Holistic Horse Keeping

Holistic horse keeping is the way to ensure your horse’s health, happiness and performance because everything must go together for true success in any one of these areas.

The Underlying Philosophy of Holistic Horse Keeping

holistic horse keeping philosophy

To do something in a holistic way is to put the emphasis on the whole picture instead of on the different parts separately. When we keep the whole picture in mind we realise how inter-dependent the different parts are, each one having a knock-on effect on all of the others.

There is a tendency in human psychology, at least in western culture, that makes us think the only way to excel in any area is to specialise on that one field to the exclusion of everything else, and that broader knowledge or skill is by definition less expert. This belief is supported by the western scientific approach, so insidious in our culture and education, that is founded on dividing everything up in order to understand it.

holistic horse keeping philosophy The problem when we do this is that it becomes very easy to lose sight of the connectedness of things, and when it comes to living beings this connectedness is everything. Recognising the connectedness of life, in all its facets and expressions, is the foundation of holistic horse keeping.

Indeed, in any area of understanding or skill, often when we see true excellence and accomplishment it spreads out into many fields.

holistic horse keeping philosophy: leonardo da vinci

For example Leonardo da Vinci was probably one of the greatest minds humanity has known, being at the same time an exquisite artist, exceptional scientist and innovative engineer, whose knowledge and interest also extended to philosophy, poetry, music, botany and nature in all its forms.

Many other great artists, scientists and philosophers have had an incredible breadth of profound understanding and interest. The Ancient Greeks understood the importance of balance in all areas of life and education, and this is probably why so much great art and advancement of human thinking was a product of their culture. When truth is seen on one level, it is seen on all others.

In applying this philosophy to horse care through holistic horse keeping, we are striving towards excellence in all areas of our dealings with horses. However in the holistic context, excellence no longer translates in the traditional sense as purely results-based success, but more often as a combination of progressive thinking and commitment to the horse’s welfare above other concerns.

Why Is Holistic Horse Keeping So Important?

To understand why the holistic approach so important in horse care we need to look with a beginner’s mind at what it means to domesticate a horse.

The horse is an animal that has evolved for millions of years to be perfectly adapted to a very particular environment and lifestyle. The demands made on the horse by the domestic environment and training/riding are so different from what is essentially natural to the horse that we need to do everything we can to redress the balance, otherwise we quickly degrade their minds and their bodies. We may have dramatically changed the horse’s appearance through selective breeding, but we have not changed their basic requirements for physical and mental health.

What Does The Holistic Way Involve?

Holistic horse keeping means covering all angles of the horse’s welfare so that no area is neglected in favour of another, for reasons of either convenience or convention. Only then can everything start working together for the horse’s benefit, both physical and mental.

In order to change conventional horse care into holistic care, we have to be brutally honest about our practices. For example:

    holistic horse keeping: barefoot and boots

  • We have to admit that shoeing is a harmful practice no matter how practical it is, and that a domestic barefoot horse is usually more comfortable in hoof boots no matter how much of a hassle it might seem like to use them (see The Importance of Natural Horse Hoof Care).

  • holistic horse keeping: freedom and sociability
  • We have to recognise that solitary confinement to either a field or a stable is traumatising to a horse, no matter how much we might worry about injuries and other impracticalities (see Horse Herd Behavior).

  • holistic horse keeping: healing

  • We have to understand the difference between treating the symptoms of a health problem (the usual approach of veterinary medicine) and resolving the source of the problem (see Horse Healing Philosophy).

  • holistic horse keeping: training

  • In training, we have to admit to ourselves whether our control is really based on trust or dominance, and recognise when we are crossing this line (see How To Train A Horse Without Force).

  • holistic horse keeping: inner or outer success?

  • When we ride, we have to decide whether the external results/appearances that we achieve are more important to us than the real quality of the work (see What Is Real Dressage Riding?).

  • Above all, we have to constantly remain open to the possibility of changing the way we do things for the better, at the same time as committing fully to those methods that we know to be beneficial.

We may not achieve all of this at once, but once we start out on the journey of holistic horse keeping we commit to a learning process that has no half-way house. If we want to do the right thing for our horse in one way, we will automatically be led to see what is beneficial in all areas of his care and training, even if the path is a long and sinuous one. If we resist some aspects of the whole picture then we may end up in a more ‘precarious’ position than if we address none.

holistic horse keeping: tension For example, if we want to ride a horse in a way that is not based on blocking and controlling him with the reins, then he must have the lifestyle that makes him calm enough to be ridden in this way safely.

If he spends the majority of his time stuck in a stable with no opportunity for social stimulation, then his boredom and anxiety are likely to explode under saddle given the opportunity (which, incidentally, many such horses are not, due to the force and constraint they are ridden with).

It is perhaps this ‘all or nothing’ nature of holistic horse keeping that puts many horse owners off even contemplating it, because it seems like so many sacrifices will have to be made. The reality is that often the things we sacrifice have little true value, like, for example, the perfect unblemished coat of a horse kept in solitary confinement, or the temporary satisfaction of competitive success as a result of riding for precision rather than true engagement.

The idea of committing to something 100% is intrinsic to holistic success, because the right methods often take months or even years to bear fruit as they are addressing deeper issues instead of creating quick fixes.

This commitment may seem to be paradoxical to the principle of staying open to change, but it all depends on having the right intentions and following your intuition.

For example, when we realised how harmful shoeing is we made the 100% commitment to barefoot hoof care. We would never again consider shoeing a horse for any reason. However this didn’t mean that it was the right thing for us to commit forever to the first method of barefoot trimming that we came across. This method turned out to be harmful to our horses, so it was crucial at this point that we admit to that, and that we remained open-minded enough to follow a new method that was synchronously presented to us (see: Different Barefoot Trims: Our Hoof Care Journey.

Holistic horse keeping does involve many challenges, like perhaps learning to trim your own horse’s feet if you don’t have access to a barefoot trimmer, developing the sensitivity and intuition to train a horse through trust, or making the gymnastic effort to train your own body in the way required by good riding. But the rewards you gain, not only from overcoming these challenges, but also from your horse’s happiness as a result, greatly outweigh the difficulties.

holistic horse keeping: work in harmony

The pages on HHT are so wide-ranging and interrelated that we strongly recommend you look at the site plan to find other subjects that may interest you.

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