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Deb Brosnan & The Origins of Wholistic Riding

At the age of seven I began riding horses at a local facility. I was placed on a horse in a group lesson with as many as 10 people ages 7-70 and we all learned the same ‘lessons’ together (including jumping which at seven years old, I had no interest in).


I became a master at falling off without killing myself. Down I came. Not just once, but over and over and over. My fear of riding became overwhelming and paralyzing.


My early experiences set me on a path to understand HOW to ride. For me, no matter how hard I tried to ride, something was missing. As I grew older, my head and my heart fought against each other. I loved horses, they were (and are) a part of who I am. My head feared riding horses while my heart needed to be with them.

That is when I learned to connect with horses from the ground. On the ground I was fearless, I had my own legs under me and I learned to work with horses, play with horses and WATCH horses.


After a 10-year absence from horses, my heart brought me to a sweet little mustang mare. She was an alpha mare, smart, full of fire with a heart of gold. Queen of trouble-making and fence jumping (not in that order) at the rescue I found her at. I fell in love with her and she adopted me into her family and healed my heart.


There is a saying “When the student is ready the master will appear.” Everyone told me that I was in trouble getting a wild mustang. Everyone had a story of the demise of someone who adopted a wild mustang. I held fast to adopting her, we had connected and I knew in my heart I was right. Then the voice of reason found me in the form of a cowboy from out west, who told me not to listen to everyone else.


He had firsthand experience with mustangs and a deep appreciation for them. “Just bring her home and put her in a pasture with other horses then sit and watch her. Learn every move, every sound, every posture she makes and then see what the other horses do. Learn her language first. Then ask her to learn yours.”


The words that drive me even today came from an amazing person whose name I never knew but forever changed my path. I took her home and applied the cowboy’s advice. It worked. I would play with her the way I played as a teen with my favorite lesson horse. She was different than the rest and I learned how to apply ‘her language’ to the domestic horses I taught riding lessons with. Learning from her, my perception of how I would teach lessons was forever changed. Through her I saw all horses differently. 


I would see the lesson horse ‘act up’ in lessons and instead of blaming the horses I would first ask: ‘What are they trying to tell us? What do they need my student to change when they act this way?’ I would watch my students ride, I would see pictures in my mind about what to do and how to change it.  (That is when I first understood that I was 'hearing' or receiving information from the horses themselves. Yep, I talk to and on behalf of horses.) :)


I would teach my students (mostly children and teens) through games. I taught differently than the other instructor at the facility and quite frankly, I got a lot of flack for it.  But my way worked. The horses loved to be in my lessons and the 'problem horses' were never a problem with me and my students.  I taught my students respect. Respect for the horse and to understand the horse is always talking to you. 


Their willingness or unwillingness to do something may not be what you think it means. I learned that I had a knack for figuring out the movement of horses and humans. I could see where the break in the fluidity was coming from and understood how to correct it.


Through most of my teaching career, I also searched for answers by riding with different instructors. In each lesson, ultimately, my old childhood fears would well up at some level. I would fall back into my old ways of pull-with-my-hands and grab-with-my-legs, sometimes I would fall. Other times I would find the nugget of gold and cherish it as I used it to help others.


I would go home and pat my little ‘untrained’ mustang on the head, brush her, tack her up, try to reproduce what I had learned and inevitably...she would tell me what a total idiot I was.


What was I doing WRONG???


I rode with my last human instructor who was very good for me in many ways and who I am still very grateful for having had the opportunity to ride with. He took me past my paralyzing fear and taught me that I was a far better rider than I ever thought I was.


I rode off the track thoroughbreds, horses that would bolt if you even touched a hair on their side with your boot (I’m not kidding). I panicked, I froze, I fell and I got back on and did it right (sort of). Finally I stayed on. I jumped the big jumps successfully, I understood jumping and the biomechanics of it.


I could now jump and ride with speed and accuracy. I would hear people say, 'I would have NEVER been able to ride through that!' as the horse was spooking, refusing, etc. I would be thinking, ‘What did I just do that was so great?' Eventually it sunk in that I was truly a good rider...naturally. 


But what I had gained in riding, I had lost in my connection to the horses themselves. Including my mustang mare, who went there to train. I had shut down my heart in exchange for learning to 'ride'. Ultimately, I had to choose whether to leave there. At my farm, my students and some students' parents told me that I was losing what made me special.


I started to lose my connection with the horses I loved. 


My students and their parents explained that in fact, the way I taught was the reason they rode with me. After years of trying to work everything out in my own head and ride with instructors that seemed to ride beautifully, I was now faced with a choice. Follow the path I was going down or choose a different path that I had never encountered before. I decided to take a lesson with my mare and our trainer then make my decision. She and I rarely rode together any longer.


The sweet obedient mare that another student rode turned into a spitfire as soon as I got on her that day. She acted up, acted out and I laughed for the sheer joy of riding my 'tiny terror'.


We were cantering around the ring (more like running barrels instead of cantering) and the last thing I remember my trainer saying is 'WHY is she not listening?!' You see, she was listening. She was listening to my heart. I wanted to be together with my little mustang. I wanted to ride her and feel that fire in her again. That connection that we had together was everything. There, I found my answer.


We moved on and went to a new facility. We added on to our herd and Bee the thoroughbred joined us on Thanksgiving Day, 2007. Bee was an opposite to KP and a tremendous teacher as well. I finally decided to feel my way through riding instead of hearing the instructors’ voices in my head (including my own).


That was the day I found my path. Through KP I found the beauty behind the mechanics, finding my rhythm with her would take me everywhere I wanted to go. Through Bee I found humility and began to understand the kindness and patience horses have as they teach us.


I learned to teach my students how to communicate with their horses on the ground and under saddle. Every day when I see a smile grow on my students' faces as they realize they are executing what they thought was an impossible goal, makes it all worthwhile.


Come with me to learn how easy it is to connect with your horse. Ride beautifully. Succeed competitively, and learn the path to Wholistic Riding.


I am not the teacher; I am simply the interpreter between horse and rider. - Deb Brosnan 2012