May 18, 2019

Much of the coaching work I do with people is informed by what I’ve learned from working with horses, especially from Dorian, the Thoroughbred racehorse  I adopted in 2015 after working with him for several years.

Articles published in the “D & Me” category explore the ways that horses teach us about authenticity, leadership, and radical partnerships.

Virginia Slachman, MSW, PH.D.



I started writing about my experience with Dorian, because the journey we’ve taken together is so different from how many of the trainers, equine-assisted learning experts, and riders I know relate to horses.

 Many people still don’t understand horses as emotional, wise beings and that to get anywhere with them, a relationship is essential. Trust, respect, genuine communication, even love, I think, is the basis of any real connection, no matter the species.

Most essential to that relationship is that we come to them in our own, most authentic selves. And sometimes, that’s no easy task.

I was surprised at how my changes happened. Rather than me teaching Dorian (though certainly we’ve engaged in that process), my growth came mostly from my relationship to him and what he’s communicated to me and taught me. He reads me much more clearly than I read myself, and has shown me my need for deep changes.

And always, his communication has been honest, straightforward, gentle, and clear.

But our progress hasn’t been along any straight path or defined by rules; it’s been more me flying by the seat of my pants, to be honest. And mostly about listening to him.

I haven’t always been a good listener. It’s taken me a long time to get an inner quietness and a willingness to be present that’s enabled me to understand the feedback he is always providing me.

Any of you who’ve been in the horse world for even the shortest amount of time know that everyone has an opinion. I certainly have mine. Though I know there are as many ways of relating to horses as there are individual horses and their humans, there are some activities I do take a stand on as flat-out wrong.

“When you take the halter and lead rope off, all that’s left is the truth.” Pat Parelli

As I write this, 23 horses have been euthanized on the track at Santa Anita in a matter of a couple of months. Two year olds, likely, or maybe three to five years old. Babies and young horses with a life ahead of them. Pushed too hard. Drugged. Injured and trained or raced anyway. That would be my guess. Beautiful creatures with much to teach us treated as little more than disposable commodities.

But to me, horses that have become little more than flesh and blood machines are not able to offer us the wisdom they have. Over the centuries, I think we’ve switched roles—we’ve become the “beasts of burden”—or as I like to think of it “beasts with burdens” and horses—if we let them—have become our wise leaders.

D (Dorian) and Me

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