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Work with the horse you have today - using Holistic Horsemanship

Updated: 6 days ago

Meet the horse where they need to be met and work from there.

"Working with the horse you have today" means working with the horse that shows up that day. This means meeting the horse where they are, where they need to be met and work from there.

"Working with the horse you have today" was taught to me by the late and great horseman, Jack Brainard. After spending weeks at a time in his advanced horsemanship clinics back in 2006 he got to know me and my horse Smokey. He gave me the epiphany when he pulled me aside one day and told me to “work with the horse you have today and not the horse you had yesterday.” 

This meant I had to meet Smokey where he was as a learner that day, so I didn’t get in his way of learning.

Too often we are taught only the mechanics of horsemanship. This means we don't consider the horse - how they feel, where they are in their learning, or how they feel about what we are asking them to do.

Mechanics are important to horsemanship. They teach us how to physically/technically train a horse to do what we want and need them to do. But they don't teach us how to develop a horse - from the inside out.

Good horsemanship means we develop both, a mechanical feel, or technical skill and an empathetic feel where we feel of and for our horses as individuals, learners and friends.

Working with the horse you have today means we consider:

  1. Your horse as a sentient being who has feelings, experiences, opinions and some level of trauma from harsh treatment or abusive handling during it's life. This is our reality. After working with thousands of wild and domestic horses, this has been mine. 98% of them needed rehabilitation on some level before training.

  2. Horses are smart and quick learners. Not to mention as you develop your horse's confidence, they grow, they evolve, they "change". This means the horse you have today is not the horse you were working with last month or even last week.

  3. The importance of education, developing a foundation. When our horse has a strong and solid relationship, ground and riding foundation, we have consistency, predictability, progression and safety.

A strong and solid foundation is the same as a strong and solid education. It's no different than you and I going to college or a trade school. Education is the key to success, the gift of knowledge, and access to equal opportunity. It is the most powerful tool that one can have to achieve their dreams and make their lives better. Education provides us with the knowledge and skills we need to succeed in life and opens doors that would otherwise be closed to us. Horses need a solid education, a foundation of knowledge and skills, too. While they are not interested in equal opportunity, foundations create confident horses who are ready to do anything with their human partners.

Foundations mean forever. This means you can take weeks, months and years off with your horse and come back to where you left off.

Foundations give you the ability to progress, specialize and refine skills easily. They achieve this by providing a thorough education and step-by-step building blocks of that lesson.

The lesson is the goal, what I want to achieve and the building blocks are the roadmap. Without the roadmap I cannot successfully reach the goal.

And this is where so many trainers fail students and horses. You are being taught to focus on the goal instead of the building blocks. When you focus on the building blocks, you learn how to be more present, more aware of how your horse shows up as a learner.

Teaching a horse to trailer load with Holistic Horsemanship

Following the building blocks is the same as learning the steps of a dance, or the notes of a song, or the pattern of your ride. You visualize the goal, what you would like to achieve and you work on the steps to achieving that goal.

When you follow the steps of the exercise, lesson or pattern, it's not only easier to reach your goal (you have a roadmap), it's also easy to backtrack should you get confused, mixed up or stuck with your horse.

My foundation program is your roadmap to achieving it all with horses and in a way that works best for the horse as an individual, as a learner and as a partner. It starts with the inside of you and your horse, teaching you how to attune to your horse so you understand them on every level - holistically. A holistic approach is key to well-being and achieves this by showing you how to develop your horse in their parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

When you have a foundation, and a horse that lives and operates fully in their PNS, you will have the same horse every day.

This means, until your horse has a foundation and can live and work in their PNS, they will continue to have setbacks and you will be working with a different horse most days.

I've spent over 20 years studying, and working with, thousands of wild and domestic horses, gathering evidence to support my understanding of equine nature, nurture (behavior), intelligence and physiology. My experience gives me the level of expertise needed to know how to rehabilitate, develop and train horses and in a way that works for the whole horse.

In my study, I found two types of horses, or two distinct types of equine learners: the confident learner and the unconfident learner. Understanding which one your horse is, is paramount to their learning progress and whether or not you will have to work with the horse you have today or the same horse every day.

Let's explore what it means to be a confident learner and an unconfident learner.

A learning mindset means every new experience is an opportunity to learn. Horses are super smart and learn quickly only when they are in a learner’s mindset, or an open learning frame of mind, aka, confident learner. This can only happen when they are in the parasympathetic nervous system of calm, relaxation, and digestion.

This means when we are working our horse into a frenzy through desensitizing tactics, pressure and release or sacking them out by running them around to tire them out, we are putting them in their sympathetic nervous system of freeze, fight and flight.

And when we do these things to our horses, they are not open to learning. Rather they are stuck in their survival mode and their nervous system is on hyperdrive.

As a new learner (horse and human) it is normal to experience ups and downs in learning and training. This is because we (horses and humans) are being challenged to learn new things. This means we are being asked to look at things differently (through a new lens), learn a new habit or a new pattern of recognition (cognition). Depending on your level of confidence, this experience can be a steady incline with a few small interruptions or a huge stressor. And that’s what I want to focus on, when learning and training becomes too stressful for both the horse and the human.

Working with the horse you have today is the mindset I have had with every horse I’ve worked with, and it’s been thousands. This mindset will take the stress out of learning and training because it teaches you how to stay present versus fixed, laser focused on the goal.

Only when we are present and attuned can we meet our horse where they need to be met.

Being present is the secret to being successful and creating positive learning experiences for both you and your horse, aka creating confident learners. It achieves this by lessening the expectations on you both as well as keeping you in the moment, present, so you can meet your horse where they need to be met as a learner.

When horses are confident about learning they feel good, balanced, and happy and that's because they are in their parasympathetic nervous system. This is what we need to strive for, so that we can:

  1. Take the stress out of learning and training.

  2. Focus on being present so we can see the horse that shows up that day and meet them where they need to be met as a learner.

  3. Keep our horse in their parasympathetic nervous system during training so they keep learning, becomes confident and safe.

Holistic Horsemanship Training by Caroline Beste. Lunging a horse in parasympathetic nervous system

Another really important area of training, and creating confident learners in our horse, is foundation training.

When you and your horse have a solid foundation underneath you, you will no longer have to work with the horse you have that day. Your horse will show up the same way every day.

As I always preach, (and teach), foundation means forever. A forever understanding and learning for both you and your horse. It doesn’t mean you stop learning; it means you have a solid and awesome foundation that allows you to continue learning easily or be content with where you are.

A solid foundation also means you can walk away from your horse for weeks, months and years and pick up right where you left off.

Remember, work with the horse you have today and work together and towards a foundation.

I invite you to experience this for yourself and to learn more about these methods I teach by joining my free 7-Day Holistic Horsemanship Mastery Miniseries below.



Free Holistic Horsemanship Mastery Mini-Series

Sign up here!


If you’ve been searching for a deeper way to be with horses, a better way to train horses and in a connected and safe riding partnership, the Tao of Horsemanship Academy is for you!

With a comprehensive website of holistic horsemanship information, as well as free resources, support and a complete online learning program, you can immerse yourself in the world of consensual partnership with your horse and love the journey as you learn together.

May you always be one with your horse,

Caroline Beste

Founder, Tao of Horsemanship


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