Horses can see right through you. It can be an interesting experience, standing face to face with such a large, living creature and know that they probably see you more clearly than you see yourself. If you go to a horse while you’re having a bad day, you can be sure that your horse will let you know, in no uncertain terms, that who you are in that moment is not acceptable. Unfortunately for horses, we seldom listen and will attribute their communication to being “bad bahaviour” and, mostly likely, attempt to enforce ourselves on them.
One of the first things my teacher, Patsy Devine of Triple H Horsemanship, taught me is that you cannot bring your emotions with you when you go to your horse. You can almost guarantee that doing so will create a situation in which neither you nor your horse are having a good time. Sometimes I go to the horses when I’m feeling low – but with the deliberate goal of releasing that feeling. I do not allow myself to try and do anything with a horse if I am not holding that goal within me, because I know that the experience will just not be enjoyable.
Getting angry with your horse is similar to getting angry with an infant who is not yet capable of vocalizing their wants and needs – you cannot expect that they will understand you better because you’re now angry or frustrated with their lack of understanding. It sounds unreasonable now – but we all have been guilty of doing this at least once in our lives. Logically we know that anger is not constructive, especially when working with animals, yet sometimes we do get frustrated. It is in these moments that we need to be very strict with ourselves. We need to make sure that we do not act in anger – because that is when we do things we later regret.
This actually translates to all areas of life – getting angry or frustrated is seldom (if ever) constructive – so I propose that it’s about time we ask ourselves why we still allow ourselves to act in anger in so many areas of our lives?
One thing you can know for sure is that if you are frustrated with your horse, they’re probably equally frustrated with you. The difference between the horse and the human is that the horse is always honest in reflecting, through their behaviour, what they’re thinking, seeing and feeling. Humans, on the other hand, have no humbleness in their frustrations – everything becomes the horse’s fault and “why won’t you just do what I tell you!”. It is this tendency to justification that sours relationships between man and beast. Where animals are willing and able to be honest with themselves and with you – you are more likely to blame them for your shortcomings in that moment.
So – I’ve covered the ‘problem’ quite a bit, now what is the solution? A handy tip I learned from my teacher is to always keep a smile in your belly. This means that no matter what you’re doing with your horse (or whatever part of your life), you’re doing it with the intention and inner presence of supporting your horse and being their friend. It means making sure that who you are with your horse is someone that they want to be friends and partners with, that if you get frustrated when your horse doesn’t understand you first remember to bring a smile back into your belly and look for different ways to help your horse understand.
I can’t count the number of times a play session with a horse turned sour because I let myself get frustrated – so I know how difficult it can be to keep a cool head and a light heart! What I can say is that when I do adjust my approach (who I am), I get significantly improved results where my horse is with me again and trying their best to understand and be my partner.