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19516 Kistler Farm Road
Davidson, NC, 28036
United States


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Standing in the Shoes of Our Clients

Kris Batchelor

Kris working in the round pen with a recently captured wild mustang in Austin, Texas

I recently had a great opportunity to train with two EAAT professionals that I greatly admire, Tim and Bettina Jobe of Natural Lifemanship (  I believe that if you have a chance to study with your mentors, you should go to their home base so that you can have a deeper understanding of their process.  So in the middle of April, I headed down to Austin, Texas, for three days of intensive experiential learning.  

Part of the training involved working with an American mustang...a wild horse who in the prior five weeks had been captured in Nevada, castrated, and transported thousands of miles to Texas. Thanks to the work of the Mustang Heritage Foundation (, he will soon be adopted by a veteran.  Needless to say, it was an incredible and rare opportunity.

I spent the next three days in the round pen trying to build relationship with this extremely skittish horse.  I would advance, and he would retreat.  He would curiously extend his nose, and I would hope that I was releasing pressure at just the right second.  We played out this intricate dance of "Can I trust you?" in front of floating staff facilitators, who coached me in much the same way that I try to support our clients at the farm.

It was scary to enter that round pen with my heart on my sleeve and hope that this horse would give me a chance.  I wanted to prove to him that I could keep him safe, but I also knew that our time together was short and I fought the greedy impulse to push him outside his comfort zone...  

It was also humbling and uncomfortable to be vulnerable in front of the facilitators and feel the performance anxiety of knowing that my horsemanship skills and personal "stuff" were on display...  The mustang's exquisite sensitivity showed exactly where my technical and emotional gaps were.  Some of the lessons that he had for me were expected, old variations on a theme, but there were new revelations for me to absorb as well.  Oh, good--a big, fat helping of personal growth... :/

Throughout the weekend, I was constantly reminded of the courage that it takes for our clients to arrive at the farm and trust us with their emotional and physical safety.  It is so easy to stand outside the round pen each day and forget that sensation.  I really try to never lose touch with the uncomfortable feeling of being a client and my hope is that everyone in session at the farm trusts us to keep them safe while they are here.

On our final day together, that mustang let me stroke his neck...just for a second.  And it was a privilege.

How Do Horses See the World?

Kris Batchelor

There are several reasons why we choose to use horses for therapy and learning.  One reason is their exquisite sensitivity as prey animals.  Each morning, a horse approaches the day with an attitude of, “What might try to eat me on this day?”  Although they have been well domesticated, they still retain that primal instinct of self-preservation.  All of their senses are biologically designed to keep them safe.

Compare the head of a horse to that of a dog.  Unlike a predator, a horse’s eyes are evenly spaced on either side of his head and are among the largest physical eyeball of any land mammal.  He has a field of vision that extends almost 350 degrees around his body with a small blind spot directly in front of and behind him.  While grazing, he can lift his head and  shift from binocular to monocular vision in an instant.  His eyes are acutely attuned to anything that resembles the quick movement of an approaching predator and he must make constant judgment calls about potential threats.

Here at the farm, the way a horse sees is one of the first things that we often discuss when explaining equine behavior.  We even have a specially made mask that offers an approximation of a horse’s visual field.  We will often have the kids try the mask on and simulate haltering, feeding treats and leading so that they can have instant insight into the mind of the animal with whom they are about to work.  It is always cool to hear their amazement as they wear the mask and watch how their body language changes without them even realizing it.  In that first moment, their heads are often high and turning side to side just like a startled prey animal.

As people, we have a tendency to assume that every creature sees the world as we do, both literally and figuratively, and one big stepping stone to relationship is the empathy that develops when we adopt a much different perspective.