Horses Want Fewer Gifts, Better Care

Check out our Annual Gift Guide for Horse Owners

Editor’s Note:

Dr. Sheryl King is professor emeritus of Southern Illinois University, a Fellow of the Equine Science Society, a Best Horse Practices Summit board member, and lifelong horsewoman. In this guest column, she writes about the range of benefits from working and owning horses.

By Dr. Sheryl King

How thoroughly amazing it is that two species so different– evolutionarily and by character – can often become, with a little effort, planning, and sensitivity, so connected to one another. How ironic that this attraction of opposites can often morph into a destructive relationship for the horse despite our best intentions.

When we misinterpret our relationship with our horse, when we move beyond the role of caring steward to treating the horse like an extension of ourselves and our family, we err to the detriment of the horse. We end up loving it badly.

Horses are horses. People are people. Try as we might, the two will never be the same, and as the saying goes, “Vive La Difference!

What am I getting at?

Some examples:

1. We all understand that the horse is strictly an herbivore. Humans, by nature, are not. As omnivores, we eat a variety of foods; variety keeps us healthy. As grazers, horses eat the same thing, day in, day out – grass or hay. They like it that way; indeed, they need it that way to stay healthy. When we love our horses to the point where we project our humanness on them, we tend to try to change their nature toward ours.

We give them variety.

We give them grain because we love to hear that nicker of appreciation.

We give them treats to show them how much we care for them.

We give them all kinds of supplements because companies convince us that we are better owners for doing so.

All of the above often compromises our horses’ digestive, metabolic, even skeletal health.

2. Horses evolved to live outdoors, in the open. They seek shelter only in the most extreme of weather. They have developed a most marvelous skin and hair coat to protect them from all that nature can dole out. Humans were not so blessed. We seek shelter most of the time and we need to artificially cover our bodies to deal with the elements and we project this habit to our horses.

We put our horses indoors; we sometimes even heat that indoor space.

We cover them with all manner of blankets, sheets, coolers or slinkies

These horses often suffer in myriad ways – behavioral problems, respiratory disease, digestive problems, skeletal, and hoof problems. The list goes on.

3. Horses evolved with a need to roam. Even in a pasture, most horses will cover 10 or more miles a day. It is their nature to wander and seek nourishment throughout most of their day. What modern humans consider strenuous exercise is just day-in-the-life movement to a horse.

They need to walk, run, roll, rear, kick. But we humans live in communities; most of us have limited land on which to keep our horses, and many of us want to control where a horse goes, when, and how. Idleness is bad for a horse’s mind and bad for its body. To a horse, W-O-R-K is not a four-letter word; the domesticated horse needs a job and they need to report to work daily.

4. Perhaps our worst disservice is to impose our own emotions and moral values on horses. Their code of ethics is not a human code of ethics. When we think of our horses as our four-footed “equine children,” we fall prey to the notion that horses deserve human rights. Conferring human rights on animals means that by owning them, we exploit them. Moreover, sliding into this way of thinking about gives power to groups who believe:

Horses are pets, not livestock, and are therefore subject to all the controls that we impose on pets

Horse jobs are forms of cruelty

Horses should not be owned by humans at all (i.e. owning pets is a form of slavery and should be banned).

When we allow horses to become pets or otherwise support an animal rights’ agenda, we risk ceding control of how we manage horses to the animal rights groups’ version of “humane.” These groups may advocate:

  • Taking away your horse’s job,
  • Keeping them only in an unnatural, controlled environment
  • Labeling as animal cruelty the keeping of a horse simply, as horses should be kept.

The Take-Home messages:

Recognize that horses are not humans.

Put the needs of the animal above those of the human.

The next time you catch yourself doing “something special” for your horse, stop. Think. Are you really doing this for your horse, or are you doing it for you? If it is really for you, is it also good for the horse?

Beware false prophets of equine welfare – what they preach may actually be bad for horse’s health.

Summit Welcome Video is Here!

The team at Soulfolle Creative has released the Welcome video for the Best Horse Practices Summit, with opening remarks by Director Maddy Butcher. Click on image below.


Horses Nurture Body and Soul

Editor’s Note:

Dr. Sheryl King is professor emeritus of Southern Illinois University, a Fellow of the Equine Science Society, a Best Horse Practices Summit board member, and lifelong horsewoman. In this guest column, she writes about the range of benefits from working and owning horses.

By Dr. Sheryl King:

“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man”  Winston Churchill

It seems Churchill had it right in more ways than he imagined. Horses are indeed good for people. Not only do they labor on our behalf, horses stimulate our body and souls.

How does owning a horse make us healthier? Many of us are overweight and don’t get enough exercise. National guidelines call for thirty minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, five days a week. Riding a horse carries the equivalent calorie expenditure as a moderately brisk walk; trotting and galloping can increase that exercise level to the equivalent of jogging or swimming. Add to those pleasant activities, the effort of catching your horse at pasture, grooming, tacking, and hotwalking and you have yourself a workout.

Activity guidelines also include muscle-strengthening exercise on two or more days a week that works all major muscle groups. Horse barns are the equivalent of weight-training gyms! If you care for your horse yourself, you are likely indulging in weight training as well as aerobic exercise. Horses produce about fifty pounds of manure a day, add sodden bedding to the equation and you have a regular mini weightlifting session in the form of stall cleaning.

Lifting, hauling, dumping, raking, and rebedding are good for the horse and good for the heart. A typical five-gallon water bucket weighs about forty pounds – many horse owners schlep a few of those around each day. Add hauling hay bales, grain sacks, hammering, digging, and fixing up after your horse’s mischief, and you have likely met your weekly exercise quota without even counting the muscular rigors of riding.

I once had an argument with my daughter’s grade-school gym teacher: Weekly exercise outside of school time was required as part of the class grade. This teacher refused to consider riding a form of exercise. “The horse does all the work,” she said. “Spoken like someone who has never ridden a horse,” was my reply.

Anyone who has ridden a horse for the first time, or after a long hiatus from the activity can testify to the unique muscles that are (ouch) stimulated by this activity.

Indeed, horseback riding is a well-documented and widely accepted mode of delivering physical therapy. Former US press secretary, James Brady, famously complained about his hippotherapy rehabilitation (he called his physical therapy “physical terrorism”). Horses helped him regain some of his function following the head wound he sustained during the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.

NARHA (North American Riding for the Handicapped Association) is a global organization that has revolutionized the delivery of physical therapy for children and adults with physical, mental and emotional challenges. Horses are officially rehabbing our military veterans.

Freedom Stables/Harmony Horsemanship in Deerfield, WI . Michael Sears, Journal Sentinel

Horsemen know the profound effect these animals can have on our psyche. We can testify to horses’ stress-reducing effect on us. But horses have also proven their value in reaching humans as no other therapy can. Horse-assisted psychotherapy has succeeded in helping people with profound mental problems, such as autism, eating disorders, PTSD, and anger management. Horses connect with us at a most primal level, and although psychic healing is more difficult to document than physical rehabilitation assisted through horses, it is nonetheless increasingly recognized.

EAGALA – Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association – is an international program devoted to the notion of horses assisting with social, emotional and mental healing. At the equine science program I directed, we hosted a similar program where I had the privilege of witnessing the transformative power of the horse on children with autism, ADHD, victims of unspeakable abuse and those faced with other mental, behavioral and social challenges.

So, the next time you are breaking a sweat at the barn or enjoying a companionable moment with your mount, thank your horse for keeping you healthy – body and soul.

After the BHP Summit Storm

A note from BHPS Director Maddy Butcher:

Maddy Butcher and Amy Skinner

It’s been 23 days since the first Best Horse Practices Summit wrapped up with a boisterous Farewell Reception in Durango’s historic Strater Hotel.

Attendees, presenters, board members, and volunteers have all been able to let their hair down and get back to “real life.”

Real life for this rookie director came in the form of getting horseback, visiting with friends, and cleaning up (we hosted seven Summiteers at our house) and catching up on sleep. I spent three blissful days camping with my horses in the backcountry of the San Juan National Forest, sleeping 10 hour nights and riding 10 miles a day.

San Juan National Forest — ahh!

Real life is also continuing what we started with this exciting new event. In the last few weeks, the board and steering committee have been working diligently to frame our future and secure a strong foundation for moving forward.

I’m thrilled to say, “yes!” There will be a 2nd annual Best Horse Practices Summit. We’ll share details with you as soon as we can.

Again, a HUGE thanks goes out to the incoming and outgoing board and steering committee members as well as our sponsors and volunteer team. Y’all rock.

Check out this Thank You flyer here.

Next week, we will share a Best Horse Practices Summit trailer, developed by our audio/video team at Soulfolle Creative.

As I was dropping off our last Summit house guest, I got a big chuckle out of what looked to be a rock, set on the curb at the Durango airport. It was a Redmond equine salt rock! I can only imagine that a Summit attendee – wanting very much to take the salt back home to her horse –  had to sadly set it aside because her bag was over the weight limit.

We heard from Jacky Davies about it: That lump of rock salt wasn’t mine… But it could have been!  When we were at the airport and my luggage weighed over the limit,  so I had to remove my rock.

The lady at security asked “I hope you don’t mind me asking, what was that rock? I have seen quite a few come through today.” We laughed and we explained what it was and where it came from. She had not heard that the Summit was happening, but she was very interested to hear all about it.

Was it you who left the rock?

If so, contact us here, tell us your story, and we’ll mail you another one.

Happy trails and stay in touch!

Summit Testimonials

We heard high praise from many quarters for the inaugural Best Horse Practices Summit. Here are just a few:

  • It’s been an intense, mind-boggling couple of days at the Best Horse Practices Summit. I learned so much about horse brains, horse behavior, and horse-human connections. I met so many amazing horse people from so many different equestrian worlds. I bought so many books and DVDs. I have so many new ideas . . . And I had fun! Thank you, Maddy Butcher, Gerd Heuschmann, Dr. Steve Peters, and all other presenters, clinicians, volunteer, and participants, for expanding my horizons. Exciting times ahead!

Jim Thomas

Katrin Silva, New Mexico 

  • Thank you, Maddy Butcher, for your vision, your dedication, your hard work. Thank you for creating a space where horse people from many different worlds could come together, connect, and exchange ideas. Thank you for expanding our horizons and our comfort zones. Thank you for making us all realize that what we have in common is so much more important than the superficial differences between our styles and traditions of horse-humanship. I’m filled with new ideas. I’m also filled with gratitude. You’re the best!


  • Presenters Warwick Schiller, Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, and Martin Black

    Congratulations on an outstanding event. I heard so many wonderful comments. I thought you might enjoy this picture of Gerd, Martin, and Warwick (see photo at right). Good horsemanship knows no country, culture, or discipline.

Linda Hoover, North Carolina

  • The best equine conference or clinic I’ve ever attended.

Paul Sherland, Texas

  • The whole thing was amazing.

Warwick Schiller

  • I thought the first Best Horse Practices Summit went very well. There was a great turnout, especially for the first year, and all the presenters were top notch. And it was really well organized. Usually the first year of an event is more of a learning experience on how to make it successful, but the Best Horse Practices Summit was successful out of the gate.

Martin Black

Summit Farewell Notes: the Lanyard Story

Remarks delivered by director Maddy Butcher at the Summit Farewell Reception:

The story of the Summit lanyards can go a long way in illustrating the range of details and the room for errors when putting together a conference. Especially a first-year conference on a limited budget.

A few months ago, I was researching lanyards (those things that go around necks and to which badges attach). Geez, they seem pretty expensive, I said to myself.

I thought of our friends at Knotty Girlz in Valleyford, Washington.

Why not order rope from Knotty Girlz and make our own lanyards? It would be fun and lend special detail to our event.

A few days later, we received 400 feet of multi-colored, quarter-inch rope.

The Soulfolle Creative team, Tommy Costello and Beau Gaughran

A few hours later, I learned how time-consuming and detail-oriented lanyards could be:

  • Lengths must be measured
  • Ends must be burned and looped together
  • Badges must be attached

I had inadvertently made a work mountain out of molehill. But thanks to some volunteer ingenuity and volunteer work hours, each attendee did, in the end, receive a nifty lanyard that (unlike conventional lanyards) can be used to practice knot tying or can be attached to a stick or otherwise used in horse work.

Of course, the souvenir is also an illustration of the myriad details tended to by those involved in an event like the Summit. As with horse work, sometimes we learn more from our mistakes than our successes.

As I reflect on our first year Summit effort, I’m taking into account these learning experiences and using them to craft a better, progressive path forward.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the volunteers, presenters, sponsors, board members, steering committee members, the audio-video team, and the staff at the Strater Hotel.

A/V team:

Soulefolle Creative

Lightning Communications

Fred Holcomb, West Taylor, Dr. Sheryl King


TJ Zark

Julie Kenney

Cindy Morin

Helen Bird

Amy Skinner

Amy Diener

Fred Holcomb

Trish Lemke

Carrie Jenkinson

Kerry O’Brien

Debbie Hight

Raechel & Dennis Nelson

A special watermelon for the Summit Welcome Reception

Fred Holcomb

Michael Benner

Elizabeth Benner

Cathi Champion

Presenters and Special Guests:

Dr. Steve Peters

Dr. Robert Bowker

Dr. Gerd Heuschmann

Dr. Sheryl King

Wendy Williams

Martin Black

Presenters Warwick Schiller, Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, and Martin Black

Bryan Neubert

Randy Rieman

Jim Thomas

Warwick Schiller

West Taylor

David Stickler

TJ Holmes

Mike Jensen

Sponsors in attendance:

Dr. Petra Sullwold, Equus Chiropractic

Tamara Yates, Many Hands Equine Body Work

Amy Skinner introduces evening presentation

Letitia Glenn, Natural Horseman Saddles

Dr. Samantha Johnson, WildFed

Emily Kitching, Eclectic Horseman

If you’ve been following the story of the Summit journey, you know that we had been searching for something in the horse world that dovetailed science and horsemanship and was a collaborative deal. We didn’t find anything.

We hope that our effort has resonated with you and that you leave with questions answered but that you also have more questions as you continue in your horsemanship journeys. You might find that the horses themselves give you the best (most honest) answers if you are willing and available to listen.

As so many presenters reiterated over the course of three glorious days in Durango: look for the best evidence and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

As Ms. Frizzle of the old public television show loved to say:

Get Messy! Ask Questions! Make Mistakes!

See you next year.

Opening Remarks at the Best Horse Practices Summit

Director Maddy Butcher

Best Horse Practices Summit director Maddy Butcher offered these remarks as she opened the inaugural conference on earlier this month in Durango, Colorado:

The whole idea for this conference bubbled up about two years ago after I attended a horse expo in New England. I was frustrated and confused about what I’d seen and experienced. There wasn’t any serious take-away. If my horse-owning mind was a mouth, I felt like I’d been eating fried dough all day.

The people were great, don’t get me wrong.

But…What was in it for the horses?

That simple question has carried us to where we are right now.

That simple question has helped shape a mission and has attracted internationally renowned clinicians and academics. It has attracted you, our attendees, from right here in Durango and from as far as Nova Scotia, Alberta, Maine, Washington, and Hawaii.

Jim Thomas visits with Summit attendees

The question, “what’s in it for the horses?” has resonated with all of us.

Here’s another question that helped shape this movement:

Can we offer them something better?

Today, at this inaugural conference, we confidently say YES.

We believe this is the conference your horse would want you to attend.


At the Summit, you will hear about what’s going on inside the horse’s brain, what’s going on inside its digestive tract, what’s going on inside its feet.

In the arena presentations, you will get straight talk on how best to translate your requests and how best to communicate with your equine partners.

You will learn about how everything we do – from what we feed our horses to how we touch them – has an impact on their well being.

Summiteers Bryan Neubert, Fred Holcomb, Steve Peters, Martin Black, and friends

We believe the Summit can seriously enhance your knowledge toolbox and add to your horsemanship skill set.

We believe that by bringing together academic and arena work, highlighting the legacy of good horsemanship, and the evolution of domesticity, we can expand your comfort zone and help you improve your connection with horses.

We believe that with these new insights, every one of you will be able to make your horses’ lives better.

I don’t mean that in a warm and fuzzy way. Too often, I think we humans are tempted to believe that stuff – equipment, goodies, or some kind of purchased item – will solve our problems and make horses’ lives better. But really, progress happens when we give ourselves time to listen, to observe, to absorb new information, and to experiment.

Our interest is not in creating a cult following, but in cultivating critical awareness – because critical awareness best serves our daily, ever-evolving work with horses.

I’d like to suggest that the success of the Summit will not be measured in trade booth sales, but in how it impacts your daily interactions with horses. Our success will be measured by how Summit strategies and insights, offered by our presenters, impact your lives and your horses’ lives in a positive way.

This is the mission of the Best Horse Practices Summit.

The Summit would not have been possible without our Session sponsors: Patagonia WorkWear, Redmond Equine, Lucerne Farms, and Darn Tough as well as many other generous sponsors. We thank them.

Please support them as they have supported us.

I want to keep this short because we have so much to hear and explore. It’s going to be a very, very busy two days. But here are a few additional bits to keep in mind:

  1. Thanks to our great audio video team of Soulfolle Creative and Lightning Communications, all these presentations will be online and available to you for free in 2018.
  2. Take a deep breath and get ready. (oh, wait, that was a note to myself)

Randy Rieman once told me that if you’re not stretching your comfort zones, you’re actually shrinking them. I believe this to be true in life and in horsemanship.

This Summit will undoubtedly stretch your comfort zones. I hope you embrace that feeling and the new information in a way that might make you a bit uncomfortable, but in the end will expand your life and your life with horses.

Welcome to the Best Horse Practices Summit!

Summit director Maddy Butcher visits with Summit presenter Bryan Neubert

Wild Fed Joins Summit Charter Sponsors

This week, we welcome a new sponsor to our fantastic roster of Best Horse Practices Summit Charter Sponsors.

Wild Fed, a horse feed company founded by Dr. Samantha Johnson, a naturopathic physician, will be featured at the Best Horse Practices Summit.

Johnson started the company around the time she was seeking solutions for her aging horse, Shadow.

She said:

“Just before Shadow’s 30th birthday, his teeth were so worn down that he started choking on hay and was no longer able to hold his weight eating just hay. I needed to add calories with something easily digestible but also with a high nutrient value to support his aging body. The senior feeds on the market contained undesirable industry by-products such as peanut hulls, soybean meal, beet pulp, rice bran as well as sweeteners and synthetic nutrients.”

It’s a challenge many of us face as we see our beloved companions move into their senior years. BHPS attendees will have the opportunity to talk directly with Johnson about Wild Fed offerings.

Wild Fed ingredients include: Non-GMO Orchard Grass, Non-GMO Alfalfa, Non-GMO Timothy Grass, Non-GMO Oats, Sunflower Seeds, Chia Seeds, Organic Dandelion Leaf, Organic Rosehips, Organic Red Clover leaf and blossom, and other ingredients.

The best way to discern how to produce the perfect feed, Johnson said, was in her keen and dedicated observations of horses grazing freely in pastures:

“The key to designing an amazing feed was to pay close attention to what horses eat, when left to there own devices. I spent hours with Shadow and my other horse, Shya, while they grazed in the pasture, and I observed the types of grasses and herbs they sought out.”

Look for Johnson at the Summit. And look for samples of Wild Fed in your swag bag!

Dr. Samantha Johnson and her senior horse, Shadow

Last Minute Summit Notes

We will be excited to visit with Best Horse Practices Summit attendees as they travel from near and far to join us at this inaugural conference!

Having fun at the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering

A few important notes:

It’s mid-fall in southwestern Colorado. That means temperatures may be in the 60’s, but will likely dip into the 20’s-30’s. Bring layers and be prepared for chilly mornings and evenings. Our extended forecast is calling for some scattered thunderstorms, but mostly sunny with highs in the 60’s during the day.

Don’t forget: we’re in the mountains. Events are at about 6,800 feet. If you’re coming from sea level, try to take it easy for the first day, to give your body a chance to adjust. Some folks do fine. Others feel a bit tired and/or nauseous.

In town early?

Check out the Saturday morning Chuck Wagon Breakfast followed by the best motor-less parade ever, the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering parade.

Click here for more information

There’s also a roping competition going on just outside of town.

Click here for more info.

Scratching your head on dining options?

We love:

Cyprus Café

Mediterranean fare, on 2nd Avenue

Nini’s Taquiera

Great burritos and yummy southwestern chowder, on Main

Ore House 

Steaks and whiskeys (a tad pricey), on College Drive

Chimayos Stone Fired Kitchen

Pizza and bistro food, on Main

Carver Brewing Company

Delicious craft beers and local produce, on Main

Steaming Bean & Durango Coffee Company

Who doesn’t need good coffee? Both are on Main

There will be a horse-y display at another Durango favorite on Main: Maria’s Bookshop. Stop in to browse the local selections.

Wherever you go, please let them know you’re here for the Best Horse Practices Summit!

Death of Natural Horsemanship

Natural horsemanship is dead. Long live natural horsemanship.

Natural horsemanship is a trending phrase that got attached to a style of work and a way of connecting with horses that Bill and Tom Dorrance offered up a few generations ago. It involved working with the horse on its behavioral level. Natural horsemanship is defined by the instinctual patterns and social understandings we see in a herd, or even between two horses.

Randy Rieman

Randy Rieman

Most specifically, it embraces the concept of pressure and release.

Pressure and release is defined by the micro-movements and movements between two horses. For example, the head turn or ear pinning of one horse will dictate the movement of a second horse. If the second horse doesn’t understand, the pressure or energy will increase. e.g., the first horse may charge or kick. When the second horse acquiesces, the first horse lets off the pressure or releases.

Furthermore, the work of natural horsemanship can extend to myriad physiological, neurological and anatomical details like:

  • bend (lateral flexion)
  • the hind quarters as engine
  • the flight or fight response of the autonomic nervous system
  • the positive reward cycle involving the neurochemical, dopamine

Natural horsemanship is dead; the term has lost its meaning. But the work is alive and well.

“People now realize that good practitioners don’t label it. It just is,” said Randy Rieman, a Best Horse Practices Summit presenter who sees the phrase more as a clever marketing device than an apt description. “It’s like ‘natural’ potato chips,” said the Dorrance protege.

Just as the public is becoming savvier to food ingredients (Eaters long ago dismissed ‘natural’ as a word with no real meaning.), riders are becoming more knowledgeable about the wider knowledge base of effective, humane horse handling. More and more of us recognize that force and dominance are ineffective training methods. We know punishing equipment and management techniques do not yield gains and can, in fact, foster some seriously negative consequences.

Check out additional articles on:

The Wobble Board of Positive Training

Testing Horse Smarts

Brain & Agility Training 

But more specifically, we are realizing that natural horsemanship is not something to “follow.” As Rieman said, it just is. We are learning to get great results by simply thinking more like a horse.

Natural horsemanship may be dead as marketing jargon, but it’s alive as a foundation for whatever style of horsemanship we practice, be it dressage, Vaquero horsemanship, trail riding, or cow work.

Consider the phrase: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” It’s not only biblical; it’s a universal maxim found in multiple moral-based texts. So, too, with the overarching message of natural horsemanship.

jim thomasThere’s still plenty of progress to make. Getting owners to swap their age-old presumptions of horse handling for a totally contrary, ‘whisper-y’ alternative is a challenge.

Horseman Jim Thomas, another Best Horse Practices Summit presenter, has a clever technique for introducing the concept to riders:

“At a clinic, I find someone who speaks a foreign language. I ask that person to tell everyone to back up (in French, Spanish, whatever). If they don’t understand, I ask them to say it louder and maybe use their hands. Eventually, people just give up. ‘This is how your horse feels!’ I say. It’s amazing, how few people have a concept of thinking like a horse.”

Rieman would agree. “It’s simple, “ he said. “But it’s not easy.”

Check out additional articles on:

The Wobble Board of Positive Training

Testing Horse Smarts

Brain & Agility Training 

Check out this feature on Animal Intelligence.

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