always advised people who’ve just acquired a new horse to take some time getting to know that horse, and the horse to know them by essentially doing ‘nothing’.  Take a lawnchair, a book, a brush and some apple/carrot pieces and sit your butt in the middle of the pasture/paddock and hangout.  If the horse wanders over to say hi, great. If not, there’s always tomorrow.  Eventually they all do.  And eventually they’ll all stand quietly, without restraint, to be groomed.  You’ve now begun to build a foundation of trust that’ll carry you forward in partnership.

The author also references emotional congruity and how that affects the horse.  We’ve all experienced this; we’re in a hurry, just had a fight, or are upset about something going on in our lives.  We head out to the pasture to bring horses in for dinner or before we leave for an important meeting, and the buggers scatter like a flock of birds on a highway with a Mack truck speeding towards them.  Horses that otherwise would meet us at the gate with joyous nickers, jockeying for position to be the first one in, want nothing to do with us in that moment.  There’s two things you can always count on a horse to do; behave like a horse and be a mirror that reflects your current self. 

I’m off to begin reading part two and seeing where the author’s journey goes next.

NEW! Book Of The Summer Club

…because there’s no way I can do it in a month’s time.

I thought it would be great if *we* occasionally picked a horsie book to read and talk about ala Oprah.  Nothing can replace putting our hands on the horse and working directly with it, but there’s still value in discovering from books.

I went ahead and picked *our* first book, though, I’d be happy to go with a consensus for the next one. 

The Tao Of Equus: A Woman’s Journey Of Healing And Transformation Through The Way Of The Horse by Linda Kohanov

I know!  Super Oprahesque, right?  But I’m telling you it’s got some good stuff in it.  So, I invite all to pick up a copy and begin reading.  It’s readily available on Amazon and I note that there are less expensive used copies of the book that can be purchased.  My first blog installment won’t be until about mid-June so there’s time.  Please join me.

In other news, the final Part 3 of The Long And Short Of It series should be up by Friday (17th).  I apologize for the slowness of late, but I’ve been out of the country.  There will be two other shorter interruptions for Hooves in June and July, while I head out to do some long overdue horsey things.