Sometimes I forget to use my own communication abilities. Sometimes I forget to create images, to adjust my presence, I forget to feel, and I get caught up in just getting something done. It’s never a big tragedy — Cooper lets me know immediately that my presence is occupied by my analytical thinking, that I have interrupted my connection. Usually, it looks like him thrusting his head down to the ground to nibble an almost non-existent tuft of something. I could punish him, I take it personally that the horse is trying to get the best of me and yank on his face with a rude energy. I could do those things. I could repeat an old pattern of an old presence of an old perspective and through repetition reinforce for him that people aren’t listening. Sometimes it is tempting to go back into a fight!
To truly be in two-way communication with a horse means realizing that he is “training” me just as much as I am “training” him.
Horses, and all animals, communicate with images that are detailed with senses. As he plays his games, he is sharing images and senses. He is applying pressures that, when I give to him, he will cease to apply, thereby letting me know he got what he wanted. Sometimes he’s communicating that he isn’t getting what he wanted. This horse has command of human emotions, and he uses them to apply pressure when there is something he’d like different, or when he feels a challenge. When I am connected with him, I get to sense all of this as he shares it, and the more aware I am of myself, the easier it becomes for me to recognize what’s really going on. When I have awareness, I am free to engage or not engage.
Without making it into a psychological study, without making it into a spiritual practice, horses are creatures with access to many different dimensions of awareness. The dimension they lack is the capacity to judge, or in other words, to use a mental capacity to create a sense of opposition or self-doubt within themselves.
In humanity, the vast majority of us have been taught, from a very early age, to doubt and question ourselves. In fact, it’s one of the first things sold to us as very young people. We are taught to override what we know in our hearts. It can feel like an inner battle until maybe we numb ourselves to it, or just learn to ignore the tension in our body. The horses feel it, though.
“When do you suppose we will start taking Cooper and Dreamer out on trail rides together?” came Lynda’s question.
“Well, he has invited the riding relationship,” I begin to share, “so now it’s just a matter of walking through that conversation with him. I’m not going to get on him unless we are on the same page about it.”
There is a convention introduced by “natural horsemanship” that humans are predators and horses are prey animals, and this is how we should address them. It is a very interesting assumption that horses would see us in this way.
We can show up with a predatory energy, and the horses will respond from their instinctive flight response. This response is what a lot of trainers rely on. It is a power game where we hold all of the cards. Going back into the round pen, we then have a prey animal trapped in a cage and are doing what we can to manipulate its fear of being killed. Hopefully, it figures out that we mean no harm, and hopefully it figures out that anything we might ask should be received the same way. This is anxiety training, a form of one-way communication.
If we don’t have a round pen, we can still use anxiety training with ropes, bits, spurs, whips and other equipment that will inflict pain and invoke the horse’s instinctive prey response. Of course, these tools don’t need to inflict pain, but when they do, they override any sense of equality between us and the horses. This has been effective for eons to train horses to submit to our will. I won’t say it’s all kindness, although these tools can certainly be used in kind ways. But humans have figured out that pain can be a great motivator and horses will, when pushed to a point of instinctive fear, give away their heart and their will to survive our demands.
Again, none of this is wrong. It has been effective for eons as horses have offered themselves freely to humanity for sport, companionship, service, battle, field-work, meat, milk and more.
People are, with exponential speed, realizing that there is a different way. We are noticing that dominance, while effective for some, does not create a truly partnering relationship. We are beginning to value relationships with animals. We are beginning to see that to be in relationship with an animal invites a different sort of awareness with ourselves, an awareness that has a magnificent ripple effect on the rest of our lives. The biggest obstacle for most people is the courage to see where we have been dominant, in fact predatory, and without punishing ourselves, simply choose another way.