Kathie introduces the concept of "free will teaching" as she tells the tale of the first year of owning two ex-racehorses, Charlie and Star. Essentially, free will teaching is about helping animals gain healthy emotional lives, self-awareness and self-control - so they can develop safe and secure relationships with us, and engage in safe behaviour.
The focus is on reducing unpleasant emotional states such as fear, anxiety and frustration that create distress and to remove chronic stress that arises from poor mood state. This is achieved by increasing the amount of control the horse has over his or her life and fulfilling their needs for friends, forage and freedom - allowing them to achieve a state of resting contentment.
This is also achieved through increasing cooperation and collaboration from the human half of the relationship. Being able to read and evaluate the horse's position and make interactions clear, simple, safe and rewarding to build trust. The emphasis is always on understanding and working with how the horse feels, and to use desensitisation, counter conditioning and positive reinforcement as the primary means of teaching.
This book is a must read for equine behaviour and training professionals and students, as well as for the owners of stressed out horses.