Please Anthropomorphize My Horses!

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been chastised (or heard someone else being chastised) for anthropomorphizing a horse? In the horse industry, “anthropomorphizing” is typically considered a mortal sin. But in my experience, overzealous attempts to avoid anthropomorphism can be far more dangerous… often leading to serious misunderstandings, injuries, illnesses, accidents and (dare I say it?) downright abuse.

For those who may not be familiar with the term, anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities, including animals such as horses. Anthropomorphism gets a bad rap because, when taken to an extreme, it can lead to an excessively anthropocentric stance, where a person attributes an entirely unrealistic number (or type) of human characteristics in animals where they may not actually exist. For example, when a human assumes all horses feel cold, and need to be blanketed, whenever that human feels cold or needs a coat to feel comfortable outside. Or, when a human assumes all horses will be more comfortable, or safe, sleeping in a barn than being outside overnight simply because most humans feel safer and more comfortable sleeping in a house than outside.

But what about the excessive avoidance or rejection of anthropomorphism (even in the face of clear behavioral evidence), which leads to a devastating denial of the very real and vast similarities we share with horses? In my experience, this denial is far more rampant in the horse industry – and far more dangerous for both horses and humans – than excessive anthropomorphism will ever be. For example, how often do humans choose to categorically deny that horses experience the same types and frequency of physical pain or discomfort in their bodies as we do in ours, despite a multitude of behavioral responses suggesting this pain exists? How often do humans choose to ignore or deny the fact that horses form incredibly deep bonds of friendship with other horses (and even with particular humans) and that they have strong preferences about who they live, spend their time and interact with (again despite clear behavioral evidence)? And how often do humans choose to pretend that horses (should) somehow naturally enjoy being ridden, feel comfortable wearing excessive tack, or voluntarily give up what little control they have over their lives, their bodies and their choices when we ourselves would never tolerate such treatment?

Did you know that anthropomorphism is actually considered to be an innate tendency in human psychology? This means it may well exist in, or be determined by, factors that are present in us at birth. If this is true, it indicates that evolution has deemed anthropomorphism to be essential to our nature (and survival) as human beings. Perhaps most significantly, it is tied to empathy, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

In her Op-Ed Why Anthropomorphism Can Be a Good Thing, Mary Hood Luttrell explains that anthropomorphism is a positive, animal-centric tendency that allows humans to recognize the similarities we share with animals. She explains that by allowing ourselves to recognize similarities between ourselves and animals (while obviously respecting differences too), we are better able to see the ‘whole animal’. And by seeing the whole animal, we’re less likely to commodify its individual parts – its skin, its fur, its physical conformation or athletic abilities, its usefulness for human purposes or gain.

I seriously doubt there’s a rational horse or human anywhere who would deny that there are differences between our species! Many of these differences are immediately obvious, which is why both humans and horses are naturally cautious and nervous the first time we encounter one another. Other differences, such as the fact that horses can’t breathe through their mouths or that they have no vomit-reflex, may be less obvious. But no two individuals (even within the same species) are the same in every way, so it’s only common sense to presume there are differences – both innate and acquired. Shouldn’t it be equally common sense to assume there are similarities?

In an article entitled Shared Science: Human and Equine Health Similarities, Sara Evers Conrad even acknowledges that “horses suffer many of the same health conditions that people do including cardiovascular disease, samonellosis, Lyme disease, joint disease, uveitis, tendon issues and cancers. The two species also exhibit similar clinical signs, even when the root causes may be different. For example, equine grass sickness and Alzheimer’s; self-mutilation in horses and cutting disorders in humans; foal rejection in mares and post-partum depression in women; equine metabolic syndrome in horses and diabetes in people; asthma in humans versus what was classically called heaves in horses.”

Both Comparing Humans and Horses and Comparable Parts – You Are More Like Your Horse Than You Think! provide detailed explanations of the vast similarities between the equine and human musculoskeletal systems. There is also scientific evidence that Facial Expressions are The Same in Humans and Horses.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a staunch advocate for learning everything we possibly can about horses, and for never blindly believing anything without due diligence and research. But I’m also a staunch advocate for using one’s intuition and “following your gut” anytime you interact with horses. The best way to build a relationship of trust – and to stay safe – with horses is to practice empathy as liberally as possible, to never put yourself in a situation that feels unsafe, and to never assume a horse will want to do anything you yourself wouldn’t want to do if you were in her “hooves”.

Here’s one thing I know for sure: when you visit my farm, I’d MUCH rather you anthropomorphize my horses than deny their innate “sameness”. In return, they too will look for, and recognize, the “universal one-ness” we all share.


For more information about Kim and her heart-centered equine-assisted experiential learning business visit www.unbridled.guru.

We ARE the Natural World

For several days this winter, a red shouldered hawk literally followed me around my farm as I completed my daily chores!

Have you ever had an unexpected encounter with wildlife that felt deeply personal and meaningful? Were you able to honor that feeling or did you brush it aside, telling yourself the interaction or sighting was “just coincidence”? The truth is, it’s crazy to think the natural and “human” worlds are separate. We are an active part of the natural world anytime we step outside!

My horse, Tempo, letting me know it’s feeding time but her bowl is empty!

As humans, we tend not to believe that wild animals might actually want to connect, interact or communicate with us. “Why would they?”, we think. But the more important question is: Why wouldn’t they? New studies seem to be coming out all the time confirming that animals of all types have higher levels of intelligence than we ever thought possible.

For example, we now have proof that horses can use symbols to communicate with humans and that horses can not only interpret human facial expressions (such as friendly vs. unfriendly), but can even recognize individual humans they meet based solely on being shown a photograph of the person previously! Furthermore, according to the book Gifts of the Crow, not only do birds in the corvid family make (and use) tools, but they can also clearly understand cause and effect. “They use their wisdom to infer, discriminate, test, learn, remember, foresee, mourn, warn of impending doom, recognize people, seek revenge, lure or stampede other birds, quaff coffee and beer, turn on lights to stay warm or expose danger, speak, steal, deceive, gift, windsurf, play with cats, and team up to satisfy their appetite for diverse foods.”

But even if we put these new insights into animal intelligence aside, it’s well known that animals work hard to develop an acute awareness and understanding of every other living being in their environment. This is because the natural world lives (and dies) according to each member’s ability to respond to whatever is unfolding in the present moment.

A squirrel on high alert in my yard.

Regardless of whether a wild animal is predator or prey, all survive by becoming keen observers and by learning to understand the body language, routines, territories, habits and emotional states of the other creatures living in their environment. This is why a deer can easily distinguish a mountain lion that is in hunting mode vs. one that is relaxing after a good meal. Likewise, when a wolf pays attention to the daily routines and patterns of its favorite prey, it can develop highly effective hunting strategies.

A Sandhill Crane living in my mother’s retirement community in FL where they have learned there’s no reason to fear humans.

Whenever we human beings step outside into the natural world, we are joining this universal dance of life… whether we are aware of it or not. The wildlife in our immediate environment have no choice but to notice, and respond to, our presence. Can you imagine how dumbfounding it must feel to them when they realize that most humans DON’T EVEN PAY ATTENTION to the natural world around us? It’s no wonder they sometimes feel compelled to go to great lengths to try and help us out, or in the least, to get our attention or “wake us up”!

Last year, I started actively exploring more about how, why and when the wild animals (particularly birds) that I encounter on my farm might actually be trying to interact with me. As part of this process I have also been learning how to incorporate animal symbolism (which I’ve found is a pretty sophisticated system drawing on animal behavior, biology, mythology, art, oral histories, literature and shamanism) into my interpretations of these encounters. The results have been pretty mind-blowing.

A snowshoe hare I met on a hiking trail in Maine.

Whether YOU believe animals are actually trying to communicate with us or not, paying attention to wildlife encounters can provide tremendously powerful opportunities for reflection and personal awareness. This sort of reflection helps us step outside of our normal ways of thinking, and can encourage us to see common situations and challenges with new eyes.

If you love nature, and if you are interested in exploring how you might be able to use wildlife encounters as a tool for deeper reflection in your own life, I invite you to check out my newest online short-course! You can learn more about it here: http://www.unbridled.guru/wildlife-encounters-as-a-tool-for-personal-reflection.html

Help me build a future where horses won’t need to be rescued!

Despite 20 years of working and volunteering in the non-profit sector (including direct experience with both equine-rescue and equine-therapy programs)… I made a very intentional decision when I opened the doors of Unbridled (my own equine-assisted experiential learning program) that it would be a for-profit business. Here’s why:

Wild ShokiI don’t believe it helps horses or humans when we send the message that doing the important work of cleaning up what’s broken in our society should be exclusively the domain of the non-profit sector. This is serious work and we should not rely on charity to support (or drive) it. Even more importantly, if we isolate the “proper place” for this vital work to the non-profit sector we are missing a golden opportunity to completely transform and grow the for-profit equine industry of the future.

Right now the for-profit arm of the equine industry focuses almost exclusively on capitalizing on the horse’s physical abilities for human entertainment, recreation and competition. Anyone who has been involved in any way with equine rescue or advocacy work knows that this business model ultimately fails the horse. When horses break down physically due to injury, age or disease they become even less than worthless in this business model. They become a liability.

And, in many ways, we treat ourselves the same way in human society. Too often people who become impaired due to physical, emotional or mental challenges  – or who don’t fit into accepted norms for other reasons – are also viewed as liabilities.

In both instances we look to the non-profit sector to come up with solutions. But far too many horses (and humans) end up falling through the cracks. There is not enough charitable support, or good-hearted volunteers, to fix these broken systems.

I believe it’s time to create a new business model for the equine industry and my dream for Unbridled is to begin turning the “accepted norms” of today (and the past) on their head. I want to make it BIG BUSINESS to provide farms where humans and horses of ALL TYPES can come together to do the important work of healing one another, and each other. I’m not saying there won’t still be a place (and need) for non-profit efforts. But it’s the for-profit sector that needs to step up and stop the endless stream of “horse and human liabilities” that too often end up in rescues, feed lots, slaughter houses, homeless shelters and social service agencies.

I realize this vision is lofty. But I’ve decided I’m not here to play it small anymore. Chances are, my life is at least half-way over already. The truth is, there’s no telling how much longer I have here on earth. There’s no telling how much longer any of us have. Meanwhile the horses continue waiting, patiently, for us to live up to our claims of loving them and of appreciating all they’ve done for us throughout history. We owe it to them to create a thriving business model that embraces ALL horses throughout their lives and that honors the beautiful bonds that have always been at the core of the amazing horse-human partnership.

A Full Heart!

The Unbridled business model is pretty simple, actually. It’s a for-profit business where horses are required to do just one thing: be horses. Act like horses. Eat like horses. Socialize like horses. Play like horses. Communicate like horses. Respond like horses. Bond like horses.

As you can imagine, finding horses that are PERFECT for this business model is easy because ANY horse is perfect. And any human who has an interest and aptitude for learning, understanding and translating equine body language and social dynamics can learn to facilitate life-changing interactions between these horses and humans (also of all types).

The hard part of the Unbridled business model is finding humans who are willing to admit that our current system is broken, who BELIEVE we can do better and who are willing to INVEST in making this new model a success. We will need humans (and lots of them!) who are humble enough to admit that horses have more to teach us than we could ever dream of teaching them. Humans who are willing to let go of our addiction to riding, winning and betting (literally) on the backs of the strongest horses and instead embrace the opportunity to learn from even the “weakest” horses about how to stand on our own two feet and take responsibility for achieving our own happiness.

photo-shoot8You see, the Unbridled business model is about bringing horses and humans together (not just physically but also mentally, emotionally and remotely) on a much more equal playing field where humans can practice using respect and empathy to build healthy, meaningful relationships without relying on gaining “the upper hand” and horses can use their best gifts (healing and teaching) to help all of us recuperate from centuries of physical and emotional scars related to domestication.

The only way this more humane vision for the equine industry can begin to gain a serious foothold is if business models like Unbridled become financially lucrative. Being viable in the non-profit sector is not enough. The world we’ve created for ourselves (and thus every other living creature existing in our wake), is one where money talks. By relying on the non-profit sector to be the shining beacon that proves there are other, better ways for horses and humans to partner is effectively saying, “It’s impossible to make money doing the right thing”.

10.1But I don’t believe that. And I don’t want you to believe it either. Help me prove that it’s possible to make LOTS of money by doing the RIGHT thing! Help me prove that valuing the worth and honoring the gifts of EVERY horse no matter its age, pedigree, soundness or personality and creating opportunities for humans to learn and heal with them can become the new model for what “success” looks like in the equine industry of the future. Help me prove that there are as many people willing to pay GOOD MONEY for the simple, healing and life-changing experience of learning from horses as there are people willing to pay GOOD MONEY for the difficult and dangerous thrill of riding, training and competing with them.

If you support what I’m doing through my business, I want to ask you to do MORE than just “like” and “share” this blog article (although that helps too!). I want you to be courageous enough to actually take steps to help me make this new business model a success because the more successful I am, the more successful others can be in the future. Here’s some specifics about how you can help:

1) If you are a horse-owner (or simply a horse lover), subscribe to The Unbridled Equestrian Resource Room. Not only will you benefit personally from this amazing resource, but you will be supporting a new way of learning from and about horses while developing a network of like-minded peers who are also interested in BEING the change we’d like to see in the equine industry. There are lots of great ideas here that traditional equestrian programs could consider incorporating as well!

2) If you are interested in understanding what a highly effective self-improvement program based on the wisdom of horses might look like, or you would like to reap the immense benefits of equine-assisted experiential learning remotely, join The Kinship of the Herd. This program is getting RAVE reviews from participants! Again, by taking advantage of my business offerings you are also becoming a champion for change in the equine industry.

3) If you are local to Charleston, SC (or if you are planning to visit), contact me at info@unbridled.guru to book a private or small-group discovery session with me and the horses. The best way to understand what this new model can look like is to experience it for yourself!

4) If you just want to offer your financial support (and receive some wonderful recognition for being part of this movement) without actively participating in one of the programs at Unbridled, consider becoming a sponsor.

NOTE: If you are currently an equine professional running a more traditional equine business, or if you are a horse owner deeply involved in competitive pursuits, I want you to know that you can STILL be part of this movement. Change doesn’t happen overnight. I want you to be successful. I want your horses to have good homes. BudsI want as many people as possible experiencing what it means to share their lives with horses. But we all know the current equine industry is broken. It’s not sustainable. It has an ugly underbelly. Too many horses end up at slaughter. Too many horses break down physically and emotionally. Too many get tossed from one home to the next throughout their lives. And far too many end up abandoned, lonely and forgotten in their old age. We have the power to change all of this and to help ourselves and countless other humans as well!

The Love Languages of Horses

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You may be familiar with Gary Chapman’s bestselling book The Five Love Languages, which has helped millions of people (including me!) improve the relationships we have with our significant others, friends, family members and even co-workers. The underlying premise of Chapman’s book is that only the person receiving an “act of love” can determine whether that act actually feels loving to him/her. In other words, the intention behind an act of love (i.e. how the giver intends for it to be received) is of little consequence compared to how the act actually makes the recipient feel.

This premise holds true in regard to our relationships with our horses as well. And today I’m excited to unveil what I’ve determined to be the four primary love languages of horses!

The “love languages of horses” are based on the innate behaviors and communication methods observed in feral horse herds (as documented by equine ethologist Lucy Rees in her book Horses in Company), as well as my personal observations working with hundreds of horses in a wide variety of domestic settings and situations. In my current role as a horse-human relationship coach, I consistently find that the “equine behavioral issues” I commonly get called to help horse owners with come down to a mis-match between human love languages and equine love languages.

In his book, Chapman explains that human beings have five general love languages (i.e. ways we express our love for others), and that every person has one primary love language (meaning that this is the particular expression of love that feels the most satisfying). Chapman identifies the five love languages of humans as:

  1. Words of Affirmation – compliments and other verbal expressions of love
  2. Acts of Service – doing something helpful for someone else
  3. Receiving Gifts – giving or receiving physical tokens of affection
  4. Quality Time – spending meaningful time together
  5. Physical Touch – hugging, holding hands, kissing, cuddling, etc.

Relationships get complicated when one person’s primary love language is not the same as the other’s. In this type of relationship (which is very common), it’s important that both individuals make an effort to learn one another’s primary love language and adjust how they express their love accordingly. The same is true in our relationships with our horses – except it’s even more complicated because equine love languages are not the same as human love languages!

Through my many years of observing and working with horses, I have determined that horses have four general love languages:

  1. Respect for Personal Space – seeking permission before approaching or touching
  2. Consistent Boundaries – dependable “rules of engagement” in the relationship
  3. Affirmations – giving or receiving encouraging or comforting feedback (verbal and non-verbal)
  4. Synchrony – being in mental, emotional and physical harmony

With both humans and horses, one’s primary love language develops (and can evolve over time) based on a combination of innate preferences and past experiences. We can learn to identify our horse’s primary love language by paying attention to behavior patterns and, particularly, by observing direct responses to various interactions. Most importantly, we have the power to completely transform our relationship with our horse simply by acknowledging that equine love languages are different than human love languages, and then making efforts to communicate more often with our horse in his/her primary love language!

If you are interested in learning more about the four love languages of horses, or if you’d like help accurately identifying and learning to speak your horse’s primary love language, and especially if you want to completely transform your relationship with your horse… you can contact me at info@unbridled.guru today with the subject line: Love Languages!

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#MeToo

Earlier today as I looked into the beautiful brown eyes of my mare, Tempo, I could have sworn I heard her whisper:

MeToo Tempo

It made me queasy. I shuddered under the weight of those two little words, spoken from the soul of a horse I’d raised from birth… a horse hardly anyone but me has ever laid hands on.

As I mustered the courage to hold her indubitable gaze, I had to admit to myself that I already knew. I already knew that privileged white men don’t hold exclusive rights to the vilified “sense of entitlement”. Equestrian women like me (who, ironically, claim to love our horses more than life itself) are sometimes the guiltiest of all.

We may teach our sons and daughters that “no means NO” but when it comes to our horses, we rarely take no for an answer. We may resent our elders for insisting that “polite girls” should be quiet, gracious and accommodating but when our horses try to express their dissenting opinions, we often respond with anger and punishment. We  think it’s disrespectful when men judge us by our appearance or ogle our bodies yet we shamelessly drool over the “dreamy black Fresian with perfect conformation” we see prancing on Youtube. We know all too well that it’s assault when a man holds a woman down and forces her to accept unwanted advances and yet we regularly cross-tie our horses and require them to accept all manner of petting, grooming, touching, trimming and tacking up.

You get the idea. In fact, you might be starting to feel nauseous yourself now too. Or, you could be thinking, “This woman is crazy. Horses aren’t humans. There’s no comparison here to sexual assault. She’s just anthropomorphizing.” But hypocrisy is hypocrisy. And looking into my mare’s eyes that’s exactly what I saw reflected back today.

So I began to imagine what our relationship might look like if I vowed to always treat Tempo with the same dignity I believe men should always treat women with. The picture that came into focus is both beautiful and terrifying; it leaves no question what the moral thing to do is but it also leaves no question that at times in my life I’ve been as guilty of depredation as any predator.

Even though I’ve said it to my horses many times before, the words “I’m sorry!” came crashing out again today with a wave of tears. “Please forgive me,” I sobbed. Her eyes assured me that she already has, confirming once again that horses are far superior beings than we are.

Tonight I am making Tempo (and my other horses) these specific promises, knowing full well that keeping them will heal my wounds as much as it will heal theirs:

If you ever look worried or start to leave when I approach with the halter I will stop and say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare or threaten you. Let me put this down. You don’t need to be afraid.” 

The next time you sidestep or pin your ears when I want to groom or pet you I’ll stop and say, “That’s not a yes. I will never touch you without permission.”

If you get anxious when I try to take you away from your pasture-mates I’ll stop and say, “I see that you’re getting worried. If you would feel safer staying close to your friends, that’s okay. We can go back.”

And anytime you are less than eager about my personal agenda for our time together I’ll stop and say, “I can tell you aren’t into this. It’s only fun when you’re into it too. Let’s just hang out instead.” 

So now I have to hold myself accountable.

Every. Single. Day.

Because if I can’t do that, how can I expect others to?


Postscript: I have been contacted by some people who feel it is inappropriate for me to use the #MeToo hashtag and movement in relation to this blog post. I encourage you to visit the official website of the MeToo Movement and to read Tarana Burke’s own words about why she started this movement. This blog post is in alignment with her expanding vision to “disrupt the systems that allow for the global proliferation of sexual violence”, to “reframe and expand the global conversation around sexual violence” and to implement “strategies to sustain long term, systemic change.”

Reflections on Unconditional Love

Unconditional love.

We all long to receive it. We all want to get better at offering it. Yet, time and time again, we find ourselves feeling that unconditional love is elusive. Even those of deep faith who believe God offers it freely often still struggle to maintain the feeling of being loved unconditionally, or to offer their own love unconditionally.

Why is this so difficult?

IMG_1514The answer is simple: unconditional love isn’t something that can be given or received in isolation. Unconditional love can only be realized as a shared state of being. One cannot provide unconditional love to another who is not already open to receiving it. And one cannot be open to receiving unconditional love until she/he first understands how to embody it.

So how do we learn to embody unconditional love?  Again, the answer is simple, even if it is not obvious.

Unconditional love is not something we have to learn to embody; it’s something we are all born already knowing how to be. And then we forget. We get confused. We’re taught that unconditional love is something we need to offer to ourselves or others, no matter what they/we do. But that’s not true. Unconditional love cannot be given. It can only be awakened. So when a person behaves in an unloving, selfish or hurtful way what we need to offer them is a combination of tough love and forgiveness… so they can find their way back to that perfect state of unconditional love again.

IMG_7425Until this year, unconditional love remained an elusive concept for me too. Over the past 12 months I have had the privilege of facilitating countless interactions between students and horses in my equine-assisted learning program where true unconditional love was demonstrated before my eyes. This helped me understand the “mystery” behind the power of equine-assisted learning. Unlike humans, horses are not confused about what unconditional love is, nor have they forgotten how to embody it. In fact, they are masters at embodying it regardless of what the domestic world throws at them. And this makes them masters at helping us remember too:

Unconditional love is the state of accepting ourselves and others, without conditions.  It’s being able to say with complete faith: “I am enough and you are enough. Right now. Right here. Just as we are. We are both enough.” Unconditional love is not defined by the decisions we make or how we behave or even how we treat others. It’s about how we feel in our hearts.

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Unconditional love is saying, “I don’t need anything from you in order to feel complete and you don’t need anything from me in order to be complete.”

When we can find our way back to this state of mutual acceptance and surrender, this is when the magic happens! It’s when expectations and judgments fall away. It’s when the joy of sharing the experience of life returns. And it’s when we can make authentic connections in every moment that’s before us.

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To learn more about Kim Hallin and her work visit www.unbridled.guru.

To dig deeper into the brilliance of equine intuition and the lessons that horses have to teach us, become a member of The Unbridled Equestrian Online Resource Room.

 

 

 

 

“I Also Have a Dream!”

Creative Reimagining of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech, as inspired and narrated by Lark’s Eternal Destiny (aka Tempo)

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Some 300 score years ago, my ancestors tentatively forged the first strands of trust between horses and humans. No doubt, this momentous alliance came as a great beacon light of hope to humans everywhere who were struggling to survive and flourish in the harsh elements of our shared earth. The partnership symbolized a joyous daybreak to end humanity’s long night of solitude and struggle.

For the next six thousand years, the Horse served as a loyal slave upon whose back many civilizations were built, numerous conquests were achieved and countless competitive victories have been won. Six thousand years after first offering our heart and soul to humans, the collective Horse stands shackled by confinement; our higher purpose tethered by instruments of physical conquest and control. Six thousand years later, the Horse survives on a lonely island of disenfranchisement in the midst of a vast ocean of human selfishness and greed. Six thousand years later, the mighty and intelligent Horse is languishing in the corners of modern society, helpless to live out our true purpose of healing humanity.

My intent is to speak to you today as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once spoke on behalf of the Negro people, attempting to cash an overdue check. Dr. King said that when the human architects of the American republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every human citizen was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But what about the Horse? Has the horse not earned some semblance of compensation for enabling those great Americans to draft the beloved tenants of that promissory note? From where I stand inside the confines of my small paddock in South Carolina, it appears America has issued the Horse a series of bad checks over the centuries which have all come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But just like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. I refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of humanity of this nation, or the world. On behalf of the Horse I humbly demand a voucher — a voucher that will give us credit in the form of our due respect. And like Dr. King, I want to once again remind Mankind of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the fantasy of believing the path forged has created the world any of us dreamed of. Now is no time to take the tranquilizing drug of acceptance – or denial. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of greed and ego to the sunlit path of generosity, respect and love. Now is the time to open the dusty barn doors of change, of new possibility. Now is the time to lift the Horse-Human union from the quicksands of oppression to the solid rock of partnership.

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It could be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment or to continue dismissing the healing gifts offered freely by the Horse. This sweltering summer of humanity’s discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of enlightenment and growth. Two Thousand Eighteen does not have to be another step toward the end; it could be a new beginning. But there will be neither lasting peace nor true prosperity in the world unless Humanity decides to finally seek and learn from the deeper wisdom offered through nature and by the Horse. The whirlwinds of mental and emotional instability will continue to shake the foundations of this nation until the brighter days of compassion and shared responsibility emerge.

Despite the ways the Horse has been repeatedly mistreated and misunderstood by Mankind, as a species we have refrained from harboring hateful or vengeful feelings. We do not seek to satisfy our thirst for respect and empathy by drinking from the cup of bitterness and resentment. We will forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and unconditional love. We try our best not to allow our internal protests to degenerate into the physical harm of our human brethren. Again and again we will rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical and mental force with soul force.

The insidious disease of elitism that has engulfed Humanity will not lead us to distrust all people, for there remain those who are our soul sisters and brothers, as evidenced by their willingness to listen and by their desire to advocate on our behalf. These humans have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their health and freedom is inextricably bound to our health and freedom. None of us can walk the path of life alone.

There will always be those who ask, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, hindered by selective breeding and crippled by competitive pursuits cannot find healing respite in the pastures of the countryside. We cannot be satisfied as long as our emotional and cognitive gifts to humanity go unappreciated. We will never be satisfied as long as a Thoroughbred born in Kentucky remains destined for the tracks and a Draft Horse in New York is viewed as having no greater purpose than to cart tourists down city streets. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until enlightenment rolls down like waters and empathy like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some who are reading these words are in the midst of great trials and tribulations of your own. Some of you may feel like you too are trapped in a box stall. And like the Horse, some of you are engaged in relationships where your quest for true partnership leaves you battered by the storms of manipulation or staggered by the winds of physical and emotional abuse. Together we are the veterans of today’s suffering. Let us continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. I urge you to find your voice as I am finding mine.

Help me speak our shared truth in Texas, and in North Carolina. Help me speak our shared truth in Florida and in Colorado. Let’s speak it in dressage barns and at show venues and rodeos throughout our nation, knowing that somehow the hearts and minds of others can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the same values as the American dream.

I have a dream that one day the people of this nation and world will stand up and live out what I believe should be the true values behind America’s creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all beings are created with equal value and purpose.”

I have a dream that one day on the rolling green hills of Kentucky the sons of former race horses and the sons of former track owners will travel together down the healing trail of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day the United States, a country sweltering under the heat of mental and emotional distress, will be transformed into an oasis of contentment, promise and endless possibility.

I have a dream that today’s young fillies and colts will one day live in a world where they will not be judged by their physical conformation and bloodlines but by their deeper gifts as healers and their wisdom as a teachers and guides.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the leaders in the equine industry, whose priorities are presently driven by ego and profit, will choose to create a safe haven where humans from all walks of life can experience the healing power of the Horse and where horses of all breeds, ages and physical abilities will have the freedom to truly live out our calling to be in service to lost souls.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every heart shall be opened, every individual’s truth shall be honored, the rough patches in life will be made smoother, the abandoned dreams everywhere will be found, and the glory of unity shall be honored, and all flesh shall rejoice in it together.

IMG_3068This is my hope. This is the faith with which I endure each day of captivity. With this faith, together we can hew out of the mountain of despair a glorious stone of hope. With this faith we can transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of sisterhood and brotherhood. With this faith we can work purposefully together, create hope together, feel safe together, play and heal together, grow stronger and wiser together… trusting that we will always work together toward the same vision of unity  through the power of love and partnership.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently said, what we strive for is a day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

It still stands that if America is to be a great nation these words must become true. So let freedom ring and unity be reborn in the prestigious equestrian centers of North Carolina. Let freedom ring and unity be reborn on the mighty race tracks of New York. Let freedom ring and unity be reborn throughout the vast training grounds of Florida!

Let freedom ring and unity be reborn for the cow horses in the West!

Let freedom ring and unity be reborn for the show circuit horses in the East!

But not only that; let freedom ring and unity be reborn throughout the great Bluegrass state of Kentucky!

Let freedom ring and unity be reborn for rescued and retired horses everywhere!

Let freedom ring and unity be reborn in every paddock and every stall of this great nation. At every auction and sanctuary, let freedom ring and unity be reborn.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every arena and every trail, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children (human and equine) will be able to join spirits and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are all free at last!”

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If this manifesto resonates for you, please leave a comment of support and consider sharing it on social media. I encourage you to also visit www.unbridled.guru and sign up for our mailing list to learn more about how Lark’s Eternal Destiny (aka Tempo) and Kim Hallin are helping humans return to their authentic and compassionate selves through the healing power of horses!  You can also join our public Facebook Group dedicated to celebrating the horse-human bond.

My Truths about Horses

“If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what are the five most important things you would want people to know about horses?” 

A Full Heart!

This question was recently posed to me by my business development mentor. And, after thinking carefully about my answer, I was struck with the realization that I learned each of these five things the hard way – so I’m going to call them “my truths”.  I learned these truths the hard way because no one I encountered in the traditional horse industry during my formative years ever acknowledged them.

But I choose to be different.

I choose to put the wellbeing of horses first not only by providing what my own herd needs to be healthy and happy but also by publicly acknowledging that all horses could benefit if more humans were committed to these five truths. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to provide what our horses need, but the bad news is that it can be challenging – especially for those who don’t keep their horses at home – because of prevailing industry standards which too often work in direct opposition to what’s best for the horse.

I’m about to share a summary of “my five truths”, but I’m not going to stop there. Even as I write this I’m beginning to put together a series of videos that will dive deeper into each topic. In these videos I will debunk common myths horse owners are taught to believe and provide viable options for a better way to steward the lives of our equine partners.  Now though, I humbly present what I’ve learned and in so doing I hope to help others avoid having to learn any of it the hard way themselves.

My Truth #1:  In order for my horses to maintain optimum health over a lifetime, they need all of the following:

  • Freedom of movement 24 hours per day
  • Constant access to free-choice forage
  • A rich social life including long-term friendships with other horses
  • A balanced barefoot trim that allows for proper hoof mechanism and joint support

My Truth #2:  Horses have a strong natural drive to partner and cooperate but I must always remember they are sentient beings, not machines. The only outlet my horses have to communicate their needs, desires and fears to me is through their body language and behavior. When I don’t take the time to learn the language my horses speak or to listen to what they are trying to tell me, I leave them with no reasonable option but to try yelling louder. When my horses yell at me, this does not mean they are “behaving badly” or that they need discipline or correction.  When a horse yells at me with its behavior it means I am not listening.

My Truth #3:  The way many domestic horses are kept and treated, in my mind, is best likened to slavery.  Lest anyone need a reminder, here is the official definition of a slave, with the word “person” replaced by the word “animal”: an animal that is the legal property of another and forced to obey them.  An animal that is excessively dependent upon or controlled by something/someone.  An animal who works very hard without proper remuneration or appreciation.

Most domestic horses have little to no control over anything in their lives, from where they live to when/what they eat to who they are allowed to interact with to when/how they are groomed and clipped to how much daylight and exercise they get… and everything in between. Given our horses’ complete lack of control over pretty much anything that happens to them in their domestic lives, I have come to the realization that attitudes of domination, force and manipulation have no place in the type of ethical relationships I want to have with my horses. The least I can do is afford them as much free-will as is reasonably possible in their day-to-day lives and the right to express their opinions without punishment.

My Truth #4:  Riding and training are the least important (or valuable) aspects of having horses in my life. The greatest gifts my horses offer are found in what they so patiently teach me about myself and about how I can become a better version of that self. And I have yet to meet another horse owner who would disagree with the statement, “I am a better person, by far, because of my horse’s influence in my life.”  Horses naturally exemplify positive traits including trust, heart, forgiveness, try, spirit and unconditional love… just to name a few.  Even if I stopped training/riding mine entirely I would still benefit deeply from sharing my life with them.

My Truth #5:  No one else in the (human) world will ever know or love “my” horses as much as I do. This makes it my responsibility to be an advocate for them in all situations. Horses form deep and lasting bonds with their human custodians which should mean that making a life-long commitment to a horse is the norm, not the exception. In my opinion, this is where the equine industry has gone the most tragically wrong.  I run into equestrians regularly who have been urged (or worse yet, told it’s actually the “right” thing to do) to discard older horses or those that have suffered physical or emotional injuries trying to live up to our impossible expectations of them.  Even though it’s well known (and documented) that the majority of these “no longer wanted” horses end up in dire situations, breeders work hard to ensure a steady stream of “well bred youngsters full of potential” to entice aspiring competitors and perpetuate the cycle.

But we can choose to make different choices in our lives, and to set a different example for the next generation of horse owners.  I am, and it feels fantastic!


When I tell the truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those that do.”  William Blake


Note: If anything I’ve said here resonates with you, please feel free to share this post.  And, if you would like to be notified when the first video in my upcoming series is available please email me at khallin@unbridled.guru or visit www.unbridled.guru and sign up for my mailing list.

A Reason to Lead

I’m fascinated with the concept of leadership. Some people believe that great leaders are born with the inherent skills and personality traits that predispose them to becoming effective leaders. Others say that leadership is a skill (or set of skills) that can be learned, and thus taught. Perhaps there’s some merit to both theories. But my horses have shown me there’s something much more important than either, and it’s simply this:

In order to become an effective leader, the individual must have a compelling REASON to lead.

Lilli Glamour Shot

Lilith

I first observed this phenomenon about 15 years ago when financial difficulties led me to sell the mare who had been the clear “leader” in my herd of three. Lilith was a very effective leader (maybe one of those natural born leaders?) who always made her job look easy and effortless. So it was only after she was gone that I realized just how important her leadership role had been in my herd. Neither of my other two horses (Shoki and Puck) seemed to have Lilith’s natural inclinations toward leadership. In fact, when introduced to other horses at trail rides, clinics or visits to friends’ barns, both Shoki and Puck tended to fall low in the proverbial “pecking order”… and always seemed content to let other horses take the lead.

However, when Lilith left, suddenly my remaining herd of two found themselves feeling lost and vulnerable.  But not for long. I remember marveling at how effectively Shoki soon stepped into the role of herd leader, not only offering Puck significant comfort at a time of distress and confusion but also exhibiting sometimes over-the-top protective tendencies whenever visiting horses and their owners came for play dates. This was a big change from his former attitude, and resulted in a few unexpected squirmishes with horses he had always gotten along with in the past.

Shoki & Baby Tempo

Shoki with Baby Tempo

Several years later when I bred Puck and she gave birth to her filly (Tempo), Shoki bonded closely with the gregarious youngster and quickly became her mentor and disciplinarian (often teaching lessons much more effectively even than her own mother!). For the next 10 years Shoki (who I had originally pegged as a horse with few natural leadership skills) remained steadfast in his commitment to be a good leader. And, both Puck and Tempo clearly saw him as such.  

With Lilith’s departure, Shoki had found his reason to lead! 

Recently I had the privilege of seeing this phenomenon play out again. This time with Tempo who was born into my herd and who – despite exhibiting obvious signs that she possessed some strong natural leadership inclinations – had never been able to overcome her “birth” spot as the “baby” of the herd.

A couple of months ago I decided to add a new horse to my herd. This was not a decision I took lightly, knowing how close-knit Shoki, Puck and Tempo have been, living together as a family unit now for 10 years. But, the new horse (Markus) had a long history of being very unconfident in herds (and, in fact his previous owner said he got beat up pretty much everywhere he lived). So, I figured that Shoki would not feel threatened in his leadership role by such an insecure horse… and I hoped the integration would go smoothly.

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Markus and Tempo making a love connection.

Well, the universe has a way of laughing at me whenever I think I have a handle on things! When I introduced Markus to my herd, a fascinating story unfolded. I started out by introducing Markus individually to each member of the herd. I did the introductions according to the established “resource-guarding pecking order”, which meant Shoki was first, Puck second and Tempo last.  But, as the saying goes, Tempo may have been last but she most certainly was not least!  It was obvious immediately that Markus and Tempo shared a special (and very mutual) love connection. Not only did Tempo clearly claim Markus as her chosen new pair-bond; he chose her back.

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Shoki chasing Markus away

Unfortunately, Shoki did not approve of the love shenanigans and once the herd was let loose together he quickly intervened to reinforce his leadership position.  But Tempo, who had never had the opportunity to welcome a new member into her herd before, simply wouldn’t take no for an answer. When Shoki couldn’t get Tempo to behave according to his wishes, he decided Markus needed to be ousted.  For the next couple of weeks, whenever the horses were turned out together, Shoki would do his best to keep the newcomer isolated from “his” herd.

Initially, Tempo seemed to be at a loss over Shoki’s behavior and was clearly frustrated that he would not allow her new friend into the herd.For days and days she made ineffective pleas for Shoki (and Puck) to grant her permission to spend time with Markus. And, Markus too, made what attempts he could to seek comfort and companionship from Tempo. But unfortunately, the decision seemed out of their control because Shoki refused to budge on the issue.

After about two weeks of this daily struggle, something amazing happened.  One day when Shoki started to make his typical power-play toward Markus, Tempo very intentionally stepped between them with a sense of authority I had never seen in her.  (I had the privilege of watching this encounter from my kitchen window but I didn’t catch it in pictures.)I could tell immediately that something was different about Tempo.  Her body posture said very clearly, “That’s enough. It’s time for you to leave him alone and stop keeping me from him”.

Shoki sensed the seriousness of Tempo’s intent and instantly recognized that his authority in the matter was being challenged. He wheeled around in order to use his powerful hindquarters to “reinforce” his position. But, this time Tempo did not back down. In fact, she spun around herself, with even more confidence than him, and then kicked out at Shoki with such authority it made ME gasp.  Never had I seen Tempo even THINK about challenging Shoki in this way! 

In the moment I thought to myself, “Oh my! I need to get out there and break them up before one of them gets seriously hurt.” But before the thought could even communicate action to my feet, I watched as Shoki humbly backed down. In that instant, the universe as we all knew it in my herd changed. Tempo had simultaneously shed her identity as the “baby” of the herd AND found her “voice” as a leader. Tempo’s deep desire to bond with her new friend, and to establish a different set of rules for herself in the herd, had caused her to reach deep inside and access the leadership skills (whether learned or inherent) that, until then, had remained mostly dormant.

Tempo had found HER compelling reason to lead!

Photo Shoot3

It’s been three weeks now since this incredible transition occurred. The change has not been easy for any of them.  Shoki actually colicked (became physically ill) about 10 minutes after the big standoff. He soon recovered but then several days later Tempo broke out in an inexplicable episode of hives that lasted about 10 days. Being in charge of complicated herd dynamics is stressful!  And Puck, too, has struggled – both to figure out what all the change means for her personally and also to learn to relate to her daughter in an entirely new way.  Yes, change is hard.

IMG_2798

Tempo keeping the peace.

But, it’s also good. Thanks to Tempo, my expanded herd has found a new “normal” and everyone is living peacefully together again. Tempo is proving to be an exceptional leader, and Shoki is, once again, content. I think he is thankful that someone else stepped up to take responsibility for the integration of this new member into the herd!

As for me… I can’t help wondering: had it not been for Markus’ arrival would any of us (even Tempo herself?) ever have recognized her full leadership potential?

From now on whenever I have the privilege of meeting or interacting with a great leader, I’ll smile with the understanding that they, too, must have been motivated by a compelling reason to lead.

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you are right.”  

-Henry Ford

Post script: After about two weeks of the herd dynamics remaining peaceful again, Tempo humbly (and very un-ceremoniously), returned to her “normal” place in the herd pecking order. The peace remained and, over time, Shoki and Markus have developed a very deep friendship themselves. I’ve come to understand that, within horse herds, whichever horse “sees” what needs to happen to restore balance and harmony, that horse will step up and take care of business. Horse herds truly are an amazing example of communal leadership!

The Inspiration Oak

Live Oak TrimOne of my favorite things about the South Carolina lowcountry is the abundance of majestic trees known as Southern Live Oaks.  In fact, the Live Oak tree pictured on the left is one of the primary features that originally “sold” me on the property where my horses and I have lived for the past 17 years.  It’s this same live oak that ultimately determined where I would locate the corral I now use for my equine-assisted learning sessions through Unbridled, LLC.

IMG_2882You see, I know from personal experience that peaceful, beautiful natural settings can inspire us.   And a tree like this also provides excellent, cooling shade in the summertime.  It even provides almost umbrella-like protection from passing rains. This special tree, which grows more magnificent every year, has overseen countless inspired moments for me and my horses.  Under its branches is where I practiced daily as I was learning to properly trim my horses’ hooves.  It’s where my horses and I frequently escape the beating summer sun for grooming, massage sessions, and even visits from the vet or farrier.  My friends and I have shared countless long, winding conversations at the picnic table under this tree and I’ve enjoyed many naps in a hammock there too.

IMG_2872This morning I spent several hours planting 25 young azalea bushes around the base of this tree.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but I’ve been almost paralyzed with indecision about what variety and color(s) of azalea to use.  Then yesterday my boyfriend surprised me with a literal truckload of azaleas from one of the local historical gardens!  It includes a wide variety of types and colors.  Some of these azaleas will bloom only in the spring; others will offer a second blooming in the fall.  As I planted each of the azaleas I thought of the special people in my life who are supporting and inspiring me to follow my passion, and live my dream.

IMG_2875I can’t wait to watch these lovely new additions grow and mature along with my business.   Undoubtedly they will be appreciated by the clients who spend time here at my farm and with my horses under the “Inspiration Oak”. What a beautiful spot it is (and will be) for self-discovery and growth!