By Tim Hayes.
With endorsements from Robert Redford, Temple Grandin, Mark Rashid, and Horse Nation’s book review staff, we’re calling this the must-read book of the year.
Title: Riding Home: The Power of Horses to Heal
Author: Tim Hayes
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
“I’m not angry at the horses … I’m angry at my father,” were the crystal-clear and bitterly true words spoken by Kyle, a young man who had been sent to Balance Ranch Academy outside of Tucson, Arizona. The young man was struggling profoundly with the difficult divorce of his parents years earlier, and had spiraled dangerously before entering the program. Equine therapy was the tool that finally allowed Kyle to move forward and grow, and because of Tim Hayes’ brilliant book, I the reader finally understand why.
While Kyle’s story is a familiar tale to those of us who have interacted with or heard about the benefits of equine therapy in its many forms, Riding Home is the first concise, analytical, instructive but also deeply moving narrative I have ever read on the subject. It is equal parts educational and inspiring — a vast improvement on the usual “Chicken Soup for the Soul” collection of sweet stories with no meat.
Hayes has crafted a readable, thoughtful book that masterfully blends anecdotes, science, and horsemanship to share the stories of the many varieties of folks who have benefited from equine therapy. He covers a good cross section of individuals: war veterans, inmates, troubled youth, those struggling with disorders such as autism or physical disabilities, as well as everyday horse owners who each fight our own little demons in life when we confront the mirror that resides in every horse. He explains — in simple stories and accessible psychological theory — why so often it is our own learned behaviors that are the culprit in a problem between us and our horse.
With a deep background in natural horsemanship as a trainer and instructor, Hayes describes analytically the forms of resistance horses use when interacting with us (fear-based resistance, disrespect-based resistance, misunderstanding-based resistance and pain-based resistance) and explains how a better understanding of this allows us not only to communicate more clearly and in a more trusting relationship with our horses, but also allows us to better analyze ourselves, and become more self aware as riders and as human beings.
What works about Hayes’ powerful anecdotes and the psychology behind them is that while the author doesn’t shy away from romanticizing the importance of the work and these relationships, he brilliantly shuts down the tendency to romanticize and anthropomorphize the horse itself. Horses are not people — they are analytical and make decisions off survival, and once we accept that, then we can start to better interpret their behavior and reactions to us in a healthy and productive way.
Whether you’re a horse owner who is interested in exploring in a more abstract and edifying level of understanding with yourself and your horse, or you or someone you know is fighting clarity from a traumatic experience, this book is a gentle but powerful vision of the how and why of equine therapy in all its forms. It’s a brilliant concoction of emotion and information, and the enlightened reader will find it to be a fixture in their horse book collection.