• vslachman

Beasts With Burdens: Introduction



I started writing about my experience with Dorian, because the journey we’ve taken together is so different from how many of the trainers, equine-assisted learning experts, and riders I know relate to horses.


Many people still don’t understand horses as emotional, wise beings and that to get anywhere with them, a relationship is essential. Trust, respect, genuine communication, even love, I think, is the basis of any real connection, no matter the species.

Most essential to that relationship is that we come to them in our own, most authentic selves. And sometimes, that’s no easy task.

I was surprised at how my changes happened. Rather than me teaching Dorian (though certainly we’ve engaged in that process), my growth came mostly from my relationship to him and what he’s communicated to me and taught me. He reads me much more clearly than I read myself, and has shown me my need for deep changes.


And always, his communication has been honest, straightforward, gentle, and clear.

"When you take the halter and lead rope off, all that’s left is the truth.” Pat Parelli

But our progress hasn't been along any straight path or defined by rules; it’s been more me flying by the seat of my pants, to be honest. And mostly about listening to him.


I haven’t always been a good listener. It’s taken me a long time to get an inner quietness and a willingness to be present that’s enabled me to understand the feedback he is always providing me.

Any of you who’ve been in the horse world for even the shortest amount of time know that everyone has an opinion. I certainly have mine. Though I know there are as many ways of relating to horses as there are individual horses and their humans, there are some activities I do take a stand on as flat-out wrong.

When I worked in rescue, we'd occasionally have a young rider and parent come to adopt a Thoroughbred; their interest was in an "upgrade" from the horse the rider had grown out of. These potential adopters didn't consider the horses we showed them as anything other than a machine to take the rider to the next stage of competition. Those folks never left with one of our horses.

As I write this, there's a large effort in horse racing to create national oversight for drug use in Thoroughbred racing. I support those efforts and especially the Water, Hay, Oats Alliance (WHOA) which has worked so hard on behalf of the welfare of these magnificent animals. I anticipate such legislation will be passed in Congress. I hope it will, at any rate.

In my opinion, horses that have become little more than flesh and blood machines are not able to offer us the wisdom they have. Over the centuries, I think we’ve switched roles—we’ve become the “beasts of burden”—or as I like to think of it “beasts with burdens” and horses—if we let them—have become our wise leaders.


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