Dr. Allan Hamilton’s career as a neurosurgeon has given him a perspective on the human brain few of us have. He’s also spent most of his life working with horses — animals that have taught him a great deal about what makes us who we are and sets an example for what we can strive to be.

Illustration copyright Robert Farkas excerpted from Lead with Your Heart Lessons from a Life with Horses

Illustration © Róbert Farkas, excerpted from Lead with Your Heart … Lessons from a Life with Horses

Predatory animals must devote themselves to seizing opportunities and exploiting advantages, and we humans personify that attitude. Even when it comes to the fundamental physical parameters of our world, we exhort ourselves to “seize the day” and “manage” our time. We insist that space represents a “final frontier,” something to be conquered and claimed. We look out into the depths of the universe with the same naïveté that the conquistadores and the pioneers demonstrated when they faced unexplored territories. Our first instinct is to try to possess it and tame it, not to truly, simply dwell in it. We want to be “out there” rather than “in here.” We see the challenge and the struggle as existing outside ourselves rather than within.

Horses see things differently. They offer us meaningful alternatives to our own voracious way of life. When we spend the time to see the world through their eyes, we can visualize a path to transform our predatory appetites. They challenge us to undertake the journey of mastering ourselves rather than everything around us.

Teaching without preaching, horses lead by example and employ the lessons of experience. They epitomize immersive learning at its best. And they challenge us with their formidable size and strength to bring results through collaboration rather than by force. Horses have developed their own compelling models of fairness, forgiveness, and leadership. They have acquired a group identity, a consciousness not as singular beings but as member of a herd. They see themselves not as individuals in the isolated context of “me” but as relatives in a family in the broader framework of “we.” And they derive a powerful and gratifying sense of inclusion from it.

Goals bring out the predator in us. The price we pay is losing that sense of infinite, uncompromising patience that every horseperson, every human, needs. Patience helps us safeguard our integrity and compassion, and restrains our ambitions and agendas. Patience helps us guard against polluting our intention.

Our actions while working with a horse should focus only on the matter at hand and the energy shared between horse and rider. When you exhibit anxiety or frustration about making the horse perform or accomplish a specific objective, you lose your focus.

Once, at a clinic, I was so intent on demonstrating a point that I jumped onto my horse’s back without realizing that he was sound asleep. I was worried about what my audience was thinking of me, rather than about what my horse was doing. I got bucked off for my troubles — right in front of the grandstand.

We are all on a quest for self-revelation. The ultimate homework assignment is to try to become better, kinder, and more loving individuals. The result we hope to see is one of continuing self-transformation. Horses are a testament that a partnership based on trust is far more productive than one that relies on dominance.

Text excerpted and adapted from Lead with Your Heart … Lessons from a Life with Horses © 2016 by Allan Hamilton. Illustrations © Róbert Farkas. All rights reserved.

Allan J. Hamilton

Allan J. Hamilton, MD, is a Harvard-trained brain surgeon, a renowned horse trainer, a developer of equine-assisted learning programs, and the author of Lead with Your… See Bio

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