BOOKS: The Horse’s Choice

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2000:

The Horse’s Choice
by Staci Layne Wilson
Running Free Press (P.O. Box 6778, Eastview,
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 97034), 1999. 79 pages,
paperback. $17.95, plus $3.50 postage/handling.


There is much debate among animal rights activists as to whether horseback riding is justifiable. In the long run, in my view, it is probably not. Yet there are nearly seven million domesticated horses in the U.S., and most will be trained for riding and driving. Leaving them alone in pastures is not realistic and could subject them, paradoxically, to abusive boredom.

This is not to suggest that anything goes. Some activities are excessively unnatural to equine nature and physiology. Racing is one example; eventing is another. Trail riding, on the other hand, can be inoffensive, if the horse appears willing; and classical riding (not dressage competition), which emphasizes the natural movements of horses, is certainly more in line with the temper of equus than dashing madly down a polo field.

Horse training is delicate, but somebody has to do it.

Trainer Staci Layne Wilson co-founded the International Generic Horse Association/HorseAid. She began training at age 12. As a teenager, she competed in Western and English riding. Later she raised Arabian-Appaloosa crosses. She conducts horsemanship clinics, and is an ardent writer.

Her approach to training may be summarized as “friendly” and “slow,” emphasizing patience and trying to see the equine point of view. Her writing style is also friendly and slow, which makes The Horse’s Choice a good choice for firsttime horse owners.

In fewer than 100 pages Wilson covers most basic aspects of getting involved with horses, from having an experienced person assist the novice in purchasing a horse, to dealing with spooking, bucking, and running away––natural equine behaviors that need to be respected and overcome, not punished.

Good books on training horses emphasize understanding equine nature. In the old days, the approach to horse training was to simply “buck them out.” A “trainer” with enough daring would risk serious injury by “riding” an unschooled horse until the animal was broken––in other words, exhausted. “Spookiness” was regarded as willful, and was punished.

With the advent of natural horsemanship, popularly referred to as “horse whispering”), spooking is now recognized as normal in a situation which the horse believes may be “fight or flight.” Wilson, who has survived life-threatning injuries from spooked horses, understands this, and details how horses’ senses aid their survival. She rejects any use of the severe bits, tie-downs, flash attachments and other gimmicks that can destroy an equine/human partnership.

One downside of The Horse’s Choice is Wilson’s insistence on hand-treating horses. Those who believe an apple a day makes a horse love a human might more safely place it on the ground. This will elicit the same response, and perhaps save a finger, as even the most gentle horse may bite in anticipation of a treat.

Hand-feeding aside, The Horse’s Choice is a nice change from other books on natural horsemanship, most of which––though most riders are female––are written by male trainers with oversized egos.

––Robin Duxbury [Duxbury heads Project Equus, P.O. Box 18030, Boulder, CO 80308; 303-545-6800]

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