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  • Kathryn Hulland

“The problem here is that there is nothing natural about what we are doing.”


I was re-reading some of my favourite passages in a few books of mine and will share some of them over the next few days, the first couple are from Dancing with your Dark Horse by Chris Irwin there is a synopsis of the book at the bottom of this post and you can buy it in Amazon.

I’ve shared the full paragraph but the words that always hit a note with me are “The problem here is that there is nothing natural about what we are doing.”

No truer word spoken – horses are prey animals why would they let and like a predator on their back, can we really expect this from them? Should we ride at all? There is only so far we are able to go to keep horses as naturally as possible, it’s simply impossible. When healing I have come across many horses and ponies, in particular feral ponies born on the moors free, struggling with the concept of life with us humans, they can’t comprehend why they have such little say over their own lives and it’s frustrating for them, their solar plexus chakra is often unbalanced as a result of the lack of their own feelings of self-empowerment. Once roaming free with their herd suddenly they are shut in a 16x16 box unable to see and touch any other horse, turned out a few hours a day not knowing what other horses will be there, if any; given human company an hour or two a day when much is demanded of them whether that’s initial training learning how to be handled or tacked up and ridden, when again more is asked. It’s no wonder so many struggle with the concept of their life as it is with us humans. And yet so many are so accepting of it and happy, even if they don’t understand it. They try so hard.

I’ve had healing sessions with ponies who try incredibly hard to hold it together because they know what is expected from them, they trust their owner and they are fighting their natural instincts - during the healing session I feel their anxiety and all their nerve endings firing, inevitably at times with some they let go as it’s all too much for them and they may suddenly explode – bit like us humans when we’ve been holding in too much eventually it has to all come piling out, some may shout some may cry horses will do the same, some may react by internalising the stress and have health issues. With the best will in the world we can only do so much for the worst cases and over time in the right home, with continuity and understanding those nerve endings will fire less often but they may never stop firing entirely.

And so we owe it to these beautiful animals to make their life the best we can; no we can’t give them a natural life, we will never replace a herd member or be another horse so although some techniques may help mimicking how horses behave, they aren’t stupid they know you are a mere human!

We must give them choice when we can, we must give them respect, we must ask permission, we must give them reason to trust us and trust our judgement, we must help them to be in the best physical condition for what we ask of them and we too must be the best we can. We should be authentic around them, we shouldn’t bottle up our true feelings and lie to ourselves when around them, they know, they won’t trust this and we owe it to them to be honest if we want them to have the best possible life with us.

We can’t all let our horses live out in a stable herd 24/7 as much as we’d like to, but we can try and chose the best options available to us within our means, doing the best we personally can and we can all spend lots of quality time with them just being in the moment, joining with them in their world, nothing asked of them.

Dancing with your Dark Horse – Chris Irwin

Chapter: Calm and Collected

“The phrase “natural horsemanship” for example is a dangerous oxymoron. It suggests that horses are fine as they are, that humans screw them up, and that the trainer’s job is to return the animal to its original state of grace. The problem here is that there is nothing natural about what we are doing. We are not only trying to convince prey animals to allow predators on their backs and control their every movement, we are trying to get them to like it. Trying to pass this off as “natural” causes confusion that results in real physical consequences for both horse and rider. The natural conformation of a horse’s back is inverted, not rounded. Some breeds are more naturally rounded than others, and alpha stallions and mares in the wild achieve that state for brief moments, but you will never see a consistently rounded and collected horse cantering around in the wild. It emphatically is not natural. While it is vital to understand a horse’s natural behaviour too much emphasis on the “natural” results in riders sitting atop inverted horses. That’s bad for horses because its back then has less strength to carry the rider and is drastically inhibited from achieving maximum forward impulsion from its hindquarters. And it’s bad for the rider, too.”


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