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language of horses
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language of horses
Every time you interact with your horse, your feelings and emotional state profoundly affect how your horse will respond to you.
Maybe you've had a rough start to the day. You've had an argument with your spouse. You are going to lose your job and finances are bad. You can't find a solution to a never-ending problem. So, you seek refuge in what you love; you put on your happy face and head to the barn to be with your horse.
Your horse, usually easy to catch, seems a bit more stand-offish, impatient with the grooming, and worst case, difficult to manage once you are in the saddle. A pleasant day of riding might turn into a tug of war or, if you are really unlucky, an unexpected buck out of your saddle. Your experience amplifies into frustration and anger, or tears and guilt.
Horses are sensitive, feeling-oriented prey animals. Their survival depends on their ability to sense any incongruence in their environment. Herd safety requires continual communication among herd members. Everything in the environment is monitored for appropriate responses such as fight, flight, freeze or return to grazing. When you engage with your horse you are part of the environment, and ultimately you become a herd member.
I work with numerous riders who struggle with releasing fears and anxiety with their horses to create a deeper sense of harmony. Regardless of your level of riding, your ability to manage your personal energy and become emotionally agile will profoundly shift your experience with your horse. You need the right tools and skills for good horsemanship, and one of them is self-awareness.
EMOTIONAL VIEWPOINTS DIFFER
For horses, emotions are simply information ; it is a form of communication. If a herd member becomes fearful, the whole herd responds simultaneously and moves to safety. They listen to the emotional message, take action, and then return to grazing. Humans view emotions differently. Humans are often embarrassed to show or express emotion. They try to stuff feelings and hide behind a happy face or a mask. Horses do not pay attention to the mask. Horses sense what is in your belly, heart and head.
SELF-AWARENESS AN IMPORTANT TOOL
Practicing small, easy steps of emotional and energetic awareness enhances your relationship with your horse. Start to increase your awareness by noticing where you "live" in your body, the majority of the time. Are you aware of your belly, heart, hips, legs, or throat? Does the idea of even connecting with some part of your physical body below your neck feel like an esoteric idea, foreign in nature and unachievable?
When I first started riding I had no concept that I had a body. As an extreme athlete I had learned how to dissociate from informative emotions such as fear, anxiety, frustration and anger and where they lived in my body, to achieve my goals. This did not sit well with my horse. My horse wanted me in my body paying attention to the environment around me. Eventually a hard buck out of the saddle and an abrasive drag across a gravel arena got my attention. It took ten years to get back into the saddle and two years to work through my fears. Through diligent steps, lots of patience and the perfect horse as my teacher, I have learned how to manage my past memories and triggers of fear to become a better leader for my horse. You cannot lead when you are not centered in your body and mind.
After you locate where you are in your physical body (stomach, throat, chest, head), notice the quality of sensations in that area.
What emotion sits in that area of your body?
- Are you experiencing anger, frustration, fear or sadness?
- What is the message in the emotion you are experiencing?
Label the emotion. If it's "fear," what might you need to do to move to safety? Are you experiencing frustration? Frustration is a sign of pushing against the river. It arises from doing the same thing over and over while trying to get a different result. Take a moment, step back, breathe, ask for help or try a new approach. If you are experiencing anger, you may need to look at establishing some new boundaries with others or your horse.
DON'T IGNORE THE EMOTION
Every emotion is information about what you are experiencing and you are about to experience! It is not about becoming emotional and letting your emotions run amok. It is about utilizing your emotions as logic. An energy-aware, body-centered approach gives you choice and power about how you will respond to your emotions. Ignoring your emotional messages takes you away from your inner wisdom. These ignored emotions are held in your body and your horse responds to your whole being.
Check in with your body and your emotional state of being before you go out to the barn. Do it again as you enter the barn. Do not try to get 'rid' of the emotion you might be experiencing. Instead, listen to it, be with it and get the message behind it.
HORSES RESPOND IMMEDIATELY
It matters little what you are feeling. What matters most is that you have a body-centered awareness. Over and over I witness how horses at liberty respond to my clients as I teach these processes. When the client becomes body-centered and honest about any emotion that may be present, the horse shifts from a nervous, flighty or distracted disposition into one of relaxation, calmness and the desire to connect. Horses naturally move away from the clients who have tension in their body. When the client becomes body-centered and aware the horse walks right up to the human, drops its head, begins to lick and chew and yawn and stretch.
When a horse drops his head he is relaxed. Horses relax when each herd member is in his or her body and relaxed in the environment. Your partnership with your horse requires great mental confidence. It also requires great emotional awareness. Don't be blind to the effects your energy and emotions have on your horse. Become conscious of your thoughts and feelings, use your emotions as information and guide yourself into a fully congruent and present state of being with your horse. From that place you will create the connection and the partnership that you desire, with your horse, and with yourself.
Kathy Pike offers 15 years experience as a professional coach, writer, and workshop leader. She is the author of Pathways to a Radiant Self, and has contributed to several magazines and publications on topics related to mind-body integration and self-awareness. Kathy travels nationally and internationally facilitating workshops and clinics that bring horse and human together for learning and expansion. She is an Approved Epona Instructor. Kathy lives in Carbondale, Colorado. 303-545-2555. coachingwithhorses.com
© Kathy Pike © 2007