Wednesday Book Review: ‘Horses Never Lie’

A relaxed, happy horse that enjoys being ridden… why is it so difficult to keep sight of this simple (or simple-sounding, at least) goal? Erin McCabe reviews Mark Rashid’s “Horses Never Lie.”

By Erin:

My Horse Likes Me More Because I Read

One of the really cool things about my riding instructor when I was a kid was that she would set me up with other instructors or clinicians whom she thought I could learn useful stuff from.  Most of what I learned I can no longer attribute to any one source– although now that I think about it, I do know exactly from which instructor the phrase “pain is joy” came from (referring to posting trot with no stirrups, of course), who taught me to count to two (referring to keeping a steady rhythm while jumping), and who first introduced the ideas of Natural Horsemanship to me (although she didn’t call it that).

This is also the really cool thing about reading books.  I learn all kinds of useful stuff.  The tricky part is figuring out how to make a cohesive whole out of all the useful bits and pieces.  But that’s where maybe, just maybe, this week’s book comes into play.  A few weeks ago, I solicited Horse Nation’s advice about which book on my reading list to attack next, and Horses Never Lie, by Mark Rashid came up repeatedly.

Since finishing the book, I’ve been having a hard time figuring out how to review it.  All you really need to know might just be this:  I read the book in less than 24 hours.  Then I went out and rode Lindy, my project pony, and she didn’t grind her teeth once (for the first time in weeks). So thanks, Horse Nation, for giving me the push I needed to solve at least one of my training woes.

But OK, OK, I understand that before you shell out $24 for a book (instead of putting it toward new Irideons or a new KK bit or a show entry or whatever), you might want some specifics.  So here goes.

The book itself is a sort of memoir/training book.  Not normally what I’d call a page turner, but for some reason I just couldn’t put it down.  It’s all written very simply, clearly (although I did find a few typos—grrr!), and conversationally.  I felt like I was sitting down with some interesting person and he was telling me stories from his life.  Which is essentially what Rashid does, because the book is really just a series of vignettes, each about a particular idea or concept and a particular horse Rashid was working with—sometimes as a kid learning about horses from “the old man”, sometimes as an adult, finally understanding exactly what the old man was really saying all those years ago—who illustrated each concept.

This makes the book work on multiple levels.  On the memoir level, the book gives you a sense of Rashid’s journey in understanding and working with horses. On the training level, Rashid’s stories give the reader ideas to try when working with her own horse.  That said, if you’re looking for him to say, Do this and you’ll get that result, you’ll be disappointed.  Any training ideas you get from it will be a result of your own analysis and synthesis of the message of each story.  Really, it’s Rashid’s philosophical approach that’s more important than any one of his techniques, that makes it possible to embrace all kinds of ideas from many different sources and create a cohesive, harmonic whole.

One of his main points is not to get so stuck in one technique or on one goal that you forget to think about the horse and your partnership with the horse.  The book illustrates how changing your thought process or your perception can open up new possibilities and create solutions where before there seemed to be none.  Maybe I’m totally biased, but has anyone else ever noticed how everything about horses applies to the rest of life?

Truthfully, I thought the book was going to be about Natural Horsemanship.  You know, roundpen your horse this way and you’ll show him you’re the kind of leader he wants to be with.  And I guess it is, in the sense that Rashid’s main point is to consider how the horse might be perceiving our requests, and to aim to be a leader for our horse, as opposed to relying on a new bit or a new exercise to get a particular result.  But Rashid comes at it from a different perspective than the “you-must-become-the-alpha-horse” style of Natural Horsemanship.  He gives the horse more credit and allows his horses to have more of a say in the partnership.  Which is how I got Lindy to stop grinding her teeth.  I realized she’s been trying to tell me she’s not ready for more contact or more engagement.  When I quit asking, she quit grinding her teeth.  Thanks to Rashid’s book, I realized I’d gotten so caught up in thinking that, as a 6 year old, she ought to be ready and that we ought to be farther along in our training (I mean really, why is cantering still so hard?), that I’d lost sight of the actual goal, which is a happy, relaxed horse who enjoys being ridden.  I pretty much think any book that reminds us of the important stuff, of the reason we all started riding in the first place (to enjoy spending time with a horse, right?) is a book that probably ought to be on every Horse Nationer’s shelf.

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