Riding Home: The Power of Horses To Heal
In Riding Home, Tim Hayes begins with the premise that horses have an extraordinary ability to emotionally transform the lives of people, especially those who suffer from psychological problems. And while he eschews anthropomorphizing the horse’s nature, he does tend to romanticize the horse and cowboys. Still, he offers great insight into the horse’s nature and why horses behave as they do – insights that can prevent a lot of the miscommunication, resistance, and problems that humans create with horses.
In “The Nature of Horses – The Nature of Humans,” he explains how human nature is often quite the opposite of the horse’s nature – the prey vs. predator. Horses’ survival depends on two important defense mechanisms to avoid being a predator’s food: flight – their enormous speed to escape, or fight – their massive physical power.
The horse’s nature is simple and straight forward. “A horse’s behavior is always motivated first by what is in its best interest for survival. This is followed by behavior that will provide the horse with the most physical and emotional comfort. Horses prefer to get along in all their relationships and not be arbitrarily disagreeable.”
Hayes explains the horse’s body language – their main mode of communication; and their hypervigilance, enabled by their extraordinary eyesight and hearing capacity, that alerts them instantly to any change in their environment. He explains herd dynamics, leadership in a herd, and establishing pecking order.
He devotes a chapter to right-brain/left-brain differences in perceiving the world. Humans are primarily left brain, intellectually analyzing creatures, whereas horses have a “predominantly right-brain, nonverbal, instinctual nature. What makes interspecies relationship between a horse and a human unique is the ability of both partners… to identify and see themselves in the other.”
Two other distinguishable differences are fear and time. “Horses live in the moment; humans, on the other hand, invented time, with its schedules and agendas….When a horse feels the anxiety in a rider’s body, it causes him to lose trust and confidence in the rider’s leadership.”…To feel safe, [horses] must feel a hundred percent certain that there are no predators or anything behaving in a predatory manner within their flight zone. If not, they will always feel some degree of anxiety.”
The chapter on Austin is about his search for the perfect horse and finding right under his nose the “perfect” horse - Austin. “To the dismay and disappointment of countless men and women here is no such thing as the perfect partner, human or equine.”
His next to last chapter is devoted to the evolution of “natural” horsemanship – treating the horse with kindness, understanding, gentleness in the tradition of the “horse whisperers,” beginning with Xenophon and, in modern times, Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, Buck Brannaman, and Pat Parelli. “Horse whispering had nothing to do with whispering. It was the knowledge that one could control and train a horse with kindness, understanding, and communication by simply using the mental, physical, and emotional evolutionary nature and psychology of the species.”
There are particular accounts of the healing that has taken place in humans with various physical and psychological problems, like autism and PTSD, that a relationship with horses brought about when “talk therapy” with a psychologist or psychiatrist and drug therapy failed. “A horse can be your greatest teacher, for …horses have no egos, they never lie, they’re never wrong, and they manifest unparalleled compassion. It is this amazing power of horses to …teach us about ourselves that is the crux of Riding Home.
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