How to be a leader and become “Otancan”

Having a good relationship with your horse is something we all want, even though we’re not all being conscious enough about it. But where do you start, building the perfect relationship with a 1000 pound animal which only way of communicating is by using energy and body language?

First, let’s take a look at one of my absolute favorite leadership explanations, a piece written by neurosurgeon and horseman Allan J. Hamilton:

‘Each horse is looking for someone to lead the herd -even just a herd of two. The horse needs an answer. If you exhibit the four C’s (Command, Control, Compassion, Communication), then the horse will accept you as “otancan” – the leader. If not, the horse must assume leadership over you.

Otancan is the Lakota word for “leader, the greatest”. Once the horse recognizes you as otancan, he has two obligations to fulfill. The first is to follow you. In return for this, the horse expects you to look after him by exhibiting the four Cs. The horse’s second duty – one many humans find difficult to accept – is to repeatedly challenge you as otancan. As the trainer, you are not permitted to remain otancan unless you consistently prove you deserve to be.

That’s the octancan’s burden. If you accept becoming otancan, being worthy in the eyes of your horse, you must rise to the challenge by bringing impeccability into your relationship. You develop a partnership with the horse that is free from your personal agenda, your private needs. Instead, you listen and look for the needs of your horse.’

Otancan: The Leader
(from: ‘Zen Mind, Zen Horse – Allan J. Hamilton, 2011)

Working with Girl (compilation)

Girl – the horse in the video above – was a typical case of a horse that is misunderstood and labeled as ‘dangerous’ and ‘dominant’. She used to bite and kick people who came to close to her and during her training she used to challenge and even strike very often.

So, of course she became another victim of the word ‘dangerous’ and was sent to WAHH rescue. We learned that she came from Mexican owners who – unfortunately – are not always gentle with their horses. Several scars and lumps on her head and body are the results of abuse and ill-fitting tack.

Girl still needs more guidance in her training, but she’s no longer protesting. She accepts leadership quicker every time she’s in the round-pen or being handled. She is not dominant at all, she was only confident enough to speak up about how she was being treated. If anything she is a saint for putting up with all that for so long.
Naturally, her rehab plan was filled with positive reinforcement and small, baby-step exercises to show her I am not going to hurt her. I wanted to win her trust by showing her I can provide her something she’d never find in the wild or alone: comfort.

No more worrying about getting enough food, finding friends, having a roof over your head or being misunderstood. Not every horse only has physical trauma to rehabilitate, their emotional and spiritual wellbeing is just as important to become a well-balanced horse. Horses like Girl are the reason I started studying Energy Therapy in the first place, to give them an even better chance at recovering and finding a new forever home.

My ultimate goal is to be able to take care of a horse’s psychical, emotional and spiritual layer and remove any blockages that prevent them from becoming a balanced horse again.

In liberty with Paint Horse JP, another rescue horse labeled ‘crazy’

Love, Zoë

PS: Sponsor or adopt a horse! Visit to meet the horses.

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