An Interview with Kathy Sierra of Intrinzen

The story of how changing the human mindset enhanced the relationship with a horse and its owner                         

- Be inspired by the fascinating Intrinzen approach to enrich a horse lives  

Photo credit: Kathy Sierra

We at Must Love Horses discovered Intrinzen a couple weeks ago through Instagram and we were instantly intrigued. Therefore, we are so excited that we will open this blog with an interview with Kathy Sierra, one half of the duo behind the Intrinzen philosophy.
It all started when Kathy’s troubled horse Draumur wouldn’t move anymore, the search Kathy and her mentor, Steinar Sigurbjornsson starting the quest to help Draumur back to his old ways. As you will learn from the interview, it is never too late (or too early) to develop stronger bonds with your horse. Without further adieu, let’s dig into the interview.

Questions and Answers

1. What is Intrinzen?

Intrinzen is a philosophy of me, Kathy Sierra and my mentor, Steinar Sigurbjornsson. 

2. How did you get into horses?

We got our first horse when I was I think 9, but it was my sister’s horse. It was my uncle’s retired cow horse, and she was a spectacular cutting horse. We did the usual crazy galloping bareback at high speed etc. I had horses then through most of college, but eventually could not afford them and left horses for many years, returning to them again in 1999. 

3. What is the history of Intrinzen?

We began working together 8 years ago, though Intrinzen was “officially” born one year ago.

It started all those years ago in desperation, to save first my extremely troubled horse Draumur (the palomino) who had virtually stopped moving completely.

“It took a combination of using science and creativity to figure out a way that I - a non-expert/non-professional - could help my horse in a way that seemed only a true master horseman/horsewoman could do.”must love horses intrinzen interview

Photo credit: Kathy Sierra

Together we found a path that let “mere mortals” like me help my horse do what the master (like Steinar) knew was most important for the horse. It is about using the master horseman’s knowledge of what is important to the horse, in a way that virtually anyone is capable of doing. One day I simply knew that no matter how hard I worked, I was never going to be THAT MASTER and that my horses were suffering in the meantime.
That was when I said, “We need to accept this and not expect non-professionals to try to duplicate what experts do, and instead work on what we *can* do that can help the horse achieve the important goals.”  
But along the way, both Steinar and I realized that what was “good” for the horse was also deeply rewarding and enjoyable and energizing for the humans as well, including professionals! That surprised Steinar the most.
That one day he came in from working with the horses and said, “I’m never going back. This is too much fun and the horses are always happy. I haven’t seen them move like this since they were much younger.”  And also said, “for a professional who must work with many horses each day, I can do much more for them in a short time and be less exhausted. I can work with 10 horses in a day and feel like I once did when working with 3.”   


4. Who is the Intrinzen philosophy for?

Everyone wanting to deepen their relationship with horses. The professional/expert does not necessarily need to use approaches or alternative tools like this, but they may still want to. 

“Our unofficial motto is “Come for the rehab, Stay for the awesome.””

must love horses intrinzen interview

Photo credit: Kathy Sierra

Virtually all of the horses we work with are here out of near desperation, with severe physical problems. We don’t really think of severe *emotional* or *mental* problems, because we see those as intimately connected. That a horse’s emotional/mental state is based on his brain’s awareness of his physical ability.

A horse that is truly and naturally agile and balanced — in nature, not just when controlled by tack — is by nature a self-confident horse. When their brain knows that they are crooked, stiff, not balanced or agile, this puts the horse in a state of constant low-level anxiety, because their brain “knows” that as a prey animal, they are not “safe.”   

We want the horse to feel as comfortable and exploratory as a young foal is when willfully prancing away from their mother, off to “pretend” to be afraid as their curiosity drives them to seek out “scary” things and then practice rearing, dancing, running, moving in beautiful, agile, balanced ways. And that is all within just a few hours of birth!

5. What do you think everyone should know about horses?

I think it’s less about what everyone should *know* about horses and more about how we *think* about horses.

“If we try to see them as they were born to be, then we have the perfect image and goal of what they can be once again, and what they most WANT to be. 

must love horses intrinzen interview

Photo credit: Kathy Sierra

 Everything a reasonably healthy horse did in its first week of life in movement — that is what is deep inside them and what they can and want to do. They are creatures of nature, and when we put them in a modern stable environment and work hard at training them through forceful means, they become less and less of who they were born to be.

When we help recover who THEY really are — physically — then so many other wonderful pieces fall into place and they become the horse we hoped for. I guess we believe that the best way to have the “horse of our dreams” is by becoming the human of THEIR dreams. And that means appreciating what they are, and helping to focus on what THEY want — to be a proud, powerful, agile horse. 

6. What has been your proudest moment?

 I have two :) 
  • The first time Draumur *refused* to do something I asked, and then turned around and showed me something even more amazing. I knew then that he had become proud of himself, and was both confident enough to say “no” and yet willing to show something HE was proud of
  • The second was with my other horse Vafi, when after years of having him, he finally reared up in play with another horse. I had been working on something I called “Operation Badass” — to help him become more self-confident by having him practice the kinds of movements a stallion would do. It took quite some time. The only way to know it had worked is not by watching what he was willing to do in training with me, but in how he interacted with other horses. His long-time herd mates looked at him with a whole new level of respect, and his self-confidence bloomed. But more importantly, he was now getting a lot more awesome practice at using his hind end ;) 

“We always say it’s not about the training they do with you, it’s about what they do when they are NOT with you that matters most to them.” 

must love horses intrinzen interview

Photo credit: Kathy Sierra

7. What do you tell yourself when you fall? 

It’s never the horse’s fault ;) 

It’s never the trainer’s fault ;)

It’s never the fault of anyone but myself. 

But there IS something I don’t do — I don’t try to *celebrate* my failures. I know they will happen, but I try to learn then focus on things that are working, not what went wrong. I do try not to beat myself up about it, though, as I have probably already done that enough for several lifetimes. And now I have much experience seeing how forgiving the horses are. 

“I feel badly for them when things go wrong, but I also know we can always recover. And if I focus on myself — my failures — how badly I feel — then I’m focusing on ME when I should be focusing on THEM.” 

must love horses intrinzen interview

Photo credit: Kathy Sierra

8. What is the best advice you can give a horse lover?

Try every day to put yourself in the horse’s mind and imagine a young, healthy horse feeling proud and agile and curious and in love with life and his ability to move. That is all still there!

Help the horse recover this mobility and balance, and you have basically given your horse a magic fountain of youth potion. And they will see you as the wonderful person that truly understands who and what they are, and who and what they dream of being.

"Don’t be afraid of helping your horse be a horse. That is the one thing I most wish I’d known earlier. The respect that matters is not the horse respecting us, but respecting himself. And helping their body move with more fluid and exuberant joy, that makes their brain happier than anything." 


We would like to thank Kathy Sierra and Intrinzen for sharing her insights with us. If you haven’t already you need to head over to Instagram and follow the @intrinzen account. It is filled with beautiful photos of Icelandic horses and inspirational quotes and lessons. Also check out their website for more on the unique philosophy:


The Must Love Horses blog will have weekly features of people in the horse world. Next up is our interview with Alex Calder behind the amazing Instagram account @betweentwoears. Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date for all news and events. 

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