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Lead With Your Heart


Lessons From A Life With Horses, by Dr. Allan J. Hamilton

Review by Nancy Brannon

I chose this 2017 book because it offers a welcome alternative to the negativity that often bombards us: divisiveness, blaming, denigrating and a seeming lack of caring for others. The positive messages in this book can help improve our understanding of horses and our relationships with them, as well as improve our personal lives and our relationships with others.

The book is a compilation of 112 short essays derived from what horses have taught Dr. Hamilton. He has spent nearly three decades working with horses and, in the process, developed the habit of writing “notes about whatever drifts into my head as I work with my horses.” This book evolved from those thoughts he jotted down. The book is divided into sections on: Teaching and Learning; Mindfulness – attention and intention; Stalking Happiness; Leading and Following; Energy and Emotion; and Breakthrough. With each new unit, there is a beautiful illustration by Robert Farkas. Following are some snippets of insight from the book.

Hamilton develops the theme of contrasting the fundamental prey nature of horses with the predator nature of humans. “The horse’s prey mind believes in the ‘we’ of the herd, an egalitarian notion of the common good of the group. The psyche of the predator asserts the primacy of the ‘me.’ The herd establishes an intimate connectivity, while the predatory view insists on differentiation.” (p. 229)

“A horse’s mind is a peculiar balancing act between caution and curiosity. We must learn to read the attitude our horse’s eyes express.” (p. 95) “Prey animals seek not to be hunted. For a horse, life doesn’t get any better than being in the middle of a lush, green pasture, on top of a hill, surrounded by his best buddies in the herd.” (p. 106)

Horsemanship means developing a deep understanding of the mind of the horse and adapting our actions and teaching methods to the needs of the horse. “It is through a profound partnership with our horse that we experience the heightened consciousness known as horsemanship. Give a prayer of thanks to the natural world. Pray we can be inspired to be worthy of the one who carries us.” (p. 88)

“Horsemanship demands truth.” The horse “sees through us with disarming candor and directness.” (p. 16) “Humans lie all the time… It is difficult to address a problem with it is denied or suppressed. …With no judgment, there is no reason to lie.” (pp 110-111)

He explains energy – how to use it in our training. “Horses teach us that every moment has energetic significance.” (p. 93) “The horse will always move away from a focus of higher energy to one of lower energy. Release needs to be visualized as the fastest possible decrease in energy we can engineer.” (pp. 50-51) “Horses can be as much as a thousand times more sensitive to energy and body language than we are.” (p. 60) “The vital energy we all possess is our chi. Intention is how we assemble our chi… Intention focuses energy to effect change.” (p. 93)

“It’s called [horse] whispering because it means I am committed to teaching my horse without physical pain or coercion; …because I am devoted to giving my horse the benefit of the doubt and always asking with the smallest possible stimulus; … because I am committed to giving my horse enough time to respond of his own accord.” (p. 65) “We have to give him the opportunity to think for himself.” (p. 70)

“The horse is uniquely sensitive to the way we transmit energy through our gaze, posture, and gestures. The horse demonstrates how to shape our energy to connect to all the life forms around us. Becoming mindful of energy allows us to communicate better. Active listening means lending our energy to the conversation without opinion or interruption.” (p. 94)
Several times he mentions the importance of being patient. “Patience is the anvil of success. The more the teacher slows down, the faster the horse seems to learn.” (p. 67) “There is truth to the notion ‘if you want to hurry up, slow down.’” (p. 85)

“Affection emerges from mutual respect.” (p. 124) “Practice affection.” (p. 128) “Direct affection through your gestures.” (p. 129)

“Praising builds partnership; rebuking and scolding undermine trust.” (p. 131) “Success and praise are the building blocks of gratitude, and gratitude is the foundation of happiness.” (p. 132)

“An astounding percentage of horses have suffered abuse at the hands of human beings. Often the perpetrator justifies the abuse by claiming it to be a necessary element of training. Violence, however, has no place in handling a horse – or in any relationship with a living being.” Despite all the “physical abuse heaped upon horses,” horses have a “profound capacity for forgiveness.” (p. 133) “Teaching has everything to do with pressure and nothing to do with punishment.” (p. 151)

“In our daily lives, we must notice when we are creating lines of resistance and when we are creating curves of compromise.” (p. 155) “When you encounter resistance, look for leverage to turn it into a curve of compromise. Resist the temptation to create resistance in response to resistance.” (p. 189)

“Restraint gives rise to respect, respect to partnership.” (p. 159)

“Horses are always searching for fair and effective leadership.” Are we humans also seeking the same type of leadership?  “In the herd, the alpha mare will always put the interests of the herd before her own and display courage in the face of threat.” (p. 194) “A good leader exhibits the four Cs of leadership: command, control, compassion, and communication.  A leader assesses all risks for the common good of the herd.” (p. 173) “Horses like to be a part of something bigger than themselves. …In the end, working for and with others makes us humans happiest.” (p.181)  “Leadership’s power is derived by a combination of authority, inspiration, and empathy.” (p. 193)

“Loyalty, along with honesty, is the most noble and noteworthy of human traits.” (p. 195) Cultivating the habit of loyalty means “we strive always to resist the temptation to gossip, that we always do our best to keep our word and meet our commitments to others. We give others the benefit of the doubt…” (p.196)

“In the natural world, almost everything with the power to change has a rhythm…Horses appreciate rhythm and rhythm helps us accept change.” (p. 214) “Energy applied with rhythm, pace, and predictability is at the heart of purposeful change.” (p. 217)

“Always keep an open mind that the next person – or horse – to come along just might be able to teach you something new and better.” (p. 219)

About the author: Hamilton is a Harvard Medical School-trained brain surgeon who also understands horses well. He is a renowned “horse whisperer” and horse trainer. He is author of several other books, including Zen Mind, Zen Horse:The Science and Spirituality of Working with Horses,and he has developed The Neuro-Equine Model™ of Equine-Assisted Therapy.

Hamilton also has an interesting TED-talk from December 2013 based on these premises: “Fear, stress, and pessimism can cause illness and even kill us. But can the converse also be true? Could optimism be good for our health?” His talk is called “Prescribing hope – changing outcomes with optimism.” You can link to his TED talk from his website:

This book is published by Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA.

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