Spirits in Unity Column 9 and introduction by Garry “Horsetalker” Meek – Taking Control

– This Column of “Spirits in Unity” is being published by CFN for the community of Stormont Dundas & Glengarry. It is an honour to have you as a reader. I welcome any comments, questions or topics you would like me to discuss. I hope you enjoy reading about the wonderful world of horses and the impact that natural horsemanship can have in making it a better world for both horses and humans.

Taking Control
Many years ago when I was teaching elementary school I accepted student teachers in my classroom as part of their training to becoming a teacher. On one particular occasion, a young lad of obvious intelligence and desire to become a teacher, was presented with his first lesson in front of the class. I remember it was a Math lesson, a subject that he was particularly good at and liked.

Within a matter of minutes he had lost complete control of the students and his lesson turned out to be a disaster. After the lesson, during the review process, I asked him how he thought the lesson went. He replied, “Not too well”. I told him it was probably the worst lesson that I had ever seen. He became worried about the mark he would get, but I assured him that there would be no mark for that lesson unless he failed to improve and that I would give him a mark based on his best performances, not his worst.

It was obvious that his classroom management practices were severely lacking and when we began to discuss if he had been listening in his classroom management classes at university, he replied that he hadn’t taken that option. I was astonished that it was even an option, because I considered it an essential skill.

Control is an essential skill in both humanship and horsemanship
For teaching students there is a process that is effective. It starts with the teaching phase. My student teacher was good at that part. But the next phase is control. The third is reinforcement. The fourth phase is refinement.

It is exactly the same with horses. If you don’t have control, you have nothing. It is paramount for both your own safety and for the partnership you want to develop with your horse.

Unfortunately, for many people with horses they equate control with force, intimidation, and punishment. They soon become control freaks. It is more about leadership than force. A good leader must be able to get his horse to follow him but must also be able to follow as well. It is also about trusting your horse. Pat Parelli has a saying that I like to use a lot. He says “Be ready to trust that your horse will respond, but be ready to control not more one than the other.” You will notice he doesn’t say be controlling, but put yourself in position to be in control of the situation if necessary. It is a balance between control and trust.

For instance, have you ever seen people leading their horses with a very short lead line. They think that because they are holding the lead line close to the horse that they are in control. They never relax. So how can they expect their horse to relax. With some training you can learn how to hold the lead line with some slack in it that will in fact give you the control you need when you need it. You can activate the control when you want. You are ready to control, but not totally trusting either.

With horses and humans, being constantly in control of a situation will wear out your relationship and ruin your partnership, because the trust will soon disappear.

A number of years ago a group of horsemen got together and formulated a set of principles that outlined what they believed in. They called it the principles of natural horsemanship. One of those principles states that, “Principles, Purpose and Time are the tools of teaching.”

The Principles are those ideas which structure your thinking where horses are concerned. It is important, as a teacher or student, that you have a set of principles to guide you and that you don’t let your goals distract you from your principles. Principles prepare you for the purpose.

If you teach your horse the purpose, he will understand the meaning. Make him feel like he has a job to do instead of just doing mindless practice.

Take the time it takes. In the end it will take less time than doing the wrong thing over and over again. You can’t expect to go to college without going through elementary school, and high school first. So you shouldn’t expect to do the fancy stuff with horses right away. It is important to build a good foundation first. Then you will see that the fancy stuff will start to happen all by itself.

In our ‘Spirits in Unity’ program we believe in developing a trusting relationship with a horse before even thinking about getting on his back. He probably prefers it that way too.

If you are interested in learning about our Spirits in Unity Tour for 2012 or what other people interested in horse welfare are doing with natural horsemanship in our area you can become a member of The Eastern Ontario Natural Horsemanship Club at www.meetup.com .There is no charge to join.

Whether you are just a horse lover, have dreams of owning a horse someday, or already have one, I hope these columns will give you some insight into the true nature of these magnificent creatures. I hope you will find them both informative and inspirational.

May all your dreams come true,


Garry “Horsetalker” Meek



Drogheda Manor

email: droghedamanor@gmail.com


  1. Some of my best flying instructors were the ones that ‘ let ‘ me scare the c—p out of myself.

    After one particularly sweaty session my instructor said “I’m sitting right next to you. Do you honestly think I want to die ?”

    I calmed down after that 🙂

  2. The same instructor said: “If I keep grabbing the controls, you won’t learn anything” ……

  3. @ Bill- you made me recall my flying lessons, the most important of which was that if you found yourself in a spin and lost control then the best thing to do was to let go of the handles and let the plane come of its spin on its own, which it would do if you gave it the chance. Often, that is an excellent practise in day to day life.

    An excellent article as usual Garry, thanks for teaching us patiently the lessons which apply to life. My time at the barn with my horse are the highlight of my week.

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