The Horse Seeks Me: Its not I who seek the horse (Horses)
Will that not be dangerous? How should I be with my horse if I am not thinking? The most obvious answer is that horses are prey animals and all herd prey animals needs to be in a constant state of awareness of their environment and other herd members in order to avoid being eaten. Although horses have been living with humans in a domesticated environment for hundreds of years, most horse owners have experiences demonstrating that this heightened awareness and flight instinct is not so far from the surface.
A couple of years ago I spent some time riding in southern Africa. Although the biggest predators were separated from us by fences most of the time, the horses lived with other prey animals, in earshot of the roar of the lions at sundown and the whoop of the hyenas at night. It was interesting to note that on the whole, these horses were not much more fearful and spooky than our horses. In fact, my experience is that the environmental and herd awareness of horses has hardly altered since horses lived on the plains in Africa.
So how can this instinct that can cause spookiness and upset to some riders, also be a gift? What are horses trying to teach us about the importance of staying present?
Two, falling off three times in two years after 20 years without a fall. Some would say and indeed have said that the answer to staying on would be to ride using a saddle. Fair point. However, me and my bruised bum both know that each incident arose from my lack of presence.
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Horses, as highly social, nomadic prey animals, embody many of the attitudes and skills that some humans spend their lives searching for. If I can provide the same level of comfort and security to my horse that she gets from the herd, she will yearn to be with me.
Combining my lofty expectations of my horse with rest and praise when those expectations are met, and with admonishment when the horse falls short, keeps her trying hard and seeking my approval. Horses feel the same basic emotions we do — anger, frustration, fear, jealousy, humiliation, contentment, depression, excitement. I think some horses also have a distinct sense of humor, while others decidedly do not.
Horses at various stages of life experience varying levels of confidence, bravery and stoicism, just as humans do. Training can only occur when a horse is quiet in the mind and able to think about what I am asking. Keeping a horse mentally relaxed and engaged can be a challenge, but it makes an enormous impact on how fast she learns. Because horses are prey, flight and herd animals, they tend to adopt the emotions of those around them.
If a rider is angry, scared or frustrated, the horse feels it too. While mares may be slightly more relationship-oriented, all horses have relationships within the herd. Usually, a horse will form a special bonded relationship with one other horse in the herd. Between two associates in a herd, one is dominant and one is subordinate — that part of the relationship is usually clear and uncontested.
I want to be her friend, but I also want her to look up to me as the leader, the one in charge. Because horses naturally crave relationships, they can also be controlling and manipulative. Horses love to play games and control the actions of others in the herd. Having the sense to know when you are being played like a fiddle by your horse is important. If I make an action to which my horse reacts, I am in control.
If the horse makes an action, to which I react, the horse is controlling me. But meeting those needs is decidedly not simple and presents a constant challenge. Keeping in mind these important aspects of equine behavior helps me connect with a horse on a more meaningful level, to bring out the very best in both of us.
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Without question, horses make us better people, if we let them. Going beyond the sporting and recreational opportunities horses offer, delving deep into their behavior and adopting the principles that make us better humans brings a whole new level of significance to the endeavor. To be the kind of leader my horse chooses and believes in requires a lot of hard work and dedication on my part.
But what that horse gives me in return is invaluable — a true partnership between horse and human, and the feeling that together we can accomplish anything. Log in to leave a comment. Perform any additional tasks liking a Facebook page, captioning a photo, submitting a story, etc.
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