Sacred Spaces: Communing with the horse through science and spirit by Susan D. Fay, PhD has got to be the most fascinating book I have read in a long while. You can tell I really find a book valuable when you see a photo of it with thirty stick-note tabs.
The author, a Morgan breeder/trainer for twenty years, holds a Master’s in Environmental Science and a PhD in Psychology. In her book, Dr. Fay combines her horse skills with her scientific background to allow the reader to understand concepts that are not typically applied to horsemanship.
While the book’s title may lead the reader to think this is a book about animal communication, Sacred Spaces is something different. At its core, the book’s information is about using your internal qualities to guide and inform your external horsemanship techniques.
Dr. Fay notes that while someone who communes at a high level with horses makes everything look magical, what they do is actually rooted in scientific principles. These same principles can also be used to explain difficulties in horse-human communication.
“It is vital to remember that horses pick up images we make in our minds, and the changes in our physiology that go along with them. If you’re thinking “I don’t want him to bolt out the gate- he always tries to do that,” be aware that the picture you just made in your mind looks like your horse bolting out of the gate. And you probably attached a negative emotion like fear or anger to the picture. And your muscles got tense and your breathing changed. The horse interpreted your physiology and pictures as, “She wants me to try to bold out that gate . . .”
Throughout the book, the author discusses how our thoughts, attitudes, presence and energy affect our horses. She gives specific instructions about how we can become aware of and then mold these things to create positive outcomes. We can create, in essence, a “sacred space” around us that encourages our horse to want to become our partners.
As the book titles hints, it is not full of only scientific explanations. The author writes about how not all of what happens between people and horses is easily quantified. She readily admits that there is a spiritual quality to interacting with animals that falls outside of science, hence her inclusion of the words “science and spirit” in the book title. I think this book strikes a nice balance in combining what both concepts can bring to the table to help us connect with our horses.
As someone with a diverse equestrian background, I also appreciate that the author’s ideas apply to any equestrian, no matter the breed or saddle style of choice. As she notes, “Don’t worry- you won’t have to throw out any of your current horse training methods or change your riding style. The concepts in this book are about making a shift in you.”
Although the theories and stories presented make for an interesting read in and of themselves, Sacred Spaces is chock full of practical ideas and exercises for the reader to employ. The author walks the equestrian through how to communicate with horses in a clear, positive, non-emotional manner. Although many of us would like to think this is what we already do, sometimes our horse’s behavior shows us differently.
“We all connect to and communicate with the entire energy field, whether we are aware of it or not. The goal is to become fully aware, and to learn to direct the energy and create a response that you consciously prefer, instead of by unconscious default. . . After all, according to the first law of thermodynamics (i.e., the law of conservation of energy), energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change form.”
The author explains how to better manage the stress, worry and negative emotion that many of us carry around when we ride and interact with our horses. One of my favorite phrases from the book is “Ride with intension not tension.” She also explains the importance of learning to recognize and receive feedback from the horse. After all, communing involves give and take.
On the whole, the book is an interesting, thoughtful read. Equestrians need to learn physical techniques, but the way those techniques are presented and delivered to the horse can be corrupted or enhanced by the internal qualities of the messenger. This book shows the reader how. In this sense, Sacred Spaces is every bit as important as your more typical horsemanship manual. It is going on my equestrian shelf right beside them.