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Lessons From the Herd: The Foundation...

Horses are fascinating to me, but one thing that has really captivated my attention over the years, has been watching how their lifestyle and living arrangements effects their behavior, their health and their performance. As it turns out, these things might be having more of an impact on your horse than you could ever have imagined. From their hoof health to their brain development, how a horse lives can impact everything.

As a kid, I worked at a variety of equine facilities. I had jobs at dressage, jumping, riding lesson barns and at private barns in and around Vancouver BC, in Southlands, Richmond, Delta and Langley. I also worked a few weeks per year over the past 30 years, as a wrangler at a working horse ranch/summer camp with locations in both Sundry and Rocky Mountain House AB. The horses there lived and were cared for in a drastically different manner.

Having the opportunity to observe and learn the horse care practices of these different operations provided me with a unique experience and perspective of a variety of horse husbandry styles. I’ve witnessed first-hand how living in a stable situation vs living off the land affects a horse. I’ve gained a working knowledge of how their lifestyle directly reflects their health, happiness and behavior. Each of these experiences has had an impact on me and my beliefs around what’s best for a horse.

I know… This is a dangerous way of thinking. Often what’s best for the horse isn’t what’s best (or easiest) for the humans and after all, if we were to do what’s best for the horses, we likely wouldn’t have much interaction with them at all. If, on the other hand, we focus only on what’s best for the humans, our horses would suffer a great deal. It’s been a delicate and challenging experience, trying to balance what’s best for the horses with what’s best for the humans who love them, and achieving this balance requires sacrifices from both.

It’s also a dynamic, ever changing entity that requires constant attention, re-evaluation and adjustments. I believe that this balance is attainable though, and that once it’s been achieved the horse and the human can benefit each other: emotionally, physically and even spiritually. Achieving it however, takes a true understanding and acknowledgement of what’s important to a horse as well as good horsemanship.

So how can you achieve this balance? I believe it can be achieved through a great deal of humility, observation, realistic, honest reflection and an openness to accepting the many lessons from the herd that are available to us every time we’re with our horses. It seems to me that our horses are constantly trying to connect to us, share with us and help us to understand them better. They are, for the most part, hopeful and eager to teach us, if we’re only willing to learn. Having had the opportunity to observe horses in as many different living situations as I have has provided me with many of these lessons.

Throughout the years I worked at the many different equine operations I mentioned above, as well as the subsequent two decades of managing my own equine facilities and the herds they supported, I’ve been blessed with thousands of opportunities to learn. The horses never stop sharing and although I’m sure I’ve missed more than I’ve absorbed, I’m lucky to have retained at least a few of these lessons from the herd. I believe it’s my duty, to share them with those who have an interest.

These lessons are meant to both provide entertainment as well as educate the reader, hopefully sharing a perspective that they may not have previously explored, or perhaps validating one they may be feeling unsure of. I hope to help those who read these lessons begin to recognize their own lessons more easily and hopefully, inspire them to share them with others. But most of all, I hope to help the horses (who’ve helped me so tirelessly throughout the years) to have a voice, to share what they’ve worked so hard to teach me and hopefully help them to become better understood in the process.

These lessons that I’ve been lucky enough to receive, have shown me that so many of the behaviors we’ve come to recognize as “bad” or “unwanted” have actually been created by our own horse husbandry practices, our handling techniques or our own behavior around our horses. Many of the physical ailments and issues that we spend thousands of dollars trying to correct or relieve have actually been caused by the lifestyle or living conditions that we’ve imposed on our horses. I’ve learned that developing a healthy, happy horse who’s easy to get along with is far simpler than is commonly believed, though it might not always be easy to accomplish.

I hope you enjoy reading my Lessons from the herd as much as I have enjoyed learning them and I welcome and invite you to observe, reflect on and share your own lessons.


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