Zen Mind, Zen Horse Review

Hello All! Many apologies for my long absence! I was off on Christmas vacation, but now I’m falling back into my daily routine.

First thing’s first! Christmas recap: Shiloh’s presents are still in the works. I hope to get him a new, real dressage bridle. My current two favorites are the Schockemoehle Sports Ashford Snaffle Bridle and the Aquarius Snaffle Bridle with Crank Noseband.

My favorite horsey gifts this Christmas were a sweatshirt that reads “Horses are God’s apology for men” (not my personal conviction, but humorous nonetheless!), and a wonderful book by Allan J. Hamilton M.D. entitled Zen Mind, Zen Horse.



I’m already about halfway through and I find that every page is immensely informative and useful for everyday horse management. In this lovely book, Hamilton seamlessly fuses practical horse lore and psychology with a sense of spirituality that is never overwrought. I’ve always considered time with horses to be “sacred” (for lack of a better word), but Hamilton takes it to a whole new level of spiritual mindfulness. He blends together belief systems from Native American wisdom, Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and many more in such a way that the information comes in bite-sized and delicious morsels that people from all walks of life will be able to use them readily.

In this book, Grooming is depicted as an act of love, a vital daily ritual that could be compared to a tea ceremony. Not only does it serve the practical purpose of maintaining the horse’s hygiene, but it allows the opportunity for physical contact with the horse, a time set apart to emotionally and mentally prepare to commune with your horse through riding.

I love the fact that Hamilton stresses the importance of setting in his book. He believes that thoughtfully choosing the locations we work with our horses has everything to do with the horse’s state of mind and attitude about working with us on any given day. He reminds us to consider the horse’s preferences, and really take the time to study where the horse is at his most relaxed and receptive to the world around him. There are multiple intimate written landscapes of Hamilton’s own farm, the ashes of a close friend buried fittingly in the very center of his round pen, where families of birds like to nest, and detailed considerations of the view from all directions in any given space. This attention to detail has inspired me to look closer at were Shiloh likes to spend his time, and to meet him there instead of just dragging him to the hitching post as usual.

And finally, my most important and surprising takeaway from the book so far is its chapter on the relationship between horse and man: Prey and Predator. I’ve always known that horses were prey animals (fight or flight, and all that), but I’ve never really considered my strange role as predator.

I never learned (or had any need) to hunt or fish. I can’t see myself wielding a spear or bow and arrow, by any stretch of the imagination. Nor can I really see Shiloh roaming the savannah, warily eyeing the water hole for alligators.

But our ancestors did. We’ve slowly evolved from these extremes, and as we did, or psychology and culture evolved along with. Hamilton presents an enlightening discussion of one of the most important factors in our parallel evolutionary tracks: language. As humans became better predators (chasing all those buffalos off cliffs and stuff) we also improved our language. The better we could vocalize plans of attack with our people, the better the hunt would go, and the healthier and more biologically fit we could be to pass on our DNA. We started to whisper, talk, laugh, and shout. And we didn’t worry about being heard. We were the ones with spears.

While we got chattier, horses became experts in the art of silence. As prey animals, it would be a terrible idea to make loud vocalizations (“I’m over here, tasty and available! Eat me please!”) So they learned to live quietly. They developed their own language, one that required no words at all. Without a word, a lookout horse could let all the others know if a predator was close by. A mare could correct a rude young stallion if he got too rough. Monty Roberts calls this language “Equus”.

To use Hamilton’s own illustration, for a horse to allow humans to interact him is just as shocking as a human attempting to make a tiger feel comfortable and included in his home. Woah! I never thought of it that way.

Buy this book. It’s so worth it.




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