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Getting started in healing with horses: what to read and who to know

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

One of the most frequent questions I receive goes something like this, "I love horses and I know there's more to them than just riding. What should I read or study to learn about healing with horses and see if it's for me?"

I get really excited when someone asks me this and I never say no to the conversation. Inevitably, I end up giving the person a laundry list of books and resources for further exploration. So, in the spirit of efficiency and service, here is a current list of my favorite healing with horses books, teachers, and podcasts.

#1: The Tao of Equus by Linda Kohonov

I consider this the equine assisted learning and therapy bible. Linda is a prolific author and teacher with a journalist background, so her writing is well-researched, incisive, and thought-provoking. Through this one book, Linda introduces the reader to nearly every tributary that this field has taken to date. Coaching, mental health, physical rehabilitation (hippotherapy), recovery, natural horsemanship, centered riding, you name it. Plus, she dives directly into the spiritual and social implications of healing with horses. If you get through this densely rich tome, you can consider yourself officially hooked into healing with horses.

#2: Journey On Podcast by Warwick Schiller

This next recommendation will blow open your mind and introduce you to many of the incredible people who are leading this healing with horses movement. Warwick is a highly respected horsemanship professional from 'down under' whose humble curiosity and decades of teaching make him the perfect host to take you on a journey of learning about the true Self through lessons from the horse.

#3: Being with Horses by Nahshon Cook

This one is pure poetry by a prophetic, young, black dressage trainer based in Colorado. I recommend listening to Warwick's interview of Nahshon (episode 19 of the Journey On podcast) and then read this book. You'll plum the depths of passion and purpose behind the human and horse partnership at a visceral level that is only available through poetry.

#4: The Water Calls: One Woman's Journey to Reclaim Her Dignity and Freedom by Ariana Strozzi Mazzucchi

A beautifully told memoir by one of the founders of todays field of equine assisted learning. Ariana is among a small cohort of women, most of whom receive far less public acknowledgement than their cowboy counterparts, who blazed the trail of EAL for others to follow.

#5: Horses Never Lie by Mark Rashid

Mark has written more than a dozen books, some fiction and some instruction, all on the subject of horses and how we have understood them dead wrong. Mark's storytelling will have you clamoring for more and his perspective translates directly to life with your own horse. This classic is a good place to start, but don't let it be where your journey with Mark ends. Enjoy them all!

#6: Hope from the Heart of Horses by Kathy Pike

An engaging memoir focused sincerely on one woman's journey into and through the field of coaching with horses and EAL. Kathy is a good writer and her story compelling and relatable.

#7: The Games People Play with Horses Vol. 1 by Nancy Lowery, Amy Sholen, Melisa Pearce, Susan Motzko, Sharon Quarrington, and Anne Kerr Rosenberg

I probably shouldn't admit this, but this instructional workbook on how to guide EAL exercises with clients is all I had on hand when I started my practice. This book, plus regular calls with my mentor, plus a wing and a prayer, were the only guidance I had, technically. But, as all EAL people know, the real teacher is the horse and they should never be underestimated. In these early months, my guide was an old quarter/arab cross named Zip who offered his wisdom unreservedly. He taught me everything I needed to know. This workbook just gave me the basic understanding of how to use the tools of horsemanship to teach human-ship.

This is a well produced 52 minute documentary about healing with horses on a ranch in Canada that will give you a very grounded idea of what the practice is, how it works, and who it serves.

#9: The Horse Whisperer book or film

I mean, this goes without saying right?

#10: Certifications in Equine Assisted Learning or Therapy

There are over 80 certification programs in EAL/T and there remain no standard associations under which the field is regulated. As such, they vary wildly in content and quality. In my journey to EAL, I have found that the most important part of training is having an excellent mentor and a community of practitioners to learn from for life. This is a useful article to review as you go down the path.

For me, I have two certifications that I am continuously considering, but have not yet taken due to time and treasure: E3A and Eponaquest because they align with my personal values and professional approach.

Without formal EAL certifications, my training has included two years of mentorship and two leadership development with horses certifications (TeachingHorse and HorseDream) along with certifications in meditation and yoga teaching and loads of self study and coursework on coaching methods and psychology.

There are plenty of other books to read and people to know. There are the slightly controversial cowboys like Pat Parelli, Bill and Tom Dorrance, and Monty Roberts who put natural horsemanship on the map in the 90's. For the who's who list of contemporaries, go no further than Warwick Schiller's podcast guest list.

It's an exciting thing to realize that you have several years of dedicated study ahead of you to fully grasp the depth and breadth of this work upon which you may add your own creative mark someday. I hope you find these recommendations helpful!

And remember, the real teacher is always the horse.

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