What is a Natural Horsemanship Clinic and Should I Do One?

Build your relationship on the ground - Photo -Tim Hayes collection

Build your relationship on the ground - Photo -Tim Hayes collection

Become your horses leader on his back - Photo -Tim Hayes collection

Become your horses leader on his back - Photo -Tim Hayes collection

The increasing popularity of Natural Horsemanship Clinics has come from two primary factors. The first is a new and greater demand for equine knowledge. Over 50% of the population is now baby boomers with more leisure time. People who were never around horses as kids are now discovering the joy of connecting with and or owning a horse for the first time in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. They didn’t grow up around horses and they need guidance. The second factor are the unequivocal benefits of Natural Horsemanship, it’s programs, it’s teachers and it’s methods.

The participants in my clinics come from all levels and all disciplines. New horse owners, 3rd level   dressage riders, show jumpers, trail riders, even equine therapists. There are Belgian Drafts, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Ponies, Arabians, Mules and Mustangs. Horses are ridden in every conceivable saddle; Hunter Seat, Dressage, Western, Cutting, Eventing and Barrel Racing. Some ride Bareback.

Most problems people have in horseback riding, whether English or Western, are not with their riding; they’re with the quality of the relationship they have with their horse. Any successful relationship whether with horse or human must be based on mutual love, trust and respect. All relationship problems begin when any one of these is missing. One way to improve your relationship and establish all three of these qualities is with the methods of Natural Horsemanship.

Natural Horsemanship begins by teaching us horse psychology. This gives us the knowledge of how and why our horse thinks and feels about everything in his world. This provides us with the understanding and the explanations as to why our horse sometimes resists our requests. Without this knowledge we don’t know if our horse is resisting because of fear, disrespect, misunderstanding or pain. How can we help our horse and imrove our relationship, if we don’t know what he’s trying to tell us?

How a horse thinks and feels is always expressed physically in his body language (i.e. ear pining, kicking, biting, licking & chewing, bucking etc.) Body language is how horses communicate with other horses and if we are going to truly communicate with horses, we must learn and use their language.

Learning his language we immediately know what our horse is saying to us with his physical behavior. Then we can appropriately respond whether we’re on the ground or on his back. When we respond appropriately our horse realizes we understand what he’s trying to tell us. Then he begins to trust us, respect us and eventually look to us as his leader.

Without this knowledge of what and why our horse thinks and feels, the only way we can interpret our horses’ behavior is by guessing, assuming, or asking our friends. Often this can be frustrating, providing many different answers that are very often confusing or wrong. Without offering the right response, we are unable to effectively communicate and thus correct and eliminate the undesirable behavior of our horse.

The goal of all horse/human relationships is a positive willing partnership with the horse happily accepting his human as his leader. Traditional horsemanship focuses on riding with physical communication between human and horse. Natural Horsemanship teaches how to communicate with the horse not only physically butmentally and emotionally, first on the ground (which is more natural and understandable for the horse) and then on his back. If my horse isn’t responding to me with willingness and respect on the ground then I need to ask myself is he truly responding to me when we ride or is he deciding to accommodate me just to get it over with?

Have you ever ridden very well in a show and then, as you led your horse back to the barn, been pulled around as he keeps diving for grass? Have you ridden your horse on a trail or in a ring when he suddenly spooks or becomes anxious and nothing you do seems to calm him down to his or your satisfaction? Knowing that you and your horse love each other, have you ever wondered why he/she can be so difficult at times?  Many of the men and women who come to my clinics and classes come with these and many other similar questions.

There are thousands of excellent professionals who teach horseback riding in every possible discipline: Jumping, Dressage, Trail Riding, Polo, Barrel Racing, Eventing and Reining. However what is so often missing is the necessary mental and emotional understanding necessary for a quality relationship. Becoming your horses leader naturally is always achieved most effectively when begun on the ground…horses don’t ride other horses. Create a relationship of mutual love, trust, respect and understanding before you sit on his back. When you get your relationship right with your horse, he’ll always give you his best performance because he’s already given you his heart.

Sometimes instead of asking, “how is my riding?” a better question to ask is “how is my relationship?” When it comes to my horse, these are my priorities: Do I always feel safe, am I having fun, am I achieving my goals, does my horse respond to me as his leader? If not, I asked myself what do I need to do to have me and my horse become safer, calmer, more confident, more respectful and more fun to ride. The answer to this question I believe is not about working on my riding; it’s about working on myself and in turn the quality of my relationship with my horse. 

Presently my clinics and classes cover 10 basic topics of Natural Horsemanship and include a booklet with a program for the future.  The 10 topics covered in my clinics are effective for any discipline whether English or Western. They are: 

  1. Principals of Natural horsemanship; including horse time vs. human time and horse fear vs. human fear.
  2. Communicating with your horse in his own (body) language.
  3. Safety- learning the tools and techniques that need to be perfect 100% of the time.
  4. Groundwork Exercises that establishe love, trust and respect.
  5. Gentleness vs. Firmness. Which one, how much and when?
  6. Natural saddling skills.
  7. Transferring natural communication with your horse from the ground to his back.
  8. The natural principles & methods of GO/WHOA/TURN/STOP/BACK.
  9. Natural Riding skills: Focus, Feel, Timing and Balance.
  10. How to execute an emergency stop. ©Tim Hayes 2017


Become your horse’s leader with Natural Horsemanship

Upcoming Clinics:  http://www.hayesisforhorses.com/events-1/

A Clinic video:  http://www.hayesisforhorses.com/about-clinics/

How to Practice at Home or at your barn:  http://www.hayesisforhorses.com/natural-horsemanship-dvd/

For Private Sessions or to contact Tim: tim@hayesisforhorses.com or 1-800-959-3101

Why Groundwork is So Important

TIM & AUSTIN PRACTICE GROUNDWORK - Photo courtesy -Tim Hayes Collection

TIM & AUSTIN PRACTICE GROUNDWORK - Photo courtesy -Tim Hayes Collection

The Spanish Riding School in Vienna Austria is considered by most to be the finest school of riding and horsemanship in the world. To become a member, learn classical dressage and master the art of training the great white Lipizzaners is for many the highest honor a human can achieve in the world of the horse. Whether or not one agrees with this statement is not significant. Knowing that before any student is permitted to ride they must complete four years of groundwork ; is however, most definitely significant!

The purpose of all our equine teaching, starting, training, breaking or whatever term is used, is to have the horse respond in a positive non-resistant way to all human requests. The most sought after is riding. It can also be the most challenging. As a predator, a human sitting on the back of a prey animal horse is not only unnatural it is one of the most terrifying request we teach him to willing accept. We must teach our horses to learn how to tolerate every domestic thing we bring into their lives whether it’s horse trailers, saddles, blankets, bits, crowds, motorcycles etc.

Natural Horsemanship teaches us that before a horse can learn anything new he has three primary needs that must be satisfied - safety, comfort and leadership. First he must feel 100% safe. In his world this means: he’s not going to be eaten. His second need is to feel comfortable: mentally, emotionally and physically. He doesn’t want to mentally worry about why the pick-up truck with hay is driving by him without stopping. He doesn’t want to feel anxious because some of his barn buddies are walking by him and he feels left out. And he can’t be experiencing any physical discomfort like a sore back or foot, which would shift his attention from us to his pain.

Once his first two primary needs of safety and comfort are met, the horse becomes totally attentive and in fact eager to participate in achieving the third primary need of his species; choosing a leader. Equine leadership is established by challenges of physical dominance. Horses would call it horseplay. Humans call it groundwork. For either horse or human, the method of determining this hierarchy of leadership is to physically challenge another horse with dominant body language that sends a message which translates as: “I bet I can make you move your feet”. In “horseland” whomever controls the movement of another’s feet is the winner of the challenge and therefore the leader or the “better horse”. This is what makes groundwork so important. It is onlywhen our horse trusts and respects us as his leader that he is able to learn and willingly follow our guidance and requests without resistance.

One of the most wonderful qualities of the horse, which humans also benefit from, is his innate desire to get along and fit in with others. But in order to fit in he must first know where he stands in the “pecking” order with his herd mates…is he the leader or the follower? When we initiate groundwork that replicates the body language of equine physical dominance and by so doing show our horse that we can control his movement without fear, force or pain he naturally and willingly accepts us as his leader.

If you watch horses out in a pasture you will see this going on constantly. A typical challenge goes something like this. Horse A finds a delicious patch of grass and starts to munch. Horse B sees this and decides he wants the same patch. He walks over gives a stern look and waits for A to move away. When A doesn’t move B pins his ears back. If A is still there, B opens his mouth, bears his teeth and swings his head toward A’s neck. Finally if A still hasn’t moved, B bites (“pecks”) A firmly on the neck. A quickly moves away from the discomfort of the bite. B gets the patch of grass and establishes his superiority over A in the pecking order.

Some horses will intermittently challenge others their whole lives. This will establish, reestablish or change their leadership position whether it’s in a herd of 10 or a herd of 100. They may also attempt to establish, reestablish or change their leadership in a herd of two; you and your horse!

Groundwork has many purposes. The most beneficial is to establish or reestablish yourself as the leader of your horse in your herd of two on the ground before you get on his back. Getting on his back to ride is not the time to discover that your horse still considers himself your leader. You need to establish your leadership the same way another horse would, by first controlling the movement of your horses’ feet while you are still on the ground.

One example of groundwork would be if you were connected to your horse with a halter and lead rope and you wanted him to turn and face you. You would start by giving a stern look at your horses’ hip and waiting about five seconds for him to move his hip away, which would cause his body to turn and his head to face you. If he didn’t you would then raise your hand that is holding the lead rope in a dominant manner. If he still didn’t move you would swing your lead rope in a circle that would come within about six inches from your horses’ hip. If he still did not move his hip, you would allow the end of the swinging rope to lengthen causing your horses’ hip to be in the way of the rope and make contact with itas it went around in it’s circle. I guarantee that when the  rope touches (bites/pecks) your horses’ hip, he will move it away and his head will face you.

This is totally different than slapping your horses’ hip with the rope. As long as you have given your horse the opportunity to move before the rope touches him he will understand that he was the cause of being touched by the rope because he failed to get out of the way when you politely asked him the first three times. Not only will he move, he will move without becoming aggressive or resenting you. This is how we begin to earn respect from our horse.

With the natural non-verbal communication of groundwork you will have gotten your horse to respond in a positive manner, gained his respect and begun to establish yourself as his leader. You will have done this with honesty, fairness, assertiveness and leadership by communicating in his natural body language. To ride my horse with lightness, non-resistance and positive responses, I need him offer all of these qualities to me on the ground before I get on his back. I won’t ask my horse to do something when I’m on his back unless he’s first done it willingly for me on the ground.

Natural Horsemanship teaches us to communicate with our horse in his language. It is only then that we can have mutual understanding that creates a true relationship with a willing partner. It is only then that we can gain the love, trust and respect necessary to allow our horse to look to us as his leader, providing us both with our two most important goals: safety and fun. It begins with Groundwork…the key to great riding, which must  always start with a great relationship.

© Tim Hayes 2017

Tim is he author of RIDING HOME - The Power of Horses to Heal. To learn more about the book please visit: http://www.ridinghome.com/

Every book ordered will benefit:  At Risk Youth, Veterans with PTSD and Children with Autism.

Cross Training: Good for Humans–Good for Horses

Tim and Tom Dorrance 1996. Photo courtesy - Tim Hayes Collection.

Tim and Tom Dorrance 1996. Photo courtesy - Tim Hayes Collection.

In 1996 I participated in a Natural Horsemanship clinic given by the late Tom Dorrance. Even though he was a cowboy, well over half of his students rode English.  Tom was a creator of miracles when it came to helping people with their horse problems (he called them: “people problems”). His message was simple: “humans and horses need to get along better.” Tom was not only acknowledged as a great horseman but the father of a revolution in horse training… what is now referred to as Natural Horsemanship.

When the clinic was over I asked Tom what books he would recommend I read. I was expecting him to say a book with a title like, “Lessons From The Ranch”. Instead he simply said read “Dressage” by Henry Wynmalen. I had heard of Dressage. I knew riders with English saddles practiced it. However it was the last thing I thought a California cowboy would know about much less be recommending.

In the spring of 2001 I attended Equitana USA in Louisville Kentucky. It was a four-day event held in two buildings each the size of New York’s Madison Square Garden. One was totally devoted to English, the other Western. On the forth day I listened to a wonderful talk on the benefits achieved in competitive equine events with something called: Cross Training by a 28-year-old rodeo star named Ty Murray.

Two years before Ty had received the award of World Champion All Around Cowboy. It was the 7th time he received it. No one has ever done it since. Ty began his talk by saying: “When I began training for the rodeo, I realized that at 5’8” and 150lbs, there was no way I could ever control a 2,000 lb. bull. But I could learn to control myself and how I reacted and responded to them.” Ty went on to say that he began to practice martial arts and use a trampoline to master his equine reflexes and balance. He called it “Cross Training”

As I listened to Ty, I thought back to Tom Dorrance recommending I study and practice Dressage. I began to think that maybe one way to become good at one sport was to practice a different sport that has similar physical skills. I remembered years ago reading an article about professional football players who used ballet exercises in their practice to improve their agility.

Today Cross Training is widely accepted and practiced in many sports. Nowhere is it more valuable than with riding horses. As I like to say: “horseback riding, no matter what discipline, is the only sport where you can fail because your “equipment” becomes anxious.”

Like Ty Murray on his bull, I need to be able to control myself in how I respond to my horse. Not only to have fun or to win, but more importantly… to be safe. Natural Horsemanship teaches me that being good with horses is more than having the physical ability to perform a Piaffe or a Slide Stop. I also need the skill and knowledge to control the mental and emotional states of both my horse and me.

Horses learn through repetition but they can also become bored and dull with routine. Horses that are constantly drilled for any type of riding or competition often breakdown mentally before they breakdown physically. Striving for success on any level can be stressful for both horse and rider.

Cross Training with your horse can relieve stress for both horse and rider. It can be is easy, fun and make a significant positive improvement in any equine discipline.

Whether you ride English or Western taking your horse on a leisurely trail ride can do wonders for you both. Doing something together, not having an agenda or schedule, allows you and your horse quality time to just enjoy each other. (Horses that have not gone on trails before should always start by riding with other trail experienced horses and riders that are relaxed and confident.) As you and your horse become comfortable and start enjoying being together out in the country, your regular routine, be it Jumping, Dressage, Barrel Racing or Equitation will become less stressful, more fun and most often improve.

If most of your horse activity is trail riding, learning how to ride over small jumps or practicing more sophisticated communication with simple Dressage exercises can become your Cross Training. For those who jump, practice a little Dressage. For Dressage riders, learning how to go over small jumps in harmony with your horse greatly improves your balance, your seat and your confidence. For all riders, learning where each one of your horses feet are at all times, knowing how to move your horse laterally and many other Dressage exercises are wonderful ways to improve your lightness, flexibility and control in any discipline.  

The take home message is that horses are just like humans. If every time they see us they think:

“She’s going to ask me to do the same thing again, how boring” or “He’s going to take me into that arena and drill me till I go nuts” eventually they’re going to get bored, stressed, lose interest and start resisting. Wouldn’t you? On the other hand if we can add some variety in our program, whether we’re competing or pleasure riding, our horses will look at us and think: “Great, here she comes. She makes my life so interesting.” Or, “I wonder what we’re doing today? He’s always fun to play with.” 

One of the wonderful things about my Natural Horsemanship Clinics – See: http://www.hayesisforhorses.com/about-clinics/ - is at one time or another everyone gets to do some Cross Training with their horse. Our English riders learn to ride without a bit and with just a halter and our Western riders learn about collection. By the time the Clinic is over not only have we improved our relationship with our horse, we have all accomplished something just as important…we’ve had fun! ©TimHayes2017

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” --- A. Einstein

For clinics, classes or private sessions contact Tim at: tim@hayesisforhorses.com or 1-800-959-3101

Natural Horsemanship articles by Tim Hayes are at: www.hayesisforhorses.com

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: http://www.ridinghome.com/

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: http://www.ridinghome.com/. 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: http://www.hayesisforhorses.com/  

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: http://www.ridinghome.com/ For Tim’s clinics, private sessions, books, DVD’s and more articles go to: http://www.hayesisforhorses.com/ 

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 (www.ridinghome.com). 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 (www.richardlouv.com), 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 (www.centerforamericasfirsthorse.org).

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: www.ridinghome.com. 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: www.hayesisforhorses.com.

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: http://www.ridinghome.com/. 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: http://www.hayesisforhorses.com/

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: www.ridinghome.com. 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: www.hayesisforhorses.com.