Horses and Humans in Winter

  “Coyote & Mr. Frosty” Photo courtesy:  Fawna Start 


“Coyote & Mr. Frosty”

Photo courtesy:  Fawna Start 

Winter can bring the doldrums even to our horses. In their natural environment, the air gets colder, the ground gets harder, food gets scarcer and predators get hungrier. Like us, sometimes they just don’t have the same ”Spring” in their step.

For humans living in many areas, the winter months can often bring “cabin fever." Little or no riding, frozen ground, house bound from snow and ice, short days and long cold nights. We worry about falling out of shape or losing some of the wonderful progress we made with our horse during the summer. Sometimes we feel frustrated or sorry for ourselves.

What if we stop thinking about ourselves and think about our horse. Is he feeling sorry for himself because we’re not riding him? Is he worried that he might lose his edge performing piaffes or flying lead changes…probably not. Do I think of my horse only when I think about riding him? Is my relationship with my horse just physical? What might my horse miss in the winter months?

Natural horsemanship reminds me to look at every situation as if I were a horse. If I’m a domestic horse and I’m boarded at a good size stable with other horses, chances are I won’t be turned out as much as I would want. If there’s snow and ice sometimes I won’t be turned out at all. If my human partner isn’t coming to be with me because he can’t ride me, if I’m spending day after day in my stall waiting for snow and ice to melt; chances are, just like my human partner, I’m going to acquire some “cabin fever” of my own.

Horses like humans are all different. One horse may be able to tolerate being in his stall for long periods without interacting with another creature or being turned out. Another horse might become a little colicky or start cribbing. What kind of personality does my horse have and what does he need?

What’s important is for me to be the leader in our herd of two. To protect, care for and show up for my partner whether I’m on his back or he’s in the barn. Natural Horsemanship is about a complete relationship with my horse: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Not being able to work on the riding part of our relationship doesn’t mean I have to stop improving the mental and emotional part of our relationship.

If I can’t ride I can still visit. I can groom or walk him around in places that are safe. I can find and scratch his favorite spots. I can practice gentling exercises, getting him to bend and bring his head around toward his belly. I can play trust games like slowly asking him to bend and smell his tail without becoming upset. Or I can take a bucket, turn it upside down, sit and just be with him.

We’re the ones who invited our horses into the human world of barns, stalls and schedules. We’re the ones who he looks to for comfort, support and friendship. In building human relationships people sometimes wonder, “ do they love me for me, or is it my car or my money etc.”

When my horse sees me I want him to think, great! Here’s my partner. I’m always happy to see her. She brings positive things into my life. Companionship, affection, exercise, a treat, a back rub and sometimes when it’s not so cold we go riding or play sports. I don’t want my horse to see me and think it’s work time because that’s what we do every time I come to visit.

To spend 20 or 30 minutes, 3,4 or 5 times a week connecting with our horse mentally and emotionally is enormously meaningful to him. It can also be relaxing and fun for us. It builds the love, trust and respect necessary to have a true partnership with our horse (which includes riding). It also helps horses and humans get through the winter together.

Love is what you give your time to. --- Children know this. --- Horses know it too.

©Tim Hayes 2017

Tim Hayes is the author of RIDING HOME - The Power of Horses to Heal. It is this amazing power of horses to heal and teach us about ourselves that is accessible to everyone and found in the pages this book. To learn more about the book please visit: Every book ordered will benefit children of families in need, veterans with PTSD and children with autism. To contact and for more articles & blogs by Tim Hayes go to:  

The Four Reasons a Horse Says "No!"

"Leadership Begins On The Ground.”     Photo courtesy of Stephanie Lockhart

"Leadership Begins On The Ground.”    

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Lockhart

The most asked question in the equine world is: “Why does my horse sometimes refuse to do what I ask him to do?”  No matter what situation is occurring the problem is always some form of horse resistance and the solution is always some form of human leadership

The horse is a prey animal. He is born hard-wired to judge everything based on how it affects his self-preservation. Therefore if he resists our request his refusal is always motivated by his most dominant instinctual trait: survival. From his point of view his decision to resist is logical, rational and intelligent. Not only does he believe he’s doing the right thing by saying “no” to us, he doesn’t understand why we’re arguing with him. 

In the natural world horses have leaders and live in herds. Their leader must have and demonstrate superior survival skills. They must be the most intelligent, confident, perceptive and sensitive. They must have acquired the most survival experience and therefore the most wisdom. In a herd of horses this is known as the Alpha. There is always an Alpha or leader whether it is a herd of 100 horses or a herd of 2…you and your horse.

In a herd of 2 if a horse does not perceive his human, male or female, as possessing these Alpha leadership qualities, he will not feel totally safe and therefore not accept his rider as his leader. The horse will then rely on himself. He’ll be his own leader, constantly evaluate and challenge some or every request his rider makes. 

If the horse decides a request is in the best interest of his survival he will comply. Sometimes this creates the illusion that you, the rider are in control. However if for any reason the horse has the slightest doubt, he will resist and attempt to do what he believes is more in his best interest of self-preservation. To his rider this appears as refusal or disobedience. To the horse it’s a matter of life and death. There are usually 4 reasons a horse will resist or say no to his rider: Fear, Disrespect, Misunderstanding and Pain. The basis for each one is survival. 


Horses are prey animals. Their life depends on never putting themselves in a place or situation where they could be eaten by a predator. From their point of view it doesn’t matter if it’s on the plains of Idaho or in a beautiful arena on Florida. Everything horses do for humans occurs only after they know they’re safe. Until then, they are hard wired to immediately run or resist if they sense perceived danger. 

If a horse believes a specific request from his rider may jeopardize his survival (i.e. crossing a stream) and he does not accept his rider as his leader, he will be fearful and resist the request. However if he looks to and trusts his rider as his leader, he will know his rider (like the Alpha horse) would never do anything to jeopardize his safety. He will
then, though still anxious, allow his rider to help him become more confident, overcome his initial fear and eventually follow the rider’s request. This can only be accomplished with communication not force. Leaders never use force.


For a horse to choose another as his leader and entrust his life to them, he must respect everything about them: intelligence, ability, trustworthiness and wisdom. This is true whether it’s you or another horse. Horses are just like humans; we can’t gain their respect by asking for or demanding it. We can only earn it. If our horse does not respect us, he will decide what he’s going to do or not do. Good leaders, whether horse or human, know how to communicate effectively and have the tools and techniques necessary to earn and establish respect.

Sometimes it may seem like our horse respects us because he’s doing what we’re asking when in fact he’s just going along or putting up with us because what we’re asking isn’t that important to him. This again creates the illusion of being in control and is a set up for potential problems. Even when we are the chosen leader and have earned our horses respect, it is their nature to continually test us to see if we still deserve it. Humans with fabulously responsive horses are often surprised when “For no reason” their horse resists some routine request. Respect is not only something we earn, it must also be maintained.


Horses don’t speak English and force is not a language. Like humans they respond to clear communication. If we want our horse to do something, it’s our responsibility to communicate in a way he understands. Sometimes if we ask our horse to go from a trot to a canter and he doesn’t, we blame him for being disrespectful, willful or lazy - in fact he maybe none of these. If he loves, trusts and respects us as his leader, he knows complying with our request is also in his best interest of self-preservation. His non-responsiveness can then be an indication that he doesn’t understand our cues or our way of communicating.

Sometimes if we have not been clear in our communication, our horse may do something other than what we requested but think he is doing what we asked for. Again, when this happens many traditional riders think their horse is resisting. They become annoyed and see their the horse as the problem. If however the rider knows his horse accepts him as his leader, he can then look at himself as the potential problem, reconsider the quality of his communication and make the appropriate change i.e. be lighter, be firmer, release his pressure faster etc. Good leaders provide good communication.


Horses like many other animals are amazing at tolerating physical pain. What else can they do? Any request by the rider that causes or adds to their physical pain increases their vulnerability and therefore threatens their self-preservation. If pain is associated with the rider, resistance will always occur whether a horse accepts him as his leader or not.  

Being a good leader includes learning how to tell when our horse is in pain and how to help him. Horses are constantly telling us about themselves with their bodies, eyes, head, tail and feet. They’re either moving or still, standing or lying down. If we learn what they
usually do when they’re happy and healthy, hopefully we’ll be able to tell when they’re not i.e. if they’re not eating, something is usually wrong. 

Before we saddle our horse much less sit on him it’s important to check him out physically. We need to have him move to see if he looks comfortable and sound; palpate his back and his legs for soreness. Horses often hide their pain. It’s instinctual and a matter of survival. The weak or injured horse is usually the first choice of a predator. As the leader it is always our responsibility to make sure our horse is not in pain.

One of the most overlooked areas of serious pain in horses is their teeth. Sometimes when a horse resists his riders’ request or exhibits physical difficulty like turning to the left or right, he is trying to tell his rider he’s in pain. Sometimes the pain is in his mouth. If you were a horse with a toothache how would you ask for help? All domestic horses need to be examined annually by a qualified equine dentist. Good leaders know this and do this for their horse.

Whether it’s fear, disrespect, misunderstanding, or pain all equine resistance is initially motivated by self-preservation. Seeing this from the horses’ point of view not only makes perfect sense but given the same circumstances we humans would probably behave the same way. The positive acceptance and execution of our requests by our horses is only possible when we have earned their love, trust and respect and are truly recognized by them as their leader of our herd of two. 

Then instead of blaming our horse and becoming angry, frustrated and disappointed when he resists our request we can say: “My horse is telling me something about the quality of my leadership. What could I have done differently to be more effective? Do I need to help him or myself do something to become more confident, earn or regain his respect, improve my communication or cues (be gentler or firmer) or do I need to make sure he’s not in any pain.

Becoming a horses’ leader is most effectively established on the ground. Horses naturally interact with other horses on the ground. Horses don’t ride other horses. Natural Horsemanship is based on what is most natural and understandable for the horse. It provides the tools and techniques that enable humans to establish themselves as their horses’ leader before they get on their back. Riding your horse before you’re his leader is not only a set up for resistance; it’s the reason riders get hurt. Today’s world renowned Spanish Riding School, established in 1572, requires their students to work with their horses on the ground for the first 4 years of their 8 year program before they are allowed to begin their riding.

What is truly amazing and transformative is that knowing if our horse says “No” it’s actually a wonderful opportunity to learn something important and helpful. What we thought was our horse doing something wrong, turns out to be him helping us become a better rider and a better horseman in a way we might never have learned as well from a human teacher. Then we realize that our horse, our ultimate teacher, will always let us know how we’re doing, what we need to improve and how to be a better rider. ©Tim Hayes 2016

                                                        About the Author
Tim Hayes is the author RIDING HOME: The Power of Horses to Heal. It is this amazing power of horses to heal and teach us about ourselves that is accessible to everyone and found in the pages this book. Every book ordered will benefit veterans with PTSD, children with autism, and children of families in need. Learn more at: For Tim’s clinics, private sessions, books, DVD’s and more articles go to: 

How and Why Horses Help Our Children

The Center For America’s First Horse ~ Photo courtesy of Cher Feitelberg

The Center For America’s First Horse ~ Photo courtesy of Cher Feitelberg

Throughout human history, people have loved owned, and ridden horses. Horses fascinate us; they silently speak to our hearts. However in the last few years, something new, and quite extraordinary, has been discovered about the ability of horses to help humans. It is most often referred to as Equine Therapy.

Men, women, and children afflicted with severe emotional damage are healing and making dramatic recoveries by receiving the simple love, understanding, and acceptance that comes from establishing a relationship with a horse. Remarkable and lasting healing is being achieved with groups as diverse as Veterans with PTSD, At Risk Youth, Children with Autism and those suffering from addiction and alcoholism.

Sharing the studies and research of this unique ability of horses to heal emotionally wounded humans is what inspired me to write and can be found in Riding Home ~ The Power of Horses to Heal ( Additionally I hoped readers would discover both how and why horses help people become better human beings, have better relationships, and can show all of us the qualities we need to become more loving and compassionate.

Something unimaginable and profound occurs when a human begins a meaningful, emotional and interactive relationship with a horse. However, one’s epiphanies do not come from riding on a horse’s back. Profound psychic breakthroughs originate and are manifested when a person creates a relationship with a horse on the ground. Not only are the results both transformational and enduring, but they occur with amazing speed.

Horses reconnect us to the truth of our irrefutable yet fragile collective humanity. A great many members of our human family may look different from one another on the outside, but that which resides hidden inside all of us and which is most personal is always the same. Horses have the ability to instantly remind us that, just like them, we inhabit the same planet, share the same fears and desires, and, more than anything else, all desperately desire to get along with one another.

Horses help us discover hidden parts of ourselves. They cause us to become better people, better parents, better partners, and better friends. They teach us that when we’re not getting what we want, we’re the ones who need to change either what we’re doing or who we’re being. A horse can be your greatest teacher for, as you will discover, a horse has no ego, he never lies, and he’s never wrong.

We live in an age of partial attention. Smartphones, texts, emails, computers, and 24/7 activities not only depreciate our human connectedness with others; they erode our relationship with ourselves and remove us from the natural world. The greatest impact of today’s technology, both positively and negatively is felt by today’s youth.
What if more children could spend time interacting with horses? Could horses help empower these young folks with both the self-worth and the sense of values necessary to overcome some of society’s compulsive obsessions with power, materialism, and celebrity?

In his landmark book, Last Child in the Woods (, author Richard Louv describes a growing modern illness and its effect on children; he calls it nature-deficit disorder. It is a real disorder, with symptoms such as diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. In one study, when a fourth-grader was asked why he preferred to play indoors and not outside, he answered, “That’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

Today’s technological brilliance brings great rewards to our children but, paradoxically, it fosters in them even greater loss. Louv reports that recent studies have discovered correlations between children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the amount of time spent indoors watching television, using a computer or some other technological toy. He state that millions of children and their parents struggle not only with the difficulties of ADHD and depression but even more with the painful side effects of Ritalin or Adderall, as well as other chemical remedies prescribed by their doctors.

Horses connect people to the power of nature and of living in the moment. I believe that being outside to interact with horses is one of the most powerful ways to prevent and eliminate nature-deficit disorder and help and inspire children to learn, grow, and become healthy, functional adults. Horses are nature in one of its finest forms.

One of the first U.S. equine programs to do this and utilizes the natural relationship-building skills inherent in equine herd dynamics is Natural Horsemanship for Children created by Stephanie Lockhart at her nonprofit horse farm: The Center for America’s First Horse, in Johnson, Vermont (

Recounting what happens in her program in her introductory video Natural Horsemanship for Children, Lockhart tells us that Natural Horsemanship teaches children of all ages and backgrounds how to safely create a positive interactive relationship with a horse. She shares how the mutual love, understanding, and acceptance that comes from establishing this equine relationship leads to enormous personal growth, greater self-esteem and emotional maturity.

In her video we get to see how the gentle horses at The Center model relationships with other horses as well as with the children that manifest the naturally inherent traits of herd dynamics. Seeing how horses treat each other with acceptance, kindness, honesty, tolerance, patience, respect, trust, forgiveness and compassion inspires children to then utilize these abilities with their parents, their friends, and in all of their other human relationships.  We learn that horses can remarkably change a human from the inside out and that today this amazing ability of horses to heal and grow by teaching us about ourselves is accessible to anyone.


It is my hope that any man, women or child who wishes to take a break from what they already know and reach out to something new or different, something that may bring them feelings of self-awareness, joy, wonder, humility, and peace of mind, as well as anyone who needs help in healing their emotional wounds, whether derived from the PTSD of war, the debilitating effects of autism, a painful family or addiction will now know that there’s another way.
Welcome to the healing power of the twenty-first-century horse.
©Tim Hayes 2016

This article and the research and information in it, is adapted from my new book RIDING HOME – The Power of Horses to Heal. It is this amazing power of horses to heal and teach us about ourselves that is accessible to everyone and found in the pages this book. To learn more about the book please visit: Every book ordered will benefit children of families in need, veterans with PTSD and children with autism. To contact Tim Hayes and for more of his work go to:

The Horse, A Gift for All Seasons

Tim and his horse Austin 2015 ~ Courtesy Tim Hayes Collection

Tim and his horse Austin 2015 ~ Courtesy Tim Hayes Collection

When I set out to write RIDING HOME ~ The Power of Horses to Heal I wanted to share about the profound emotional healing one can experience from today’s equine therapy. I also wanted people to discover the joy, empowerment and self-awareness they could receive by simply having a relationship with horse. In both cases these personal transformations occur not by sitting on a horse’s back but by being with them on ground and from their heart.

Having had a wondrous relationship for almost twenty years with my horse Austin, I thought it might be meaningful at this time of year to share both my gratitude as well as what I’ve learned from the amazing gifts I have received not only from Austin but from every horse I’ve met.

For many of us the holiday season can bring feelings of happiness that often come from fun, thoughtful and exciting gifts. As enjoyable as these feelings can be many of them disappear when the season ends. If my happiness begins to fade as I start to get scratches on my new iPhone I might ask myself what else might give me more sustainable happiness as time goes on?

Actually there is another kind of happiness that does not come from material things but comes spontaneously from inside us. For me this kind of happiness has usually come when I’m both feeling good about myself and my relationships with others are working positively and are mutually rewarding. What can I do to feel this way inside?

For me the answer is found today in the same guidance I was given when I was a little kid: Treat others the way I would want them to treat me and treat myself the same way. If I have a happy relationship with myself, I have a very good chance of having a happy relationship with others: spouse, partner, father, mother, son, daughter, friends, boss, etc. When my relationships bring me happiness, I feel happier. It’s the ideal win-win situation. My parents called this: The Golden Rule.

The greatest teacher of The Golden Rule I have ever known is the horse. From years of studying how horses treat each other in their relationships I have discovered their herd dynamics possess the same 12 qualities found in The Golden Rule: acceptance, kindness, understanding, patience, generosity, trust, consistency, honesty, justice, respect, compassion and forgiveness. They treat each other the same way they want to be treated and they treat humans the same way. I also believe it is these 12 qualities that constitute the best and most accurate definition of Love.

My horse is a prey animal whose survival depends on getting along with others. His natural world is living outside with his herd-mates. When I show up he accepts me as I am, never questions my race, my gender or my age. He’s kind and doesn’t seek to hurt me. If I get bit, kicked or dumped it’s because I haven’t taught him to respect my vulnerability and not to play or communicate with me like another horse. If I am clear, consistent and patient in my requests he always understands me.

He’s a generous soul who never complains if I ask him to let a little kid pet his nose or sit on his back. He’s always honest with me and consistently tells me the truth about what he thinks and feels whether he’s scared, annoyed or happy. He’s fair and just with me. If he tries to ask or tell me something and I don’t listen and acknowledge him, he let’s me know I’m being disrespectful by resisting my requests of him.

Finally with great compassion and forgiveness he continually tolerates all my mistakes and inadequacies. If I allow my horse to help me become a better person then all my relationships with both horses and humans will improve. This will bring me the kind of happiness I could never find in a store. My horse, love in its finest form. What a gift. © Tim Hayes 2015

Tim Hayes is the author of RIDING HOME – The Power of Horses to Heal. It is this amazing power of horses to heal and teach us about ourselves that is accessible to everyone and found in the pages this book. To learn more about the book please visit: Every book ordered will benefit children of families in need, veterans with PTSD and children with autism. To contact and for articles & blogs by Tim Hayes go to:

Youth, Addiction, Horses and Healing

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Lockhart Collection

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Lockhart Collection

Sam Butler was born and grew up in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. His mother and father got divorced when he was seven, so every week Sam traveled back and forth to live with both parents. He was the youngest of four boys and in trouble almost from the beginning, getting kicked out of third grade for refusing to do his homework. He started using cocaine at twelve, dropped out of the eighth grade, and was sent by his parents to a military academy for troubled teens in the United States.

As a thirteen-year-old freshman at the academy, Sam found himself in a class with a number of nineteen and twenty-year-olds who had been left behind. He had never liked violence, and whenever the older boys beat him, he never fought back.

Sam was five foot ten and weighed 150 pounds. One night he was forced by some of his classmates to fight a kid named Joseph, who was six foot two and weighed 300 pounds. Sam told me, “Something happened that night. I felt trapped. I still don’t know why, but I snapped; it was like I was a different person. I ran at Joseph and hit him hard in the face. I hit him with a lamp and a chair, knocked him to the floor and strangled him until he passed out. After that I fought a lot. I broke my wrists and my hands, but I never lost a fight.”

Sam’s parents brought him back home and told him he had to see a therapist. He refused to go. They put him in a Windsor prep school. Sam hated it. He started dealing drugs carrying knives, was often violent, and once almost got killed by a Russian gang over a drug deal gone bad. Sam said,

“It was bad, I was out of control. I was high all the time and surrounded by violence. I hated my parents. I hated living in two places. One night I came home and swung at my dad. He grabbed me and held me down on the floor. I felt I couldn’t move; I felt trapped. It was the same feeling I had in military school when I fought Joseph. I head-butted my dad and broke his nose and one of his teeth. He pushed me away. I fell down the stairs and got knocked out, with a concussion. My dad’s girlfriend called 911; they came, strapped me down, and took me to the emergency room. When I came to and realized I was strapped down and couldn’t move, I went crazy. They had to tranq me.”

After two months of agonizing soul-searching and exploring therapeutic options, Sam’s father and mother brought Sam to In Balance Ranch Academy, a therapeutic boarding school outside of Tucson, Arizona, to begin a one-year cocaine-addiction rehabilitation program.

Dr. William Parker, the therapist who would be in charge of Sam’s recovery program, felt that the divorce of Sam’s parents had contributed a great deal to his emotional difficulties and the struggles he was having in relating to his family and other people. Because his interpersonal guardedness had repeatedly made it difficult for him to establish a genuine relationship with a therapist, Dr. Parker decided to begin Sam’s recovery with equine therapy.

At his first session Sam’s equine therapist Keri, asked him to walk into a corral of six horses, choose one, and walk him back to her. Although Sam had never ridden or been around horses, he took a halter and rope and calmly walked into the corral as if it was something he had done his whole life. He looked around at the small herd, walked over to a buckskin quarter horse mare named Cricket, and gently petted her neck.

Keri asked Sam to lead Cricket to the other end of the corral and then walk with her in a space between the corral’s wood-rail fence and a three-foot-tall blue plastic barrel that stood about four feet from the fence. Sam led Cricket and was halfway through the space between the barrel and fence when Cricket stopped and wouldn’t walk any farther.

Sam turned around and quietly stood for a moment, looking at Cricket. Her head was up in the air, pulling back on the rope, the muscles in her neck looked tight, and he could see the whites of her eyes. Sam walked back, stood next to Cricket for a few minutes, gently stroked her neck, then turned and began to walk forward again. Cricket followed him through the space, and they walked back to Keri.

Keri asked Sam why he thought Cricket had stopped at the barrel. Sam said, “I don’t know, but she looked a little unsure, y’know, a little scared. I just figured I’d pet her and let her know everything was okay.”

Keri said, “You’re right, Cricket was a little apprehensive. As a prey animal on the lookout for predators, all horses need to know that they can run anywhere, in any direction, in order to feel confident and safe. If any of their paths of escape are blocked, they become a little anxious or fearful. By asking Cricket to go between the fence and the barrel, you were asking her to go into a place that would eliminate two paths of escape: one to the right, blocked by the fence, the other to the left, blocked by the barrel.”
Sam was looking at Keri and listening intently to what she was saying. When she finished, he stared at Cricket and said, “Wow, I know just what that feels like. I hate feeling trapped. If I can’t move, I go crazy.”

As his stay continued, Sam asked if he could spend more time in the equine therapy program. One afternoon Sam returned to the corral after riding all around the ranch. He got off Cricket and sat down on the ground next to Keri. He said, “Y’know, she’s afraid of just about everything. We were riding and she spooked at one of the mailboxes. What a stupid thing to be afraid of.”

Keri said, “All horses are hypervigilant. They’re always on the lookout for predators. When they come upon something they don’t recognize, they will often spook and think about running. If they realize it’s not a bear or a mountain lion, they’ll relax and continue on. It may seem stupid to us, but it makes perfect sense to a horse. If Cricket doesn’t get ready to run and the mailbox is really a strange-looking predator, she could get eaten. Sam, can you think of anything that frightens you that maybe you don’t need to be afraid of?”

Sam thought for a moment, looked up at Cricket, then back at Keri. He said, “I’m always afraid of what people think of me, y’know, like their opinions of me. Maybe that’s stupid. Cricket is so much like me. I guess if she doesn’t need to be afraid of a mailbox, I don’t need to be afraid of what someone is thinking about me. Horses aren’t stupid, they’re just really cautious—they don’t trust so good.”

During his time at In Balance, Sam worked on healing his feelings of rage and low self-worth. He also accepted the fact that before he’d arrived at the ranch, he had become addicted to drugs and alcohol, and so he started attending AA meetings, which were held at the ranch daily.

The last time I spoke with Sam, he had finished his stay at In Balance and had moved to a halfway house for three months. I asked him how he was doing and about his experience with the equine therapy program. He said, “It’s like I have a totally different relationship with my mom and dad. I know they love me and want to help me. I didn’t know anything about horses when I got there. Now I love them. I don’t know if anyone could have taught me what and why I was doing and how I was messing up my life. Cricket taught me to be okay with myself.”

Horses don’t care who you are, what you’ve done, or what you believe. They care only about how you behave with them. This enables them to give unconditional acceptance to a troubled teen who is revealing his or her true self. This acceptance creates a feeling of self-worth, which can often be hard to obtain with the typical rehabilitation methods of traditional psychotherapy and/ or prescription drugs.

Equine therapy has become one of the most beneficial and cost- effective programs for today’s At Risk Youth. To think that millions of emotionally wounded teenagers can get a second chance at a healthy and meaningful life is heartwarming. The idea that this can be achieved from a breakthrough in self-awareness that occurred from simply interacting with a horse is extraordinary. ©Tim Hayes 2015

This story is adapted from my new book RIDING HOME – The Power of Horses to Heal and appears in Chapter 4 ~”Horses Don’t Get Divorced…Today’s Youth at Risk”. It is this amazing power of horses to heal and teach us about ourselves that is accessible to everyone and found in the pages this book. To learn more about the book please visit: Every book ordered will benefit children of families in need, veterans with PTSD and children with autism. To contact and for articles & blogs by Tim Hayes go to:

Veterans with PTSD, Horses and Healing

Horses Can Heal The Emotional Devastation of PTSD. Photo Courtesy of Susanne Posel ~ Occupy Corporatism, June 25, 2013.

Horses Can Heal The Emotional Devastation of PTSD. Photo Courtesy of Susanne Posel ~ Occupy Corporatism, June 25, 2013.

In November of 2009 I sat and talked with twenty seven year old U.S. Marine Sergeant Cody Martin. He told me that when the war with Iraq began he was shipped to the Persian Gulf. His job was transporting supplies from Kuwait to Fallujah in a MTVR (medium tactical vehicle replacement).

Two AAVs—amphibious assault vehicles—were his only protection. One drove in front of his truck, the other directly behind. It was a ten-mile drive from Fallujah to FOB (forward operating base) Cheyenne through small villages, with local merchants and families waking up, leaving their homes, and walking down the road to start the day.

The hypervigilance was always the same. His mind raced, his heart pounded, and his whole body was infused with adrenaline. He could see the Iraqi people through his windshield. They looked so gentle, so right at home. But in his head he kept hearing the voice of his base commander shouting at him and his buddies:

“Never stop your vehicle! Never stop it for anything or anybody. They look like innocent women and children, but some are not. They will hurt you, they will kill you, whatever they say, do not believe them, do not trust them.”

As he drove into the next village, he spotted a little red car parked on the side of the road. A man got out, opened the trunk, pulled out some wires, and twisted them in his hands. The next second, the car exploded. Cody hit the gas, but through the smoke he could see the man’s decapitated head lying on the road.

The marines were told that all local people had been instructed multiple times by the American military to immediately get off the road whenever any U.S. vehicles drove by. Some did, some didn’t. For a moment, Cody thought how back home he would simply stop to let someone cross the street in front of his car. Now anyone he saw looked like a suicide bomber; anything he saw looked like it could be an IED, an improvised explosive device.

After the explosion, Cody drove fast and never stopped. He said he didn’t know how many bodies he hit—men, women, kids, animals. When all the vehicles got to FOB Cheyenne, it was hideous. There were guts, body parts, and blood from the people he hit covering the front of his truck. He said some of the guys laughed and took pictures of it. Cody felt nothing. He told me, “Marines are trained not to ever show feelings.”

Six months later, Cody returned to the U.S. He said:
“I hated myself for so many things I had done. When I got home, even if a dog looked at me I felt like he didn’t trust me. I know that’s dumb. Maybe it wasn’t them but me. I didn’t trust anyone. I fell apart emotionally: I started crying, shaking, and hyperventilating. I knew I would never trust anybody again.”

I told my wife Debbie I felt suicidal. She said I should get counseling. I told her I didn’t want anyone to know. If anybody found out, they’d never hire me. I also didn’t want to tell anyone what I had done and seen, especially a therapist or someone who hadn’t been in the military.”

But in every job interview, when Cody was asked if he had PTSD, he always told the truth. He was out of work for two years. He said that to save his marriage, he finally agreed to see a therapist. He was immediately put on prescription medication. He said:
It was the same stuff they gave out after Vietnam,” he said. “It took me to nowhere. It zeroed my mind out.

Cody hated how the drugs made him feel, and he slowly began to wean himself off all of them. A year later, he still had problems with anger and anxiety. Cody’s wife told him that one of her friends had said that he might be able to get help from a new special veterans’ organization. That afternoon Cody called the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). Years had now passed since he had come home from the war.

Cody spoke with the people at WWP. He told them of his years of PTSD agony, what he had done to try to find relief, and how nothing had helped. WWP sent him a packet of information on equine therapy and a pamphlet from Hearts and Horses Therapeutic Riding Center in Loveland Colorado. Cody had never been on a horse didn’t know anything about the animal, but he said, “I had nothing to lose.”

Cody was given a horse named Dusty to partner with. He said:
They had me start on the ground and learn how to lead him around. He seemed anxious when I was with him. Sometimes when we’d finish walking, I’d just stand and look at his eyes. They seemed so soft. I felt like he was thinking, ‘This guy isn’t so bad.’ All I really wanted to do was breathe with him, y’know, hold him around his neck so I could feel him breathing and then do it with him, together.

It wasn’t always smooth going, though. Cody recalled, “One time I asked Claire, one of the therapists, why she thought Dusty always seemed anxious. He’d often pin his ears back or be nippy; it seemed like he didn’t trust me. She asked me if I was anxious, and I said, ‘Are you kidding? How about all the time.’ Claire said maybe I was making Dusty anxious. That made me feel horrible. I remembered all the dogs I had killed with my truck. I started to cry. I thought, ‘God, I don’t want to do that. He’s so good, he never hurt anything.’

“Claire said if I would keep breathing together with Dusty and try to relax more, it might help him to feel safer and more trusting. I did everything Claire said. It took me about a month, but it was amazing. I couldn’t believe how much more gentle and quiet he became. But what was really unbelievable was that everyone who knew me said I was very different, y’know, more laid-back.

“Drugs don’t help you trust another person. I use to have to take drugs to go to the movies with my wife. Now I take nothing, and this year Debbie and I went to Costa Rica. Can you believe because of a horse I can go to another country and not fall apart?

“I’ve been riding and hanging out with Dusty for about a year. I feel a sense of accomplishment—my health is definitely not in the clear, but it’s in my rear view. What’s really incredible is my trust. When I came home, I couldn’t trust anybody or anything. Dusty got some of it back for me. It’s like he brought me home.”

Thousands of men and women like Cody have selflessly traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan, where they confronted death and horror on a daily basis. They survived unimaginable acts of war only to come home to a life of emotional trauma, broken relationships, paralyzing depression, and hopelessness. Prescription drugs and traditional talk therapy have repeatedly failed to break through to the psychic wounds of post-traumatic stress disorder.

As of 2015 there were between 300,000 and 400,000 veterans in the United States suffering from PTSD. The suicide rate for these young men and women averaged one per day, or 20 percent of all U.S. suicides. The cost of treating war veterans with traditional talk therapy and prescription drugs has grown, with spending to date of more than $2 billion of taxpayer funds. In 2011, The New York Times reported that widely prescribed drugs for treating veterans with PTSD were not only ineffective but caused serious negative side effects.

Today there are many equine programs available to the thousands of veterans who suffer from the devastating wounds of war and specifically PTSD. The Wounded Warrior Project: working in conjunction with PATH Intl. Equine Services for Heroes: is a nonprofit veterans’ service organization that offers a variety of programs, services, for veterans of all military actions that followed the events of September 11, 2001. Their methods are often faster, cheaper, and more effective than many of the more traditional procedures and medications. Thousands of lives could be helped, maybe even saved, if only there was more awareness of and support and resources for the many equine therapy programs available to our veterans who suffer from so many devastating emotional wounds. © Tim Hayes 2015

This story is adapted from my new book RIDING HOME: The Power of Horses to Heal and appears in Chapter 6 ~”The Walking Wounded ~ Horses For Heroes.” It is this amazing power of horses to heal and teach us about ourselves that is accessible to everyone and found in the pages this book.

To learn more about the book please visit: Every book ordered will benefit Veterans with PTSD, Children with Autism and Children of Families in Need. For articles, blogs and to contact Tim Hayes go to:

Does Your Horse Have a Solid Foundation?

A solid foundation is mental, emotional and physical collection. Stephanie Lockhart & Morado. Photo by Cher Feitelberg.

A solid foundation is mental, emotional and physical collection. Stephanie Lockhart & Morado. Photo by Cher Feitelberg.

Whether you and your horse are just starting out or you’ve been riding together for years, the secret of getting results beyond what you’ve been getting is in learning how to evaluate your horse’s foundation. First you must know what it means to have a solid foundation. Then you must discover what, if anything, is missing. Finally you must strengthen and or reintroduce the primary foundation elements of your horse necessary for him to be and perform at his best.

Using the analogy of a house while substituting the word horse makes it easy to see the importance of a Foundation.

Every house is built on a foundation. If the foundation is weak, eventually the walls crack (spooky horse) the roof leaks (horse is resistant, likes to bite, bolt, etc.) and you end up spending more time and money on repair (horse trainer) than on the fun of decoration and design (riding). Sometimes we buy a house (horse) that was owned by someone else. Often we don’t discover its weak foundation until we start to add on or build something new into the house (we begin Dressage, Jumping, Trail Riding etc.). A House that has a solid foundation is a house (horse) we love and feel safe and comfortable with. We also know it is capable of improvements, expansion and additional design (just like a horse who can learn a sport and discipline).

The Foundation of any horse is determined by the quality of what is known as “Collection.” Most riders think of collection as something physical like a horse’s “head set” or “rounded back.” True Collection however is always made up of three distinct components: physical, mental and emotional. Most resistance or problems people encounter with their horses are usually caused by not positively developing all three of these components of collection.

Many riders from beginners to show champions concentrate on the physical relationship with their horse. Dressage riders work hard to develop a graceful collected “Passage.”  Reiners intently practice their Spins and Slide Stops. Jumpers work at jumping higher and higher. Trailer riders concentrate on their ability to physically control their horse from bolting if they get spooked.

What so many riders don’t realize is that before you can have true physical control and collection with your horse you must first establish mental and emotional control and collection. The same is true for human athletes. A powerful tennis serve is meaningless if the player’s thoughts are scattered and he’s not mentally collected. Mental focus and attitude not only come first but often make the winning difference. A football player who’s not in control of his feelings and feels emotionally defeated before the game will be at an enormous disadvantage. If he’s afraid of getting hurt, he’ll often end up getting hurt.

It doesn’t matter what level of physical ability and talent either horse or rider possess. They cannot ride together at their best, much less be safe and have fun, if either of them lack emotional confidence or are mentally distracted. The art of horsemanship, which includes horseback riding, has always been based on physical, mental and emotional collection. When it comes to riding, the horse’s foundation is the cake; the discipline (Dressage, Jumping, Reining, Trail riding) is the icing.

“Traditional” horsemanship most often concentrates on just the physical relationship. Natural Horsemanship is a method, which creates a relationship with your horse that contains a positive mental, emotional as well as a physical connection. True physical collection is always preceded by mental and emotional collection. Weak foundations show up in horses that, resist, need to be forced, are inconsistent, lack confidence, spook easily or have any number of other problems whether while riding or on the ground.

But to achieve mental and emotional collection you must understand equine psychology. You must know how your horse thinks and feels. Then to positively influence his thoughts and feelings you must learn and be able to communicate with him in his language. Horses do not speak English. You must create a relationship of mutual love, trust and respect. This is always most effectively established on the ground before riding. It is only then that you can help your horse become less fearful, more confident, less mentally distracted, more focused and finally ride together in harmony.

This is the genius of what is today referred to as Natural Horsemanship. It is what I love and believe in. It is the only method I was taught, it is the only method I know and it is the only method I teach. ©Tim Hayes 2015

Tim is he author of RIDING HOME – The Power of Horses to Heal. To learn more about the book please visit: Every book ordered will benefit children of families in need, veterans with PTSD and children with autism. For more Articles, Clinics or Private Sessions or to contact Tim go to:

Robert Redford on Horses, Healing and the book “Riding Home” by Tim Hayes

Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer. Photograph: Cine Text /Sportsphoto Ltd. / Allstar

Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer. Photograph: Cine Text /Sportsphoto Ltd. / Allstar

Robert Redford has written a compelling Foreword to my new book, Riding Home ~ the Power of Horses to Heal. I am honored and profoundly grateful. In doing so he has lent his invaluable support to the thousands of emotionally wounded men, women and children in desperate need of healing yet unaware of the existence, availability and effectiveness found in today’s Equine Therapy programs.

For over two decades I have been teaching the principals of Natural Horsemanship (or what was once referred to as “Horse Whispering”) helping humans create better relationships with their horses. During this time I have experienced the power of horses to actually facilitate in the healing of a wide variety of human emotional wounds.

RIDING HOME scientifically and experientially explains why horses have the extraordinary ability to emotionally transform the lives of thousands of men, women and children whether they are horse lovers, or those suffering from deep psychological afflictions.

My goal is to inform those who know nothing about equine therapy of the effectiveness of its healing and to raise public and government support for it as a method of recovery. Today equine therapy is remarkably succeeding where traditional talk therapy and prescription medications have failed.

Everyone knows someone who needs help: a husband, a wife, a partner, a child, a friend, a troubled teenager, a war veteran with PTSD, someone with autism, an addiction, basically anyone in emotional pain or who has lost their way. For all those who are suffering, RIDING HOME provides compelling examples of how “Equine Therapy” has become one of today’s most effective cutting-edge methods of healing.

It is also a book for anyone who wants to experience the joy, wonder, self-awareness and peace of mind that comes from creating an interspecies horse/human relationship. And finally it puts forth and clarifies the principles of today’s Natural Horsemanship.

Horses do not judge humans. Horses only judge their behavior. If a person is not exhibiting predatory behavior a horse will become curious and usually begin to approach and interact with them. He accepts the human as he or she is. The horse does not see a war veteran who may have seen and done horrific things, he sees another being. The horse does not see a child with autism, he sees a child.

Establishing a relationship with a horse can often be the first time any of these men, women or children feel love and acceptance for their true selves. It is this amazing power of horses to heal and teach us about ourselves that is accessible to anyone and found in the pages of RIDING HOME – The Power of Horses to Heal.

Robert Redford’s Foreword to
Riding Home ~ The Power of Horses to Heal

“Horses have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My first time on a real horse was when I was five or six. Granted, it was only in the pony ride ring, but it was instant love. This big-hearted animal, moving me along, like it was the most natural thing in the world. But that’s the thing about horses. They connect in ways that often, words can’t capture but hearts can. It’s powerfully emotional for both human and horse.

Up through my early teens, my relationship to horses was always on horseback, and along with my friends during those days it all had a decidedly show-off, wild quality to it. It wasn’t until I found myself in Estes Park, Colorado at 15, spending days grooming and caring for horses to earn my keep, that I developed a true connection that went far beyond riding horseback.
This simple emotional connection is at the heart of Tim Hayes’ stories, which is ironic, as most people he features are considered to have very complicated challenges. I’ve always been drawn to the truth and simplicity inherent in nature. And that’s why I believe Tim Hayes is really on to something here.

Therapy. Equine therapy. The power of nature—horses—and its connection to the human spirit are front and center, at every turn of the page in this important book. And it is personified in the experiences of everyone from autistic children and brave veterans coming home with everything from PTSD to paralysis and loss of limbs—to prisoner inmates and troubled teens who’ve endured way too much in their young lives.

In most cases, nothing else had cracked the code of their suffering, or their myriad of challenges. And somehow, the majestic horse entered the picture, sometimes by chance, sometimes as a last resort, and suddenly there was hope for the first time in as long as anyone could remember. I think this is what drew me to my 1998 film, The Horse Whisperer, along with a portrayal of ranch life out West that was fast disappearing. At the heart of the story is a man and a horse, and healing for not only himself, but for those around him.

There’s something meditative about communicating with horses, something instinctive where you eventually have to merge into one in order to move forward together. I think maybe that simple notion is why we are seeing such widespread success in the horse’s ability to break through where nothing else has worked, and we’re just left with a form of healing.

The lessons you’ll take away from this beautiful volume of healing and love between man and nature will stay with you for a long time. And who knows, maybe it will open a door to healing for you or someone you love”.

Robert Redford © 2015
This article is adapted from my new book RIDING HOME – The Power of Horses to Heal. To learn more about the book please visit: Every book ordered will benefit children of families in need, veterans with PTSD and children with autism.

For more articles or to contact Tim go to:   

© Tim Hayes 2015