The language of horses
What is Holistic Horsemanship?
Holistic Horsemanship means that we consider the horse as a whole, applying:
their natural language when communicating with them,
respect for their true natural spirit in connecting with them,
their natural lifestyle and environment in keeping them,
natural health care,
and natural education practices both when training horses and when teaching people.
Horse Whispering is a term that was applied to old master horsemen/women who seemed to have a "feel" with horses – a way of calming and gentling even the wildest and ill-disposed of horses without the use of brutal treatment, and seemingly without doing much at all.
In reality, horse whisperers had learnt the language of horses. They weren't whispering, they had learnt how to listen to horses.
Based on Native American practices of connection with horses, Natural Horsemanship became a recognised equine training approach worldwide when the techniques and knowledge of these old masters were revealed and made accessible for systematic learning.
The essence of Natural Horsemanship – and where it differs from "conventional" training approaches – is the premise that we are approaching horses from their own perspective. Instead of forcing a horse into our world and bending them to our will, we take the time to learn their language, their codes of social behaviour, their motivations – and to connect with their spirit. We work from there, adapting ourselves to the frame of their world. Much more than a technique, we are talking about a communication skill, a rapport based on empathy and equality, and a true opening of the heart with a being of a different species to ours.
That is why Natural Horsemanship can be applied to all equestrian disciplines: whether riding English or Western, for dressage, happy hacking or for work in harness. All these goals can be achieved – and better achieved – through true communication and natural education practices.
Over the years of my practice of Natural Horsemanship, horses have taught me even more subtle forms of energy communication, such as a refined understanding of space and time, and also Animal Communication, where understanding happens on an intuitive level and messages are exchanged in energy form.
Meanwhile, my own journey also took me to exploring human psychology, alternative & kinetic learning through play, and positive community building as well.
I have found that these life skills all weave into one another with beautiful ease, creating a tapestry of strong skill sets with genuine listening and heart connection at their centre. Whether for equestrian pursuits or as a path of personal growth and social intelligence, we become better human beings when drawing from the wisdom of horses.
Holistic Horsemanship is the marriage of those skills: an in-depth practice encompassing the science of ethology, behaviourism, authentic Natural Horsemanship as well as resilience, personal growth, empathy and social skills.
Through Holistic Horsemanship, we learn to become better at all relationships, better at relating within our own communities – better people.
It is a practice that can be applied to achieve true partnership and mastery with a horse in any discipline; and a journey of self-development in body, heart and spirit leading to more balance, confidence, empowerment and resourcefulness.
When you touch a horse's heart, there is nothing you can't accomplish together.
Horses are prey animals whose take on the world is very different from ours. They have their own social dynamics and codes, priorities and needs, and their own language which are in many ways the opposite to ours.
In Holistic Horsemanship, we seek to understand and learn the way of horses and address them truly in their own language.
This is achieved on two levels: by learning true heart connection with Mindfulness exercises and Animal Communication, and through the science of Ethology: the observation and study of an animal in their natural environment. And finally, by applying what we have observed with the horse as a teacher.
The foundation of this approach is to earn the horse's trust and cooperation rather than imposing our will onto them.
But beyond that, it is also a path of deep transformation and self-discovery as we must get to know ourselves and understand our own patterns of behaviour in order to choose how to be with our horse. Indeed, the way of the horse takes us further than we had ever imagined.
The resulting partnership between horse and human ihas been shown to be a much safer & lighter, more respectful, more professional with higher skills – and an infinitely more fulfilling practice of horsemanship.
Because we approach the horse from their view point, Holistic Horsemanship starts on the ground, where you will learn to be like a horse in the herd: to think like a horse and communicate like a horse. This is known as Groundwork, and it begins at Liberty – with no rope or halter on the horse, learning true connection and genuine horse language.
Once you are fluent in natural horse language and can dance with your horse at Liberty, we start to introduce the tools that will help the horse understand other things you may like to achieve together.
The next step is Rope work – meaning simply acting as partners when linked by a rope. A bit like holding hands, this is essential for example for basic handling and care, and includes leading, as well as more complex manoeuvres in preparation for riding or harness.
A solid foundation in Liberty and Rope work is required before transferring the skills to riding and / or work in harness. This is because what you are learning here is a language, and everything you achieve with your horse is based on trust and communication alone: two things that are built with practice and over time.
However, it isn't compulsory to ride at all: some people simply enjoy the thrill of playing with their horse at Liberty, and never wish to do anything else. A little bit of rope handling is still necessary for safety during basic handling.
It may be worth noting that the more skills you learn with your horse, the more refined they each become.
Natural Living Environment & Care
A natural way of relating to horses also means understaning that horses are a different species to humans, with very different needs, not only relationally, but physically, too.
Respecting who horses are also means challenging ourselves to see and to respect their true welfare and needs, even when these are difficult for a human to understand or relate to: allowing horses to live as natural a life as possible, and to be truly horses in their own environment.
Natural equine husbandry focuses on getting as close as possible to what Nature would offer when creating an environment for horses to live in: maximising space, natural shelter, access to varied browsing, and uninterrupted herd life.
Each setup will be different depending on what is available in terms of space, quality of soil etc, and indeed the different places in which the Horse & Heart herd has lived over the years have had different layouts and presented different challenges.
The blueprint however, is to create a space where horses can be horses, where they can make their own choices and express their natural behaviour.
Our horses are barefoot – we create their living environment so that they can be: a sign of a healthy space. We also use zoopharmacognocy (animals' innate wisdom for selecting medicinal herbs) and natural remedies as a primary health care practice.
The more horses can live naturally, the healthier they are physically, mentally and emotionally.
The more horses are allowed to be free beings, the more generous they are in teaching us their wisdom –
and the truer the relationship we have with them, too.
Who can learn Holistic Horsemanship?
Everyone can learn Holistic Horsemanship, and it is beneficial to absolutely everyone.
The programme is suitable for both Adults and Children, with age-adapted courses for each phase of learning.
It is worth noting that the younger you are, the quicker you learn... Children have a natural propensity for learning in general, and for relating to animals in particular. However, if you are old and wise, don't despair! If you are patient and willing, you will learn too.
You can learn Holistic Horsemanship as a "conversion" from conventional practices or as a first contact with horses.
You can learn it with the idea of a life in partnership with horses, or you can learn it simply for your own personal growth with the help of horses.
You do not have to want to ride in order to learn the approach – although it is possible to ride in this way, it is also totally natural to choose to stay on the ground, playing with horses simply like another horse would.
No physical or mental conditions are a contra-indication to Holistic Horsemanship, the programme and learning games can be adapted to suit every situation – just let us know what your needs are and we'll work together to make it work! So long as you can open your heart to horses, you will be able to learn.
« I feel like coming here has turned my world on its head. And it's now the right way up! » Danuta
« I have worked with horses for many years and considered myself a professional. But what I have learnt here blew everything away.
It opened my eyes to who horses really are – and the results in my partnership with my horse are astounding. » Laurent
« I have really enjoyed learning through play – letting go of my critical mind. And finding that it WORKS! » Lindsey
« I’ve been riding and competing with horses for 15 years, and only now have I found something that suddenly makes sense. I don’t know how to thank you! » Elena
« The horses have taught me to live in the moment, letting go of fear.
Even getting up and into the car to drive here I already start feeling at peace. » Charlotte
« What I have learnt here has changed my attitude in so many ways. It has given me a positive communication with my husband, too, and my family members are changing towards me as well. » Jenny
« It is everything I was looking for and more. I had never come across anything like it in my 12 years of equestrian background. » Carlotta
« This is the way... This is IT! It is how things should be. Always. » Emma
What kind of background do I need to have to start learning Holistic Horsemanship?
No previous experience is required. The journey starts with getting to know the horses and learning their language and everyone starts again from scratch as the skills are specific.
There is no pressure to learn fast either, you can just take your own time.
If you come from an equestrian background, great! Your experience will be useful to you, but be prepared to have to unlearn and re-learn a lot too.
And yes, everyone can do it.
Do I need to have my own horse to follow the Horsemanship Levels programme?
You don't need to have your own horse, you can simply practice with the Horse & Heart herd – and work on some concepts and simulations at home as personal growth practices. It is the best way to start connecting with horses!
Just be aware that some higher level modules are only open to students with their own horses, and also that some certificates are only possible to apply for with your own horse. These are not compulsory however.
When (or if) the day comes for you to have your own horse you will be much quicker to go through the programme together!
What equestrian discipline is this approach suitable for, and what level can it take me to ?
This approach is the foundation to all equestrian disciplines and leads to a professional level of horsemanship. It teaches the horse to respond to your lightest touch or change of energy and focus, to trust your calm in every situation, to take responsibility for a task and to understand the subtlest cues, from basic to advanced exercises. It teaches the human how to act like a lead mare to gain the horse's trust and respect, and the skills to become the best possible teacher, knowing how to adapt to any horse.
Once the foundation is in place, the finesse levels look at the specifics of each discipline according to your needs : whether it is hacking, jumping, dressage, logging, carriage driving, draft work, circus shows or anything else – from there on you can take it to the highest levels, building on your skills.
Think of it as a school system: L1 & 2 are pre-school; L3 & 4 primary school; L5 & 6 secondary school; L7 is A Levels graduation,: L8 is University; and Refinement is your Doctorate – carrying on refining to the level of your dreams.
Is it worth following the programme if I'm already an experieced or professional rider?
Yes, absolutely. Many students of the Holistic Horsemasnhip programme were experienced or professional equestrians when they started the course. All have found this approach truly beneficial, and were surprised by how much they learnt from it from Day 1 of their first course! This is a totally different approach to the classical way, and a very different connection with horses – for more finesse, more safety, better communication, and problem-solving abilities – it just takes things to a whole new level.
Is this approach suitable for draft work with working horses ?
Yes, absolutely! See our Working Horses page for more info.
How long does it take to complete the entire Levels programme?
Our Foundation programme is typically completed over a perieod of 3 years, with modules set at 6 months intervals – although this duration can be shortened if you take the modules at shorter intervals.
This takes you to Level 6 / 7 of the Holistic Horsemanship curriculum (above) – a solid level where you are ready to ride your horse naturally and have all the tools to face any situation.
Some factors will play a part in how quickly you will achieve your goal, for example:
- What your previous experience is
- What age your horse is and their background
- How much time you put into your study
- To a certain extent, how quick a learner you are at mental, emotional and motor skills.
If, however, you choose to follow the programme on an ad hoc basis, then the duration will be dependent on your input.
If you can spend 2 to 4 hours per week practicing and take each module intensively, you could complete the curriculum in 1 or 2 years.
Usually, dedicated students spend 2 to 4 years to get to Refinement level.
If you're taking it at a slower pace then it's entirely up to you.
Once you reach L8, the journey of refinement continues forever after - and you can look at training to become a professional.
Children, however, tend to learn much faster!
How long do I have to study groundwork before I can ride / work in harness?
This also depends on the same factors:
- What your previous experience is: you will need to be eased into riding gently if you havent' done it before.
- If learning with your own horse, what age your horse is and their background: a horse's bones finish solidifying between 5 and 7 years old. Before that, they can have a rider on their back and learn some riding cues depending on your relative weight to them, but they can't be asked to do a lot physically. If your horse is "green" or has behavioural issues you'll already need to be an experienced rider. The same applies to pulling heavy loads although a lot can already be introduced in harness without too much weight.
- How much time you put into your study;
- To a certain extent, how quick a learner you are at mental, emotional and motor skills.
In all cases, the concept of this approach is to establish a solid relationship of trust and clear communication with your horse before riding or working in harness. It will take as long as it takes for you to establish that together and that can vary a lot.
Generally speaking, if you're taking lessons in the Horse & Heart herd, riding begins around day 25 of your training. If you are learning with your own horse and if your horse is already experienced (backed) and has no behavioural issue, and if you can spend 2 to 4 hours per week practicing and take each module intensively, you could start riding within 5 to 10 days of training.
If you're taking it at a slower pace, or if your horse needs more time to work on fear, then it can be any length of time.
But don't worry about it too much. This is all about the relationship, and every step is of such depth and beauty that it hardly matters what happens when. It will happen when it is right for you. Meanwhile, a lot of people find so much joy in playing with their horse at Liberty that they never even bother riding again! Your journey will be unique. It will be yours.
Is it compulsory to follow the entire curriculum?
Not at all. You can take the modules one by one up to the level of your choosing.
You do need to complete a level before moving on to the next though, except where specified otherwise.
You only need to follow the entire curriculum if you wish to train to professional level.
Can I join an existing group?
Yes, open classes will be listed on our Calendar page.
Alternatively, you can book your own group on the Courses page.
What if I don't want to ride?
That's perfectly ok – lots of people don't. There is so much to do and enjoy with a horse on the ground – from Liberty to rope work, self-development and even working in harness if that's something you'd like to do. Just take the modules that suit and inspire you for your own unique relationship with horses.
Do you use bits?
The entire curriculum is done in a Natural Horsemanship halter and at Liberty. You will never need to use a bit for riding if you do not wish to.
If you wish to use a bit, you will need to understand why and how they function and to train your hands as well as your horse to the utmost level of lightness. Bits should never be used for control, only for precision in finesse, and should not be introduced before Refinement level.
If your horse is not safe to be ridden / taken out without a bit, he /she is simply not ready to be ridden or taken out!
During the programme, we can help you work on a plan to transition from the bit if you are already riding bitted.
Can I ride bareback?
Yes, you can ride in whatever style you like.
When learning a new skill the priorities will always be:
- The horse's comfort and welfare
- Your safety
For example, if your horse hasn't muscled up his/ her back he/ she might need more time before he/ she is ridden bareback or to be ridden in an appropriate saddle to help support your weight. You will also need to consider how long you want your riding sessions to be: for your horse's welfare, if riding for long periods at a time you will need to dismount for long breaks especially if riding bareback. If you haven't got much riding experience you might be safer in a bareback pad to begin with to help build your balance. We can discuss all this together and help you find what works best for you and your horse.
Is the programme suitable to people with special needs?
Yes, of course. So long as safety can be ensured, the lessons are always tailored to each student's needs anyway. In some cases special arrangements will need to be made such as adapted learning tools or a carer being present for example.
Do contact us in advance to discuss any specific requirements you might have.
Will I need to buy anything for the lessons?
You will need to bring suitable clothing and footwear.
A riding hat conforming with current UK standards is compulsory for children in all lessons (including groundwork), and compulsory for adults when riding. (Unfortunately we are not able to lend riding hats as these must be professionally fitted for safety.)
If working with your own horse you will also need the standard Natural Horsemanship training tools (stick, string, halter and rope), as well as any tack necessary to your training goal (for example your own saddle, harness, or other tack).
Please do not buy cheap / counterfeit tack as yours and your horse's safety and comfort rely on it – ask us for advice if you're not sure what to buy.
Is this programme suitable for stallions?
Unfortunately, we cannot accept stallions (entire males) on courses due to the risk to other participants and horses and to there being mares on the premises.
In terms of training, stallions use the same language as other horses of course, so the learning outcomes are as relevant to them as they are to any horse. However, due to their position in the herd, stallions do not take directions from any other horse than their lead mare, and they take their job and responsibility very seriously. Working with stallions without having a long and thorough experience of horses and before having achieved Mastery standards of L8 is not recommended as it can be unsafe.
Should I buy / adopt my own horse?
If you are new to horses, the best thing is to learn the foundation skills with the school horses of the Horse & Heart herd before taking on your own horse. You will then have a solid foundation when the time comes to adopt a horse: knowing how to set up their environment for their health and welfare, how to handle them safely and how to look after them.
If you have a lot of experience with horses and know what you are doing, then you'll probably benefit more from taking the journey with your own horse.
Only consider adopting a horse if:
- You already have a lot of experience in horse care, husbandry and training.
- You have completed L1 to 4 of the Holistic Horsemanship curriculum with confidence and can get some qualified help if needed.
- You intend to keep your horse in Training Livery with us until you have achieved that level.
If this is your first horse you should choose an experienced horse who is used to people, safe to be around and easy to handle.
Be particularly careful not to choose a horse unsuitable to your level and skills. Many people will sell horses to unsuitable buyers and even lie about the horse's issues or simply be unaware of them. Take a competent person with you to advise you when choosing your horse. This horse will be your teacher, she needs to be able to step into that role for you.
Only adopt a wild or young horse if:
- You have a lot of experience;
- We recommend completing at least your L6 + L7 modules in wild / foal training beforehand.
- You intend to keep your horse in Training Livery with us until you have achieved that level.
A wild or young horse will be impacted by every moment of interaction and the smallest thing can scare them or shape their behaviour for life. It takes a lot of skills to handle and educate them positively.
Do not expect a young or wild horse to be your teacher: they rely on you to know what you are doing and they are in a vulnerable position there. Only take them on if you are ready and qualified to step into that role for them.
Remember also that horses need to live in herds and to be able to move a lot outdoors: please do not consider keeping a horse on their own or stabled a this would be damaging to their mental / emotional and physical welfare.
If you are ready and have the appropriate setup, then enjoy a happy time with your horse!
Can I train to professional level?
Once you have completed your Mastery level, you can train to become a Holistic Horsemanship practitioner.
Can this approach help me get over a fear of horses?
Yes, this approach is the best way tolearn the skills to overcome fear and to take it at your own pace, with no pressure.
Being wary of horses if you don't know them is a very healthy place to start from as it keeps you safe! Your confidence will grow as you learn their language and as you establish your new position in the herd.
Can this approach be a self-development / social development practice?
Yes, absolutely! Some of our courses are specifically focused on this. You can also book your own tailored Theme Course, where a personal plan is drawn with each student / group or family according to their own wishes and needs.
Contact with horses, and particularly approaches like Holistic Horsemanship which focus on self-awareness, have been shown to help with (amongst others):
- Building Confidence
- Developing Transferable Learning Skills
- Social & Communication Skills
- Emotional Intelligence
- Recovery from trauma
- Motor Skills & Problem Solving
- Positive / Collective Leadership Skills & Team Building
- Developing Empathy
- Finding a Purpose
Are you insured?
Yes, we are fully insured.
Marie is a qualified BFEE2 Natural Horsemanship practitioner and an experienced instructor.
She has developed the Holistic Horsemanship approach through years of intensive study and practice with master horsemen and women and through immersion in herds of semi-wild horses, as well as through training in shamanic healing and Animal Communication.
Marie is passionate about education and is a dynamic instructor dedicated to the continued development of her teaching skills with adults and children. Her background in alternative and conscious education gives the foundation to the ongoing improvement of unique teaching programmes for holistic learning, community building and personal growth.