Why do I coach new horse owners specifically? A long time ago, when I got my first horse as an adult, having taken some time off to live in urban settings (San Francisco and New York) and pursue a decidedly non-horsy field (acting and screen writing), I had questions. Alhough I’d spent my youth almost exclusively doing horse activities such as raising, training, and showing, becoming completely responsible for the care of my own horse brought up questions that were both general to horse behavior and specific to the horse I’d purchased.
“Why does he seem to take advantage of me?”
“What’s this tooth that just fell out of his mouth?” (he was a youngster)
“How do I get the saddle to fit him better?”
I asked people at the stable where I boarded my horse, only to be made to feel foolish by their responses and attitudes.
I learned that you had to act “as if” you knew all the answers, to have “game face,” when all the while you were completely lacking in solutions.
Such a “know-it-all” environment is neither safe, nor very helpful for the new horse owner.
I coach new horse owners who might not have figured out that the most important thing they should know about their sentient animal is that he is capable of developing a response and opinion about his new owner. In essence, you as a human have before you an interactive mirror of your thoughts, emotions, and attitudes. The reason horses work so well in a cognitive behavioral therapy model—what is termed “equine-assisted psychotherapy ” or “equine-assisted mental health” (EAP or EAMH) is that they can pick up on nuances of body language and energy levels that communicate underlying emotional conflict and turmoil. It might take several sessions of talk therapy in an office to uncover what a horse knows about you the minute you walk up to his pen.
If a horse owner isn’t tuned into the emotional baggage he or she is bringing to the stable, it will be easier to blame the horse for a negative reaction to riding and handling. In short, strong conflicting emotions, often hidden to the person, can confuse and negatively affect an equine. I like to remind my clients to do a quick body scan for tension and an emotional inventory to get a sense of “what side of the bed” they got up on that day, and to do it before showing up at the stable. No doubt, the horse will be doing it for them soon enough.
Why I coach the new horse owner, then, is because their horses want me to. Along with learning important horse management information in a non-judgmental environment, a new owner will learn how to develop a relationship with a horse based on trust and respect, the earmarks of a good working partnership. While my own approach is based on natural horsemanship principles established by such teachers as Pat and Linda Parelli, Mark Rashid, and Carolyn Resnick, I’ve found that one approach doesn’t fit everyone. In the end, the finest authority in your horsemanship journey is often the horse in front of you. Learning a language that helps you communicate and recognize communication is the first step toward bridging the gap between species and knowing the pleasure of equus.