Book Review: Riding On The Power Of Others

riding-on-power-of-othersI’m working my way through my recent Horse Book Haul from Amazon – talk about combining two of my favorite activities: reading and horses! And I found Ren Hurst’s book, Riding on the Power of Others: A Horsewoman’s Path to Unconditional Love particularly thought-provoking.

The book is engaging as it chronicles Ren’s early, difficult years as a child of abuse, dissociation and struggle – where she turned to horses (as so many of us do) as her life raft. It tells the story of how she morphs from a traditional dominance-based horse trainer, to a kinder natural horsemanship trainer, to a sanctuary-owner who feels that all horse riding is abusive.

“I want to tell you what a “horse whisperer” really is. I was labeled with such a term on occasion in my training days, and it’s not a term I think of in a positive light any longer. To me, it simply means that you’ve become so good at manipulating and using subtle forms of psychological control that few can see that you’re actually still using massive forms of coercion to get the result you want.”

I find an interesting parallel here between her story and that of Stormy May – creator of the powerful The Path Of The Horse documentary. And sure enough, towards the end of the book, Ren and Stormy meet up.

But here’s the parallel: Both were professional horse trainers who treated dozens of horses really poorly (i.e. the way most people treat horses; as subordinates here to do their bidding). In Ren’s case, she bought, trained, and sold over 100 horses.

My feeling is that the psychic burden of this sheer volume of mistreatment gets so overwhelming – the more enlightened and connected the person becomes – that they feel they must do a form of penance. And they are driven to the other end of the extreme, to never require anything of a horse again.

I also wonder if Ren doesn’t trust herself to be able to not dominate the horse in some way, if she leaves herself the option of riding a horse when/if invited by the horse to do so. She states quite categorically in the book that:

“Having specialized in starting colts for years and having trained so many, many horses, it was so clearly obvious to me that horses did not desire us on their backs. I had not met a horse who without any previous training or conditioning has walked up and invited me to hop on top of them like a predator.”

Get On My Back!

However, in Carolyn Resnick’s book Naked Liberty, she details how, after spending months hanging out with a wild herd as a young girl, the lead mare invites her onto her back. With no small amount of fear and trepidation, young Carolyn climbs on bareback (and no halter or bridle either of course). The mare parades her through the herd and then brings her back to the same rock to dismount. A few of the other horses in the herd than want to have a go at carrying Carolyn around. While others clearly have no desire. (pg 227)

zorra-spoo-molly-grazing-tiahI experienced a version of this myself one day when I sat on the fence and asked my horse Zorra – who was grazing with her herdmates – to come on over if she wanted me to get on. After a bit, she came over and I transferred my butt from the fence to her back. And yes, all horses were completely free, with no halter or tack, in a 5 acre field. Almost immediately, my friend Kesia’s 2 horses started bugging us, and pretty much chasing us around. What the heck was going on? Why wouldn’t they leave us alone? Why were they behaving so strangely?

As Kesia and I felt into the energy of her two, I said, “I think they want to be ridden too…” Sure enough, her gelding Spero (who, incidentally, has experienced a lot of past trauma around being ridden) stood quietly and waited for her to get on. As soon as she was on his back, he paraded around with her for a bit and all the horses quieted down – all was well in their world again.

I was gobsmacked – could it be that carrying a human was seen by the herd as a status symbol, a prestige, something to be proud of?? How bizarre is that? Then after Spero had enough riding, Kesia’s very pregnant mare came over for her turn! Honestly, Kesia kept asking her, “Are you sure? How can this be a good thing?” But Amalia persisted until Kesia climbed on and she got her turn to parade around with Kesia.

However, as Kesia writes in her post, True Mutuality: Choosing To Ride, it is very common for people coming to the awareness of everything that’s wrong with ‘normal’ horseriding, and wishing to create an authentic, sentient relationship with their horse, to go through a period of completely surrendering the need or pressure to ever ride again.

Most of us who have horses love riding so much, that we would need to go through a psychic/spiritual purge or cleanse to surrender the idea of riding AT ALL. Before we could feel our way to a paradigm of riding that is congruent and consensual.

And for some horses, yes, they will never give permission to be ridden again. And we have to find our way to a space of accepting and being at peace with that.

Truth vs. Storytelling

The other thing that jumped out at me from Hurst’s book is that she spends about 3/4 of the book detailing how she thought each paradigm of horsemanship in turn was the ‘truth’ and the best way, only to find out later that it was wrong, or inadequate. And yet she ends the book claiming that now she knows the ‘real truth’ and the last 2 chapters are pretty much a lecture, attempting to convince you to believe the same.

Oh no… really? How is it that she cannot see the irony of the former evangelist claiming a new religion and becoming evangelical about that one?

I think this book would leave a greater impact if Ren had just stuck to telling her personal story. Storytelling is far more powerful than lecturing, facts, research, or stats. Her engagingly vulnerable story will linger in readers’ minds far longer than her proselytizing.

However, this book is packed full of fabulous stories, insights, experiences that will resonate, vulnerability, compassion and clarity – for Ren, the horses, and your own journey. Riding On The Power Of Others is a riveting, entertaining read that will leave you with LOTS to think about.

Jini’s Rating: 4/5 Stars – Excellent book, well worth the read!

Book Review: Riding On The Power Of Others

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Riding On The Power Of Others

  • April 10, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    Sounds like an interesting read. I have not ridden my mare since last Nov. part of it is fear and not because of her. It’s all me. I decided not to trail ride anymore and I just play with her on the ground. I would love to just get on bareback and walk around. She is truly an awesome mare I just need to get over my fear. I truly don’t mind not riding all the time, I enjoy spending time at the barn with her and my 3 mini. Donkeys. Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be for now.

    • April 10, 2016 at 5:24 pm

      Your comment made me think of another thing that happened with Kesia’s horse Spero (the one who had a fair amount of past trauma with riding).

      I was sitting on the fence asking Zorra if she wanted to let me ride her and instead Spero came right up alongside me and wanted me to get on his back. I was really hesitant though, as I’d seen him buck Kesia off before. He got scared when the dogs ran through the woods and his fear, combined with the tension around riding he already carried, set him off.

      So I told him, “I don’t know… I’m scared to ride you, because I REALLY don’t want to get bucked off.” But he persisted. So with much trepidation I slid over onto his back. But I could feel the fear coursing through my body as I sat on his back. And he said to me, “Remember that day when we opened our hearts and shared love? Remember all the times we’ve shared kisses and scratches? Remember how you feel about me during those times.”

      He was calling me to trust him and to replace my fear with positive images of closeness and connection with him. As I did so, my fear greatly lessened and he walked off with me.

      As we walked down the field, he decided he wanted to show me his favorite spot in the woods. As we got closer and I realized where he was going, I said to him, “Uh Spero, I’m not going to fit in there…”

      “No, really,” he says, “you’ll love it. It’s really cool.”

      “Hello, I’m higher than your back!” but I realize he’s not understanding what I’m saying, so I swing my leg over and slide off just before he goes under the branches.

      He stops and looks back at me, “Hey, what happened to you?”

      I’m laughing and I follow him on foot.

      So maybe your mare wants a break from riding too, or maybe she would like to help you get over your fear. Maybe she too has fear – or anger. A great way to feel into what’s happening, or what wants to happen is to just (at liberty) put one foot across her back. And then just breathe. Feel into the feelings, thoughts, images that are flowing through your body. And what’s flowing through hers.

      And even before that, do this exploration, with just your hand on her back:

  • April 19, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    Hi Jini —

    A friend passed your review on to me today so I thought I’d have a look! Thank you for such a thoughtful and eloquent reflection of my work. I genuinely appreciate what you have written here.

    I thought I’d share my own perspective on some of the feedback you’ve offered since you mentioned wondering about a few things.

    For a while, yes, the psychic burden was heavy, but only as long as I carried it. However, I still do not believe it extreme to not require anything of a horse again, or anyone else for that matter. If anything, where I am at now has made me responsible for myself in a way that I may ask freely for anything I desire, but I never require anything from another.

    I completely trust myself at this stage to not dominate horses, and I still no longer have any desire to have them carry me around for my own pleasure and enjoyment. I believe that when horses offer to carry us around it is a wish on their part to please us, and I no longer need to be pleased by horses in that way. I get more than I could ever need from our relationship by keeping it equal and on the ground where things stay completely honest between us. I think those that feel that giving up riding would be a sacrifice would have a hard time keeping things honest.

    I am fully aware that it is possible to have a relationship with horses that allows one on their backs in a consensual way, and I do talk about this in my book and also state that it is not something I any longer feel I need to do. I am not opposed to allowing a completely free horse (I do not mean free of equipment alone, I mean completely free minded and free of conditioning, and I have met very few horses that fit into this category) to carry a person around or a free horse to offer assistance to a human in need. The reference you make to Carolyn’s experience falls into the category I would see no problem with. The reference to your own I cannot be sure because before I stopped riding, my very kindly trained horses offered their backs to me all the time in similar scenarios. It was not until I had returned them to true freedom that they then began telling a different story and feeling confident enough to let me know their own truest desires. Shai, who has never been conditioned, will happily offer his back to me any time, and I always just give him a gentle pat and tell him it’s not necessary and there are other ways we can have fun together because at this stage there is truly nothing I could derive from his back that I don’t get out of keeping my feet on the ground. That does not keep me from climbing all over him and rolling around in the dirt with him when we are snuggling or wrestling 🙂 For me, it’s not worth the risk to his back or to our beautiful relationship for me to actually ride him though. If he were to think of carrying me around as a status symbol and desire it in some way for himself? Well, honestly, I don’t want to be anyone’s status symbol. Not even Shai’s. He can be proud of himself, the way he clearly already is.

    I can certainly see the irony of what you mention, and I’m also not sure the end of my book would qualify as evangelical. I’ve heard from many a person all over the world that didn’t find it preachy at all. Also, it was not an attempt to convince anyone of anything, I was simply sharing my own personal beliefs and offering an invitation for those that agreed to experience something different with me. I probably didn’t do that as well as I would have liked, but this was my very first attempt at writing anything, and I did the best I could for where I was at that moment given that my nonviolent communication skills are pretty juvenile.

    I do greatly, greatly appreciate your feedback, and I will consider it while I’m completing my next book which will probably be out next year. The next book much more thoroughly explains why I no longer ride and gives the actual how-to to return an animal to complete freedom…or essentially how to ‘undomesticate’ them and form a truly conscious relationship. I hope it is the beginning of the end of the commercialization of sentient beings, no matter how long that might take.

    I agree that the book would have made a greater impact if I had left it to storytelling, but it was written with full integrity from exactly the place I was at at the time, and it has done exactly what I’d hoped it would do — given permission to those that agreed with me to stand in their own power, and reached those that are on the same page and want to help me create something different. We’re doing that now at New World Sanctuary Foundation (, and the people that come here understand the value of not riding or requiring anything from others without much explanation after they spend time with horses who now know true freedom.

    Two years later, my ‘real truth’ is still the truth for me and hasn’t wavered a bit — live in the moment, and choose love. I’ve got a long way to go to fully live up to it, but there is nothing loving about domesticating an animal to please ourselves with in some way. I don’t need anyone to agree with me on that, but the freedom I have found inside myself because of this truth and the choices involved with it have created miracles in my life. I definitely want to share that with anyone who wants the same.

    Sorry for the very long reply 🙂 I thought your very thoughtful reflection deserved a mutually thoughtful response, and again, thank you so much for your wonderful feedback. I like knowing you’re out there giving these things such beautiful and deep consideration. My best to you!


    • April 19, 2016 at 8:26 pm

      Hi Ren, thank you SO much for taking the time to respond in such depth. Whatever the comments on your book, the crux is that it is tremendously thought-provoking! And that equals success in the world of art. I doubt anyone could read your book without questioning their current way with their horse(s), and hearing your voice pop up in their head over the next few weeks as they noticed things and thought more deeply about things. For myself, your book was particularly enjoyable because you touched on many aspects that I have and still am exploring.

      I believe my next 3 posts are downstream continuations of thoughts and processes explored here – feel free to subscribe and would love to have your comments as we go along! These are things I’ve been musing over for quite some time, and your book has been the catalyst for me to map out some of that process – so thank you for that as well.

      I also just heard about Elsa Sinclair – in the synchronicity of the universe – who is asking a very similar question: If you took a wild mustang, straight off the range, and you used NO tools whatsoever (no ropes, halter, whip, etc) only your body language, and if that horse was given complete freedom of choice, would that horse ever choose to ride? I’ve seen the trailer for her film, but not the film itself yet, so don’t know what (if any) subconscious forms of coercion/manipulation she might utilize. But I LOVE the questioning. And she talks about some interesting moments in a radio interview I listened to (coming up in the next few posts).

      I love that there are so many of us who are thinking, wondering, exploring the same concepts. And, as in Kesia’s latest post on this blog, I am open to different ways working for different people/horses. Who am I to judge the love/relationship between 2 beings and whether it’s as meaningful, free, and loving as mine, or yours?

      The other thing that I super loved about your book – was your willingness to tell the whole truth of your experiences; the good, bad, and the ugly. That is rare and requires great courage, and is SUCH a gift to your reader. So much respect for that and much gratitude. Looking forward to your next book! 🙂

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