Go to Resource Links
It's Never Too Late to believe in
The Soul of a Horse!
It's Never Too Late...
...to lead your horse to trust and respect and partnership...
...to teach yourself the same...
...to teach both of you how to accomplish amazing things, humanely and with compassion...
...to give your horse a happier, healthier, longer life...
...and it's never too late to begin. The Soul of a Horse is all about the notion that it's never too late for you or your horse to learn everything that's needed to become terrific partners. And it's all about the new breed of trainers, vets, and hoof care specialists around the country who subscribe only to humane methods of training horses and gaining their horses' trust and respect, and being their leader because the horse wants them to, not because he or she has been forced to, and it's also about breaking the chains of the past, full of wive's tales and myths about how a horse is supposed to live.
When you're listening to the soul of your horse, you'll hear...
...I want naked hooves, barefoot, with the wild horse trim.
Read below why there is no better way for
your horse to go, no matter what
discipline or competition you prefer.
...I don't want to be stalled away from the herd.
a frightful thing for your horse. Read why below.
...please do away with blankets, leg wraps, and other
clothing and devices that work counter to
50 million years of our genetics.
...I want to be out of the barn, out of the stall, eating
from the ground, moving around
Read why this is so important below.
...I want to be riding naked.
Not you, your horse.
Why is this good for him, and good for you. Read below.
...expose yourself to failure by letting your
horse make the choice to be with you,
not the other way around.
Read why below.
...use no bridle, or at least very loose reins; teaching your
horse to make the choice to do your bidding,
forcing him to.
Read below why this is important
to get there.
...leave your horse to his natural, naked lifestyle rather
than forcing on
him a human-like lifestyle.
Comic strip character Pogo once said, "We have found the enemy and it is us."
The problem with most health issues concerning horses, we discovered, is not the horse, it's us. We, as cave dwellers, love our small cozy rooms, warm clothes, protective shoes, snuggly
beds, and we are solitary creatures. We like friends, but we don't really need them to exist. And because we prefer all that stuff (and even our dogs and cats prefer all that stuff), we presume that our horses should too. A fancy, clean barn with velvet padded stalls will be just wonderful for Flicka. But a horse is a herd anaimal who, genetically, needs the herd for security, health and happiness, needs space where he can see in all directions and move miles and miles in a day's time, and doesn't need blankets, leg wraps, horse shoes, and 12x12 box stalls wherein he cannot be a part of the herd and where he stands motionless for most of a day, away from his herd, often eating feed that his body has no need for and in fact can be unhealthy to his feet and over all well-being. But we feed it anyway, because... 1) we feel guilty about how we keep him locked up... or 2) we want his energy high so he can jump higher, run faster, or spin better, or cut quicker.
I try to always remember that information is king. Below on this site we have links (Resource List) to all sorts of books and resources that will provide you with more medical, technical, compassionate, and emotional material than you will ever need to prove to youself that:
Dr. Hiltrud Strasser, in her book A Lifetime of Soundness, details how horses have one of the best thermo-regulatory systems in the world. In virtually any climate and any geographical region their systems have more than what's needed to maintain their core body temperature at 38 degrees Celsius. "Blankets are a thermoregulatory nightmare for horses," says Dr. Strasser. Blankets prevent a horse from properly growing a winter coat, and when stripped of his blanket to ride in winter, he will not be prepared to protect himself against the low temperatures. Again, it's an issue fostered by humans. Winter is cold for us and we bundle up, so we think it must be logical that bundling up should be good for horses as well, when, in reality it's the worst thing we can do. Same is true of heated and cooled barns and stables. Another issue (very logical actually) with blankets is that they only cover part of the body, and, with the horses system, in order to warm any part of the body, all the body must be warmed, thus some part is destined to be too hot or too cold, robbing the horse of its natural, complex, and highly effiecient thermoregulatory system.
Leg wraps: Dr. Strasser details for you how the blood vessels in the lower leg are very small in diameter when the horse is at rest, which is when leg wraps are put on, snugly, tightly. Then the horse begins to move, usually a lot, and the vessels need to increase their diameter to sufficiently circulate enough blood in the lower leg and hoof and return it to the heart, but this increased circulation is inhibited by the constricting wraps. There are also tendon issues. Dr. Strasser has several pages on this which you should read. Also, I have heard from many vets who have said the wraps do not give any real protection for the leg, except, perhaps, preventing a nick or two if one hoof hits another leg. So if you must use them, keep them loose so the vessels in the leg can expand and contract. Again, information is king.
Shoes: Horses in the wild did just fine for something like 50 million years before humans got hold of them.
So... if their feet were so good, why were shoes even invented? Here's the story: In medieval times, when for safety's sake, the kings moved their castles to the tops of big hills, their horses had to come out of the fields and were put into small box stalls, where they stood motionless in solitary for days at a time in their own poop and pee. The ammonia deteriorated the horses hoof and, ultimately, some blacksmith came up with the idea (rather than getting the horses back into the field where they belong) of putting metal shoes on to protect the weakened hooves from the cobblestones of the streets. Brilliant, huh? But, get this: the commoners, down the hill, whose horses were where they should be, in the field, saw these shiney metal things on the king's horses and said "Wow, That must be good if the king is doing it. I want some of those for my horses so I'll be as good as the king!" More brilliance. But, unfortunately, that's the way we humans are. More often than not, when I ask folks why they have shoes on their horses, the answers come back, "Well, it's always been done that way." When I press, it goes something like this:
"I guess it's because the hooves are not strong enough without them."
"Why," I ask.
"I don't know," they usually say.
"Don't you think you should know?" I ask.
"Well," they shrug, "everybody else has shoes. So it must be right."
And the reality is: it isn't.
Not even close to right. For more information on this, read the quotes of experts on the barefoot page and any of the books and links listed below. But it all begins with this little gem of logic. A horses hoof is supposed to flex and that flexing acts as a circulation pump, a second heart, if you will. The frog and part of the sole are supposed to make passive contact with the ground (not to support weight, but just make contact when the horses hoof flexes (spreads). When this is happening properly, the flexing hoof provides not only shock absorption for the leg, it becomes a circulatory pump, pushing blood not only through the hundreds of veins in the hoof, but back up the leg, thus taking stress off the heart, making the body itself more healthy, and the immune system more alert. None of that, of course, can happen when a metal shoe is nailed to the foot. Which is more than enough for me to keep shoes off our horses. I don't want to stop that blood flow.
"But every time my horse loses a shoe, his foot gets sore," you say.
Of course it does. Because, with the shoe, the hoof has not been functioning as it was designed to function. Designed by mother nature and fifty million years of genetics. Because of the shoe, and the loss of circulation, the foot is no longer healthy. It's soft. It will take some time, but ultimately, your horse, like our six, if barefoot with the wild horse trim can have rock solid feet, capable of doing anything you might want him to do. Read on the barefoot page how Eddie Drabek, a natural hoof care specialist in Houston, helped the entire Houston Mounted Patrol go barefoot, horses who spend most of their working hours on concrete or asphalt. He also trims for reiners, barrel racers, jumpers, and the like who are all winning against shod horses. Also read about the number of horses that Jaime Jackson and Pete Ramey have taken on when someone has said "this horse is so lame it needs to be put down," and now every one of them are healthy and sound, and back at work. Believe me, until I got into this and did an enormous amount of research, I, too, thought oh I couldn't remove the shoes because we have to walk on asphalt to get down to the horse club arena. But, without shoes, the hooves are hard as rocks, and because they flex, there's more traction, and the horse can now feel the surface he's walking on, and they are no longer skiing down the hill on slick shoes!
Your horse should be turned out 24/7. No box stalls, however fancy and well equipped.
A horse in the wild will travel ten to fifteen miles a day, foraging, looking for water, keeping ahead of predators. This is how they were genetically designed to live. The movement keeps their hooves flexing and pumping blood (not to mention that wild horses have the best, soundest hooves on the planet) and the movement keeps their bodies tuned and toned. They are with the herd, which keeps their emotional stress down. There is safety in numbers. They do not understand that a box stall means safety. That's a human thing. To them, it creates stress, which, in turn, has a negative effect of their health and well being.
"But my horse won't like me anymore if he has a herd to play with," I've heard people say.
My answer is: If you utilize the valuable natural methods of relating to your horse (info below and links all over this site) and have developed a partnership based upon respect, trust, compassion, and choice, your horses desire to be with you, that will not change just because your horse lives with other horses. Kathleen mentioned the other day that one of the saddest things she ever sees is a horse living alone. If you really know your horse, you will understand that.
So, Joe... are you saying that my horse need thousands of acres to run around with other horses, and must travel ten to fifteen miles every day? Not at all. And it's not as problematic as you might think. We have two turnouts, each not much bigger than a barn. Steep and rocky. We muck the turnouts twice a day and the hay is scattered, at ground level (which is how a horse was meant to eat, neck stretched to the ground - see Dr. Strasser's book), in at least twenty separate small piles around the turnout so the horses are in movement throughout the eating periods, moving from one pile to another. With all that movement (and blood circulation increase) their previously shod feet became sound and strong so quickly it was astounding. We had two horses in one turnout and three in the other, so the five were constantly together. Now all six are in a similar pasture maybe an acre and a half, very steep and rocky, again, with their hay being scattered all around the pasture (see photo).
Ride bareback, at least some of the time.
Some of the most fun we and our horses have together is riding bareback (well, okay, most of the time it's with a bareback pad), usually with nothing more than a halter and looped lead rope. In less than a year, we have brought all six of our horses up to be so responsive, trusting and caring about our desires, (see natural training info below) that truly most of them perform just as well in a halter as they do in a bridle. And they love bareback because they don't have the weight of the saddle and they can feel our bodies, and we can feel theirs. Whether you're trying to have more body/leg contact with your horse, or improve the balance point of your seat, or just have a quick ride without the hassle of tacking up, bareback is terrific, for both of you. And learn to train your horse so that your reins are always loose, not tugging on your horses mouth. Teach your horse to do your bidding because it's his choice, not because you are forcing him by tugging on a bit. Watch Stacy Westfall's video (see below) and get inspired as she wins reining competition with no bridle at all!
Six months ago, Kathleen would not even think of getting on a horse bareback, and now she rides more bareback than with a saddle. Feeling your horse and how she moves and she reacts to your various body positions and cues gives such a better understanding to what you need to do when in the saddle. Obviously, you should be careful, and go no faster than your seat is comfortable with, and if you haven't done the groundwork to insure that you and your horse have a trusting partnership, that needs to be done first. But when you're ready, riding bareback can truly enhance your overall horsemanship. Again, once you've started, get a copy of Stacy Westfall's DVD and learn how to do a complete reining demo with no bridle, no halter, and no saddle. Amazing!
Train through relationship.
We began our journey gobbling up the terrific material of renowned trainers and clinicians like Monty Roberts, Charles Wilhelm, Clinton Anderson, John Lyons, Stacy Westfall, Pat and Linda Parelli, Allen Pogue, Paul Dufresne, and natural hoof care specialists like Pete Ramey, Dr. Hiltrud Strasser, and Jaime Jackson. Gobbling up, in effect, hundreds of years of experience in a very short time. And sorting through their methods, applying the best of what works for us. Every day I'm amazed at how far one horse or the other has come, how these methods work; and all it takes is some knowledge, focus, and time, and beginning with relationship. And suddenly your life with your horse has changed for the better, better, better! It's really that simple. Stacy Westfall recently said that the best thing she has ever done for her training is to start putting the relationship first.
Not long ago, I trailered one of our horses across town, a horse who came to us five months before, green broke with very little mileage and not much ground work. Now he's focused with a capital F. He caught his foot in the hay feeder in the trailer and, as I entered the trailer to unload him, he freaked out completely. Imagine being in a trailer with a horse used to four legs having only three. But instead of winding up in the hospital, I wound up with his leg out of the hay feeder, with him focused on me, paying strict attention, even though his eyes were blazed and his nostrils flared. He listened, he backed, he yielded, and allowed me to walk calmly out of the the trailer first, with him following... calmly. Ground work. This, with Monty Roberts' Join Up, is the foundation of our natural program.
We started on the ground, getting to know our horses and what makes them tick, and establishing a real relationship. Giving them the choice of whether they want to be with us or not. A horse is not a motorcycle but is a living, breathing, fearful flight animal who needs and wants a good leader and friend. We believe in beginning a horse so that he will learn without fear, be safe, be attentive and desirous to please, and will be well prepared for a long and happy relationship. His choice. Our horses range in age from eight to nineteen, but they all began with us the same way, and have been brought along the same way. It's truly amazing to watch an older, well-schooled horse re-learn everything and become a willing and desirous partner and friend.
Not many months ago we were scared out of our minds by these 1000-pound animals. We aren't multiple-time world champions or thirty year veterans, but Kathleen and I have had the benefit of more amazing experts than you've ever found in one place before. Our goal is to inspire you to learn, and apply, and trust youself to figure things out instead of clinging to "somebody else's "paint by numbers" horsemanship. And to discover the pure joy of seeing that something so simple actually works.
View the New Video of Our Herd: Dancing Barefoot
Read One Good Reason to