Sunday, November 15, 2015
Tim Hayes, Author, Trainer
Riding Home: The Power of Horses to Heal, St. Martin’s Press 2015
by Tim Hayes
An Interview with Author and Natural Horsemanship Clinician Tim Hayes
As seen in Gina's iVIEW column
August/September 2015 issue of trueCowboymagazine
Author Tim Hayes is a Natural Horsemanship instructor at The University of Vermont and The University of Connecticut Departments of Animal Science and an internationally recognized Natural Horsemanship Clinician. His new book Riding Home ~ The Power of Horses to Heal is recommended reading for horse-lover and non-horse-lover alike. Riding Home reveals Tim’s dedication and passion to helping people - including veterans with PTSD, Children with Autism and Youth at Risk - heal through the powerful relationship between human and horse. Tim’s devotion, compassion and life experience with horses is revealed in this wonderful collection of stories that will inspire.
GM: When was your first encounter with horse?
TH: It was 1993 and I was 48 years old. Some friends of mine from New York City, where I was born and still living, had moved out to Idaho to a town called Ketchum. Nearby there was a family owned cattle ranch. They brought me over to meet them and we all hit it off. They said, “Come on, ride one of our horses.” I said, “Okay, I’ll try it.” It was a Quarter Horse named Spot and the 1993 Idaho State Champion Roping Horse.
The experience changed my life. I had grown up in the city and never been on a horse. This horse was able to do things that I simply thought about. If I thought “slow down” the horse would slow down. I had no idea that it could be like that. From that moment on, I wanted to learn everything I could about horses and have them in my life.
The same way that people take vacations or take time off, I spent all my free time going to the Idaho ranch to learn the required skills of a cowboy. For the next three to four years, I was taught to ride, rope, brand and fix fences. I loved every second of it. By the end of that time, of all the things that I was doing, I discovered I had an enormous passion for horses.
I wanted to become a horse trainer and learn everything I could. I was about to start studying with the head of the ranch, when I read an article in the New York Times about a man named Tom Dorrance. It was all about what was called a gentler, softer way of horse training. They weren’t calling it “Natural Horsemanship” then. That was before that name came around.
I picked up the phone and I called Tom Dorrance in California. I said, “Tom, I would love to learn from you.” He said, “Well, bring your horse and come to my clinic.” I said, “Not only do I not have a horse, but I live in New York City.” He repeated what I said and I could hear a lot of laughter in the background. He said, “Come on out, we’ll find you a horse.” So, I went out and met Tom Dorrance.
I did a clinic with Tom and my life changed again because Tom, who is now considered the father of 20th and 21st century natural horsemanship, taught me to relate and train a horse with compassion; to also look at our relationship from the horse’s point of view, not just from my point of view. It was truly transformative. I started to learn Tom’s ways and then find every person that Tom had ever taught and to study with all of them. Over the next few of years, I studied with Ray Hunt, Pat Parelli, Buck Brannaman, and whole bunch of others.
GM: Do you consider yourself a horse whisperer?
TH: Let me share what I’ve learned from doing a lot of research about the origin of the term horse whisperer. The term first came around in the late 1800’s in Ireland. Back then there were two types of horse trainers. There was a horse trainer who would train a horse so you could ride it, and then there was someone called a horse tamer. A horse tamer was hired to tame or gentle dangerous horses that had gotten out of hand with humans; horses so violent, that in some instances they had actually killed their owners.
A well-known Irish horse tamer, Daniel Sullivan would begin his taming technique by taking the horse into a barn and closing the door. He didn’t want anyone to see what he was doing in order to keep his secret method a mystery, which also helped him charge handsomely for public viewing.
Basically, his secret was what we now do today with natural horsemanship - we control the ability of a horse to move its feet just the way another horse would do… without force, fear or pain. We use tools such as soft ropes and round pens. Once the horse feels and accepts that you or another horse is controlling his movement, he submits and looks to you or the other horse as his alpha or leader.
What happened was after Sullivan closed the barn door; he would simply tie up one leg of the horse. He would then start gently stroking him and whisper words of assurance and kindness that helped the horse feel calm and safe. The horse couldn’t go anywhere so it was the tamer who was now controlling the ability of the horse to move. The horse realized that he was powerless but safe and therefore it was more advantageous for him to submit to this non-predatory human than to attempt to struggle.
The people outside, although seeing nothing of this, could nevertheless hear Sullivan’s whispers. After usually no more than 20 minutes when the tamer calmly lead the now docile previously dangerous horse out, an amazed public figured that what Sullivan had done was whispered special words to the horse to change him so they started referring to him as a “horse whisperer.” That’s how that term came about.
One hundred years ago horse whispering was nothing more than what we now call natural horsemanship. If you ask if I’m I a horse whisperer, I would simply say that I am a horse trainer who uses compassion and horse psychology as a gentle method of training horses, as opposed to force, fear and intimidation. Today this is referred to as natural horsemanship. I hope that one day in the future we will all just call it “good horsemanship.”
GM: Have you ever met a horse that you couldn’t train?
TH: What I became was a specialist in was training people to train their own horses. What I found in the world of horse owners was similar to that of car owners. If someone’s car needs fixing and they don’t know how to fix it (which is most people) they bring it to a mechanic. Most people who own horses know very little about horses. If there’s a problem, they will often take their horse to a horse trainer.
Unlike a car, a horse has thoughts, feelings, fears and needs. He wants a relationship with his human; mental, emotional as well as physical. When you give your horse to a horse trainer, the horse trainer is a professional and has lots of tools; techniques, knowledge and experience, and can cause a change in the behavior of the horse as long as he the trainer is with the horse.
Most often, when the trainer gives the horse back to the owner, the owner doesn’t have the same knowledge as the horse trainer. So usually the owner ends up doing what they have always done, and the in time the horse ends up doing what he has always done. I found it’s far more helpful to work with a person and their horse at the same time, and teach the person what I’m doing so that after I leave they can practice and eventually do it themselves.
There have been times when I have told the person that I think their horse is too much for them, and suggest they might want to think of getting a different horse. I’ll say that because it appears they don’t have enough knowledge or skill for that particular horse they would probably be safer and have more fun with a different one.
I could train their horse if I wanted to bring it home and take the time to train it, but that’s not what I do. I would rather work with the people with a different horse and give that horse to somebody who just likes to train horses and not work with people.
GM: What are your views on the horse slaughter debates?
TH: Although there have been some long-standing problems with the conservation and management of America’s wild horses, under no circumstances do I believe the solution is containment through slaughter.
I can see the point of view from cattle ranchers where, in some cases, grazing wild horses take food away from their cows which impacts their livelihood. But I would like to believe that with all of today’s modern innovations there is some way to maintain and manage our wild horses that enables both the public and the ranchers to get their needs met. I just don’t know enough about all the available options to know what the right answer is.
GM: Your role in helping others through Equine Therapy is extraordinary. How do horses help people through therapy?
TH: Gina, During the many years of teaching natural horsemanship I became aware of how often people were attracted to and wanted to be with horses that had very similar personality characteristics to those of their own. Shy people often had timid horses, extroverted; risk-taking people had very challenging horses and so on.
When I would point this out most people could immediately see some of themselves in their horse. The horse’s behavior was like a mirror that reflected back personality characteristics that were much like those of the person.
For example if a person revealed to me that they had certain problems with other people in their work or personal relationships, these same problems would show up when they began interacting with their horse. And just as they discovered that they couldn’t change another person’s behavior without first changing their own behavior, the only way do get their horse to behave differently was for them to behave differently first.
Over time this dynamic in relationships between horse and human resulted in extending the benefits of Equine Therapy to include the healing of human mental and emotional wounds.
The Equine Therapy that had originally utilized the therapeutic movements of a horse to help heal a patient with physical malady like cerebral palsy as they would ride on their back, was now providing mental and emotional healing by having the patient interact with a horse on the ground.
Today, we have veterans in Equine Therapy who are experiencing powerful healing from their post-traumatic stress disorder. Children with autism are having amazing breakthroughs in their emotional health by simply receiving the unconditional acceptance from a horse.
Horses are also helping Youth at Risk, teenagers who have gotten in trouble with drugs or have been kicked out of school and potentially starting down a road to crime. Equine Therapy has been dramatically healing for getting kids back on the right track and increasing their self-esteem.
However I think the most profound development in today’s Equine Therapy has been its effectiveness in healing our veterans with PTSD. Hundreds of thousands of our young men and women have come home from war emotionally crippled. There isn’t a cure for PTSD. Most professionals have not figured out what to do about it. The only thing they have been able to offer is either traditional talk therapy with a therapist or prescription pharmaceutical drugs. The vast majority of the time these have been totally ineffective.
Today there are many equine programs available to the thousands of veterans who suffer from the devastating wounds of war and specifically PTSD. The Wounded Warrior Project, working in conjunction with PATH Intl. Equine Services for Heroes as well as many other programs are all specifically set up to provide Equine Therapy for veterans. Frequently this results in profound mental and emotional healing for these men and women simply by creating an interactive relationship on the ground with a horse
The reason Equine Therapy works is that for someone with PTSD to begin healing they have to initially revisit the trauma and talk about it. For many that’s too overwhelming and often why talk therapy is so ineffective. For most veterans so sit and talk with a stranger about what they experienced in war, is too painful.
With Equine Therapy the horse doesn’t have any questions for them. The horse just wants to get along. It doesn’t matter if the veteran has seen or done horrible things in war. Horses do not judge other horses or humans, they only just their behavior that is happening at that moment.
Often this can be the first time a veteran comes home and experiences unconditional acceptance. For some, the healing that has come from horses has been miraculous. I believe the biggest problem with Equine Therapy is that so few people know about it and so little is being done to support it.
GM: What does horsemanship mean to you?
TH: Horsemanship to me is a way to describe a relationship between a human being and a horse, which I believe is identical to a relationship between two humans. What I’ve learned is that in a human relationship, whether it’s a husband/wife, parent/child, or best friends, there are three ingredients that have to be present for the relationship to work - love, trust and respect. In order to have a healthy, happy relationship you must have all three.
If I love and respect my wife, but I don’t trust her, the relationship won’t work. The same is true for horses. If I love and respect my horse but I don’t trust him because when I go for a ride I’m worried I might get bucked off, we’re also not going to have a good relationship. If my horse respects me, loves me, but doesn’t trust me because he thinks that every time he does something I don’t like I am going to hit, whip or spur him, our relationship isn’t going to work either.
Horsemanship is based upon love, trust and respect between a horse and a human. In the end, the same golden rule that you and I were taught is exactly what is needed in horsemanship. We want to treat our horses the same way we want to be treated.
I hope people will take a look at my book. You can easily see what it’s about at http://www.ridinghome.com. And every book ordered will help to benefit veterans with PTSD, at Risk Youth, children with autism and children of families in need.
Contact Tim Hayes: http://www.hayesisforhorses.com
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