All horses are born extraordinarily sensitive. It’s written in their DNA, part of their survival instinct, to be acutely aware of their environment. Wild or domestic, horses are instinctive, intuitive animals. We hold it in our hands to determine if that sensitivity is retained by a healthy, happy horse as we work together. It’s all too easy for our training method to amp up a horse’s sensitivity or dull it way down. Their personality determines which path they take. Our early interactions shape behavior, and impact long-term health and well being. It’s a responsibility I do not take lightly.
While all horses are born with a similar kind of sensitivity, each has their own distinct personality. Personality plays a huge role in how each horse responds to their environment. I am part of their environment, and a big one. It’s up to me to learn about each herd member’s personality and adapt my leadership style so that it fosters self-expression and confidence. Do they feel safe and confident enough to retain their personality when I work with them?
Dancing Tango lent me intensely personal insight into what it’s like to follow someone else’s lead. My personality falls on the side of introverted, empathic and highly sensitive. A heavy-handed leader sends me into survival mode. A speedy, anticipatory mess. The critical, frustrated, it’s-never-good-enough leader shuts me right down. I become dull and unresponsive. The tentative leader leaves me guessing, no idea what I’m supposed to do. On a night when my confidence is high, I fill the gaps with my own creativity, but if I’m feeling off, guessing makes me nervous. My innate sensitivity never leaves me. But I am more, or less responsive depending on how safe and comfortable I feel with a given dance partner. Subconsciously, I adopt coping strategies to protect myself. My personality is either encouraged to express, or it’s shut down in favor of the leader expressing his personality through me.
Creating partnerships with horses that allow their sensitivity and personality to thrive really comes down to me. A great deal hinges on my capacity to show up with my own confidence, clarity, and enthusiasm in place. Doubt undermines my ability to make any request with conviction, leaving my horses guessing, or in the case of my herd, studiously uninterested in interacting with me. It takes too much energy to guess!
I work on the things that make me that confident, clear and adaptable leader all the time. It’s not something I was able to develop by working with horses alone, as it turns out. Most of us live highly domesticated lives. I’ve come to realize that on a subconscious level I didn’t feel safe in the world. My fight or flight instinct was still online but my body and mind had no physical capacity to act on my own behalf in a crisis. I realized that I needed to feel strong and capable in my own body and mind before I could show up for my horses and be okay with them expressing themselves. I had to tap into my own animal instinct.
What a glorious experience to follow the lead of a confident, intuitive, and empathic dancer! Every leader has their unique style. When we come together, we create an equally unique partnership as we discover how our personalities meld and express. This kind of dance is intoxicating. It’s hard to describe. I find myself being guided through movements I didn’t even know I could do with ease. I feel graceful, unbound, and limitless. All of my senses engage. I see more, smell more, taste more and feel absolutely every nuance. Completely present with the intimacy of our connection. I could dance like this all night! There is something liberating and special about sharing movement in this closely connected way.
It leaves me wanting more, and that’s how I want my horses to feel about their interactions with me. Curious, interested and enthusiastic about how it feels when we move together. I help my horse retain that inborn sensitivity, that unique and precious personality, by doing my own work so that I come to the relationship adaptable, instinctive and intuitively sensitive. I meet my horses where they live instead of dulling them down to meet me where I used to live. That dullness of domestication is leaving me bit by bit…
And so it turns out the horse inspires me to rediscover my own sensitivity to be the partner that fosters theirs.
Care to learn more about cultivating your own wildness? I’ll be teaching workshops this fall focused on developing the human side of the dance through the principles of natural movement education. For more information:
You can find me on Facebook at Tango with Horses: A Slow Horsemanship Revolution
Or on the web at: www.andreadatz.com