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Book Review: Zen Mind, Zen Horse

“Horses are like a band of legendary Zen masters. They are perfect teachers because they uncover your real motivation. They tell you when you’re wholeheartedly committed or faking it, when you’re making a sacred vow or just paying lip service....

 Horses see what’s holding you back. And when you find the courage to confront those shortcomings, horses will always reward you with a way to overcome them.”

This is the premise upon which Dr. Allan Hamilton bases his book, “Zen Mind, Zen Horse: The Science and Spirituality of Working with Horses.”

A Harvard-trained brain surgeon and renowned horse trainer, Hamilton is uniquely qualified to write about how science and spirituality relate to our interactions with horses.

Half of his life is taken up with the medical profession – neurosurgery and serving as the medical script consultant for the television shows Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice – and the other part of his life is populated with horses, which he raises along with pasture-fed Angus cattle on a small ranch outside Tuscon, Arizona.

According to Hamilton, this “schism” that runs through his life represents two different approaches to self-consciousness, or the struggle between the right and left hemispheres in the brain. While the left brain aids in his medical profession, Hamilton has also found the need to awaken the right brain and “not only observe the Universe, but even to join with it.” And he has found that there is no greater teacher for this than the horse.

In clear and engaging language, Hamilton offers the reader a variety of ground exercises which help bridge the natural gap between prey animal and super predator, exercises which also help unlock the potential of the emotional and intuitive right brain.

Through rich illustrations and personal anecdotes he leads the reader on a journey from the beginnings of horses and humans to the present day partnership between the species, one of the perks of which is the ability to see ourselves in “divine mirrors,” as the horse reflects back our own emotions.

Drawing on Confucianism, Taoism, Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Native American folklore and Yaqui shamanism, Hamilton shows readers just how much the horse has to teach us about ourselves.

“Finally, horses demonstrate to us, directly and tangibly, that Nature is able to read our hearts and to lend its support to our lives,” Hamilton writes. “It never left us. We just lost the habit of seeing it clearly.”

When you close this book, you’ll see it clearly.

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