I don’t consider myself a super spiritual, New Age-ey kind of chick. I don’t consult a psychic or insist on Feng Shui-ing my whole house. But I do believe in energy, and there’s science to back me up. (If you want to totally blow your mind, Google “string theory” or the “Theory of Everything.” Seriously, shit gets weird at the sub-atomic level, and it turns out everything is energy and it all vibrates.)
I believe that our energy controls just about everything in our lives, from what we’re able to accomplish to how we’re perceived by other people. Our thoughts have power. Our intentions have power. This is what I mean when I say energy- the thoughts, intentions and beliefs that we tend to think of as non-physical and disembodied are actually quite real and have real consequences. If you think you’re a failure, you will be. If you think life is unfair and you are a victim of forces beyond your control, then you are.
Horses are masters at picking up on our energy. A horse knows when you are scared and he asks himself, “Why is she scared? There must be something to be scared of!!” The horse becomes scared right along with you, and that’s why fearful riders shouldn’t ride spooky horses. They feed off each other’s fear.
Have you ever watched a really good clinician or trainer work with a horse? The horse’s owner has brought it to the clinic because there’s some problem; let’s say trailer loading or refusal to ride out alone. The owner comes into the arena, tries to get the horse on the trailer, the horse balks, the crowd sees the problem. The trainer takes over. Many times he or she doesn’t do much of anything, maybe a flick of the carrot stick or a raised arm in the direction of the trailer, and the horse gets on. Why is that? It’s because the owner does not expect the horse to load. The owner thinks, “I can’t do this. I need someone to do this for me. My horse won’t do it.” By contrast, the trainer has seen hundreds of horses load onto trailers. He expects the horse to get on the trailer. It isn’t a matter of if; it’s when. The horse senses the trainer’s confidence, realizes there’s nothing to be scared of, and hops on.
Everyone says that working with horses is all about body language. That’s part of it. But a big name trainer can sell you a Special Halter and a Special Whip, and tell you how to position your arm while holding the Special Whip, and you still won’t be able to get your horse to do what you want until you learn what the trainer knows, and that’s how to control your energy.
One of my favorite things to do is watch experienced trainers work horses on the ground. If you watch them, they often don’t do much. It’s not a lot of exaggerated movement. It’s not flailing their arms or running around the round pen or cracking the whip. It’s a look at the hindquarters or a shift in weight. A lot of it is quiet and still. It’s much more about energy than movement. When we start learning how to work with horses like the really good trainers do, we learn the movements but, what we really need and what’s harder to master, is the energy.
I’ve only worked with a few horses. Each new one teaches me to be more subtle with my movement and more commanding with my energy. People call it all kinds of things- speaking horse, the language of equus, natural horsemanship. Whatever you call it, it’s really a journey you embark on to master control of your fear, frustration, anger and impatience. Every horse is Yoda and every human is Luke Skywalker. Instead of a light saber we get a lunge whip.
All of us bring our own specific baggage to our horses. I bring my fear and insecurity, my need to accomplish, to DO instead of to BE. Maybe you’re impatient, maybe you move very quickly to anger. Maybe you give up. Maybe you don’t think your horse will ever trust you because you know deep down that you’re untrustworthy. That’s the game though, to become the things the horse needs us to be. We move from fear to confidence, from negative self talk to compassion for ourselves, from narrow-mindedness to trying a new approach, from self-righteousness to humility.
That’s really the gift our horses give us. Yes, we can ride them, we can buy all the gear and go to all the events, we can solve our problems with a sharper bit or bigger spurs, but if we really want to connect with them, if we want more than a ribbon on the wall and a pretty picture for Facebook, we have to do the internal work that they require of us.