In Gratitude for Horses


In honor of one of my great teachers – Dillenger – who taught me one more lesson last week as we consciously navigated his passing on from this rich life together. I look forward to feeling his support from the other side. I know he approves of the direction I’m taking and that is good.

Five years ago, I dove down a rabbit hole with my herd. It seemed time to stop taking lesson after lesson, attempting to implement other people’s ideas about horse training. Now was the time to integrate what I had learned and find my own path.

Best laid plans.

I became a student again, but this time the horses became my teachers.

The herd had quite specific ideas about what I needed to learn. Over the period of a year they carefully shaped me into the kind of person they felt good about interacting with. That rabbit hole just keeps getting deeper. The further I go down it the more I realize how simple and straight forward horses are. All this time I labored under the misconception that I needed to ‘train’ them when it was me that needed the training.

My herd is comprised almost entirely of horses that do not fit the mold. In their humble opinion they are not the ones needing training! The best decision I ever made was deciding to let those horses teach me. Their lessons included everything from how to be still,  to how to be present, how to move,  how to palpate, and do bodywork that is led by them. Now they are starting to teach me how to do work in hand and ride. It’s the most rewarding thing in the world to learn directly from the horse!

Thanks to the horses and their prodding, I’ve focused almost entirely on training myself, upgrading myself to be a better partner for my horses. My whole life I’ve focused on the horse more than myself. The most basic question horsemanship seems to consider is ‘how do I get my horse to do what I want as efficiently and effectively as possible?’ To that end training centers around ‘fixing’ the horse. Shaping their behaviors to suit our needs.

When I interpret/implement that style of horsemanship I transform into a bit of a control freak. When I am rehabbing injured horses, well, then I turn into a control freak on steroids! It is all about fixing the horse…

And I get results.

But they don’t stick when the horses go home.


Because it isn’t the horses that need fixing. Their lameness and health issues are a reflection of the things that go on in their lives that aren’t working for them. Those things must be resolved in order for them to fully recover. ‘Those things’ are many and varied, encompassing everything from diet to management to training and more.

I rarely travel to work on horses away from home anymore, but when I do, I marvel at how magical if feels to connect with horses other than my own. This weekend I feel fortunate I got to spend time with a horse that new me from my rehab days. As I began interacting, I felt how he softened the more he realized I was not going to try to make him do anything. He showed me exactly where he’s struggling in his movement, body and mind. Responding to what he told me (through his behavior, posture and movement), I gave him input I thought might support him. By the end of our short in hand session he was floating along beside me in a bitless bridle, responding to the tiniest of adjustments in my body position and tone.

The feeling when this happens is indescribable.

Yesterday I went to consult about a mare with lameness issues. She’s quite uncomfortable and it makes her justifiably cranky. Thanks to the training my horses gave me I learned how to approach this kind of situation with tact. This mare, who really did not know me at all, took one look at me, saw that I responded appropriately to her communication, and was all in from that moment on. She showed me exactly where she needed support and then worked with me to facilitate everything she needed to feel better in her body.

It’s easy to get bogged down in training theories, learning theories, the finer points of biomechanics, anatomy, physiology and brain function. Easy to get lost in which tools to purchase, what tack to use, whether or not it’s even ethical to ride. In short, it’s easy to get all bound up in the details, in our mind, losing sight of what’s most important to our horses – connection. Something shifted in the last few months. I let go of the control freak (no really, I did) and show up ready to listen. And it’s all so very simple and uncomplicated.

I’ll leave you with a quote I think should be spread far and wide:

From Katy Bowman’s Nutritious Movement (ReAlignment ReEvolution)

‘Watch your habits, for they become your posture.

Watch your posture, for it creates your boundaries.

Watch your boundaries, for they restrict your growth.

Watch your restrictions, for they create immobility.

Watch your immobility, for it becomes your illness.’

If you’d like to join the conversation about learning directly from horses come join The Slow Horsemanship Revolution with The Tango with Horses Tribe on Facebook.

Andrea_COD_FB_group header_v3.1

I’ll be launching a whole new version of my online class in the next few weeks where I’ll share in depth what the horse’s have been teaching me over the last years. Joining the ‘tribe’ is the best way to stay informed of upcoming courses and events, as well as letting me know if there’s something you’d like me to design a course around.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Andrea and the herd





4 thoughts on “In Gratitude for Horses

  1. This is everything, Andrea. Thank you for posting. I resonate so much with what you have said and dare I say it is true for both horses and humans alike!

    I am sorry to hear about Dillenger. It appears it was time and all parties were in support. He was a great teacher to me in my short time with him and he will be missed.

    So thankful for you, your work, and your process in developing it. I am looking forward to seeing where it takes you and to continue to learn from your example.

    Best to you,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Erika.
      Dillenger sure impacted a lot of lives and yes, it was time. In a funny way, he helped the humans in his life heal some old wounds in the process of his passing – it was that sweet to be present with him through that process.
      I appreciate you too and look forward to continuing to share the journey with you.


  2. Lovely post, as always Andrea. Made me think about the many gifts of learning I received from my mustang stallion, Ranger, who came to me when he was found starving on the range due to having outlived his teeth. Ranger was estimated to be 25+ and was too old and frail to safely geld when he was pulled from the range. Obviously, this was not a horse that would ever be ridden or have a traditional “purpose”, but as he still had plenty of will to live and seemed quite happy being in my care, I just couldn’t see letting the government shoot him (the option they presented if I didn’t want to keep him). I needed an ancient, special-needs mustang stallion like a hole in the head, but this wasn’t about my needs — or so I thought.

    I now realize that what Ranger taught me over the four years that he graced me with his presence was exactly what I needed — to experience what it is to interact with the spirit of a horse 100% free of human influence, and to be free myself from any requirement to “make” this incredible being do anything. I decided that whatever I wanted to teach Ranger about life with humans would be done on his terms, using no pressure, no restraint, no force. If he didn’t like something, he could just turn and leave. Wow, what an education!

    Ranger had been a true King among horses — a vibrant herd stallion who bore the scars of many battles and who knew what the real world of being a horse was all about. He always maintained that air of Royalty, and it flowed all around him with an energy you could feel in your bones. He was incredibly noble — as well as extremely clear and expressive, telling me exactly what he thought about everything I did in no uncertain terms.

    That said, he never once made me fear for my safety, I think possibly because he knew I would listen to what he had to say, so he never felt the need to “shout” (kick, bite, etc.). There were moments when I’m sure he was frustrated with me (he would sometimes shake his head dramatically as if to say “No, no, NO! You’re just not GETTING it!”), but this was his way to communicate my ineptitude to me, never a threat.

    Ranger left this world this past spring, but he left behind many sturdy offspring on the Virginia Range here in northern Nevada, and he left me with a much greater understanding of horses and how to be with them in better relationship. He was a brilliant teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

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