Horses and What They Teach Physicians

Physician's Money Digest, September30 2003, Volume 10, Issue 18

When a nurse at the hospital suddenlyasked, "What's wrong with you?You're not yelling at anybody anymore,"Dr. Grady Carter just grinnedand said, "I'm not, am I? My horse has taught me."

Are horses teaching behavior modification?Absolutely, according to Carter, a Fort Worth, Tex,anesthesiologist, and Ted Brooks, a family practitionerin New Hampshire. The 2 physicians recently purchasedyoung quarter horse mares trained in naturalhorsemanship techniques from La Cense (www.lacensemontana.com), a large ranch in southwesternMontana. In a course of subsequent conversations,they began to reveal how much the horses—and theirown natural horsemanship training—have significantlychanged their lives.

Enjoying Stress Relief

Stress reduction was the first and most obviousbenefit. "The operating room environment is prettyhigh stress and high pressure," Dr. Carter says. "Aftera day of that, I get to go to my horses and go on ‘horsetime,' because for horses, there is no time. Take thatoverlay of human time away, and you just have theday God gave us."

Behavior modification quickly became an unforeseenbenefit as well. "I was a ‘go do it' guy. If you toldme I couldn't do something—well, get out of my way,I would go do it," Dr. Carter says. But as he studiedthe nonverbal communication and observation techniquesof natural horsemanship, all of that began tochange. Now he applies the same principles at work,using softer language with his patients and taking thetime to be genuinely interested in them. After all, henotes, "You can't ignore a horse or be demanding. Nohorse would let you get away with that."

Carter, who had a bad experience years ago when hepurchased a horse that turned out to have severe disciplineand behavior problems, was delighted to find ayoung mare, Jewel, at La Cense. Trained only in naturalhorsemanship techniques, Jewel "has no bad habitsto undo, no difficult past history."

Discovering Your Match

New Hampshire physician Ted Brooks understands.He originally purchased a foal several years ago, butwith a green horse and green rider, "It does make mewonder if the noncompliant patient in my practice is alittle like my noncompliant horse—perhaps if I asked ina different way, my results would be better."

When Brooks and his wife, Kathy, traveled toMontana and purchased Lana, a 5-year-old mare, theyhad already started their own training in natural horsemanshipmethods. Like Carter, Brooks has applied thenonverbal communication and listening techniques tohis own patients. He is delighted to have a horse thoroughlytrained in the same methods. "Lana," he says,"will undoubtedly help to propel us to our next level ofexpertise, and will help to train us so that our messagesto our other horses will be clearer."

Clear focus, says Dr. Allan Hamilton, a surgeon atthe University of Arizona's medical school, is 1 of themany lessons a horse can teach. For the past 4 years,Hamilton has offered his medical students the chance totake a course in natural horsemanship techniques, firmlybelieving that such training will make them betterphysicians. "It's a novel, dramatic way of seeing the outcomeof their own attitudes on a situation," Dr.Hamilton says. "You need to get clear so you can focus.You shouldn't otherwise be in a round pen with ahorse—or in the office with a patient—until you can.You can't make the horse do anything unless you're ina partnership with them; and you can't make the patientbetter unless you're in a partnership with them."