Stormy May is a former horse trainer, riding instructor, and rider. She was a very good trainer, instructor, and rider and she was able to teach her students how to control their horses. But, she felt that something was missing in her relationship with the horse. She realized that somewhere along the way, she had gone off course.
She sold her ranch to fund her search to find a path to a better relationship with horses. She met with several authors and trainers who focused on what we can learn from horses rather than what we can teach them. Her meetings with each individual helped her mold the newfound connection that led to “The Path of the Horse” between horses and humans.
In a normally functioning herd, the alpha horse is not generally a stallion. It is most often an older mare that has experienced more than the rest of the members of the herd. The relationship between the alpha and the rest of the herd is a distant one. The alpha is often standing away from the herd and is the most likely to strike out at the herd members to keep them in place. The alpha horse concept is what many training methods are based on but it ultimately does not lead to a close companionship with the horse.
Horses work well with consistency. If you are consistent, you are dependable. If you are dependable, then you are trustworthy. If you are trustworthy, the horse will be at peace around you. If they are at peace around you, then the horse can become soft. Modern training methods take the softness out of a horse and then trainers can spend a lifetime trying to put softness back in the horse. However, softness comes from inside the horse. Softness is not a ‘trained’ behavior. Lightness, on the other hand, is achieved through training. Lightness is available to the horse when things are going well and the horse is not presented with unfamiliar situations. Softness is available to the horse all the time regardless of the situation presented to him at the time.
Good horse trainers are good with difficult horses because they are comfortable with not knowing what they are doing. The final goal is not clear as it is not about what the horse can do, it is about what the individual horse can bring to the table. Good horse trainers focus on the horse becoming something rather than focusing on the finished product they want the horse to be. If riders always focus on what the horse is supposed to be, the horse is always seen in a negative light. The Path of the Horse encourages the horse to become something on his own terms.
Another disconnection between humans and horses is that domestic horses miss out on natural activities such as herd socialization. Horses in herds do two activities: share space doing nothing and be together doing something. These two activities must be balanced for the horse to have a healthy well-being. The lack of socialization amplifies the need for a deeper relationship between humans and horses.
It is possible to have a fulfilling relationship with horses without the relationship being about riding or training. Simply spending time with horses and being in their presence can be a fulfilling relationship as horses often mirror the things in humans that need to be further investigated. When humans come to a horse, they must take into account the physiological impression that they offer to the horse.
“The Path of the Horse” encourages riders and horse owners to give up anything that is not in the horse’s best interest. Riders and horse owners cannot have a fulfilling relationship with a horse until they are willing to give up controlling the horse through pain. Controlling a horse through pain leads to horses obeying out of fear.
When riders reprimand a horse for doing something the rider wanted the horse to do, it is a self-serving act. When riders reprimand the horse because the rider needs more from the horse, the correction will generally incorrectly right the problem because it stems from a self-serving need. When motivation by force, pain, or threats of pain are no longer viable options, something else must take their places. A new caliber of creativity is needed to come up with an adequate replacement.
Bits offer the horse a choice. Either they can do as the rider demands or receive pain through a tug to their mouth or other areas of their head. Bits put pressure on a small area of the sensitive nerves in the horse’s mouth. Bits can pinch the tongue and the sides of the mouth as well as damage the roof of the mouth.
Studies were also conducted on the physiological effect on a horse’s back from riding. The physiology is the same for almost all horses but there are individual differences such as thicker and thinner muscles, the condition of the muscle, and trauma to the muscle. The study results identified that the muscles in the horse’s back do not respond with pain to the rider’s weight for the first 15 minutes of riding. After 15 minutes, the horse begins to experience discomfort and pain.
After 15 minutes, microcirculation problems begin to set in the muscles. After 20 minutes, the horse begins to feel the ‘pins and needles’ sensation associated with diminished circulation. Between 20-25 minutes, the muscles begin to experience anemia. From a physiological perspective, this is a very dramatic reaction. Even with a saddle that fits the horse well, the pressure of the rider’s weight and a tightened girth is beyond what a horse’s back can carry without diminished circulation and pain beginning just after a few minutes.
After Stormy May learned all of this information through her meetings with trainers and authors, she could no longer identify traditional training methods involving bits as training. Instead of training, it was abuse. Horses are abused through bit use because it works well. If the rider forces a horse to do something, the horse will give in and do as he is asked. This concept brings an important question to light: Just because we can, should we?
This path is not about doing more things with horses. It is about connecting to a greater power within. Horses are able to lead us on a path between internal and external realities. It is a way of stepping out of our world and into their world to experience the world in a different way.
Part of the path requires a connection between you and the horse. The path also requires that you and your horse remain within the connection. It is okay to have disagreements and it is okay to tell your horse what you need him to do for you. The connection is not about making the horse do anything. The connection is not always going to be peaceful, calm, and loving. It is okay for the connection to be expressed in any way the horse deems fit as long as the expression is done in a free environment. It is okay to have the connection and the disconnection. The free environment is about experimentation. This type of environment allows the horse to be who he is, to experience ‘no’, and he is able to come back into the sense of unity and harmony that you want.
The future of this path will allow for humans to become more creative, connected, be able to adapt to situations better, become more fluid, be able to respond better to horses as well as life, expand relationships, and expand leadership on all levels.
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