Category Archives: Human-Horse Behavior

The interaction between humans and horses. That magical fine line of timing, breathing, whispering, releasing, dominating, yielding, playing, cavorting, and otherwise hanging out with our beloved horses.

One-Third ~ Two-Thirds (the Good and the Bad)

Much of the time with our horses (as with much of life) everything goes wonderfully — just as it should. Our horses are sound, healthy, happy.

We ride into the sunset with flowing manes and golden rays.

But what about the times when things go awry — the hoof, the leg, the eye we count on to function normally, suddenly limps, swells, inflames?

I’ve come up with a philosophy that has helped me though the tough times of life, and horse stewardship, and I’d like to share it with you.


Golden Rays

Most of the Time, Things go Right :))

Most of the time, thankfully, things go wonderfully right. We ride our healthy, sound horses and live the dream we envisioned when we first set our sights on owning one.

“My horse is coming along beautifully!”

“I had the BEST ride over the weekend!”

“My mare is in foal — I cannot wait to see what this foal will look like!”

Yet in all this wonder, we tend to forget — we are experiencing the Perfect Two-Thirds of Horsemanship, when everything goes according to plan. :))


But ~ Sometimes, Things go Wrong :((

However, as we dance with horses through the long-haul of life, we will, from time to time, experience the Flawed One-Third, when things go wrong. (Yes, hopefully this will be an even smaller proportion . . . )

Some mysterious injury occurs.

You come out to ride, but your mare’s leg is blown up.

You go on an amazing, fast-moving ride, but your gelding takes a bad step, and is now off . . .

A bout of colic.

Or worse . . .

You have to call out the Vet or haul to the Hospital.


Time lost.

Money spent.

More worry.

No riding . . .

Darkness on the Horizon


Your mind works overtime in an endless loop.

“Why did I let this happen?”

“How STUPID was I to not ______________!!!”

“How can I be sure this will NEVER happen to my horse again?!!”

You start feeling sorry for yourself.

All your horse friends are out enjoying the good weather, their sound mounts . . . and you are unable to ride yours.

You start wondering if this is the way it’s going to be from here on — are ALL hopes dashed of EVER riding and enjoying your horse again?


Aria, Ella and Hokuleia

As a horse owner, breeder, trainer, farrier over the past fortysomething years (I’ve raised four generations thus far :)) I can tell you, I’ve been through all this.

The two aspects, good and bad, seem to go somewhat hand-in-hand.

And I can tell you, sometimes it doesn’t seem at all to work out. Sometimes a horse must be euthanized. Sometimes a horse must be determined to be unsafe or unusable.

But MOST of the time — Two-Thirds of the time, everything works out beautifully. :))

So you know what I’ve learned to do?

(I’m repeating it here, as much for me to remember, as for you to hear!)

I’ve learned to get over the worry, get through the bummer as best as possible — as if it were a test — bless the One Third, and move on.

Because without the One-Third, I would never have the Two-Thirds — the beauty, wonder and perfection my horses bring my family and me.

(Like the photos, above and below, from last fall of my daughter, Ella, enjoying our horses. :))

Aria, Ella and Hokuleia


But this summer presents a different picture.

Lately, it seems the One-Third has been busy at work.

A mare with a blown leg, a large hospital bill. Another horse with an inflamed eye.

Oh, I can feel sorry for myself.

But I’d rather feel grateful that the leg has quieted — the mare will heal!

The eye has toned down.

I’ve found it better to focus on the Perfect Two-Thirds, and do what I need to do to get through the Flawed One-Third, than to worry and drive myself nuts!


Leg -- On the Mend :))

So when horsing (or life) seems to go South on you, when bad things happen to good people, good horses — take a deep breath.

Ask: What do I need to do now?

And DEAL with it, the best you know how.

Take your lump and get over it.

And focus on the goodness.

And be grateful for all the perfect rides.

And consider the time you spend nursing a sick horse as bonding time with your beloved.

And know that, in time, as long as you stick with your positive horsing program — the Two-Thirds shall prevail.

And yes, you will be riding again.

And laughing!

And loving your horse, in all her soundness!

Henna Horse


And if you discover that you do have the wrong mount, if all that’s associated with a certain individual seems to ALWAYS go South . . . determine when to cut your losses — search for the horse that will better serve your needs.

And move on into the glory of horsemanship you envisioned from the start.


Side Saddle Rider


Copyright 2014







August 12, 2014 · 5:21 pm

Wonderful, Willing Starboy

From my JournalAugust 14, 2009

Starboy mills ‘round his paddock, head low, rubbing his face to his knee, swishing flies.

All day long he lingers, contentedly, with sister Angel by his side, strolling toward the neighboring paddock, toward the water trough, toward the feeder – awaiting his next flake of hay.

I give him my kisses, and go out of town, on business, leaving him.

While I’m away, I return to his paddock in my mind, at will, and there he is in my mental peek, content again.

And when I return, he whinnies at the sound of my car’s engine, at my whistle, and trots up to greet me – no guilt trip.


I walk inside the paddock, rubbing faces, removing fly masks, reuniting with the herd.

I halter and lead him out, tying him to my horse trailer.

Brushing off the dust and shedding hair coat – sleeking him out – I plop my blanket, my saddle, onto his back, and slowly cinch up.

I offer him the bit, and he grabs it, like always, from when he was small, when I raised him.

In my younger years, I leapt into the saddle.  Now using a small step-stool, I clamor on.

Starboy braces, politely, for my middle-age weight to descend upon him. I find my off-side stirrup, gather up my reins, and move my body slightly, as signal to walk on.

Out to the road, off the property, he effortlessly, willingly, goes. Wherever I point him, Starboy cooperates – and travels at whatever speed I ask.

What kind of relationship can be compared to this?

He serves, without complaint, at my beck and call. And I serve him, in return, for nineteen years now, like his mother and sire before him, making sure of his pasture and hay.

Few people can boast three generations of home-bred horses, but those who do, understand.

As long as you’re dealing with good genetics, there’s nothing that compares.


Out on the trail now, Starboy surges forth, my stiff lower back complaining. I rein him in a bit slower.

The trail gains ground into the forest now, into the wonder. Trees tower above us, in the twilight.

The feeling of magic overtakes me, and Starboy trots lightly on.

No coercion, no domination, merely a suggestion that we speed up, or slow down – my body shifting ever-so-slightly in the saddle.

A quiet cluck and inclining forward of my reigns enough to squeak him into a smooth canter . . .

I smell the vanilla of pine bark now, nighttime descending.

And I marvel, again, at Starboy.

And how well he behaves since I’ve been gone.


Starboy in Sunlight


November 26, 2013

Here I am, marveling at Starboy, once again. I wrote this sweet little piece four years ago, in 2009. Since then a few things have changed:

Angel is gone now, on the other side of the Rainbow, even though she was Starboy’s junior by a year.

She had Cushing’s syndrome and passed away at nineteen – the very age of Starboy when I wrote this piece.

And Hokuleia was born August, 2012 – our fourth generation! And she has Angel’s energy. And she has Angel’s love.


And I am changed – I’m very happy to report – for the better.

After a bad injury and much pain (at my doctor’s recommendation), I went gluten-free in December, 2011. Turns out this incident was a major “Blessing-in-Disguise”.

By changing my lifestyle and diet, I lost stubborn pounds of middle-age weight. But that’s not all:  I ALSO LOST MY JOINT PAIN!

In fact, as I read over this piece I feel badly for the “old Dawn” – who was exhausted and who ached – and who weighed down her wonderful horse.

I’m happy to say, “No More!”  : ~ ))


A spring has returned to my step – I no longer “clamor on”. Now I lift myself up into the stirrup, the saddle, with joy’! Pain-free!!!

My back no longer complains. My knees, my hips, my neck ride along with Starboy like they did in my youth.

So there is hope when it comes to pain, to injury, to age!

Now the healthful micro-nutrients and herbs I take – turmeric, hawthorn berry, ginger, boswellia, cinnamon, fenugreek – can work to rejuvenate my cells without the burden of fighting the inflammation brought on by the gluten (found in wheat and most grains).

Now the vitamins and supplements – B-100, Vitamin Code Multi’s, thyroid, and adrenal support, Perfect Food (green powder) – can work their nutritional wonder.


Now Starboy, twenty-three years young, carries my lighter profile.

We rode three hours recently, FLYING, like in our days of youth – striding out, floating, galloping – breathing-in the fresh forest air.

Discovering a brand new trail in the process – trotting, twisting, surging, dipping, along the contours of the rapid single-track.

Now Starboy lingers in his paddock with sister, Fae, and filly, Hokuleia. Happy, content. Yet a bit wider at his middle-aged girth than before.

Wonderful, willing Starboy. Ever ready, ever up for the latest adventure.


I’m fresh back in town now, from a business trip. And finally, we’ll be riding tonight . . .

Soon I’ll smell the vanilla of pine bark, nighttime descending. And I’ll experience his smooth canter – on our latest adventure, into the forest.

And I’ll marvel, again, at Starboy.

And how well he behaves since I’ve been gone.


Starboy at Sunset


Oh my – reading this over just now, I have tears! For how long will he be with me?

Wonderful, willing Starboy – I treasure you all the more as you grow old. For our time together here won’t last forever.

But our years have been full. And our love, complete.

And I’m filled to the brim by our love.  : ~ ))

And when the time comes for us to part, when you go over the Rainbow to join the others – I’ll be here waving, loving, cheering you on – tending to the herd, here on this side of the veil.

I’ll take care of Fae, of Aria, Laddie and Hokuleia.

And I’ll cherish my love for you, like the others.

And I’ll wait my turn . . .

Until my time over the Rainbow arrives.


 Sunset Flame

Copyright 2009, 2013


November 26, 2013 · 10:36 pm


Oh, my horses are PERFECTION! And I know how rare that is.

It’s my own sweet secret: My horses are PERFECT!

And I don’t say that lightly.

You see, I’ve had the opposite –

And so I know to value this.


You can hate me for it – really you can.

Or you can ask yourself, how did she ever get it???

What did she do to get the formula right?

I know that most horse people never seem to achieve it . . .

It’s taken me fortysomething years of horsing – but I’ve finally gotten it right!!!


A Perfect horse is one that gives Perfect performance. Perfect relationship. Perfect rides.

Oh, there will be those among you who think I’m harsh. Downright cruel. Because I really enjoy having obtained Perfection.

I enjoy loading my horses into my trailer – without hesitation, without fault.

Hauling a short drive up the road to breathtaking, high-altitude, single-track, wilderness-Nirvana.

Moonrise. Sunsets. Starbursts. I’ve ridden them all. Over, and over, again.


Riding Perfect trails – endless, forested Nature – five minutes from my Perfect horsey house . . .

Horses willing, always willing, and ready, and sound, and fantastic!

Cantering, trotting, flying down, up, ’round the dips and bends like the rocket ships at Disneyland’s Space Mountain.

And I’ve bred and raised them! All five – soon to be six – Fae fresh back from the breeders. And they are smart and wise and athletic.

And I smile and thank God for the wonder of it all!!!


Because my childhood was spent dreaming about this . . .

My adulthood spent creating it. All the decisions, all the crossroads in life, leading here.

Not by chance, but by trial and error – overcoming all the awful circumstances

And let-downs life brings, and rising, somehow, above those obstacles

Into the fullness of my current reality . . .


So I hope to hold a beacon for those souls now struggling: I struggled, too.

But continue on. Find your way. Through the forest of decisions.

And keep headed toward your horsey goals. Don’t ever stop!!!

And know that PERFECTION is possible!!! And it’s fantastic!

But you have to aim for Perfection to get there. And let go of whatever can’t work.


Aria Shadow Rock

Copyright 2013


October 19, 2013 · 2:12 am

Where Have All the Horsemen Gone?

They were usually the quiet type. Soft spoken, athletic, lean.

They approached their charges with sensitivity and practical skills, passed on from parents and uncles of the generation before them. Learned firsthand from toiling on the family ranch or farm.

Horsemanship was a lifelong tradition. It was something in the family. Something in the blood.

They worked with the whole picture in mind, not just the moment at hand. And all that they did, like an artist taking a paintbrush to canvass, made the finished composition into a fine work of art.

When they spoke, the horse grew quiet. His eye softened. He lowered his head and took a breath and a lick.

They could accomplish in quick order what others couldn’t, no matter how much time.

Where have all the horsemen gone?


Oh yes, there still are a precious few.

Men and women who know the breath, the timing, the heartbeat of the matter. Who can come in and whisper and in short order have the tiger tamed and eating out of their hands. Who know when to become big and explosive, but also when to immediately soften, breathe and reward.

But there are too many imposters in our modern-day-horsie world. Too many who learned to parrot empty behaviors and have somehow lost the ability to think for themselves and gather practical tools from real-life mentors—tools that work.

I remember the day when the seasoned older horseman or woman was the honored elite of every horse community. These were the mentors that us younger horse-addicts would look to for guidance.

How to keep a horse from biting? “Offer the prick of a hatpin or nail.” (Or what about the one using the “hot potato”?)

What to do about barn-sour tendencies or out-and-out refusals? “Make him more concerned about YOU than the object or direction of his fear.”


As a farrier, I’ve seen horses that were misunderstood or mistreated by farriers before me. (Actually this has improved over recent years from when I first began the craft in 1990. A good sign, I’d say, as things for horses seem to be improving.)

Inevitably the horse has a balance problem, usually on the hind end. And because the animal couldn’t lift his leg high enough and couldn’t balance properly, he was punished.

OK. Punish for striking, kicking, biting—but leave balance alone!

There are ways to accommodate. Work down lower, find a place that’s comfortable for your client, the horse. Cock up an ankle and turn your boot into the lowest makeshift hoof stand. Weld up a mini stand (mine is 9” tall). Get down on your knees.

My old uncle, Ink Knudson, a farrier for more than fifty years, had a trick with a leather shoelace that works wonders with an unruly horse.

Tie one end to the top ring (or knot) of the halter. Bring the lace around and into the mouth, leaving it loose enough so that the horse can tongue it, play with it, then bring it up and tie to the ring on the other side.

“He can’t think about two things at once,” Uncle Ink explains.

“He’ll try to spit out the string and forget about what you are doing.” (This method has helped me throughout the years.)


I’ve found that breathing really works. When the horse does anything close to what I’ve asked of him, I back off the pressure and take a big breath, softening my body and voice, making a long, impressive loose-lipped exhale.

The horse takes my lead, breathes, licks, lowers his head, and I know I’m in.

(Well, there was that mare on Molokai with the tendon-hitch to her hind end. She breathed and licked all soft and gentle—then hauled off and kicked me in the arm! I guess they’re exceptions to every rule.)

I weave back and forth, working my way closer into his range of acceptance, waiting for the heavy feeling of relaxation—the weight of the limb—that tells me he’s allowing me in.

Remember, I work with the feet, the same feet that either yield or strike, and the heavy weight tells me he’s not ready to strike. It’s an art, reading the horse and not getting killed.

(I was kicked in the head by a mule once, after I was done working—when by all means, it appeared I was “safe”. I had ignored my instincts that day. The mule had told me. But I made the mistake of listening to the trainer—and not the mule, and not my own gut. . .)


An older woman, a former client of mine, Sheila, had her own way of getting into a horse’s heart zone. She was the first one I’d seen with this approach, and it worked like magic.

Her grey Mustang mare, White Cloud, was apprehensive of me. I was in my shoeing chaps, this was my first time working with her, and the mare had plenty of previous issues with farriers.

Sheila went in to catch her up. White Cloud’s head rose, she backed away and turned slightly, ready to flee.

Sheila quietly, calmly—in slow motion—bowed her head, and then her body.

Low. Lower. Released. Relaxed.

Then she waited in that vulnerable bent position.

And then White Cloud looked at Sheila intently, stretched out her neck, took a breath and stepped slowly, softly forward, until she breathed her nostrils into Sheila’s hair.

Then ever-so-slowly Sheila lifted her body upright.

And they were one. Melded. Connected from the heart.

And the once-wild Mustang accepted Sheila as her own

(And then we went on to trimming her hooves. . .)


What a good reminder to the rest of us—to have the sense, the humility, to look up and seek out the Uncle Inks and the Sheilas and the breathing and the calmness that allows us humans to enter into the heart zone of the animals that we adore.

After all, our goal is a working relationship between ourselves and our horses. To participate in the joy of discovering, freshly, how to overcome obstacles—together.

Then the horsemen will continue their legacy. And the horses will whisper back in return.


Copyright 2013


April 4, 2013 · 1:03 pm