How is Horse Training Like Religion? . . . and what does this have to do with Easter?

While building up the fire at dawn and cuddling Frida, who, God bless her soul, had slept through the night again, I was listening to an Easter program on National Public Radio. The interviewer was talking to Jewish rabbis, Christian pastors, and others as well about the meaning of the Easter/Passover traditions and time of year. Now I am not a religious person in the way our culture thinks of that word, but I am definitely a spiritual person and, in fact, my life and my work hub around my personal spiritual beliefs. I never argue religion with anyone because to my way of thinking everyone must arrive at their own set of beliefs that shore them up and make them feel inspired in that awestruck kind of way. So, while I have chosen not to take part in organized religion for decades now, I totally honor those who do embrace it and take great joy in seeing what support and inspiration it provides them.

One theological author being interviewed about his views on how Christianity is changing with the times expressed my beliefs perfectly when he said, “Religion is simply a vehicle for personal transformation.” Yes! Finally! A “religious” person got it right! It doesn’t matter whether you’re a member of the Roman Catholic Church or believe in Shiva with six arms (he agreed), the point is the very existence of your belief is what opens your eyes and expands your horizons — transformation can’t help but follow.

What does this have to do with horse training? A lot. It’s the same principle. When you expose a horse to something new and teach it to behave or perform a different way, its horizons expand and its mind opens.

You can bet this horse is a very different individual than he was before he was trained!

You can bet this horse is a very different individual than he was before he was trained!

And in that process, assuming the training is proper and humane, the horse gains tremendously, in both skill and confidence. He becomes a very different animal than he was when he started out, and he has a much broader frame of reference. He becomes much more able to relate to his person and to handle new things. When I asked my Mustang, Bella, to share her opinion about training, here’s what she said: “My training helped me shift my spirit. Not just from a wild horse to a friend horse, but from a reactive person [yes, she did use this word] to a thinking one. I still react sometimes, but I love it when I remember I can think and work through something. Plus, it’s fun to please. I really love that. Very fulfilling.” If this isn’t an example of expansion and transformation, I don’t know what is.

Today, Easter, and this Passover season are definitely a time for giving thanks and for reflection upon whatever beliefs bring you comfort. Whether you’re training a horse or serving a 7-course seder, it’s all about freedom and expansion, death and rebirth. We go through the cycle over and over, all of us, both human and animal. Happy Easter everyone.

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