Here Be Horses


“Horses? On a farm? What will you use them for?”

Mani and I have been trying to find a logical, level headed answer to this question.

In a time when bulls have been replaced by tractors and farming finances being tight, how does one figure horses in the narrative of Indian farming? Also with Mani and I shooting our mouths off about natural and traditional farming, which looks at the most effective ways we can create food systems, why and what the freaking fruit cake do we plan on doing with 700kg animals who need to graze a majority of the time?

I think most of us as kids have had some fascination with animals and I think I speak for the majority when I say Black Beauty by Anna Sewell made us fall in love with black horses having a white star on their foreheads. Mani and I were the same in this regard for our fascination of horses. Which was why two years ago, we made the fantastically naïve move of rescuing two adult horses from a life of perceived hardship.

Chandru came from Marina beach where he was used for joy rides and Alex came from the stables of Madras Race Course a week after completing his career as a race horse. For four months, Mani grazed them around the fields in his home in Red Hills and even built a make shift open stable. He did his best to give them as free a life as possible and it was during this time that we stumbled across alternative ways to look after and train horses. Methods of communication and understanding which did away with presently used common brutal methods of ‘controlling’ horses.

The books ‘The Man Who Listens to Horses’ by Monty Roberts and ‘The Soul of the Horse’ by Joe Camp, blew open our minds. We came across the term Natural Horsemanship in Monty’s book, who studied herds of horses in the wild and the varied body language they used to communicate with each other. He had used this understanding to create a relationship with the horse and to train them non-violently using their language. A language he called Equus. As two people who found the usual whipping and beating of horses horrific, this was pure music to our souls!

At that time though, there was no one, absolutely nobody, who could help us learn such non-violent methods of communicating with our horses to give them a better life. The horse people we knew from the race course and the beach completely rubbished our concerns of wanting to treat our horses gently. With our pockets running dry that year and summer descending on us drying up the fields, Mani had no other choice but to give Chandru and Alex away from his home to someone who promised to look after them well. It was shattering to say the least and this was one of the main reasons Mani and I wanted to buy our own patch of land in the future. We never again wanted to put ourselves in a place where we had to part with our animals because of such short sightedness.

Finding Manjeev Natural Horsemanship

Forward to September this year when I attended NomadicThunker’s (Elita’s) Expressive Writing Workshop in Bangalore at Lahe Lahe and this happened,

“…which was why ever since the expressive writing workshop by Nomadic Thunker at Lahe Lahe which helped explosively throw open the windows of my soul, I finally found the courage to give myself permission to bring back to life, me. To become wholly and unapologetically me (and honestly, I actually like this me :D ). A huge part of me has been about having an animal shelter one day, tending to a food forest, looking after horses, being a guardian of the garden so to speak and working towards all of these things without unnecessarily shaming myself and letting myself be shamed for wanting to pursue such a life. In a moment of clarity, I decided to get a tattoo saying ‘Here Be Hippogriffs’. Like the maps of old which proclaimed ‘Here be Dragons’, I’d be the point on the map which showed Hippogriffs :) So no matter where I go, even the wholly unimaginative village where our land is, I can look at my arm and picture Hippogriffs in the area. It’s honestly one of the best things I have done for myself :) “

Followed by this announcement by Friendicoes, an animal shelter in Delhi who’s fantastic work I’ve been following,

Are you a horse aficionado? Do you know who Monty Roberts is? No? Then it is time to google him and his approach to the world of horses."



Did you know that Denise Heinlein of Inter Equus is in Delhi? She with her India partner Manjeev will be at Friendicoes Gurgaon Sanctuary on the 1st October to share her knowledge and expertise on Natural Horsemanship. Both Denise & Manjeev are students of the famous Monty Roberts who is also popularly known as the Horse Whisperer.“

This is how I came across Manjeev Natural Horsemanship. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Finally someone in India not only teaching Natural Horsemanship but going to be doing a demonstration in an animal shelter, (Friendicoes at that!) , with rescued horses.

Honestly, it felt like a dream.

Mani and I couldn’t make it for the October demonstration but we persisted in listening to ourselves in not wanting to postpone studying Natural Horsemanship having finally found a place in India which teaches this. (Also we were reaching that point in life where we needed something to help deal with that crushing weight which makes getting out of bed a real task.)

I got in touch with Manjeev regarding wanting to learn Natural Horsemanship to learn to look after and care for horses the right way once we have horses on our land. I explained the hope of having an animal shelter one day on the farm and Manjeev completely understood.

When you’ve been constantly shamed and put down and asked questions like “Farming? Are you mad? Horses?Are you mad? *insert something we like*? Are you mad?” it was absolutely refreshing to talk to both Manjeev and his wife Charlotte of Manjeev Natural Horsemanship. They helped me figure out and plan a way Mani and I could travel to Gurgaon to learn Natural Horsemanship. They took it upon themselves to make sure we could coordinate dates to give us their time based on our convenience.

Their kindness, encouragement and constant source of help regarding suggestions of places we could stay in Gurgaon and plan of study, really helped Mani and me. Manjeev also offered to take us to the Friendicoes sanctuary in Gurgaon during one of the days of our study since I had mentioned wanting to set up an animal shelter one day on the land. To be taken seriously for the dreams you have is such an act of solid support. I cannot thank Manjeev and Charlotte enough for that.  

We settled for the first week of December to head to Gurgaon to learn the basics of Natural Horsemanship. 

During the month of November, Manjeev, Charlotte and Denise were to ride 500km across the countryside of Rajasthan to raise awareness about horses and raise funds for Friendicoes. 

December first week when we landed in Gurgaon, it was wonderful to meet Manjeev and Charlotte in person and their family of three dogs and two cats! :) Along with Audrey who was to join us for the Natural Horsemanship course that week, we were all treated to a lovely dinner before classes were to start the following day. 

The Gurgaon Polo and Equestrian Club

Mani, Audrey and I were in for a real treat that week of training. We were taken to the very beautiful Gurgaon Polo and Equestrian Club where every morning we'd have coffee and tea, discuss what we were going to learn and then head to the stables. We covered a lot of theory that week which was eye-opening to say the least about how horses think, feel and react and how we as humans need to understand this to begin to develop a good relationship with them.

Manjeev is a wonderful teacher and it was such a privilege for us to be his students. He was very patient in answering all our questions which came up during our discussions and at no point did he ever use shame as a tool to teach us something. Absolutely brilliant and compassionate he was in his ways of teaching! 

This was one of the best things I found about Manjeev Natural Horsemanship. They were willing to teach anyone regardless of how much or how little the person knew about horses. You, like me, without any formal horse training (or even if you've never seen a horse before) could apply for and learn Natural Horsemanship from them. They teach you from the ground up. That's how good this place is!

Audrey, Mani and I were all smiles seeing so many horses when we reached the stables! (Part of me was very, "Here Be Hippogriffs" indeed! :D) We were introduced to Manjeev and Charlotte's two Indian horses, Lucy and Liby along with some of the other horses from the Polo Club. Some of those horses were rescues!

Classes - learning so much about ourselves and horses

Right from the beginning we were made to observe the horses around us. What would usually look like just a horse standing in a stable or unconcernedly grazing in a paddock was now a horse communicating so many things. So many subtle yet powerfully clear signals in their body language! And we were able to glean so much of this thanks to Manjeev's thorough, steady teaching of the language of Equus the whole time we were with the horses. Such an exhilarating experience!

The first two days of the course, Manjeev eased us into getting comfortable being around such huge animals. How to be physically present around them, how to tell if a horse is getting uncomfortable around you, how to lead a horse correctly, learning how to establish a discipline between you and the horse. So much of the course taught us not just about horses but also about us as people and what signals we're giving!

One of the wonderful things about this course is that it creates so much self-awareness in you and gives you the tools to trust yourself better. When you're with such a huge, intelligent animal and you're going to have to be the 'leader' so to speak in that situation so the horse knows to trust what you are saying, it was imperative to learn to be clear to our own selves leaving no room for self-doubt.

For someone like me suffering from crippling self doubt, going for this course helped me so much in facing my fears and learning to lead my mind forward. To trust myself. The physical act of learning to drive the horses forward using my body language helped give me the mental language I needed in moving my own mind forward past my insecurities. This course proved to be so much more than just learning about horses! I can't tell you enough how wonderfully powerful this whole experience was!

From day one, Mani, Audrey and I were constantly given the opportunity to work with different horses. We learned how distinct different horses could be ranging from their personalities to their physical health which brought about so many behaviours.

Join Up

The first time we saw Manjeev doing a live demonstration of 'Join Up' in the round pen set up in the Gurgaon Polo and Equestrian Club, it was breathtaking! Join Up is how you develop a sense of trust and leadership with the horse without using whips or any kind of tool of torture. It's entirely up to the horse whether he or she wants to Join Up with you. The only thing you have in your hand is the long lead rope you unclip from the horse (which you do not use in any way to beat or torture the horse with!).

Manjeev demonstrated a Join Up with his horse Lucy who flew around the round pen! To think of us in Manjeev's place seemed unimaginable but that was exactly what we were going to do the next few days.

From learning to lead a horse the right way to standing safely inside a round pen with a horse, Manjeev took us patiently and thoroughly through every single thing. He never hesitated to step in when he found us stuck and at the same time would give us all the time in the world to learn to do things the right way.

We did so many exercises with each other where Mani, Audrey and I would take turns being the 'horse' so we could be prepared and do it right when working with an actual horse. It was fun and more importantly, we were constantly shown what things would look and feel like from the horse's perspective. A most thorough education. It constantly expanded what we thought we knew about horses and ourselves!

When it was finally time for each of us to do Join Up with a horse, the three of us were very excited and equally apprehensive. Mani went first and Manjeev from the outside would calmly give him instructions when needed. When you're standing outside and your partner is inside with a huge horse, Manjeev is the kind of person you want to put your trust in!

Mani's first Join Up was beautiful to watch and I could see how much it changed Mani! The person and the horse leaving the round pen were very different from the ones entering the pen :) Mani for one was bursting with happiness and the horse was a lot less lethargic and a lot more content than when he was first led to us. It helped that the horse got to feel comfortable enough to roll around in the sand in the round pen and have a satisfying sand bath.

It was my turn next and I had jelly legs by the end of it! I couldn't believe what I was doing and I was very grateful when Manjeev helped me get through the exercise. By the time I was doing my third Join Up the next day, I could feel how much I had changed in controlling my nerves and enjoying the whole process of Join Up. That's how much of a transformative experience this proved to be.

After me was Audrey who with her calm steadiness was able to manage with the help of Manjeev a very spirited horse who we learned was telling us that he was in pain. This was what I loved about the whole process of Join Up, you learned so much from the horse and reacted accordingly. Instead of pushing him to do Join Up when he was clearly telling us he was in pain, Manjeev gently ended the session. Later, Manjeev was able to tell the person looking after the horse that the horse was injured. Sometimes a person can be unaware of a horse's injury and by spending time with a horse this way, you can become better acquainted with what's happening with your horse.

Post that experience, Audrey did a Join Up with the wonderful Lucy!

The next two days we proceeded to learn a lot more and were given more sessions to do Join Up with different horses. Manjeev ended the class with a demonstration of what is called long-lining, the subject for our next course when we return to Gurgaon for week 2.

Friendicoes Sanctuary

The last day of the course, Manjeev took us three to the Friendicoes sanctuary. Honestly, nothing prepared me for what I was about to see! We were greeted by so many donkeys to begin with and we were led to the huge space for horses and cattle. It was wonderful to see such a huge place for these animals. Some of the horses you couldn't believe were rescues! That's how well fed and taken care of they were. We were also shown the many injured animals which come to Friendicoes and get treated. One horse they had rescued from literally, garbage.

Once again, it was a real privilege to have Manjeev take us around because he was able to tell the different physical conditions a lot of the horses were suffering from. He explained how even in a setting where horses are in a huge sanctuary, they can develop different physical ailments. Primarily, getting over weight and tasking their legs with such weight. We could see how you needed a balance when looking after any animal. Not just all work and equally not just all rest.

With so many horses freely around us, once again we were given a fantastic classroom to observe the different ways they were communicating with each other and to our presence. We even had some of the horses having no problem wanting to be in our spaces and jostling for attention to the point where they were bumping their noses into us. Manjeev showed us how to let them know, again through body language, that we needed our personal space please!

We saw how two ponies tried to establish dominance with each other, a silent friendship between a mule and a pony, several placid cattle and so many friendly dogs! We were even given a special treat by being taken to see a baby donkey. My favourite to see was the litter of pigs!

A wonderful end to the course

After the long day at the sanctuary, we headed for our evening at the Polo Club (with Manjeev and Charlotte's wonderful three dogs on our laps :D :D ) to watch an actual polo match between three teams, India, South Africa and England, for the British High Commissioner's Polo Day.

It was heart-stopping to see the game being played but it helped that we could constantly stuff our faces with delicious food! A really nice end to our week in Gurgaon! :)

If you're interested in going for a Natural Horsemanship class (which I highly recommend for anyone looking to do something wonderful for themselves!), here are the links :

Manjeev Natural Horsemanship Facebook Page and website
The Airbnb link to have a day's experience with Manjeev Natural Horsemanship
The fundraiser link by Manjeev Natural Horsemanship to raise funds for Friendicoes to treat and look after horses.

Rescued horses at the Gurgaon Polo and Equestrian Club

Audrey, Mani and I heading to our open classroom :)

The Aravalli hills in the background

Lucy and Liby in their stables

The round pen

Taking the horses for grazing - the importance of quality time with your horse - Mani with Liby

Grazing Lucy - Audrey and Manjeev

Inside the round pen learning to lead a horse - Mani's shadow of him clicking the picture :)

At the Friendicoes sanctuary - pony and mule friendship

Rescued horses at the Friendicoes sanctuary

The wide open space for the horses at Friendicoes sanctuary

Horses near the closed shade in their open space - horse on the side having a sand bath :)

Coming to say hello :)

Rescued donkeys at the sanctuary :)

Manjeev with one of the rescued horses at the sanctuary

The baby donkey :) - don't worry the man isn't sitting on him!

Heading to the Polo match! :) - with Manjeev, Paolo, Mani, Marvin, Charlotte, Audrey, Cookie and me :)

The Hippogriff statue made for me by Mani (Gamma Collectibles) :)

P.S. I don't have many pictures of our time at Manjeev Natural Horsemanship because almost all of the time we were so involved with the classes! :)