Horses were created to live in "Nature's World" ~ we must teach them about "Man's World." Original drawing by Erica Anderson


Nature's View Part 3: Stepping into the Past

By Julianne Rickenbaker, with Bruce Anderson

One of the underlying philosophies behind Nature's View is that we, as horse owners, riders and trainers, are the ones responsible for helping horses adapt to living in our world. Horses were created to live in a natural setting, both mentally and physically. In the wild, they live in a herd, whose main instinct is survival. Their leaders have proven themselves worthy through their actions. In this natural setting, there are a limited number of exposures for the herd, and through the example of the leaders, they learn which habits are beneficial or not to their well-being. Since they are prey animals, they react emotionally to situations, by freezing, fleeing or fighting. This characteristic is enhanced by their physical makeup (eye setting, etc.) Their natural habitat has few boundaries, giving them more options for escape from their predators, and allowing them to move to find food, water and shelter, thus ensuring their survival.

The horses that live in our world must be able to live out of this herd setting. Their habitat has changed, making them dependent on us for food, water and shelter. Although in this new world there are few if any natural predators, we do have "man-made" objects with unique sights, smells and sounds which are not natural to the horse. Since horses learn through example, we must take the place of the herd leader and introduce these objects; until we do so, it is quite possible that a horse's mind is its greatest predator. In a sense, for horses to exist out of their natural setting, we need to "reprogram" them. To do so, we need to simulate life in their natural world and, step by step, prove ourselves worthy of being the herd leader by teaching the horse about our world (as we know it). When the horse responds to our actions, we set the example as to what response is acceptable or not, allowing the horse to decide which actions are beneficial to its well-being, thereby balancing emotion with logic.

By continuing to work with horse, using this mindset, new habits begin to evolve. At the same time, this allows us to find out which habits are beneficial or not to our own well-being, thereby giving us balance in our lives and giving us the opportunity of self-improvement.

Horse owners, riders, trainers and instructors can see these benefits. Lisa Miller, horse trainer and riding instructor at Sovan Hill Enterprises in Landrum , South Carolina , says that she was forced to look at her own issues before she was able to help her clients. Miller's techniques and those of the facility's owner, Katie Maxwell, work hand in hand with the philosophy behind Nature's View.

Miller says, "When I entered the round pen with a 3-year-old warmblood mare, I knew that I would be working with a very green horse. Being a trainer/riding instructor, my thought was that the work in the round pen would give me the foundation to start this horse and to get to know its personality to better our working relationship. Little did I know that my experience would take two months to process and even now, I'm not sure how to put my experience into words. It is something you have to feel and experience for yourself, but I will do my best to explain.

In the round pen you are one-on-one with yourself and an animal whose communication skills are body language and eye contact. The horse becomes one who reacts to your actions, and before you know it, little pieces of yourself start to jump out and you see yourself standing in front of a mirror that talks back. For me, the round pen work brought out a part of me and an event that had a huge impact on my life. I guess I thought that if I could close the door and throw away the key, everything would be ok (not realizing that I had closed a part of myself behind that door as well). Somehow being in the round pen opened that door, and what came out was overwhelming.

Working with horse allows us to find out which habits are beneficial to our well-being. Photo by Dave Robinson

That is why it has been so hard to put my experience into words that others could understand. The door it opens for each person has to be so different and what each person does with the information is up to them. The round pen is not a quick fix; how and why it works the way it does, I can not really explain. Man's world today is all about the quick fix. If you have a problem, just take a pill to make it all go away; but you are only covering up the problem, not facing it. I believe we have a lot to learn from our surroundings and going back to nature seems to tell the story. My first round pen experience has made such a difference in my life; I can't wait to open the next door."

For more information:

Bruce Anderson
Nature's View
PO Box 1464
Camden , SC 29020

About the author:

Julianne Rickenbaker is the mother of five horses, two dogs and three cats who make their home at Thornfield, an equine facility in Ridgeway , South Carolina . She recently began combining her two loves, dressage and music, and arranging musical freestyles. In her "spare time," she is an elementary music teacher and church musician. She also thoroughly enjoys helping Bruce with Nature's View.