New Book Links Dynamic Leadership Benefits in Horses and People

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Author Bonnie Ebsen Jackson, owner of T.H.E. Ranch (Teaching Humans with Equine) in Skull Valley, AZ, draws on her experience in the horse world, as well as the publishing and mental health industries to explain how building responsible and benevolent leadership skills can produce happier and healthier horses…and people. Jackson wrote her book, "Herdmates to Heartmates: The Art of Bonding with a New Horse" initially to educate new horse owners on how to build better relationships with their animals, but in this pivotal election year in the U.S. the lessons on leadership and trust building lend themselves to a greater scope

Bonnie Ebsen Jackson knows what it feels like to lose that once-in-a-lifetime “dream job." As editor of a recreational magazine, she got to write regularly about horse welfare issues. Landing the position had been the answer to a life-long dream to work in the horse industry, stemming from her early years as a equestrian competitor.

Then, on August 27, 2005—her birthday—while watching television footage of the menacing approach of Hurricane Katrina, she received a letter of termination in her email. Jackson reflected on this recently over coffee in her adopted hometown of Prescott, Arizona. "The future gaped ahead of me, unknown and uncertain," she says with a shudder. In the weeks that followed, she made an inventory of her skills and thought about what to do next. In her heart, she wanted to help people improve their lives through working with horses. So, she went back to school to finish a long-postponed degree in psychology.

It was during those college years that Jackson discovered the fields of equine-assisted mental health (EAMH) and equine-assisted learning (EAL). “What drew me to them was their experiential nature. That’s how I’ve approached much of my own learning and it really stirred my passions.” As her father, the late actor Buddy Ebsen, had always told her to follow her passion in life, Jackson jumped right into this new work, joining a therapy team as an equine specialist.

Along the way, she had also been rescuing horses and training them with natural horsemanship—a way of working with horses that sees the world from the their point of view. She found that combining experiential exercises with an awareness of horse behavior produced a powerful model for human growth and leadership.

“Horses are supremely social animals and can mirror peoples’ moods and attitudes back to them,” Jackson explains. “I have clients who tell me they start to feel better as soon as they walk into the stable. They are picking up on my therapy horses’ social stability—the ‘herd harmony' so often lacking in human ‘herds’ these days. Mental illness as we know it does not exist in wild horse herds.” That idea is discussed in Jackson’s new book, "Herdmates to Heartmates: The Art of Bonding with a New Horse," which was published in February.

Not unlike humans, horses fear change and can feel the most vulnerable in new situations.

“I show people how to become good leaders of their horses, which often translates into good leadership skills with people,” Jackson explains. Becoming the B.O.S.S. (Benevolent and Omniscient Source of Supply) doesn’t have to mean being bossy or a bully. “If you are seen by your horse as the one-with-the-good-ideas, your value increases greatly and the horse begins to trust your leadership.”

Nearly everyone has experienced being the B.O.S.S. for someone—take the parent-child relationship, for instance. According to Jackson’s book, when we give good guidance in a situation where someone is new or vulnerable, we show the kind of responsible leadership that any organization needs. "There is no mental illness as we know it in wild horse herds," explains Jackson. "That’s because the trust that is created through the herd's dynamic leadership helps to give herd members a sense of security. When we trust our leaders, whether locally or nationally, in commerce or in government, we experience less general anxiety about our survival."

T.H.E. Ranch - Teaching Humans with Equine ( offers equine-assisted experiential education and psychotherapy, “Life Skills” natural horsemanship, and relational riding instruction, along with leadership coaching for new and struggling horse owners. The ranch actively seeks and encourages strategic partnerships with mental health professionals by offering facilities and an established therapy herd for contracted EAMH, EFMH, EAP, and EAL workshops and session work.

"Herdmates to Heartmates: The Art of Bonding with a New Horse" is published by Booklocker and is available through For more information on Bonnie Ebsen Jackson’s leadership workshops and clinics, email t(dot)h(dot)e(dot)ranch(at)mac(dot)com or call the T.H.E. Ranch at (928) 899-5088.

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