Natural Horse World

The Best Way To Love Your Horse

Guest Post by Lockie Phillips of Emotional Horsemanship

Do you correct, fuss, or change your horse too soon?
Do you know to prioritize ‘Permissiveness’ over ‘Properness’?

One of the best ways to love your horse and express your respect, love, and admiration for others, is to give them permission to just be themselves, instead of constant correction and reframing.


This photo is from a couple of months back. It was the first ride, in a bit, I conducted on Sureño. Sureño is in rehabilitation right now. Rehab for his feet, transition from Cryptorchid to happy Gelding, transition from Sport Horse lifestyle into family/natural horse keeping lifestyle many more types of transitions.

This is a slow and patient process. I have no panic about achieving any sort of training goals with him by a certain age.
He is 9, he will not reach his peak for another 5 years at least. So, Sureño’s retraining has not officially begun yet.

This horse had access to some of the top trainers and instructors in Europe for the first 9 years of his life.
So why retrain him? By retraining I mean, starting from the beginning again and working through all elements of his horsemanship one by one, from haltering, leading, tacking, to mounting, and eventually to all ridden elements.

I will approach all these things as if he has never done them before, despite the fact that I know he has.
Not because I am critical of the training he has already. I am not. He is a mentally healthy and happy horse overall.

But because one of the foundational principles of Emotional Horsemanship is to take nothing for granted, slow down, be thoughtful, and give the horse a chance to express themselves free from my suggestions. And I want to give this horse an opportunity to try again. To give him permission to be, how he wants to be. Rather than what I project him to be.

Human beings are great projectors.

We are really good at it. We can sit and read a book, an article, or a social media post, and instead of listening to another point of view, we rush to reframe others into our form.
We want others to use the language we prefer. We want others to express themselves in ways we like. We want others to look, act, think, and feel… the way we do.

Professionals are most guilty of this towards their colleagues. The universal consensus is Bible. It is Theocratical urgings disguised as Academic Searchings.

I have a fairly low tolerance for it. Because it is not a loving or respectful thing to do. To hen peck others into forms you prefer. Many of us are unaware that it is unloving. Because our whole lives we have been surrounded by family, teachers, and mentors who expressed their love specifically by nagging us into forms they preferred. But what about an individual’s right to be free to be themselves?

You do you. I want to understand you, on your terms. I don’t want you to form yourself into my form. There is only one of us here, but also, only one of you.
That is a gorgeous paradox I enjoy leaning into. Balancing universal connection together with individual expression. Be you.
You have permission to be you, do you? This is what I want to offer to horses. And horse people.

The body keeps the score.

So I post this photo as an example of walking my talk in recent history. I am sitting quietly on this horse. Attempting to balance listening, with calm, confident, directive leadership- so he could be confident under me. In this horse, he ground his teeth this whole ride, his face in this photo is tight, worried, trying to please. Fawn. That is my interpretation.

This is what I remember from this ride. It did not worry me. I just listened to him. In my mind and heart, taking note. Applying one aid at a time, and taking note of his response without judgment of him, or where he came from. Just honest listening.

Physically, he showed impressive residual core activation, despite not being in regular work for over 6 months, which tells me how intensive his history of training was. Same reason that my body still remembers all the physical recruitment needed for classical dance despite not dancing for well over 5 years (and not wanting to).

The body keeps the score. Sureño showed plenty of cervical recruitment, more than normal, but also a lot of brachiocephalic ‘pulling’, indicating a weak thoracic sling and base of neck despite impressive cervical topline development. Pulling his newly fitted saddle I noticed a mild atrophy of the longissimus and thoracic trapezius, congruent with the brachycephalic patterning.
With a mildly downhill movement and an almost imperceptible brace in his front limbs, the ghost of his reoccurring lameness issues and canker infection are now resolved.
I do not label any of these things as negative, or incorrect. In fact, knowing his injury history, these compensations are absolutely necessary and correct for the injuries he had. I know, that with time, he will change.

Instead of correcting any of this during that ride, I gave him permission to actually repeat all these ‘problems’, or a better word for them, PATTERNS.
Permission to be. To be where he is, what he is. Without correction. Without hen-pecking him into a different form. Without passive-aggressive corrections. Without manipulation. Without worry. Just being. Before he can give me permission to change how he is, I wait for his permission to be together, as we are.

Interactions and correction

This transcribes beautifully into interpersonal interactions, not just ‘interhorsenal’ interactions.
Too many of us believe we are entitled to correct others, because (insert a thousand reasons here) before we have taken time to build a rapport with others.

At a personal level, I have a handful of mentors I go to when I have corrections, or when I want to change something about myself, my work, my business, and my skill set. I choose this network carefully. Those people have usually built a rapport over many years of trust, love, affection, and support.
I do not look for that in social media comments. I freely admit a human fault of having a low tolerance for it when it shows up. More for the sake that it makes the comment section unsafe for others.
Others are working up the courage to take a seat at the table and express themselves. Others have been hen-pecked so much in their life they struggle to express themselves at all.


So, when coaching the horse person, I wait to build rapport before offering change. I check for signs of overwhelm, curiosity, availability, and willingness before I offer advice.
Because unsolicited advice is a really easy way to tell someone you do not respect them (yet).

I follow this principle to a fault. I have lost the trust and mentorship of clients in the past because of this.
E.G. I perceived a client was pushing me to be their guru, to fill them up with my techniques immediately, begging me to reform them in my image.
I patiently, passively refused. Instead asking them questions about themselves, bringing attention to their personal skill set and self-awareness first.

I refuse to be anybody’s guru. Because I dislike having toxic attachments to the people I work for and serve. It feels unkind to me. It feels slimy and manipulative. And often a client will invite you into that participation, throwing money at you to do so.
And it is a relationship I dislike. Thankfully it has been at least 3 years since that happened to me. So if you are a client of recent history, the above storyline does not apply to you.

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So with a horse, I try to be too. Your relationship with horses will fundamentally shift overall when you give them permission to be themselves first before you try to change them.
I promise you that. With Sureño, I wait for him to come home to my herd before we restart from the beginning.

As promised, I will take you with me on that process as much as I can. For now, I simply make a range of tests, like a tasting menu, a session here, a session there, and short conversations with him about consent, pressure, movement, posture, and memories. Allow him to express himself, and radically challenging myself to an absolute minimum of necessary corrections for now.

Patience before performance. Connection before change. Rapport before reframing. Questions before advice.

Can you think of a horse that thrived when you listened to them before you corrected them?

To learn more about Lockie Phillips and Emotional Horsemanship click here for the website. 


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