What Do I Have to Offer to the Horse Community?
I ask myself, "What do I have to offer the horse community?" on a daily basis. On one hand I could say, "a lot" and get away with it. On the other I may never know.
That won't stop me from trying to be consistently aware, intentional, cognizant and curious when I question what I have to offer horses and fellow equestrians.
By simply knowing I need to ask the question I have done most of the work.
1. The horses come first. I can offer awareness of this. Excellent horsewomen and men keep teaching me this, over and over, and I'm sure I will always be able to put them first more.
2. One of the important contributions I make is as a translator of horse to human and human to horse. I speak horse. Most horse people do, and all people do. Horsespeak is just body language. Humans are interesting because they communicate with 70% body language and give their focus to the other 30%. They weigh their world with it. We must confuse the hell out of horses. I have taught body language clinics for outdoor educators/teachers. So one thing I can offer the horse community is an intentional practice of communication with a non-human specie. If we can talk to a horse in it's language, we become more compassionate humans.
3. Horses love leadership. Other than loving eating grass and big open spaces, they like leading or following. They like to be with a herd. They question and test their place in the heard consistently. They follow the leader they like the most, or the one they most fear, depending on the leadership style. I attended a semester with the National Outdoor Leadership School in 2005. We went to Utah and Wyoming. We backpacked for 90 miles, traveled 180 miles of the Green River, went rock climbing for 22 days, and horsepacked for 137 miles. I also got to observe several different mustang herds in their most liberated setting. We learned teambuilding, expedition behavior, leadership styles, tolerance for adversity, conflict resolution, non-violent communication, survival skills, and more. Horses love consistent, clear, and compassionate communication. On my NOLS semester we focused on the human herd dynamic. Humans and horses can come to a domestic agreement as we are both social creatures. Close study of communication, leadership, and group goals are one way to get closer to horses. So I offer the horse community are the leadership lessons I have learned and how to apply them to working with horses.
4. Horses love yoga. No really, they do. How do I know? Well, as I mentioned I study their language of non-verbal cues. Notice the way the horses in the picture are holding themselves. Long stretched necks, ears listening or flopped, eyes soft. Just an hour earlier I led their humans through a restorative yoga session. The humans felt relaxed, restored, and calm. In my training work, when I feel a horse get tense, spook, take worry, or get too fast, I breathe, reassure, sing, or non-react. I haven't had it not work yet. It only doesn't work if I get tense, out of alignment, and hold my breath. That's when things can (and usually do, even if just a minor riding error) go wrong. Perhaps, better said, horses love relaxed humans. Since yoga promotes relaxation, awareness, and compassion, I can offer the horse world my skills as a yogi.
5. Horses love a harmonious community. A horse, unlike most modern humans, is mostly concerned with its survival. Even domesticated horse has retained this drive at an arguably higher awareness than that of modern domesticated humans. A horse, or any "wild" creature for that matter, will not expend energy unnecessary to survival. It will fight if cornered, and might pick a fight if it wants the better eating place or mate-of-choice, but unlike modern humans horses don't waste energy in past, present, or future "drama." I offer the word "drama" to mean getting stirred up over the business of others, gossip, speculation without proof, egoic advancement, ribbons attained or trying to attain, grudges, or future worries (I would argue they can worry about the present). I have studied over 5,000 human groups in my years as an outdoor educator, backcountry guide, and riding instructor. Humans have much to learn about teamwork. And when the team of a barn is in harmony and happiness, I hedge a bet the horses enjoy that too.
6. Horses like "slow time." Through my life experience living, teaching, and working outside, I have noticed that humans move, speak, and expect results at an alarming rate. Horses are still stuck in slow time on a slow scale. They aren't computer programs and you can't upload a training app that instantly teaches their bodies to leg-yield, lead change, or tuck their legs just so. All this comes by taking natural movements and slowly, on horse time, reinforcing the desired behavior. Even if you are galloping a horse, and the horse likes it, the horse responds in a relaxed manner it if you keep your breathing and reactions slow, easy, and soft. So I offer an awareness of geologic, horse-centric, time that may help you achieve longer lasting training results.
I need to add, I am not the only human who is aware of these things, but I do have a unique background that most people in general don't get to enjoy, and it has taught me big strides in my work with horses. There have been years where I spent a good majority of my nights sleeping on the earth, finding water by smell, and traveling by foot. Humans used to do this--and only this. We have lost these practices in our modern lives, but you can bet your horse understands them!
So I'll leave you with this: ask yourself the same question. What do you have to offer the horse community? How are you contributing? Are you approaching your horse from an anthropocentric (human focused) perspective, an equicentric perspective or a universal perspective?
Little steps you can take might be as simple as thanking the barn help for all the hard work they do (even if that is yourself!), asking others at the barn if they need a hand with anything, or seeing some chore that needs to be done and doing it without complaint or need for recognition and approval. Try sitting with your horse in the pasture, or taking them out for a hand grazing session and scratching their favorite places (oh they will show you where they are! Look for a lowered head, a quivering lip, droopy ears and relaxed hips). Make a date with your horse that doesn't involve a ride. One of my favorite nights with Aurora I got take out, went out to her pasture in the moonlight, and scratched all the places she told me to, and we just hung out. Greet the horses and people you don't gravitate towards with compassion and a desire to learn.
The Infinite Equestrian