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Letting Go of Preconceptions About Life with Horses

Life with Horses Is More Than Just Riding. Photo: Canva Pro

Through my years with horses, I have truly changed my view on these beautiful, soulful creatures. When I started at a riding school nearly 25 years ago, empathy was non-existent. I did not use my senses to understand the horses; it was solely about riding. Saddle on, bridle on, and off we went.

When the school horses went out to summer pasture, and there was no riding, time felt long and dull. We all awaited the horses' return from the summer fields so we could ride again. I remember the riding instructor saying, “Remember, this is the horses' only vacation. They need breaks too.”

Kathrine Dybdahl

Kathrine Dybdahl owns Dybdahl Body & Mind. She is a trained physiotherapist and equine physiotherapist. Subsequently, she combined craniosacral therapy with a series of other educations and courses to aid both animals and humans with issues that are not always visible to the naked eye.


Back then, I did not understand why they needed a break. Whether it was my conviction, others' influence, or the times clouding my view, I do not know. But for me, horses were just animals to ride.

This limited me later in my equine years. I had horses to ride and use. I convinced myself that it was too expensive to keep horses if they weren’t ridden. They had to earn their keep.

Riding is Part of Horse Life, But There Is So Much More. Photo: Canva Pro


I sought teaching and had various instructors, each highly competent with their focus areas, which was very useful. However, I also encountered instructors who believed that the horse needed to know who was in charge. We were to be their leaders.

Friends Respect Each Other

Now I see that this label is completely wrong. Why should we be their leaders? Friends respect each other and set boundaries. I misunderstood this role as a leader. I thought it was about being steadfast, setting boundaries, being strong, and somewhat dominating. It clouded me. It stressed my body. I did not like being that version of myself, yet I still exposed myself and, more importantly, my horses to this powerful leadership.

Looking back, I can sense the stress that was in my nervous system back then. Often, it was not desire that drew me to the horses, but rather a pressure of expectations on myself and my horses. We had to ride. We had to do something physical.

I had no visions of competitions. It was solely my own expectations and the need to perform that wore me down.

Read also: We need to dare to think outside the box when we train with trailers

Are You a Friend or a Leader to Your Horse? Photo: Canva Pro


I did not listen to my gut feeling, which told me so much in those years. Even though I ignored it and did not act on what it said, it continued to send me signals and signs that something was wrong. My horses were affected. They would not come to me in the field. They developed tight and inflexible bodies, and I myself became angrier and sadder when I drove from the stable.

Things changed when I started developing my own business. From only having performed treatments based on traditional physiotherapeutic principles, I began to incorporate other techniques. Techniques that were gentler on the body, but required great sensing and intuition.

Slowly, day by day, from week to week, month to month, the energy inside me started to shift. From being heavy, and stressed, and reducing my heart connection with the horses, it changed to becoming open, curious, and listening.

Horses Are Sensing Beings and Have Much to Contribute to Cooperation. Photo: Canva Pro


I have met many horses in my time as a therapist. They are not just bodies with personalities but sensitive, sensual beings, eager to assist us humans.

In my earlier horse years, I did not see leadership as a friendship. If I always dictated what we should do, I am quite sure my friends would eventually get tired of me. Why should I make all the decisions? They also had a voice. I experience the same with our horses.

Many people thrive on set routines. At one point, I was so numb that each day of the week had an activity. And yes – I saw myself as numb back then. It wore me down and stressed me out. I did not check in with what I wanted to do on a particular day or what the horse needed.

Horses Sense What They Need

Horses sense their bodies. They are strong in their instincts and intuition. They can clearly sense what they need, what they desire.

When horses get a chance to express themselves, I experience greater joy among both humans and horses. Remember, a dialogue is where several speak, while a monologue is where only one speaks. If we dictate all activities with our horses, the horses get very little say.

Read also: Pasture Time Can Extend a Horse's Lifespan

It Can Be an Exciting Learning Experience to Let the Horse Choose. Photo: Canva Pro


Horses ask us to feel our bodies. Our bodies also tell a story and are much more expressive than verbal language.

Every single day, horses sense and communicate with their bodies. But often, our greatest challenge as humans is becoming too inflexible, too planned, too structured, making it difficult to feel our desires.


When we first sense our needs and desires, it becomes much easier to sense our animals. Next time you are with your horse, stand by them. Take five deep breaths with one hand on the horse’s heart (located on the left side behind the foreleg). Ask yourself a question you want answered, for example, “Should we go for a ride today?” “Do you want to be groomed today?” “Do you like your paddock-mates?” And be still and feel what comes up first.

If you experience physical discomfort, it might be the horse’s discomfort you are feeling. Or if you get a clear yes or no, go with that for the day, and let the horses also speak.

Try to Involve Your Horse in Planning the Day's Schedule. Photo: Canva Pro


It is difficult at the start to set aside your expectations and planning, and it is hard to believe what you sense. We as humans seek a logical explanation, and this is not an exercise that provides one. But you, who spend the most time with your horse, are the most connected to your horse. Therefore, you also have a great advantage in being able to sense your horse.



If the questions are too hard to formulate, then instead, when engaging in activities with your horse, let the horse choose. It could be that you go on a ride, and the road splits. Give the horse the opportunity to choose, even if it means you stand in the same place for a long time. In the arena, it could mean letting the horses cool down where they want or perform an exercise that you have not asked for.

At the beginning, this can be difficult for your horse if it is not used to these conditions. But with calm and patience, it will surely come.

You do not need to spend tons of money on courses and education to sharpen your intuition and sense your own horse. I do not want others to go through the long journey I have. It can be done more easily, and therefore, I help many owners and their horses. We all have it in us – it just needs to be allowed to come forth.


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