Are you in an Abusive Relationship with your Horse?

Recently, I was observing the handling of a few horses.  I aim to observe through the lens of curiosity rather than judgment, though at times it’s certainly a challenge.  There are many different approaches to horse training, everyone does it differently.  My least favorite approach is domination, sometimes called “horse breaking” which happened to be what I was watching on this day.

As I observed  this approach the trainer had chosen I reflected on what I knew of her – strong minded, strong willed, kind and recently out of an abusive relationship.

As the metal clip of the lead rope smashed into the bones under the horses face and the trainer hollered and railed at the horse for a minor misstep, I found myself pondering the irony; this woman too had been smashed in the face and made to cower, her spirit broken by the hands of another, yet here she was, doling out the same treatment to this horse.

Horses are large creatures, so it’s a common misconception that they don’t feel pain the same way we do, yet, a horse is so sensitive it can feel the touch of a fly land on his body.   They bruise and bleed as we do.


Would the horse feel the throb of pain from the metal smacking into it’s chin or the sting from the whip on it’s rump long after the lesson was over? Probably.  Worse than that, the horse will remember, just as we do, that those who cause us pain are not to be trusted.   

In a similar way, when a person can’t get out of an abusive relationship, they modify their behavior to what causes the least pain & conflict; they keep their head down and “behave”.
If you have horses of your own, reflect for a moment; is that the kind of relationship you have with them?  Do you demand their respect but give them none in
return?  Is your relationship based on fear of physical punishment?

Make no mistake, a horse trained by fear is not a horse you can trust with your life, and they surely don’t trust you with theirs.

On the flip side, Is Your Horse Abusing You?

As a trainer it’s not often that I encounter an “abusive” horse, but I’ve met a few.

These are horses who bite, strike, rear, step on you, shove into your space, or run you over because they’ve been taught, inadvertently, that that is how to get their way.  Usually someone with good intentions but is uneducated in horses, or fearful, or lacking clear boundaries finds themselves with this type of horse.  It’s often they’ve either inherited (bought) or created an insecure horse who looked to their human for safety and leadership and found them lacking, so they asserted themselves as leader by becoming a bully.  It’s not the horses fault that circumstances led them here, but the behavior is still not acceptable.

I worked with one such horse who had his owner trained so well, that every time she asked him to do something and he blinked  (not exaggerating)  he’d get a treat, whether he did what was asked of him or not.   This horse and horses like him, have no respect for personal space or boundaries and will run over their people when their backs are turned or when walking on a lead line, they’ll bite if they’re being ignored or they’re impatient or bored, sometimes even striking out with a front hoof or kicking out with a back hoof.

These “abusive” horses, are like giant children begging for structure.  They need someone to step up, set some healthy boundaries, and build a partnership with them, where both parties have a voice and are respected, seen, and cared for.

If this sounds like your relationship with your horse, it’s time to step up into your power & begin setting boundaries.  Your horse’s well-being depends on it.

Are you ready to  stop spoiling or fearing your horse? Remember, no treats or scratches for bad behavior.  Educate yourself on how to handle a horse without going to the other extreme of domination & abuse. It’s about creating a conversation and establishing trust & mutual respect.  Your horse will appreciate you setting a personal space boundary, instead of allowing them to literally run you down and call the shots like an abusive lover.

In either situation, the best thing you can do is educate yourself on horses, read lots of books, watch videos, find what works for you and your horse,  and if you’re clueless on where to begin, seek out a trainer to help you get on your feet & help you and your horse re-build your relationship.

Good Luck & Happy Trails!

Coach Amanda

Find more info on my Horsemanship & Training Practice Here

Building Connection (Friendship)

I stand atop a hill in the pasture, eyes on my pony below. I observe her for a moment munching hay or napping. I take in a lungful of air and loudly call her name, then follow it up with a loud wolf whistle, a whistle I chose specifically so she would know, that I know, just how pretty she is.

Her head bobs up and her ears prick forward, from deep in her belly she hollers back to me then nickers and breaks into a run, heading my direction. Every time this happens my heart swells with joy. She is happy, she is healthy, she is hungry, and she is pleased to see me.

Once she canters up to me I greet her with joyful enthusiasm, a kiss and a treat. I want her to know I am delighted to see her and be in her presence, and reward her for taking time out of her life to be with me. She doesn’t have to, she has a choice.

There are days, of course, where I am in a hurry and my delight is dampened by the hustle and bustle of life and I toss a halter around her head, rush her to her grain and then rush her back out to pasture. After such treatment it’s not unusual for her to decline to come up to meet me the following day.
I don’t blame her, in those instances I’m not being a very good friend.

Our equine relationships should absolutely be treated as friendships, and this idea should have us examining the human friendships in our lives. Today I ask you to put down your judgement of yourself and others, and look at your human and equine friendships objectively, as if you were standing outside a window looking in at your life. What do you notice? Remember, no judgements here, just work on becoming aware.

How do we treat our friends? Lets pretend we are in a post-covid world for a moment. When we see our friends do we joyfully greet them, delighted to be in their presence?
Do we immediately dump our troubles on them, or ask them to accommodate us by rushing through our time together? Is the friendship mutual, or one sided? Do you feel like you’re dragging your friend by the hair to come hang out with you, similar to how you might have to drag your horse by the halter?

Do you have a friend who doesn’t respect your boundaries when you need time or space? Is there a horse in your life who also pushes into your boundaries, who you’re uncomfortable around? Do you have a friend who is your rock? Friends who you can depend on to understand when the ebb and flow of friendships and life? Who is there when you want them, when you need them? Is the give and take is mutual? Are you a rock for somebody? How about your horse? Does your equine friendship feel secure and comfortable, with boundaries respected from both parties? Are you both there for the good times and the bad?

If you don’t have a horse but are around horses, how do those relationships feel? Do they reflect other relationships in your life?

Horses have so much to teach us about what it means to be human. Be good to your equine friends. Be good to your human friends. Be Kind to Each Other.

With Love and In Joy
Coach Amanda & the Heart of a Mare

The Horse -Curious, Creative, Whole

Client working with her horse Casper on a new trick

Desensitizing has become a somewhat controversial word in the horse industry.

On the one hand, we don’t want our horses to flee from horse monsters such as plastic bags or bodies of water, puddles, shadows, etc. On the other hand, too much too soon, also known as “flooding” our horses with too much stimulus can cause them to withdraw inward and deaden emotionally & intellectually. You may have in mind a horse you know that fits the bill for either description.

There is a happy middle, and one of the best ways to achieve it is to play with your equine’s natural curiosity.

If their natural instinct to investigate hasn’t been amplified into fear, or trained out of them, asking your equine to engage with unusual objects isn’t that difficult and is often a lot of fun! Think liberty or trick training.
This freer method of engaging is one I use a lot with horses who are shut down emotionally.

Murphy is an excellent example of a curious equine. We have tackled tarps in a single session, horse blankets, saddle pads, tack, small bridges, and his very favorite thing, picking up/knocking over and then rolling barrels, we were able to accomplish all of these things with relative ease because we’ve built up trust and he was heavily praised and rewarded for his curiosity and bravery.

Murphy conquering the bridge with flower barriers

Murphy has even learned to follow a plastic bag on a stick because we made it into a fun game where his interest was rewarded AND he is allowed to leave and come back at any time. Most of this work has been done at liberty or on a halter and lead with the option to move the feet around.
It almost always works against you if you force your horse to stand still when facing something scary – it can over stimulate and easily move them into shut down mode. (It’s okay for standing still to be a goal, but not to force the outcome)

What we never want to do is overload the system until the freeze or flight mode kicks in. You’re always looking for, seeking, and rewarding, relaxation-calmness-curiosity-interest.

This way of training is so successful because of the natural curiosity of the horse. Allowing them to explore outside stimulus on their own terms works wonders with nearly every horse I’ve tried it with. There have been a couple of exceptions, those who lean to the extremes of anxiety, shutdown, or a combination of the two. With time and patience, even these horses can benefit from their own curiosity being rewarded and encouraged. The steps must be broken down into the littlest possible steps, the smallest try must be acknowledged and encouraged.
Everyone, horse or human, responds best to positive reinforcement and being truly seen.

No Trolls!

It is up to you to bring your curiosity and creativity to the table.
Work on those muscles if it doesn’t come naturally to you.
Let go of the idea that you’re not capable of creativity, if that’s a troll that sits on your shoulder whispering doubts in your ear.
Go ahead and tell that troll to hit the road and start having fun with your horse.
Create obstacles, get various objects, bring a playful mindset to the barn.
The time you spend together should be enjoyable, not full of expectation and pressure.
Let go and be present, be in the moment.
Remember to breathe and have fun.

Become aware of what works and what doesn’t work for you and your horse, without making comparisons to anyone else around you. Allow your mutual curiosity to flourish!

In Joy,
Coach Amanda

The Learning Year

As we near the end of 2020, with less than 15 days until the new year, I find myself compelled to look back over the past 12 months. It’s been a strange ride. Everyone has had more than their fair share of negativity about all manner of things, so I’m choosing to look at and focus on what this year brought me, rather than what its taken.

2020 was supposed to be my “Year of Yes!” that was the intention I set for myself in January. Saying yes to as many things as possible, though it really didn’t turn out that way. Instead it became a year of learning.
What a gift that has been.

In early spring, I (we all) had to learn how to navigate the world of Zoom and I had to learn how to get over fear of “public speaking” in the Zoom format. I still find this an awkward way of communicating, but I found my voice over time as I was forced to speak up in board meetings and chose to speak up in class calls and zoom meetings with friends and teachers. A growing moment.

In the summer, I tried my hand at gardening, something I’d wanted to be good at for my whole life but had convinced myself I had a brown thumb. With a mindset shift and a hardy succulent plant, I started small, and with encouragement & a gift from my beloved, a brand new outdoor veggie plot, I succeeded in growing a few zucchini squash, a watermelon, and I kept a flower alive for 2 years! (I got my flower plant from my mom in 2019) Until this October when it was overrun by small flies that I couldn’t get rid of.

I discovered that without a proper horse, gardening wasn’t the treat that I’d hoped it would be, but with the proper equipment (perhaps a watering can?) I may try my hand at it again this coming summer.

I took up a pencil and paper in the fall, and decided I would see what artistic genes may have been passed down to me, as both my maternal and paternal sides are/were artistic and creative, and I discovered, though my talent is not yet refined in any way, and many of my attempts are childlike, drawing has become an activity that I find immensely soothing, and it keeps me engaged and away from social media. I’ve focused my attempts almost exclusively on learning to draw horses, but a secret line drawing of my Honey while he was playing a video game turned out better than I could’ve hoped!

Perhaps most importantly to me, was undertaking riding lessons.

I pondered my options for the better part of the year as it became clear that my fears of riding still had a hold of me and I had to do something to help myself or my training career was going to go down the tubes.
I looked into western and bareback trainers but never committed. Then one day I was compelled, as I was walking past her, to circle back to Tanya, the riding instructor where I board, who I have known for 15 years, and ask her about lessons.

English lessons.

Something I’d never before considered, something I had zero interest in, until that moment in time.

We set up a session for the very next week and I have been enthralled ever since. She kicked my ass that first day, when on my very first lesson she asked me to post. I hadn’t been expecting that at all, I was expecting to ease into it, maybe after a lesson or two. I should have known better!

Even so, and hour later, as I dismounted the gentle giant Thoroughbred, Clyde, and cowboy-style bowlegged walked him back to his stall, every muscle in my body aching, and the two-day sore than came after, in spite of it all, I was absolutely hooked.

Learning to ride a different style, filling the holes in my own training/riding, gaining a more secure seat, and pushing myself outside my comfort zone (Ride over those trotting poles with no reins and my arms out to the sides like a bird, what?! Okay here we go!) It has all become the best part of my week, and I’d venture to say, the best part of my year.

It’s been a strange year. I have gained much. I’ve stretched and grown, and had ups and downs. I’ve faced fears head on. I’ve had fun. I’ve learned. It wasn’t so much a year of “saying yes”, but instead, a year of saying Yes!

 “There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.”

– Jiddu Krishnamurti

Holiday Horse Cookies

While you’re busy making treats for your loved ones, don’t leave out your four legged friends!
Whip up a batch of our holiday horse cookies to bring to the barn. These are 5- Star Molly approved!

Preheat oven to 375

In a medium bowl mix:
2 Cups Quick or Old Fashioned Oats
1 ½  Cups AP Flour
½ tsp Ground Ginger
½ tsp Cinnamon
½ tsp Clove
¼ tsp Baking Soda 
¼  cup Honey or Molasses
¼ cup vegetable or corn oil
¼ cup water
½ Cup Brown Sugar

Line cookie sheet with aluminum foil or spray with non-stick cooking spray 

Drop rounded spoonful of dough onto prepared cookie sheet

Bake for 8 – 11 minutes 

Press with back of spoon while warm if cookies are rounded

Let cool 5 minutes
Share with your best equine friend!

**Our cookies are also human friendly, we suggest using a lighter touch with the spices if you intend to enjoy these yourself!