Here are a few books and authors that have inspired how I think about horses. It is not a complete list, but instead a few recommendations. With almost the whole world in quarantine now would be as a good a time to read as any.
For the record I am the kind of reader that is constantly in the middle of at least eight or nine books. Most of them I finish, (some will take me years), a few of them I never do. Occasionally I finish a book without picking up another (most recently: American Dirt.) At certain times I am looking for an easier read, like Mark Rashid, and other times I have the mind to focus on something a little more textbooky, like The Revolution in Horsemanship. These days I read about fifty percent fiction and fifty percent non-fiction, but growing up ninety percent of what I read (when not in school) was fiction.
Most of the non-fiction I read relates to horse behavior and training. I am also reading more and more about animal behavior (ethology) and animal training in general. I used to see differences in how we train different animals (dolphins, dogs, horses, chickens), but more and more I see similarities.
Jonathan Field - The Art of Liberty Training
This is a coffee table book. It’s a good size and a satisfying weight - like a well made cigar box. When I get to visit with Jonathan I hang on his every word, but in this case, you could buy the book just for the photos. Each photo tells a story. Each shot inspires me to keep searching for more of what I want with my horses: connection, relaxation, athleticism. The photographer is Robin Duncan of Vancouver Island.
Robin took the photos over the course of eight years when her daughter was working for Jonathan. The book has about 350 photos. They sorted through eight thousand photos to get to that number. I can imagine Jonathan was very particular in exactly what he was looking for.
Some of the shots are taken from above, giving a rare glimpse into the horses body language from that angle. Robin remembers: “I got up in the bucket of a skid steer one time. Another time in a man lift. Jonathan’s dad is a well driller, he always had lots of different equipment at the ranch.”
As for the text, in it Jonathan gives his take on Liberty training. (Liberty, although open to some debate, is generally considered working with a horse with no halter or bridle or lead rope.) The text and the photos work well together. The book was published in 2014 and I have looked and re-looked at many pages of this book since then. Each time I get something different out of them.
For more inspiration watch the mini-documentary about Jonathan, produced by Red Bull, on Vimeo, or check out his more recent TEDX talk.
Mark has written, to my count, nine books. I haven’t read all of them, but I’ve read three or four. Looking back, before reading these books I was doing a lot of learning, but I lacked the ability to look at a problem and solve it myself. These books inspired me to become a problem solver, like Sherlock Homes, or that doctor on that TV show - House I think it’s called.
I haven’t read his novel yet, but it’s on my list. (To be totally honest, I have been two chapters in for about a year and I’m feeling guilty I haven’t finished it yet.) It was made into a movie, so check that out too. If I were you I would start with one of his earlier books, like Horses Never Lie or A Good Horse is Never A Bad Color.
I spoke with Mark last year at the Equine Affaire in Massachusetts. After a good chat I asked him who his favorite authors are. “James Herriot is one of them,” he said. “After my first book was released one of the reviewers compared my writing to his and it was a great compliment.”
His publisher, Rebecca Diddier, compares the two authors: “Part of the reason Mark is so popular is that, like Herriot, he is a story teller. Reading Mark is like sitting next to him while he tells a story around a campfire.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Buck Brannaman - The Faraway Horses
If you have seen the documentary Buck, this is a must-read. I would have a hard time saying which is better, the book or the movie.
It’s been a few years since I read The Faraway Horses, but I remember two things. First, how important discipline is to him.
“Discipline isn't a dirty word. Far from it. Discipline is the one thing that separates us from chaos and anarchy. Discipline implies timing. It's the precursor to good behavior, and it never comes from bad behavior. People who associate discipline with punishment are wrong: with discipline, punishment is unnecessary,” he wrote.
And second, his explanation of why to lay a horse down. The explanation ends with this: “When people ask me to lay a horse down the way they saw it done in the movie, I decline. Laying down is not a circus sideshow act. It’s a valuable tool for helping horses with troubled lives.”
Buck has a unique, no-holds-barred take on horsemanship. He had a troubled childhood himself, and it is interesting to see the parallels he draws between people and horses. I think it was Buck that said “A bad kid and a bad horse just don’t have enough to do,” although I could be wrong. I haven’t picked it up in a few years, but it is a fairly easy read. I think I’m going to re-read it soon myself.
Robert Miller and Rick Lamb - The Revolution in Horsemanship
I keep lending this book out, not getting it back, and then buying it again.
This is a book that looks at the big picture. It is not one person’s way, but instead looks at what Horsemanship means. It examines the motives, the history, and the trends of Horsemanship.
The first author is Robert Miller, DVM. Dr. Miller is a vet we should all have heard of. He has been a judge at Road To The Horse, and he also wrote the book on Imprint Training for horses. (Imprinting horses is a real thing, although it is not as obvious in horses as it is in nudifugous birds, such as were made famous by Konrad Lorenz, or in the movie Fly Away Home.)
The second author is Rick Lamb, a student of the horse, and also creator and host of The Horse Talk Show.
Although most of the book is about history and quite factual, the reading is easier than I expected. The authors also don’t hesitate to delve into deeper issues. What is a horseman for example?
“He listens more and talks less. He takes responsibility rather than assigning blame. He controls his emotions. He becomes aware of his body language. He tries to improve himself. He commits himself to acting justly. He cultivates patience. He forgives. He lives in the moment rather than stewing over the past or waiting for the future.”
If you have watched my Noelle Floyd Masterclass and you want to see where some of the ideas came from, or where we fit in the bigger picture, this is the book to read.
Pat Parelli - Natural Horsemanship
There are two parts to Horsemanship. The first is the physical: how they move, how they jump, how we bandage them, what happens when they are lame or get a cut?
The second is more intangible: how horses think, how they show anxiety, how we think, how we develop patience and set goals.
Just like the Pony Club Manual of Horsemanship in the classic for the first part, this book is the classic for the second part.
The book begins like this: “This is not a horse-training book it’s a people training book.” And that is what most of us need. Most horse problems are not horse problems, they are people problems. The late, great cowboy Tom Dorrance was called “The horse’s lawyer,” for good reason.
And later in the book: “Adjusting to fit the situation is all part of using your imagination. This is the difficult part of Natural Horse-Man-Ship. Instead of having a book full of rules that govern all situations, there are no rules in Natural Horse-Man-Ship. There are only goals and principles and adjustments to fit situations.”
It is helpful when we are learning a new skill if we are told “do it this way,” but with horses that is not always the case. Everything depends.
This book was first published in 1993, and the ideas are so old they are new again.
Sharon has two books out now and her third is set to be published in the Fall. The first two are Horse Speak and Horses in Translation. The rights to them have been sold in eight countries. They are best sellers in Germany.
The premise of these books is about understanding how horses communicate and then mimicking (as best we can) what they do.
Some of the ideas I use every day. When I approach a horse I let them touch me with their muzzle before I touch them. When they are in a stall or tied I ease into their space, I don’t rush in.
I respect when a horse doesn’t want to be touched. I realize that while space and touch are important to both horses and people, space is especially important to horses.
Sharon Wilsie lives and works in southern Vermont. Before this book she had little reach to share her ideas with the public, since the publication of these books she is giving clinics around the world and creating DVDs for us to learn.
Temple has eight books, at least. Maybe eighteen. I’ve read two of them, Animals in Translation and Thinking in Pictures, but I would not hesitate to recommend all of them. Like Oliver Sacks, I don’t think she could write an unimportant book. (And if you haven’t read Oliver Sacks, read at least one Oliver Sacks.)
Temple Grandin is autistic and she writes both about autism in people and about how animals think and feel. Here specialty is cattle, but she also writes about horses.
I’ve heard people say “I think my horse might be on the spectrum…”. After reading her book I would rephrase that to be “I think all horses are on the spectrum.” Autistic people and animals don’t think better or worse than we do, they think differently.
One example: Temple argues that she, like horses and cattle, see the little picture first and the big picture second. If I walk up to a show jump I see “oh, a jump,” and if I study it a moment longer I see “oh, red and white stripes, big wings, and the paint is peeling a little there.” If my horse comes up to a jump and they see the little picture first, and then later “oh, a jump, I’ve seen them before” you can imagine how different all the jumps would seem. They are not all just jumps to a horse.
Another way of saying that is that it is harder for horses to generalize. Each thing is unique and particular.
And that is just one gem of many. For more inspiration watch the move Temple Grandin starring Claire Danes.
In the interests of full disclosure the books by Jonathan Field, Mark Rashid, and Sharon Wilsie are all published by Trafalgar Square Books, who also published my book, In The Middle Are The Horsemen, in 2018.
Trafalgar is a small publishing operation in North Pomfret, Vermont. Just seven charming ladies. Their offices are in a reconstructed barn. I think they are amazing.
On one hand this might make me biased, but on the other hand I talked them into a promo code for you. Enter NFREADER and get 20% off all their books at www.HorseandRiderBooks.com.
To learn more from Tik, check out his must-watch Masterclass courses here, where you'll learn about curating and mastering the relationship between you and your horse.
Feature photo by Lauren DeLalla.
Written by Tik Maynard
Tik Maynard is a highly sought-after clinician, event rider, and trainer due to his depth of horsemanship and horse behavior knowledge. He is an Equestrian Masterclass instructor and his courses may be found at www.masterclass.noellefloyd.com