Home : Seminars & Programs : Equine Facilitated Families & Camps Programs

Way of the Horse™ Camp Program

For Families and Camps

There is a whole world of horses that has nothing to do with the human activity of riding horses. Nearly 100% of camps with activities involving horses only teach riding skills and equine maintenance (mucking stalls, grooming, saddling and feeding). The real or natural world of the horse is one based on relationships. These relationships hold the herd together and assure its survival. At the core of these inter-herd associations are mutual feelings of trust, respect, confidence in the leader and a connectedness that is always present between all the members of the group. There are no feelings of separation at any time. It has become apparent to me, as an equine professional for nearly 40 years, that teaching equine relationship and communication skills assure successful outcomes with the interactions between horses and humans. These are the same skills that are required for successful relationships in all areas of human endeavor.

I have developed 'The Way of the Horse' family and camp program to assist these groups in teaching the life enriching skills of success with horses to their members.

First and foremost is an attitude of compassion and kindness for the horse and each other. Horses are not mean, vicious or devious. They react to fearful feelings. All behavior that is even aggressive, is fear based. Through the attitudes of kindness and compassion, humans can develop the desire to help the horse feel that it can trust it is safe. Being a prey animal feelings of safety are paramount for the horse. Once these feelings become instilled in the horse it wants to join always with the human and will respond favorably to any and all requests made appropriately.

The process involved to develop this type of high level relationship with equines is actually quite simple. In fact, it is the same process humans use to develop great relationships with each other. Bottom line is the attitude of compassion and kindness always, no matter what. Acquiring knowledge of the psychology and natural equine behavior in the wild is what comes next. How horses think, what their emotional and psychological make-up and needs are become very relevant. The language of the horse contains a multitude of nuances of body language, posturing, sounds and movement. There is an intuitive element within the language of the horse that is very prevalent all the time. Horses look for their consistent leader every moment. It is incumbent upon humans to take on the role of that leader whenever they are with the horse. When the leader is not present, is confused, unsure, timid or unconscious with the horse, the animal fends for itself in order to feel it will survive and this is the right thing for the horse to do. Thus, behavior that looks like stubbornness, willfulness and aggression is really the horse deciding it better take care of itself as no one is around capable of leading or guiding it to the safety it needs desperately to feel. Safety does not exist in the world outside of our feelings. We either feel safe enough to get on an airplane or in a car, or we do not.

'The Way of the Horse, Family/Camp Program' teaches lessons not only in equine behavior and language, but more importantly, human lessons in; kindness, compassion, leadership, self-esteem, confidence, great communication, being a team player, use and understanding of intuition, self-awareness, presence, the ability to focus, right perception and a host of additional qualities that we humans value highly. Its a little like teaching great parenting skills. Also near the top of the list are lessons in 'forgiveness'. The horse forgives honest mistakes and holds no grudge once the human comes back to kindness and compassion accompanied by kindness and skill.

Some of the exercises to enhance the building of trusting relationships between horses and humans (also between humans and humans) are:

1. Developing personal integrity through discussion and using the horse’s innate integrity as example. Integrity, being the congruency of thought, speech and action, is not mentioned or taught anywhere as a learned skill. It can be when the benefits to the individual are brought out and shown in the light of the detriments of being out of integrity (i.e. lying and being lied to, manipulation as a way to try to erroneously control life or being controlled, a victim mentality where blame is always placed on others for our problems and a sense of being separate). We want the horse to begin to trust us (as well as other humans to trust us) and being in integrity is a good first step to doing this. The win with horses when integrity is present in the handler is immediate and profound, as ‘trust’ is developed almost immediately.

2. The development of kindness, mindfulness and compassion as tenants for working with horses (and living our lives in general) make activity with horses work really well. Here the ‘Golden Rule’ is taught as it relates to horses. If you want a horse to be kind to you, you must be kind to it, but in its own language of body postures as well as energetically. If you want the horse to be compassionate and forgive you if you make a mistake with it, you show the horse the same thing in your attitude and action. If you want a horse’s respect you must respect it and not assume anything or have expectations. Horses are generally kind and show compassion for each other. Kindness and compassion develop confidence in all and really help to develop trusting relationships.

3. Learning to show respect to get respect.
Developing and earning respect with a horse is nearly the same with humans. Do not inappropriately touch or invade the personal space of a horse. Never demand the horse do anything. Make clear and precisely communicated requests. Say “thank you” when you get what you ask for or even if the horse just tries to comply (“Good Boy!”). Always connect consciously with a horse when approaching it. Say “Hello” and have the intention to have a calm respectful connection before asking anything of a horse. The same goes for interacting with people.

4. Demonstrate embodied, wonderful leadership.
This means becoming the great leader yourself. Picture in your mind what the wonderful, kind, compassionate leader might be like. Perhaps something like a great, terrific parent who only wants to give the utmost best they have for their child every moment of their lives. This is a real key to getting people, old and young, to want to give the best they have to the horse. Motivating people to give and do their best always is the biggest challenge to teaching anything. With relation to horses, the metaphor of being the ‘great parent’ or Gandhi type of leader works well as a wonderful and inspirational paradigm. Simple ground exercises such as leading the horse, stopping, backing, turning in different directions, circling around the handler (lungeing), etc., when done consciously and with kindness and compassion, as well as precisely communicated, quickly set the human up as the great ‘parent and leader’ for the horse. The horse immediately becomes attracted to the human handler and wants to only stay close to that human and do as requested, assuming the requests are clear, appropriate and thoughtfully asked.

Along with the teaching of the techniques of gentle, compassionate horse training that are involved in these programs, there is a belief system of kindness and compassion towards the horse no matter what the circumstances. The understanding that horses and other animals are NEVER doing anything to us personally is most important. We are never their victims. They are always just being themselves and looking for thoughtful connections and confident directions from whoever is around them. Horses are as innocent as children. They always deserve our best. They are most willing to give us their best if we ask for it in a loving and appropriate way. These skills can be taught and learned by anyone who values success in all their endeavors as well as with horses. It will be embraced by those who seek peace rather than conflict. Even young children understand the values and rewards of being kind as they want kindness from those around them. These great life enriching attributes can be taught and practiced through successful, hands-on, simple but conscious interaction with horses. These are some of the main goals and techniques for achieving them of The Way of the Horse, Family/Camp Program.

Successful relationship with horses is assured once these concepts are embraced and learned. From that point is where riding the horse should begin. 'The Way of the Horse, Family/Camp Program' teaches centered, balanced and conscious riding techniques that have at their core the successful relationship with the horse. This wonderful relationship begins on the ground and then is transferred to in the saddle for a totally successful and life enriching experience for all involved, including the horse. The natural world of the horse is full of life enriching lessons for humans. All that is required is a willingness to embrace the principles of kindness and compassion and a desire to learn the true nature of horses.

For more information on this program, please email Franklin