The Power of Allow

The Power of Allow


I was watching a well known horseman the other day and noticed that during his whole workshop, he never once said “no” to the horse.

I compared that to when I see most people with their horses – -there is a lot of “No” or “stop that” or “uh-uh-uh!”.


And I realised that all the horsepeople I enjoy being with have one thing in common:  they “allow” the horses to be horses.


As some of you know I have Coblet who, until very recently, did not wear a halter.  I was bathing him and Gracie with some insecticide  and afterwards became aware of a big difference in how I handled the two horses.

When Coblet, who we were bathing at liberty, with my friend by his head, became tense or worried, I would stop my movements, and soothe him – and when he relaxed we clicked and treated him as a reward for relaxation.

When Gracie moved or showed dislike of the bathing, I found myself automatically shaking the halter rope and saying “hey, pay attention!”


This led to me to start thinking about how we as humans want to control everything, tend to rapidly fall into the “you should know better” trap and allow our own issues to stop us from allowing our horses to be the horses they really are.

I also found it interesting to then start paying attention and seeing how often we actually abuse the halter by using it unthinkingly to “correct” or even punish the horse for expressing a feeling or opinion, rather than allowing the expression, observing it – and responding thoughtfully and mindfully.


And to me, this is the same as how many of us use the reins unthinkingly to “control” when we all “know” they are there for communication.


So, is this human nature?  Our innate tendency to take short cuts and do “what works” rather than “what we have thought about and chosen to do”?


After all, I know we don’t MEAN to be rude, or offensive, or abusive.

We don’t MEAN to teach our horses that there is no point having feelings or opinions as we will just tell them off when they express them….


I have always thought of myself as a kind, caring  “allowing” person.  But this difference between my “instinctive” response to the same behaviour from Coblet and Gracie really made me question myself.


Craig Stevens often talks of humans being like monkeys.  We grab hold of things, hang on to them tightly with our monkey hands.  When we are frightened we cling in the foetal position physically, or onto an idea mentally – or to a feeling, emotionally.  We are clutching, grasping creatures where fear makes us tight and unable to let go.

And although I know we are not monkeys, we are descended from apes, I find the analogy useful.


When we are with a young child, and that child becomes frustrated or angry, which approach do you prefer?

The one that says “don’t be angry, you shouldn’t be frustrated” or even “you’re not angry, silly! You have no need to be angry!”

Or the one that says “hmm, I can see you are angry, let me help you through this…and come out the other side….”

The first approach denies and invalidates the child’s feelings – teaching the child over time that their own inner experience is not valid or true and that the only way to know what they SHOULD be feeling is by external reference.  That leads to a lot of problems!

The second validates the feelings, gives truth to the inner experience – and also offers support to find a way out of the state if the child desires it…


Which do you prefer?


So, if it works for children, how about trying it with our horses?



When we say “no, stop that!” or “you should KNOW what I mean by this!” we are not seeing the horse in front of us – we are working with an image of a horse in our head….

If we instead stop, observe our horse, “allow” then to express their thought, finish their move (while staying safe with blocks as appropriate, of course)  — then we will be able to use our observation and respond mindfully.

What effect does “allowing” have on a horse?


I was working with a horse who, whenever asked to do anything, went to bite the handler.  This was a bit intimidating when we were trying to work in hand!

His owner had tried many things – none of which had changed his behaviour.

And now, every time he swung his head toward her, she was reacting in an emotional way and this was really affecting her confidence.

I took his reins and stood by him.  He swung his head round, mouth open.  I offered the rope which he took in his mouth.  And chewed.  I stayed safe, he got to express his feelings.

Felt like a win win.

As we went through the session, each time he swung his head round I allowed it – and offered the rope…. at first he took the rope every time adn chewed it.  Then he stopped chewing it – then he gradually stopped swinging his head round –

After about thirty minutes, he lowered his head and gave a massive sigh, licked and chewed, and yawned….

We waited about ten minutes before he gently turned his head and invited me to carry on working…

And has never gone to bite his owner again.


So what was that about?  We may never know why he needed to do this – some kind of emotional stress, no doubt.  But, by allowing him to express his feelings, giving him the respect we would give another person (I hope!)  he came to a place where he didn’t need to do the behaviour anymore….


If the horse knows he CAN do X, then he has the chance to find out that perhaps he doesn’t NEED to do X anymore….


Allowing is key to developing a healthy, open, trusting relationship with a horse.


When I started doing the in hand work with Gracie, she kept rushing forwards.  Now, I could have stopped that by being firm, or blocking her movement.  I chose not to.  If I take the mindset that she is only being a horse and doing what she needs to do – then why not allow it?

The next time she rushed forwards, I went with her  I kept my hand on the bit, but walked with her and allowed her to go round the pen until I felt her soften, then I politely asked her “can you stop now?”.  At first she said “nope, I need to keep walking!” so we walked some more – but the next time I asked her, she said “actually, yes, I can, thank you”.

Over the next few sessions she “needed” to walk off less and less, and was able to pay attention and listen instead of reacting thoughtlessly.  Hmm interesting, the more mindful and allowing I am, the more mindful and listening my horse is…..


I now tend to start my sessions with liberty work, to make sure I am “allowing” my horse to express his or her true feelings, rather than just get compliance with the halter….

This can lead to some entertaining sessions when I have invited people to watch an in hand demo, and Gracie says she can’t possibly turn left today.  Still, I think it is better to find that out at liberty and play with it there, than run the risk that my ego will cause my hands to turn into monkey hands and start forcing the left turn because people are watching….

If I truly believe that horses do what is easy, and that they enjoy their relationship with me, then how can I take it personally?  Much better to allow that today my horse is finding something difficult and find a way to help her make it easier…



What has this got to do with confidence?


For the horse, having the confidence that it is ok to express feelings means that the horse then chooses to express them in a how level way.  Instead of Gracie rearing and fighting contact, she simply walks forwards a bit.  I know which I prefer.

Instead of a horse biting and being dangerous, he simply turns his eye to look at me – again, I know which I prefer.


We also have a horse who becomes “authentic” – a horse who tells us what they REALLY think of things, so we don’t have to guess.  That makes ME as a horsewoman a LOT more confident when handling that horse!

To me, a safe horse is a “What you see is What you get” horse – and this is what “allowing” does.


And how about for you?

How does “Allowing” work for you?


Developing a mindset of ALLOWING MINDFULNESS  for yourself –


So you feel nervous:  pay attention to it, ALLOW yourself to be nervous, observe it and see where it is coming from.  By allowing the feeling instead of denying it, your unconscious starts to trust you, and will be more honest about how it feels.  Then, when you know you are having “real feelings” and you are experiencing the “authentic self” – then you can mindfully and thoughtfully choose what you are going to do about it….


It might seem that allowing gives the horse control.

However, it’s just the opposite.

Developing an ALLOWING MINDFULNESS puts you back in control…..

On control of yourself, and in control of your confidence…


So let me know in the comments – how can YOU use the Power of Allow to improve your own and your horse’s experience?


Yours, in Confidence





15 thoughts on “The Power of Allow

  1. Awesome blog, Cathy! I have been breaking the halter habit more and more. I see that it is more important to be in control of myself before I try to control the horse!

    An interesting thing has been happening on our farm. We live on 160 acres with a large track system. At night we allow the horses into a rotational grazing cell, which means that in the morning we have to take them out, and they then walk along the track (sometimes a mile or more) to come in and eat a morning bucket feed. Because of needing to get on with our day, we have used various combinations of leading/riding/driving them in. Although they all understand the need to come into the yard to drink water and so on, they were often grumpy and resistant. At some point this year we decided to let the herd leaders take them in instead. Everyone is much happier now, and they usually come in within a reasonable time frame. It’s our big allow.

  2. I work with an old stallion who is completely blind. He’s spent most of the past 15 years in a stall, until I started handling him a few months ago. When I started to take him out on a lead, he would rear up when he called out to a mare. He’d been punished for “hollering”, with a jerk on a chain lead shank over his nose. I lead him with a plain flat or rope halter and allow him to talk sexy to the ladies (or to any hoofbeat he heard and hoped belonged to a lady horse). He was never hard to manage – he didn’t know where she was or what obstacles lay between him and her – he was just expressing

  3. … expressing his masculine horse-ness. If he calls out repeatedly, I jiggle the lead a bit to bring his attention back to me. He has stopped rearing up now.

    I’ve ridden him a bit in the arena and on the long, smooth driveway, and taken him for walks in hand through the suburban neighborhood. I’d like to ride him out with a buddy horse. Does anyone have experience riding a totally blind horse? How about socializing a stallion to have a buddy? He has had the typical American stallion life of isolation, though he was at one time a well-behaved cutting hitter champion

    • I rode a blind horse for awhile, at a polo farm. Hesitant at first, I quickly realized he was the most responsive and trusting, soft mouthed horse I have ever ridden, in all my 49 years! Once ai stopped to think about it, all he could do, if he had any sense, was trust me and my ideas. As far as the stallions go, I like to watch what they do at liberty, see how that goes, and slowly allow them, over time, to hang out across the fence, for longer periods. Eventually, if they are social, and would do well to have a pal, they will show you.

  4. Wow Cathy, once again you have given us something to think about. Your description of the different ways you reacted to those horses hit home. I think tomorrow will be interesting as I will make a huge effort to let my mare express herself and give her the respect she needs. Thanks!

  5. Great blog as usual Cathy and something I try to be mindful of. Been practising the Masterson Method which is also teaching me to allow the horse to have an opinion then gently bring him back to continue, it seems the more you allow the less you need to allow – if that makes sense!

  6. Fantastic article as usual! Now going to try and be more aware and more allowing with my horse. More often than not he is great in a halter, but every now and again he tries to go his own way. Might try allowing instead of tugging to get him back to where I want him and see how it goes. Thanks for words to make us think about our relationship.

  7. What light bulbs you switch on Cathy! And validation you provide. a little story and my interpretation, I’d be interested in hearing what you and the other commenters think. Every time (this is years) I spray my gelding with insecticide up his mane toward his head raises his head in protest. He is “tied” by a lead rope looped around the bars of his stall when I do this. He doesn’t raise his head by more than 3-6″ but every time I was getting annoyed. “Why can’t he stand still to be sprayed? This is in his interest. I’m trying to help him.” My control urge was raising its oh so human head. Meanwhile, insecticide is vile stuff that I hate to breath. This week I didn’t really alter my actions but my thoughts just shifted to, “god, he hates this stuff too. I’m glad he tolerates it so well.” No outer difference in either of our behavior but definitely the two of us more in sync. I also let my two chew on wood or lead ropes when they reach to do so when I groom. I find it irritating (why after all these years can’t my mare be happy when I groom her — hmm, now that is something I should do more than merely exclaim) but don’t stop them. Sometimes I think it is the results of stress, sometimes I think it is mutual grooming (those times I am not irritated!) or merely checking in (nor then). One day this week both were cranky about being groomed on ribs and on flanks behind ribs. Hind legs being raised by the gelding. What I traditionally consider very bad behavior. What is actually in that context very rare for them to do, usually it would be a head swung round to say, “hay, that hurts/I don’t like that!” a different head swing than a positive one that says “hay, scratch me there!” or “let me scratch you.”. The hind legs/cow kicks were not at flies. Barometric pressure was dropping for a thunderstorm, heat was rising, manure was a wee bit drier than normal, etc. Two days later no reaction. They were not acting badly, they were telling me things. I thought at the time and after the difference was convinced they had the slightest of gassiness or other GI tract discomfort. I’m grateful they told me. I was able to keep a close eye on them for the next while. I’m slowly going from accepting judgments by others that my horses are spoiled or badly behaved to thinking independently that this is how my horses are, they do xyz, and trying not myself to judge them for it, but rather to ask why they do it or what I can do to address what I think they are doing. We are so much controlled by our reliance, not only on our monkey hands, but on speaking to communicate. The allow becomes such a powerful way to escape that control and better communicate therefore build confidence. I’m realizing things as I write this I want to go try with my mare, Thank you so much for the insights and connecting the dots.

  8. THIS!!! every word of it !!! I have lived this philosophy with my gelding Scout for the last two plus years, recovering him from what seemed to be PTSD, and just this week, finally, he has allowed me to climb on and have a lovely short hack in the arena… Three times now, after no riding to speak of for over two years. It was magical! True magic occurs when we allow them to have opinions, and do not give in to peer pressure to perform, or do a certain thing because it was in the human agenda… Truly listening to his opinions has brought my pet back to me. Our bond is the envy of everyone who sees us together, because of this philosophy. thanks for the beautifully written post!!

  9. Great blog as usual Cathy. the pony we rescued does sometimes offer to nip when she is not happy about something, will offer her a rope next time! The other thing she does is sometimes to nip me if I don’t get her food to her as quickly as she would like, how would you deal with this, it is usually on my rear end lol!! It actually makes me laugh, but someone else (i.e. my other half) might not find it so funny!

  10. loved this, I have been on a long journey with my Ginger pony and lots of that has been about allowing, partly because of my mobility issues, partly cos I liked him expressing his opinions, he has gone from a GP who I was told was pushy, dangerous an needed sending away to a professional, to one who is soft, not too light yet, but soft, relaxed and happy. Dozed off during our training session with Cathy, but that was ok too. Its all communication…….thats the learning I have taken from him.

  11. Thank you so much Cathy! I read this at a time when I find my own ideas with my horses are being challenged, in that, I give my horses a choice and try to let them enjoy simply being a horse.
    I have learnt through experience that ego and the illusion of control and an insistence on our own agenda is destructive to our relationship with horses.
    Your article has allowed me to listen more to my instincts.

  12. I love it – this fits with the ethics of
    how i raised my son, and how i healed a lot for myself but i have only recently returned to horses and i have fluctuated between having to DO something and allowing and being totally passive but I loved your examples they resonated for me …. thank you

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