Woods Walker Online

Michael’s Maxims

In my fifty years being around horses, I have learned many things not only about horses but also about myself. That process will never stop. My animals are my greatest teachers. Some time back, I was asked by a friend to come to a workshop she was planning and talking about my experiences with horses. My response to this request was to come up with a list that I called Michael’s Maxims. It is in no way a complete list of suggestions, just thoughts that came to me at the time. So, without further ado, here they are….

Tonka and Cyra chillin’ out

Michael’s Maxims

Commuting to work on Cyra

1. Always close all doors to stalls and double check that they are closed.
2. Never get between two mares in a tight space.
3. Talk to your horse whenever you are around him or her.
4. Make sure you touch your horse every day even if you do not ride.
5. Never leave tools where your horse can get to them.
6. Buy more hay than you think you will need. If you can’t store it all in your loft, ask your hay supplier to store it for you.
7. Install a frost free hydrant in your barn no matter the cost.
8. Go for full moon rides.
9. Find a teenager in your neighborhood who you trust and have them help you with chores when you need them.
10. Learn to ride bareback.
11. Never let your horse run back to the barn.
12. Find a feed store that you like and be loyal to them. If they will deliver to your barn, take advantage of that.
13. Find people in your area who can do large animal care. Establish a relationship with them so that you can travel when you want to.
14. Sleep in your barn at least once in your life.
15. Find horse people in your neighborhood and ride with them.
16. Stay in the barn after you are done with your chores and hang out with them as they eat.
17. Watch your horses when they can’t see you from time to time.

PJ resting after a summer bath
PJ resting after a summer bath

18. Occasionally skip grooming and feet and go for a twenty minute ride if that is all the time you have.
19. Clean your barn as if the vet was coming every day but also don’t beat yourself up if your barn chores get neglected from time to time.
20. If you can afford a second horse, get one. If you can’t, take in a boarder.
21. Be firm with your horse but always back up that firmness with love.
22. Whenever you touch your horse, put your heart in your hand.
23. Whenever you have the time to make it happen, remember that groundwork is essential to a good ride.
24. Regularly take the time to just stand with your horse and just hang out.
25. Find your horse’s special spot to be scratched and frequently give it a good scratch.
26. Know that your horse loves you unconditionally and always try to return that love unconditionally as well.
27. Always listen to what your horse is telling you and respect what you are reading from them.
28. When your horse has a flight response, try your best to determine what triggered it.
29. Trust your horse’s instincts. If they do not want to go forward, understand that there is a reason why.
30. Remember that with horses, it is all good until it suddenly isn’t and when shit happens, breathe.


On Monday, February 18th at 10:00 AM, my beloved friend and greatest teacher, Tonka died. He had been in my barn for twenty years and for the past seven years was totally blind. He never lost his courage or confidence when he lost his sight. He adapted and got on with his life. It was easy to forget that he lived in a world of darkness. He knew his world very well and would frequently canter away into the pasture with no hesitation, in love with his life to the very end. He touched many lives and will be remembered and held tenderly in many hearts.


50 replies on “Michael’s Maxims”

Michael, my heart goes out to you and the four and two legged in your family.
I remember my brief time with your beautiful Appy, he reminded me so much of my horse Scout, also blind by the time he turned 20.
Much love and peace to you and your gentle heart.

Hello Michael,

I am so sorry and saddened to hear of your loss. What a kind tribute to your great friend, Tonka.
I am enjoying reading your online journal. I am sitting next to my 93-year-old dad who is watching ( and has done so several times) Ken Burn’s documentary – ” The War”. He has always talked about the war over the years, but since my mom died almost six years ago, he seems to be even more preoccupied with WWll. He sometimes talks about his childhood growing up in a large family of Italian immigrant parents-stories that I love to hear- but rarely talks of our family . He was in the throws of the worst of the war, Normandy, Omaha Beach – as a machinist and worked on tanks rather than carry a gun. I have learned much as he shares stories as he watches, but the preoccupation sometimes saddens me as it seems to overshadow all else that was in his life.

I appreciate your self-reflection as you work with REACH. I first learned more of the atrocities towards
native american children at the residential schools through Freda Paul, a Passamaquoddy Medicine Man, during my semester in Cobscook bay for graduate school. It is so hard to comprehend .
I remember traveling out west as a family in 2003 and thinking -as we passed wandering ranches and magnificent land and rock formations-who did this really belong to? It made me think about how I might react if a tribe wanted to reclaim our New Gloucester bit of land. I would like to believe that I could step away and return it to its rightful steward.

And – you have truly captured the essence of doghood in” I Want To Be More Like My Dog.” I too admire a dog’s ability to be in the moment -it is why I love to hang out with Casey. I have been struggling, as Casey is almost sixteen- and it has been challenging to manage her health. She is on a daily dose of steroids , which keeps her on her feet. She can still be gimpy and has good and bad days, but when she has a good day, it all seems worth it. I hope it is worth it to her. It is so hard to know when to let go. She still goes on short slow walks with varying degrees of enthusiasm – and I enjoy every minute when she sniffs her world, or has a bit os a spring in her step, or carries the stick I offer ( her fetching days are over – but she still loves to carry a stick).

Thanks again for writing and sharing these pieces of your life.


P.S. I would love to meet Mocha sometime.


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