Two horse books that changed my life
After creating twenty novels for 7-9 year olds, I fancied the challenge of writing a horse book for older readers. But it wasn't that book that changed my life - it was the books I encountered while I was developing it.
Before I could start writing, I needed a plot – something with wider appeal than another “they all won red rosettes” title - so I decided to investigate the world of horse whispering. The obvious starting point was Monty Roberts so I read The Man Who Listens to Horses and a couple of his other books. Then I delved into Amazon’s “people who bought this also bought that" feature to help me decide what to try next.
Soon I had an eclectic mix of books about horses and horse training on my shelves. They all proved useful to some degree, but two of them have had more effect than I expected.
Horses Never Lie by Mark Rashid
I had never heard of horse trainer, Mark Rashid, until I spotted Horses Never Lie amongst Amazon's suggestions. The title caught my eye as soon as I saw it and the subtitle The Art of Passive Leadership was just as intriguing. So I explored the ‘look inside’ feature and, by the time I’d read that sample, I was so hooked that I bought the book.
It didn't disappoint. His beautifully written, anecdotal style was a delight to read, and I particularly liked the way he didn't insist that his method was the only one that would work. In fact, Mark often made his point by relating occasions when he'd done something wrong. His experiences opened me up to a new way of working with horses: one based more on partnership than domination. I wanted to know more so, as soon as I’d finished this book, I was back on Amazon searching for another by the same author.
I’d better point out that, at this stage of my life, I wasn’t spending much time with horses. Although I’d always loved them and I enjoyed writing about them, I was past middle age, my back hurt most of the time and I’d decided I was too old for riding. So when I read Horsemanship Through Life, Mark’s own problems with back pain and stiffness resonated with my experience and gave me new hope. I absorbed every word with enthusiasm and started riding lessons again while I continued to read everything he had written.
Eventually I’d finished all his books and, while wondering what to do next, I idly searched "Mark Rashid" on the Internet. To my amazement, I discovered that he was going to be running a weekend clinic in the UK in 3 weeks time at a venue I could reach fairly easily. It was one of those occasions that make you feel fate has played a hand. Just as it said in the forward of Horsemanship Through Life, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” and for me that teacher was Mark Rashid. I was so sure I was meant to go that I stopped worrying about the cost and the terrifying prospect of driving on the UK mainland instead of the small island where I live, and I booked a place as a spectator.
Once again I was not disappointed. Watching Mark at work was infinitely better than reading about him, and it made everything I’d learned so far click into place. I saw horses improve before my eyes and watched riders control them with thought, body language and breathing. I came home from those three days serene and calm with a notebook packed with information and with a totally new way of looking at horses. I also had a huge desire to practise the principles that I’d learned, and I couldn’t do that easily in a one hour lesson at a riding school. So I resurrected the dreams I’d put aside because of my back trouble and bought myself a horse – a fat, friendly Haflinger to be precise.
I’ve still got him, and we're still learning together. And none of that would have happened if I hadn’t found that book on Amazon.
The Tao of Equus by Linda Kohanov
The other book changed my life in a different way. The Tao of Equus introduced me to the whole concept of human healing coming about through contact with horses - a process often called equine facilitated learning (EFL). It’s like horse whispering in reverse – letting horses change us rather than the other way around. Maybe we should call it horse listening.
The Tao of Equus and its sequel Riding between the Worlds set me thinking about the whole relationship between people and horses: historical, mythological and practical. I soon decided that this was going to be central to my novel. I wanted to write about a damaged child who is helped by coming into contact with horses. But to do that I needed to know more about EFL, and the best way to do that was to try it myself.
Once again, fate intervened and I found an EFL practitioner who was easy to reach and fascinated by what I was trying to do. She wanted to help so I booked a day session with her. It started with me learning how to ground myself so I was totally aware of myself and my surroundings rather than thinking of anything else. Then we started working with her grey horse who was loose in the field and didn’t have to cooperate if he didn’t want to.
If you've watched the Martin Clunes TV programme about horses, his EFL session was the bit when he ended up crying his eyes out with a loose horse. I’ve got some idea of how he felt because the same thing happened to me. Helped by that horse, I stood in the middle of a field with tears pouring down my face and learned to accept myself in a totally new way. It’s hard to describe, but it had so much effect that, the next day, my daughter asked what I had been doing because I was so different.
From reading those two books came a new horse, a new me and a new novel. It just goes to show the power of the written word.