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What Horses Can Teach Us

Horses, running free and unencumbered across an open prairie, fill us with feelings of awe, wonderment and pride in our western heritage. I wonder, is it stirring some deep primordial memory with horses over the millennia or are we just appreciating the beauty of such a spectacle? Maybe both, but who can tell?

In ancient times, our partnership with horses enabled us to explore and conquer new territory, and, as we evolved, the horse helped us again, with farming on a larger scale, transportation and shipping, allowing us to become more civilized, which in turn led to our diversification and growth as a society. In today’s world, horses are again partners with us, albeit mostly recreational, and sometimes in keeping the traditions alive that remind us of the longstanding relationship we have had with this magnificent animal.

It is noteworthy that in the last half of the last century, our newfound leisure time has afforded us the luxury of investigating a new collaboration between humans and horses, one of education and personal growth. This educational opportunity emerged as horse owners and trainers began to understand the horse as a conscious being capable of thought, emotion and communication. We realized that herd behavior and horse psychology could be a doorway for understanding the human consciousness by providing us with a glimpse of ourselves through the eyes of a horse. Horses are different and yet not so different in some very important ways, especially in how they choose their leaders.

“Learning to become a leader, in the eyes of a horse, is a true accomplishment. It makes you aware of who you are and how you are being,” says Sheila Hollenbeck of Breckenridge. Sheila has been a regular volunteer at the ranch. “This organization partners rescued horses, for the purpose of an educational experience that focuses on life skills, and leadership development.” Sheila says that horses can teach us amazing things if we take the time to listen to what they have to teach us.

In a wild horse herd, there is one horse that leads. Those unfamiliar with horses often think it is the stallion that’s in charge. In reality, the stallion’s job is to chase off the weaker males so a strong and healthy DNA is passed on in the bloodline of the offspring. The horse that is the leader of the herd is actually a mare, (a female horse). She is the leader that all of the horses look to, to know when it is safe to drink water, to eat or to run when a predator is nearby. This mare is able to lead because she has been accepted by all of the other horses as the most qualified to lead. She does not lead by coercion, manipulation or force. She commands respect because of her knowledge, experience and ability. You could say that she is the embodiment of those qualities that other horses instinctively strive to be. Through this same “rule”, the pecking order of the herd is established and every horse becomes a leader to the horses below it in the hierarchy, all the way down to the last horse in the herd.

Kensington a 13 year old participant said: “The horses were super nice, I loved grooming them because it helped me connect with them. I learned that you have to have strong and positive energy to make them feel safe and for them to respect and love you. I learned to control my energy and I know this will help me in my life. The horses taught me that if you love them and are happy, they will be happy too. I think this camp will help me in life and school in so many ways!”A Leadership Camp with the kids from Keystone Science School

In the wild, leadership among horses is essential, because without it, they would not survive. Similarly, in our society, we also look to our leaders for safety and survival. We seek out those individuals who are the embodiment of the best qualities that are human. From horses we learn that true leadership is borne out of being the best we can be, with the abilities and talents that we have. As adults we all experience being leaders in some area of our life, whether we realize it or not. We may be leader to our children or the people we supervise or just as an example in the grocery store, when we assist someone who needs help with too many bags to handle. We may be leaders in one arena and a follower in another. Even the most singular leaders are often following the ideals of someone else making it their own vision and values that they cheris.

When we understand the importance of discovering our natural talents, developing them to the fullest degree and using these talents to serve others, we expand our understanding of leadership, and history teaches us that our very survival and evolution as a species could hinge on this concept. Summit Valley Horse Center was founded on these principles and it’s programs are designed to enhance the community through animal/human related education, inspiring all of its members through service, and by giving our youth the resources necessary to help them grow and thrive as productive members of society.

Summit Valley Horse Center continues a long and storied history of humans and Equus, with horses providing us with life changing experiences and insights about how we can be more successful as human beings.

“Watching the kids learn and interact with the horses was amazing. The amount of experiential learning was high and the amount of applicable life experience was even higher. I felt for the kids gaining the basics of strong and confident communication is key – where to look, how to stand, how to hold yourself and conduct yourself like a leader with confidence. Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes – with the right tools, anyone can be a leader. Everything that was taught today about communication and leadership is applicable outside of a ranch. It is amazing how much animals respond to a positive and loving energy. Horses are no different than people in that way. We all can create stronger and more meaningful relationships by expressing and exuding more happiness and love. I had a great time and I know the kids did to. This work is so applicable to both personal and professional development! THANK YOU, Thank you so much for making this class possible for the youth in SOS. So, thank you for your support of the youth that we serve. I know they gained so much with this opportunity.” Joan Dieter – SOS program director