This is a lovely book, in which Kelly Marks sets out what anyone who handles, trains or rides horses needs to do in order to become the partner a horse would choose for himself. She points out how often our demands and expectations regarding horses are unreasonable and unrealistic. She does not accept that horses do things ‘for no reason at all’. ‘Insensitivity to the horse, in the many forms it can take, is the prime reason why horses suddenly do “bad” things “for no reason at all”. Sometimes the horses protest dramatically and in some cases they protect themselves by becoming totally unresponsive and shutting down altogether’ (p.14)
There are so many good things in this book that it’s difficult to mention more than a few of them. One thing I particularly like is the way Kelly insists we should give the horse time to respond; ‘Horses are not connected to Broadband’! She goes on to say, ‘It’s incredible how a person who can take 20 minutes to look through the menu at a restaurant, will expect a horse to react as fast as a pistol when she asks him a completely new question.’ (p.31)
She points out what all too many trainers fail to recognise: horses don’t do as we ask because we are their masters; they make most of their decisions based on comfort or discomfort, on survival vs. non-survival. What so many people call ‘naughtiness’ is usually caused by pain or fear. As Kelly says, ‘Fear is not resistance – fear is fear.’ (p.160)
Kelly teaches us to take responsibility for our emotions and acknowledge the effect they have on our horses. At the same time, one of the most valuable things about this book is the way Kelly consistently finds learning opportunities even in undesirable behaviour. I particularly like what she says about spooky horses:
‘A spooky, hyper-vigilant horse can give you one of the most valuable educations you can ever have around horses. He can help you pick out the details of how a horse sees the world. You can start to learn what that’s like – what a wonderful gift to have!’ (p.115) As one who has shared my life for the last 15 years with just such a horse, I can only say, Amen to that!
Although much of the book is devoted to developing the right kind of attitude around horses, it would be very wrong to think of it as another ‘new age’ type of book, filled with airy-fairy, touchy-feely, ‘let’s get-in-touch-with-our inner nature’ stuff. Kelly’s philosophy is very much grounded in practicalities, and the book is full of practical advice and exercises aimed at helping readers to understand the various issues explored in its pages, as well as helping them to deal with difficult situations calmly and constructively. There are numerous case histories illustrating various points, as well as lots of beautiful photos of Kelly and her horse, the gorgeous (and doesn’t he know it!) American Pie.
Kelly rejects the simplistic approach which holds that ‘it’s all completely foolproof if you “follow these simple steps” ’. Although naturally she makes use of techniques learned from her mentor, Monty Roberts, she does not promote any ‘method’ as such: what she gives readers instead is the understanding and insight needed to find their own ways of dealing with horses. For Kelly, timing and feel are of vital importance. She emphasizes that these are qualities that don’t have to be inborn, but they take time and effort to acquire. Above all, she insists on people taking responsibility for what they do with their horses.
‘Don’t be fooled into believing that there is one great answer out there and you can abdicate responsibility. Ultimately you’re the one responsible for your horse and for your lives together.’ (p.209)
I’d wholeheartedly recommend this book, not only to people who want to gain more insight into how horses and humans can relate to each other, but also – and perhaps especially – to those who think they already have all the answers. A quote from Andre Gide, used in the book, is very apt in this respect: ‘Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.’