Horses Never Lie – book review

I started reading Horses Never Lie back in May, having received it as a Christmas present.  I was sitting on a stranger’s sofa, quietly supervising a student who needed to sit a public exam at home.  When I was about 20 pages in, inspiration hit: I put the book down, picked up a pen and planned the horsemanship classes I’d begin to deliver a few weeks later.

The book came with me to the US, but I neglected it in favour of other activities (working, socialising, seeing the sights… you get the idea).  When I returned home, I finished The Long Ride Home and raced through My Animals and Other Family.  Casting around for my next project, I had a few choices, but I picked up Horses Never Lie.  I’m glad I did: it’s in a similar style to My Animals, which helped it to make sense – Rashid frames his teaching around stores of horses and people he’s learned from, whether they were employers or clients.

I found myself nodding along with many sentiments, sometimes with a sharp laugh thrown in for good measure.  There’s one section where Rashid is particularly critical of an unnamed (but apparently famous) horsemanship trainer’s methods (reading it is a bit like a blind item column, and I think I know who he’s talking about), though in a decent way.  He talks in detail of how he spent several years re-developing an employer’s programme as a consultant, whereby training of his staff mattered a huge amount – the emphasis was on the staff handling and riding horses in a soft way in order to improve their way of going, with the penalty for going against this rule being a two-day suspension from work (which was never needed – something I found very interesting).  Rashid also mentions an incident during this job whereby he and his colleagues trained their horses in a certain manner in order to bring themselves in for feeding: this was a brilliant idea, and something I’d love to try, it was a great example of how imagination and consistency can help you to quickly achieve something.

But my favourite section is the chapter on perception.  Not only is there a great story about a horse Rashid trained, who had a unique response to the idea of moving away from the pressure created by their human partner, but there’s also a slightly poignant anecdote about a woman who chose to be very aggressive.  This story echoes the theme of the book in general – the story of the popular misconception that a horsemanship-focused approach requires a person to become the “alpha member” of the herd, for the horse to see the person as the leader of the pack.  This may in fact be what is correct for some people, but I’m with Rashid here: I agree with the concept of “protect your herd of two”, whereby when you are with a horse – particularly when amongst the herd, for example when you’re in the field catching your horse – said horse is your number one priority, and that you are there to be their leader and help protect them, but that you aren’t doing so in an aggressive way.  The particular incident Rashid described, where a woman ran a horse ragged until he was tired and therefore submissive, but that she chose to interpret as being acceptance of her as the leader is on the money in terms of how many people think horsemanship is.  The reality here was that the horse was just tired and fed up, rather than a truly changed animal.  In fact, his attitude towards her was probably worse than it had been initially.  And thus, perception matters – how you perceive your horse, how he perceives you, and how you together perceive what you’re trying to achieve.

Because, when all is said and done:

“Your relationship with your horse comes from the heart, not the hands.”

I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to expand their knowledge of what it’s like to work with horses, whether you take a horsemanship approach or not, this book truly is an example of every horse having something to teach and every person having something to learn.

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