Horses: Our Ultimate Friends - Faithful Friends - Article Series
From The Caring Heart with Dr. Joyce from Spokane Washington

"And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called faithful and true, and in righteousness doth he judge and make war.” (Rev. 19:11)

"And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.” (Rev. 19:14)

When people say, it’s just a horse…they just don’t understand.”

“Horses are incredibly forgiving. They fill in places we’re not capable of filling.” Buck Brannaman “A good rider hears his horse speak. A great rider can hear his whisper.”

“You don’t break these animals, you come to an understanding with them.” Phil West Put your hand on your horse, and your heart in your hand.” Pat Parelli

Throughout the ages mankind has lauded THE HORSE. Fools have exploited and abused horses, but the wise and intelligent have been amazed at horses’ strength, speed, intelligence, and loyalty. Only in recent times, though, have humans become aware of horses’ incredible abilities to be in tune with what is going on in humans “deep underneath.” We can try all we may, but we can’t fool a horse about how we are feeling underneath any façade we may be presenting. The horse can “read,” with flawless accuracy, not just outward behavior, but our silent inner intentions. Furthermore, skilled psychotherapist that the horse is, he or she can mirror our inner state back to us in ways that enable us to gain self-insight, and to mentally and emotionally heal us. To me, that’s incredibly impressive. (And we humans, in all our arrogance, think we are superior to the horse? Hah!!) Horses are now being used as therapists for a variety of damaged humans around the globe, healing many people in ways science and medicine haven’t been able to.

Horses can also be the ultimate friends for humans. But, horse-human friendships are two-way streets. The human has to learn to be a knowledgeable, skilled, loyal, experienced horse handler, which can take much focus and time.

According to Tim Hayes, who wrote Riding Home: The Power of Horses to Heal, horses have two sets of abilities relevant to (1.) their talent for being mental, emotional, and physical therapists for people, and (2.) their talent for being incredible friends.

The first set of abilities is called HYPERVIGILANCE. Because horses existed as a prey species, they needed to develop super senses to become aware of predators in order to get away safely. Horses can detect the slightest sounds, smells, and movements coming from very far away, much farther than humans can detect the same stimuli. Also, horses are very focused on what is going on outside of themselves, in the environment, at any moment. They can feel one lone fly on their hindquarters, and can detect a rider’s slightest muscle tensions. Humans tend to be much more self-centered in their awareness.

The second set of abilities involves horse HERD DYNAMICS. Prey species are much safer living in groups. In order to survive, they need to have many skills which allow them to consistently get along with one another.

“Horses have textbook-perfect social skills. They must care about each other, help each other, look out for each other, and peacefully resolve conflicts without hurting each other. They are masters at getting along with their own species.”

“To promote social harmony horses possess a number of evolutionary hardwired qualities. These include being accepting, tolerant, kind, respectful, honest, fair, nonjudgmental, compassionate, and forgiving.” (Hayes, p. 36)

Horses have great needs to believe their survival is being safeguarded, and that means more than bodily needs for food, water, shelter, and so forth. The horse needs a skilled leader whose behaviors, intentions, and competencies assure the horse that his well-being and survival are foremost for that leader, Then, the horse will form a willing and mutually beneficial partnership. He can count on his human to not put him in precarious situations, or allow harm to come to him. His needs will be kindly met. The leader is emotionally stable, not in a good mood one day and in an ugly, ornery, or anxious mood the next day.

He or she needs to think about the horse from the horse’s point of view.

What could be causing the horse to resist right now? Am I asking the horse to do something too advanced for him? Could the horse be in pain? The leader needs to know a great deal about horses in general, and also needs to learn about the peculiarities of his or her own horse.

Beyond keeping the horse, and her or himself safe, the human leader needs to be able to accurately judge the horse’s STATE OF MIND at any time. Is the horse anxious, afraid? Is he relaxed and enthusiastic? If a horse is showing signs of fearfulness, like eyes wide, body tense and head high, the leader needs to care about that fear and do something to decrease it, such as gently stroke the horse behind the withers, which will cause soothing endorphins to be secreted. Or, if the horse is being ridden, turning the horse in small circles will disengage the hindquarters and soothe the horse.

The horse has super senses. In order to have a great faithful friendship with the horse, the human needs to maximize his or her senses also, to be able to accurately “read” what is going on in the horse, at the moment, and he or she needs to respond appropriately CONSISTENTLY. It’s like both horse and human are operating on “felt sense.” They are both focusing on each other and on the activity they are involved in at the moment. Such a dynamic friendship/partnership can go on for years and years, as long as the human keeps responding accurately and sensitively. No need to worry about the horse. He can be counted on!! He will willingly respond to his trusted leader friend.

Of course, even long-term, wonderful friendships can be damaged and/or lost. Trust can be broken because of inept, mean, harsh, inconsiderate handling. Such ways of interacting with horses have NO PLACE with faithful horse friendships!


Hayes, Tim. Riding Home: The Power of Horses To Heal. St. Martin’s Press (New York, 2015).

COPYRIGHT – 2016 - Dr. Joyce The Caring Heart

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