Understanding Horses

Understanding Horses
The Eyes Of Van Gogh With The Mind Of Dali

Before I decided to write this literary script, I started a long book, with the help of a professional writer. After a year of work and recompilation of my experiences and information, I took a general view about it. Very disappointed, I realized that I was in the wrong path. I was talking about me, my experiences, my childhood related with horses, and many things that were not a real input for the horsemanship, but a good and very entertaining novel. But if I was not interested in reading my own book, how could I make others to read it?

Why my childhood, and all my trips and life surrounded by horses have to be interesting for the readers? There are lots of books about people who love horses, and their life experiences about their relationship with them, and I do not think my history is more entertaining than those which were written before. I also realized that I was writing a lot of technical issues about horse management, may be with another names or little differences; but at the end the same round pen natural management.

So I decide to stop writing, burn all the pages in my computer, and write only and just only what I have being doing different, my real input about horse management and behavior, no matter how short this script could be. I think this is part of our essence as humans, that nothing is enough for us, and we always need to put more, say more, and make things look more incredible than what they are, like if in life everything has to be under those parameters of marketing, where everything has to look bigger, huge, shiny, perfect, getting inside a very unhealthy circle. We always have to put names with impact, like “horse whisperer”, “The king of horses”, “The ultra pro horse management system”, etc… But in reality, it is never enough to us the way it truly is. So I decided to keep it simple, as it is: no less, no more.

This script is philosophical, which means all its content came from my mind, and was proved empirically. This is not a horse management book, I consider that teaching that by the book doesn’t make too much sense. I remember when I was studying veterinary and in my first year I failed the cow anatomy exam, because I studied only from the book, and I never touched a bone, like hoping for one day in the future a client would ask me to treat a book with a broken leaf. In the same way, a system to ride bitless by the book is possible only if people want to ride a book.

So what you can expect from this is my philosophical thinking about the horse existentialism, mental states, and the psychological time, related with the pain that the bit produce in horses. That is what it is, years of thoughts about how horses pensive the reality in their mind, to understand from inside their brain, to outside, and not from outside getting inside. I wanted to understand what happen in the horse mind when they feel pain, and not just stay with the concept that they do. What happen about the perception of reality and psychological space-time when a horse is expose to pain caused by the bit, not in a physiological and physical way, but inside his mind, related about is environment and how the horses perceive the reality under those conditions of suffering.

This is the base from where I developed a bitless riding system, this is why I did it. Then, after a lot of practical experimental work, I systematized the empiric results, to make it universal for any horse and rider, and equestrian discipline. But it is fundamental to understand -in a philosophical way- how horses perceive the reality first, and how pain can change it.

Rain Needs No Translation

In a speech made by Alan Watts -a British philosopher- in his “Out of Your Mind” album lecture, he explained that “the sound of rain needs no translation”. I remember I was hearing the record while doing other things, not very concentrated, but when I heard that statement, I stopped all I was doing, and I said, “there is something very important related with horses here”. I knew in some way that statement was giving me the opportunity to understand horses in a way I never did before. And immediately I remembered my childhood in Chilean Patagonia, where it rains most of the year. I remembered the sound of rain, the rain by itself, and I understood the meaning of “rain needs no translation”. We humans use to translate all we see, because in fact we live in a translatable world, thanks to the left side of our brain that is extremely developed, which is the ego brain, the part that make us see from outside, as independent self beings. So if we see or hear the rain, we will think that the rain is made of water. But if we think from another perspective of the same element, rain is not made of water, it is water. As the oceans are not made of water too, they are water, and as a tree is not made of wood, it is wood. Rain does not need translation, as a sound and movement of a river does not need translation too. The wind, the sound and movement of leaves falling from the trees, the smell of a flower, the sunlight, the calm of a lake, the sound of the gallop of a wild horse. All those things have no translation, and do not need to be translated; we can define them, we can disaggregate them, analyze them, but not translate them.

When things can not be translated, we can say we are in the limit of the universe, and after that there is nothing else. After that –maybe- there is nothing, emptiness, or God. To live in an untranslatable world, is pure existence, is eternity, is the present. And when we translate, we do it projecting us into the past or future, because we need a perspective and image to analyze, but translation is never in the present. And when we make things to have a different purpose than what it is naturally his purpose, we translate. Now, this is how horses see the world, and how they perceive it, as untranslatable. When in a field with horses it rains, we use to get an umbrella, and we think, there is the rain coming, so we separate from that, trying to avoid it, keeping with what we are doing. But for a horse, when it rains, they do not dissociate from the rain, they become the experience of raining. They can find refuge if is too cold, but it doesn’t mean they translate the rain. They become one with the rain, and the rain is their extension. If they look for shelter they are not trying to separate from the rain, they try to react to the cold sensation that bothers them. Same situation when a horse eats, in nature horses are not fed, they just eat, because they become the experience of eating, and the prairie grass is their extension.

They experiment the same reality as we do, but their perception of it is different. It is a state of mind. As we use to be in a translatable state of mind, they use to be in an untranslatable state of mind, but both under the same reality. To understand this, it is like for example if we see a ball to play soccer, and we draw it, it will be something spherical and very easy to draw. But now if we see the same ball, but from inside, the drawing will be absolutely and radically different, and probably very difficult to draw. If I show a person the two different drawings, they probably will never discover that both are the same object. It is the same reality, from a different perspective, so if we want to understand this concept, we need to see the ball from inside.

It took me many years to understand this. I met a Buddhist Lama, Lama Gendun in 1998. He was sent by the Dalai Lama to Chile, to teach Buddhism. We became friends, and he gave me some private lessons, like conversations about his religion. One day he told me something that I couldn’t understand until I heard Alan Watts saying that the rain needs no translation, after 15 years. The teaching talked about a monk that went around the monastery saying he was better than his master, in a very arrogant way. That came to the master’s ears, and he decided to do something. He called his apprentice, and invited him for a walk towards a mountain. During the way they talked about many things, in a very relaxed way. Suddenly, a furious hail storm arrived, but there was nowhere to cover from it. There was only a little hollow bull horn on the ground. The master got inside the bull horn, to cover from the hails. The master looked at the monk, and said “Dear apprentice, if you are better than me, come inside the bull horn to refuge from the storm”. After my friend Lama finished to say this, he looked at my face, probably disfigured because of the weirdness of the story, and said “It is not that the horn got bigger, or the Master got little, he got inside because of a different state of mind”.

When I try to imagine an untranslatable state of mind analogy, the first that come up to my mind is the painting by Van Gogh called “Olive Trees in a Mountainous Landscape”, among other paintings by this artist. I am not pretending to declare that horses really see like that, I say horses perceive as concept the universe like that, where everything seems separate, but have really no divisions at all, and all seams mixed in a big mass of matter and energy, where he is inside of it, as just one untranslatable world. At the end is what painters do, they see the same reality than us, but by their unique filter, thanks to their incredible sensibility, vision and imagination. May be Van Gogh found a path to this horse world. Perhaps in his “madness” he cuts his ears to feel pain, to escape from that dimension of no time he got into, making the clockwise start to move again.

Horse Psychological Time

When a horse gallops alone he is in an untranslatable state, but when the horse is ridden, he becomes translatable, because we are dissociated from the horse. We ride a horse, instead of becoming the experience of riding, as the horse does. And that is because we ask the horse to be something he is not, so we bring him out of his untranslatable state of mind. We say how the horse has to be a horse, instead to let him be a horse. Who knows better how to be a horse than the same horses? If a horse has a purpose different than just to be a horse, he becomes translatable. Horses never self-define, they just are. Therefore, horses do not communicate like we do between humans, because their universe is an extension of themselves, they do not send messages separated from the horse receptor. They are one, so How a being can communicate with himself? They just flow in this untranslatable world.

When we ride a horse for example in a race, for us there is a start and an end of the racing in certain places for each thing. That means we see the beginning, the way and the goal separate, because we are separated from all our environment and from each part of it. But for the running horse, his perception of the racing is completely different. Because they are the start, the way and the goal at the same time, and all of that is an extension of himself, the horse never started and never finished the racing, he becomes the experience of race. Like two dancers, the act of dance does not have an end as purpose, but only the fact of dancing by itself in the present.

So we can say that if the horse never starts and never finishes the racing because he is the start and the finish at the same time, the time doesn’t run for him, there are no parameters to measure it. We can measure time when we have a reference, start and end; but in this case, it is all a continuum existence, because the universe of the horse is an extension of his being, he lives in a permanent state of mind where the psychological time does not exist, only a present state of mind. That is probably why many horsemen say that horses live only in the present. But now let’s go a little far. There are situations where horses can project to the future, and the key or trigger is the pain.

Horses do not have the concept of death in their minds. They have no idea that death exists, and when a horse escapes from a puma, they do not escape from death, because that concept is too complex, and need a very developed brain to understand it. They escape from pain, because that is what they know about prior experiences. If for us the last line of suffering is the fear of death, for horses is the pain. When we expose to a horse to feel pain by -for example- the bit, we are exposing horses to their limit of fear in life and the horse in those painful situations gets disconnected from his continuum present untranslatable state of mind. Is in this situation when a horse can project to the future, when he is feeling pain; his sub consciousness brings the image of the untranslatable state of mind, and he confronts it with the painful situation, so the horse projects himself to get to that untranslatable state of mind again, and he can run away looking for that ideal image, physically escaping with some behaviors like walking around, or running. That is a projection of the future, on the contrary of us humans, horses do not think which racing they will run next month, but when pain is involved as I explained before. When a horse escapes from that puma, he does it because his mind projects the future pain he will suffer, so there is an inherent projection to the future. If horses couldn’t project that they will feel pain from that situation, they would not escape, they would stay calm and quiet, expecting nothing will happen. It is that projection to the future pain that he will suffer from the bite from the puma what saves his life. Taking this in consideration, the idea that the horse in that moment “lives the future” is essential to his surviving. The second projection occurs when a horse is uncomfortable in some situations, for example when he is ridden with a bit and feeling pain, the horse wants to go to that ideal image of calm and safeness of his untranslatable world. That idea of escaping to the future, is what makes horses react in those situations, in some cases being nervous, running away, getting stressed, trying to come back to stables, etc. And like in the same example of the puma, if horses do not project to the future, those erratic behaviors would never appear.

For us it is difficult to understand why horses have very little tolerance to pain, because we use to live in a painful and uncomfortable world. We are twelve years at school studying things that -most of them- we do not like. For example I remember at school when we were in the sport class, the professor used to make the students who liked soccer to play basketball, the ones to liked basketball playing soccer, the ones who liked athletics play handball, and so on. We use to study a professional career at university that most of us do not like, and instead of admire the ones who live it, we recognize the ones who finish with a social status of honor for their strength and perseverance, building their unhappiness. In general, we do more things we don’t like, and less things we do like. But horses are not like us, they are simpler. They like to do more and only what makes them feel good, and safe; like eating good food, be calm in a field, move around the field, play and so on.

But there is something even more deep in this concept. Now the horse has a start situation, like in the example of the racing I gave, and has also a goal to reach. Now he is dissociated from the world, and he can feel the passage of time. But psychological time is relative, and it can past faster or slower depending on the variables involved. Like us, when we are in an uncomfortable situation, the time for us passes slower than when we are in a nice and comfortable situation. When horses face the passing of time, it is under pain, and in the same way as us, when we have a toothache that makes us feel the time runs with a dropper, for horses pain makes them perceive the time very slow, and the uncomfortable and painful sensation appears to have no end.

If I have to explain in a practical way about how horses perceive the time, I can say that the best example is the dreams. When we sleep we lost for complete the perception of the time, and one minute in the dream can be hours in the reality life. So the past of time in dreams in not clear to measure, and I can say if we are in a very normal dream, the time doesn’t run in the dream, like when a horse is in calm in his untranslatable state of mind. The time only run and we can perceive it when we dream, when we are in a stressful situation, like being persecuted, and we need to escape. In those dreams we perceive the time but running very slow, that is want make it so uncomfortable and desperate situation, that most of the time we waik up because our mind cant keep us sleeping with such as nasty feeling. This perception of time I just described, is how horses feel time running under the pain that cause the bit.

Making an analogy also with painters of this concept about the horse time, there is no doubt that Salvador Dali represent this idea, as no one can do it. The image of the melting and distorted clocks cant be more graphic, and evoke perfectly the concept of relativity of the time during dreams. The paint “The persistence of memory” its a sublime way to walking into a dream , awake, and experiment the sensation of no time at all, or the desperation to feel a second forever being expanded. And I think that not coincidentally the characteristic of Dali, the “mad” as he self defined, were his famous big mustaches looking like clockwise frozen in time in his hilarious and magnificent world, for the eternity.

Now -from this new perspective about the perception of the reality that horses have- I developed a bitless system to ride and is very logical and simple, because it is based on these same principles. As long as we ride making our horses to feel pain with the bit, we will never reach to be part of their untranslatable state of mind, and we will always be separated from their universe, and we will always be something to escape from, to their untranslatable Eden garden.

As long as we are able to see from this psychedelic perspectives, we will be part of their world, and we will reach that unbelievable paradise. Bitless riding is a window to be part of this different universe, to ride free of pain, fear, and under the same untranslatable universe, being an extension of their world, being the experience of ridding, becoming rider and horse a piece of art…

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About the author

Ishbak Shehadeh

Horse Behaviorist, creator of Ishbak Bitless System, Founder of Bitless Racing Movement.

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