Creating Your Own Contention-Free Zone

Editor’s Note: Amy Skinner is a regular Cayuse columnist and has been a horse gal since age six. She presented with fellow trainer and rider, Katrin Silva, at the Best Horse Practices Summit.

Skinner rides and teaches dressage and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, Leslie Desmond, Brent Graef, and many others. Visit Amy’s website here.

Buy her new book, To Catch A Horse here.

Amy Skinner writes:

It’s one of the best lessons they teach – Horses show us how to have more peaceful relationships with others.

Contention often comes from a prideful frame of mind. We believe that we are right and that others are wrong. We believe our way of thinking holds superior moral ground. It involves a rigidity and inelasticity of thinking. It makes compromise hard and peace impossible. Especially when I was younger, I ran into contention with coworkers, friends, and loved ones.

That’s not to say we should all be pushovers and stand for nothing.

Skinner at the 2019 BHPS

With horses as with people, firm boundaries need to be clearly maintained. When crossed, some repercussions are necessary. A horse that moves through a boundary may experience some pressure. If the boundary was made clear, and if the horse proceeds, he moves into pressure.

Similarly, with interpersonal relationships, boundaries need to be made clear. If others cross them, it’s important to evaluate what that means for the relationship. At any given moment, we are teaching others how to treat us. Allowing others to continually walk across boundaries teaches them to continue to violate boundaries.

You’ll see that in both cases (horse and human), we can choose to respond without anger or strong emotion.

Amy Skinner

Some people have become contentious by nature. Fighting has become their habit. These people regularly argue with their spouse, family, friends, coworkers, and clients. They seem to seek out conflict and think of it as ordinary. The more I learn about getting along with horses, the more I realize how damaging this mindset can be.

Always looking for something to be upset about, whether we realize it or not, effects our work with horses. It conditions our minds to find the things we don’t like rather than appreciate what our horses offer and directing them toward better behavior.

In our work with horses, it’s essential to find common ground and make compromises. Ray Hunt put it simply: First you go with the horse. Then they go with you. Then you go together.

The more peaceful relationships I have with horses, the more peaceful relationships I have with people as well.

And what about the relationships with contentious people? You will find that you’ll need to walk away from some relationships. You will need to reinforce some boundaries. Some difficult conversations may be necessary. Sometimes, we just disagree. Other times, it’s best to simply say, “You’re right, I’m sorry.” Fighting really isn’t necessary and life without it is much easier, happier and free.

I have horses to thank for that.

Posted in Horsemen & Women, Reflections and tagged , .


  1. Spot on, Amy. Thanks for the reminder that angst and discord have no place in our relationships with people or horses.

  2. Contention! The explanation and parallels you describe are well said! It is great to hear this understanding from a horsewomen and trainer. Well, it is the difference in most cases, between successes and failure, in the interpersonal realm especially. Thanks, Amy…this is an meaningful description of an important application for ourselves and our horsework. Really nice.

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