What motivates a horse to move in perfect harmony with a person?
Is it love? Conditioned response? Dominance? The tools we use?
Maybe it’s cookies!
Twenty-five years ago I did my first session ever with an animal communicator. Gin was terribly aloof and uninterested in human connection. With a great deal of skepticism and a whole lot of prodding from my mentor (Kim Walnes), I finally called her. I walked away from that experience a believer, which is a story for another time, but what came out of that session was a life long habit of watching people interact and move with horses. During that session, Gin asked me to please show her an example of the kind of relationship I wanted to have with her. From that day on, every time we were together and saw another horse and human interacting, Gin would stop and look at me, then look at them as if to say “is this what you’re after?” Each time I would stop and watch, noticing the details of how they were together and each time I would have to say “no, that’s not it”.
She always sighed with relief. And so I kept seeking with her as my guide.
Over the course of many years I’ve come to see great differences in the type and quality of connection between horses and humans. Horses move and behave in a fluid, natural way in relation to people when there is a genuine connection. My sense is, these are horses who are ‘intrinsically’ motivated to interact with that person.
Intrinsic motivation comes from deep inside and cannot be coerced, conditioned, trained or bribed. These synchronous partnerships seem to tap into something that is more like instinct and that makes it an irresistible force.
When horses are moving with a person out of a genuine, inner desire to partner they flow together in harmonious movement that is in synch. You’ll know it when you see it. What I’ve learned about horses that I no longer doubt or question is that they seem to have a genuine desire to interact with people, to partner with a human being in motion. They like the mental, emotional and physical stimulation. Assuming, that is, that the human in question makes a good dance partner! Moving in synch with another being can be a kind of meditation and shares similar benefits to mediation. When we are truly in flow with one another it’s magical for both partners.
I know the horses enjoy these interactions and that they benefit from them because when I am consistently interacting with them in such a way, they seek me out, they want more. One horse goes back with the herd and another comes over, volunteering to put their head in the halter and interact. They start to glow. Their coats gleam and shine and their posture and carriage change as they become more fit, more agile and more interested in moving creatively on their own, as well as in partnership with me.
What is it that “intrinsically” motivates a horse to interact with a person, to move in synch with them? I think people who synch up with horses believe in horses natural abilities, athleticism and intelligence and trust them to follow. They don’t talk down them or condescend. They believe in themselves as much as they believe in their horses. They know horses know how to move and be already and that all that’s required is that dicey proposition of learning how to move together.
I’ve come to recognize those elusive qualities that can be so hard to teach: feel, timing and balance, are encompassed in our capacity and willingness to move with our horse. It’s one thing to get our horse to move for us. It’s another thing for them to offer to move with us and yet another for us to move with them when they do. Our capacity to move with them or not creates feel or destroys it.
What does it take to move with them? I find it’s posture, balance and movement. Feel, timing and balance come naturally if we have good posture (carry ourselves well), can maintain our own balance and move with grace and agility. Gin taught me this over the years. She is a highly intelligent, highly responsive horse. She responds with great accuracy to what I present. When I am on she is right there with me, willingly, without reservation in perfect synch. When I am off she is off in exactly the way I am off!
When all of these qualities come together horses naturally join us in perfect synchrony. No bribes, no dominance, no coercion necessary. Simply being together, willing to engage in a dialogue, willing to connect with one another.
To see more about how posture, balance and movement influence a horse check out this video I did for my online class where Gin was generous enough to allow me to demonstrate her wonderfully accurate responses to my posture and how it impacts my balance and movement.
Endless gratitude to Gin, Kim and Theresa for sending me down this particular rabbit hole!