Awareness Part 3
women with horse
In our first two installments, we learned:
- Intention is used to clearly state what we want
- Energy Shapes help focus our intent and set our boundaries
- Mindfulness allows us to become aware of thoughts, feelings and stay in the moment
- Body Awareness helps us see our horse’s position in relationship to us
In our third and final segment of Awareness Training, we will see how our emotions and body tension affect our performance with our equine partner. Our own personal energy plays a huge role in how we interact with other beings, human and nonhuman alike. Use the following tools and exercises to help release negative energy and create a more powerful bond with your horse!
Tool #5: Take Care of Emotions
Horses are empathic, which means that they have the ability to share others’ feelings. If we feel anger, our horse may become fearful, interpreting our anger as a threat to him. If we are afraid, for whatever reason, our horse may also become fearful. So, then, it’s imperative when working with horses to find a way to control our emotions..
Certain behaviors or situations can trigger emotional responses like anger, fear, or frustration. These responses are automatic, and usually go back to a situation experienced early in life. A majority of emotional triggers are created before a person turns six. These triggers are activated by the way important adults like parents or teachers interacted with us as children, sometimes with devastating emotional consequences, or producing deep emotional wounds. Beneath these emotional wounds are beliefs about life and oneself that are not true. These are called “false beliefs,” internal voices that say, “I am not good enough,” or “I will never amount to anything,” or “I am loved only when I am perfect.”
dancer with horse
Horses’ empathic natures make them quite adept at finding their person’s emotional triggers (just as children or siblings are)! In finding them they are asking us to release the trigger and heal the underlying wound.
There are three ways to deal with negative emotions:
• suppress them
• express them
• acknowledge and stay with them until resolved.
When you suppress an emotion, it doesn’t go away, but gets “bottled up” and stored in your body’s cells. Every time this emotion comes up and gets suppressed, you add another layer. Consequently, the emotional reaction gets bigger. If the stack gets too high, it can manifest itself as bodily illness.
When an negative emotion gets expressed, it is released immediately. However, the underlying problem (emotional wound or false belief) is still there and will come up again when triggered. Expressing an emotion is healthy for the body, but not always so great for our interpersonal relationships—people tend to be uncomfortable with those who tend toward explosive responses or reactions.
The third way is to release the emotion and heal the underlying problem at the same time. It’s challenging, though, as our emotions can sometimes seem too big and frightening. However, when we face them mindfully, they tend to shrink, leaving a feeling of peace, love, or even insight. With practice, this method can help us deal positively with our anger and fear.
If you are with your horse and big, negative emotions arise, secure the horse and remove yourself from the situation until equilibrium is restored. Grounding is an exercise that can quickly calm and center you.
EXERCISE: Grounding Yourself
Stand up, take a deep breath in and out, then imagine roots growing out of your feet, down securely to the earth. At the same time let your emotions drain into the ground. Imagine one or two roots growing all the way down to the earth’s center. Now check in and see how you feel. Are you quieter now? Or is there still some emotion present? If still present, locate the emotion in your body and put it into a “ball” lowering it to the ground. If practiced a few times, grounding can be achieved within seconds.
EXERCISE: Grounding Your Horse
Put your hands on your horse’s withers and then imagine roots growing out of its hooves. Feel energy going through your hands and grounding through your horse’s feet.
Grounding is a great way to calm yourself, but it won’t heal your emotional wounds. Try to use the healing methods here, in the safety of your home, or with the help of a facilitator.
Additionally, if you are a particularly sensitive person, you might empathize your horse's emotions. Ground these just as you would your own.
Tool #5: Release Body Tension
Emotions that are not expressed end up as body tension. Horses will mirror this, and thus hold tension as well. Since body tension impedes free movement, you need to be as loose as you can when you’re around horses, especially when riding. Tension is often held in the neck and shoulder area (pulled up shoulders, pulled forward head), the chest area (collapsed chest), the belly (tightened belly muscles), and in the hips (no swinging movement). It helps your relationship and performance with your horse when you release the built-up tension that it can feel. You can also release tension with the following exercise.
EXERCISE: Tense and Release
Stand straight and take a deep breath. Pull your shoulders up in a shrug as tight and as far as you can. Let them go and observe the feeling. Are your shoulders achy? Can you feel the muscles that connect your neck to your shoulders? Is there any tingling or pain? Now do the same with your chest. Pull your chest muscles tight and let go. Can you feel your chest expanding a little? Does it make breathing easier? Now do the same with your belly muscles and your buttocks.
Taking it to the ring
Now it is time to take our toolbox to the pasture, the arena, or the round pen. Here is the step-by-step process for you to use:
- Hold a picture of what you want your horse to do in your mind.
- Use the energy shape to request that picture.
- Only if the horse doesn’t react, reinforce with body language.
Always keep in mind that our goal is to be in harmony with our horse. Don’t fret if things don’t work right away. Embrace your mistakes! Only from mistakes can you learn, and horses are very forgiving creatures. Look at your horse for guidance, try and relax and enjoy the ride. When the two of you are truly in sync, you will feel it, he will feel it, and finally, you will be able to tell by his contentment and the smile in his eyes.
Karen Wegehenkel, author of the upcoming book Awareness Horsemanship, is a longtime horsewoman and student of “healing hands” Energy Work. She has successfully applied human energy work to her equine relationships. Karen can be reached at: email@example.com
Editor Jim Hutchins is director of education at the Northwest Natural Horsemanship Center (NWNHC) near Seattle. The Center specializes in teaching horsewomen and men a more holistic approach to their relationship with the horse. Learn more at: www.nwnhc.com