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What horses can teach us

John Longhill
special to the daily
Special to the Daily
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Horses, running free and unencumbered across an open prairie, fill us with feelings of awe, wonderment and pride in our western heritage. I wonder, is it stirring some deep primordial memory with horses over the millennia or are we just appreciating the beauty of such a spectacle? Maybe both, but who can tell?

In ancient times, our partnership with horses enabled us to explore and conquer new territory, and as we evolved, the horse helped us again, with farming on a larger scale, transportation and shipping, allowing us to become more civilized which in turn led to our diversification and growth as a society. In today’s world, horses are again partners with us, albeit mostly recreational, but sometimes in keeping those traditions alive that remind us of the long-standing relationship we have had with this magnificent animal.

It is noteworthy that in the last half of the last century, our new-found leisure time has afforded us the luxury of investigating a new collaboration between humans and horses, one of education and personal growth. This educational opportunity emerged as horse owners and trainers began to understand the horse as a conscious being capable of thought, emotion and communication. We realized that herd behavior and horse psychology could be a doorway for understanding the human consciousness by providing us with a glimpse of ourselves through the eyes of a horse. Horses are different and yet not so different in some very important ways, especially in how they choose their leaders.

“Learning to become a leader, in the eyes of a horse, is a true accomplishment. It makes you aware of who you are and how you are being,” says Sheila Hollenbeck of Breckenridge. Sheila is a regular volunteer at Swan Center Outreach, a non-profit educational organization that relocated to Silverthorne in 2008. This organization partners rescued horses, for the purpose of an educational experience that focuses on life skills, and leadership development. Sheila says horses can teach us amazing things if we take the time to listen to what they have to teach us.

In a wild horse herd, there is one horse that leads. Those unfamiliar with horses often think it is the stallion that’s in charge. In reality, the stallion’s job is to chase off the weaker males so a strong and healthy DNA is passed on in the bloodline of the offspring. The horse that is the leader of the herd is actually a mare. She is the leader that all of the horses look to, to know when it is safe to drink water, to eat or to run when a predator is nearby.

Rebecca Keith, a 13-year-old participant in the Swan Center’s leadership program, says: “In the herd there is a lead mare that is more powerful then any other horse in the herd. She takes care of the herd but also gets them to respect her. Life works in the same way. Having a positive attitude and respecting those over you and caring for those under you is a fabulous way to reach success.”

In the wild, leadership among horses is essential, because without it, they would not survive. Similarly, in our society, we also look to our leaders for safety and survival. We seek those individuals who are the embodiment of the best qualities that are human. From horses we learn that true leadership is borne out of being the best we can be, with the abilities and talents that we have.

When we understand the importance of discovering our natural talents, developing them to the fullest degree and using these talents to serve others, we expand our understanding of leadership, and history teaches us that our very survival and evolution as a species could hinge on this concept.

“Working at The Swan Center has been a huge growth experience for my 12-year old daughter, Ruth,” said Ann Hunsinger of Silverthorne. “The opportunity to train her (assigned) horse, Jett, as well as learning how to successfully handle each of the 36 horses, has given her new confidence and built strong character. Just seeing all of the young girls, many of them of slight build, communicate and take command of 500-1000 pound creatures is awe inspiring.”

Swan Center Outreach continues a long and storied history of humans and Equus, with horses providing us with life changing experiences and insights about how we can be more successful as human beings.

For more information on Swan Center Outreach programs, contact John Longhill at (970) 468-0924 or visit

http://www.swancenter.org


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