When I first got into contact with horses on a daily basis, I was already walking a process of Self-Investigation – analysing who I am and where I can improve myself to my make daily life and living more effective and enjoyable. For me, spending time with horses was a ‘hobby’, something I would do for fun to ‘take my mind of things’. Yet, soon enough – it became very clear that working with horses and spending time with them was not the kind of ‘break’ I was looking for. Quite the opposite happened actually. My buttons were continuously being pushed, and no matter how much I just wanted to ‘relax’ and enjoy myself around the horses and specifically the horse I ended up having as my companion, I found myself in an almost constant state of inner conflict. I really wanted to get to know my horse and have a fun relationship, but he was bullying me around and I was anxious just being around him. When I had first met him at the farm he was staying before coming to live with us, he seemed like a sweet and grounded horse. But when it came to daily interaction, a whole new dynamic came to the surface. In the first few weeks, I’d need to keep his halter on in the stable while grooming because he was very pissy and all too happy to bite/nip to express his. With the assistance of others, I was able to set boundaries and stabilise myself through addressing my fear relationship with him.
When I was a child, I got my share of beatings – this left a very deep impression on me which affected my entire life (and is something I am still working through). Now, having this BIG animal with massive strength and power around me – it scared the living shit out of me. Just seeing him, seeing his grumpy expression and the intensity of him movements whether directed towards me or not – would trigger all sorts of memories bringing me back to my childhood, scared, insecure self. When I was a child, all I would do to cope with the situation is to draw back inside myself and wait the situation out while sitting in complete fear and petrification.
My experience of myself around my horse was absolutely awful. Either I would stop participating with horses, or I would change and empower myself – teach and give myself the tools I did not have as a child, to find a constructive way to work with another being who is angry and plays this out physically – without getting hurt and going into self-diminishment in the process.
This has shown to be a very challenging task. Every fibre of my being has since childhood been set up to avoid conflict situations at any and all costs, especially situations where things could get physical. It was very difficult to give up my primary coping mechanism as the survival skill I developed in situations of conflict. I had to constantly remind myself that I was no longer a child and in a position of powerlessness. I was an adult now and I did not have to be a victim of the situation. I was very scared to change, because all I knew was that ‘avoidance’ would keep me safe. So every day, I would make the deliberate effort to change. To be present, here and work with my horse regardless of the anxiety inside myself. I was taught to take notice of my posture and body language, as any emotional instability would translate into a particular body posture, which would draw out a particular response from the horse. Horses are herd animals as well as prey animals. Their survival and well-being depends on effective leadership. Someone who knows what they are doing. If you are scared, fearful, and go into states of self-diminishment – it is logical to the horse to get rid of you or at least ‘know your place’ in the hierarchy with all the consequences that come with it.
Not only are horses very perceptive of the state of being of their fellow herd members, but they are perceptive of the state of being of any human or animal that gets into their environment. In the wild, a predator who’s just had a nice meal and is fully satisfied can stroll by a herd of horses and the horses will peacefully graze on – because they already picked up on this state of being from miles away. If that same animal however would have approached them in a state of hunting, they would have ran off the moment they picked up on the animal. Much of their behaviour is determined by ‘where everyone else is at’. This became very clear that, as I changed – my horse would change. And so my horse would become the mirror reflection of myself and my state of being. Challenging me, pushing me, checking where I am at and responding accordingly.
Unfortunately, many people do not consider this aspect when working with a horse or any other animal for that matter. If a horse is being unruly, then simply more control and force is used. Someone in my position, then easily moves from being a victim to being a perpetrator – doing unto the horse exactly that which had been done unto self. Horses, in their kind forgiving nature – will put up with this behaviour until they have either had enough (at which point they get sold or sent to the slaughter house) or until they collapse under physical strain and pressure.
To have a willing, trusting and cooperative relationship with your horse – Self-Mastery is absolutely essential. This means constant evaluation and assessment of yourself and your horse. Never assume that your horse is simply being an ‘irrational animal’. This great creatures are very advanced processing machines – to call them stupid would be a deflection of our own inability to see beyond our limited perspectives.