top of page
  • crissimcdonald

Duet: Part 1.

Friendship: a state of mutual trust and support. 

Synonyms: harmony, accord, understanding, rapport.

Ally and I Dec2015

Over the last several months while teaching, I’ve heard myself saying “Treat your horse as though he’s your friend.” This doesn’t come up with every horse and rider. And it doesn’t mean that people aren’t doing this to some degree; most of us have horses because we deeply care about and enjoy them. However, it is also the case that sometimes our human hardwiring takes over and we go from gentle and understanding to harsh and combative in almost the blink of an eye.

2014-04-07 22.15.04

I believe, and am thankful, that this is why so many other modalities are being applied to horses these days. Everything from martial arts, to Tai Chi, to yoga; Neuro Linguistic Programming, breathing techniques, energy work and various bodywork methods.

We recognize that things aren’t as separate as they seem. What works for us, can also be applied to and work for, horses. We recognize that what we carry inside of us, finds its way out through us and into our horses. We recognize that breathing a little more slowly has vast and positive effects for both ourselves and our horse. We understand that a relaxed body is a more supple body, and with that our internal and external balance improves. We come to understand that if we practice how to be while we are away from our horses, once we are with them, things get easier. Things feel better. There’s less pressure on achieving perfection and more enjoyment of their being-ness.

tedder family

So what do we mean by “treat your horse as your friend?”

It means to recognize that, just like us, horses are capable of feeling many things. I don’t think it’s anthropomorphizing to say that horses feel fear and nervousness, worry and confusion . They bruise, they ache, they bleed, they get stiff, they shut themselves away when they are frightened but can’t escape.

Just like us, when we listen, treat them with respect and do our best to communicate clearly and consistently, they can relax. They can rely on us to provide information in a way they can understand, and if they can’t understand us, they can rely on us not to punish them for it.


The wonderful news is, I believe that most horses want to connect and be with us. Horses are masters at harmony, accord, understanding and rapport  – if we give them the chance.

What does that chance look like? Here are some (but not all) ideas:

  1.  Making our horse’s physical comfort a priority. From hooves to teeth and everything in between, we want to offer them the best we’ve got. This includes environment, food and companionship with other horses.

  2. Being as skilled and knowledgeable as possible in a given momentso we can be clear and consistent in our interactions with them.

  3. Spending time with them without an agenda.

  4. Recognizing when we reach a point of anger, frustration, confusion, doubt or hopelessness while we are with our horse, then being able to stop in that moment and either put the horse away and try again another time, or pause, breathe and set that feeling aside so we can be in as joyfully neutral a place as possible.

There are reasons we become and remain friends with people. They  are supportive, don’t have an agenda for us, they are kind in their interactions, and they listen well. There are many many other reasons too, but for me these things are what I strive to bring to my horse, and certainly my family, friends and clients.

Horses, on the other hand, cannot choose with whom they interact. They can, however, choose whom to open up to, to give more than they have to and who to trust.


“What if,” as one woman said to me with exasperation “they don’t act like my friend?!” My reply  was: “You are their friend, and this is what matters.”

Her statement (and the feeling with which she said it) has stayed with me for months. I’ve turned it over in my head and heart.  I have felt that age-old question arise too: how do we remain open in the face of something that scares us, or makes us mad, or (even worse) makes us look or feel foolish?

One of the intentions I have found to be helpful, is when it comes to horses, what they are doing is not personal.

Let me say that again: it is not personal. 

If your horse is doing things you don’t like or you aren’t looking for, he or she is either tired, in pain, confused or afraid. Everything a horse does is information, and I believe, an attempt to communicate with us. It is up to us whether we stop and listen, or carry on and hope the horse “gets over it.”

And just as with a friend who is lost, or scared or confused, we offer the horse help. Support. Understanding. Clarity.

These ways of consideration create doorways where there were once walls. Although no horse (and no person) is obligated to open themselves to you, to show all they have within them, to trust that their vulnerabilities and strengths have a safe place to rest with you, creating doorways leads to rooms we didn’t know were there.

For me,  this is where the good stuff is. When we carry ourselves in a way that others-horses or humans- can rely on, doors that were walls are opened. An eye that was dull sparks. The breath that was held, is released. What we call magic, relationship, and heart arises from the ashes of discord, fear and tension.  It’s all there.  Inside the horse, and inside you, too.

Photo credits:Photos 1, 4, 5: Crissi McDonaldPhoto 2: Louise ThayerPhoto 3: Dustin TedderPhoto 6: Lindsey Tedder