Horses are masters of communication through movement, facial expressions, gestures and emotion. They are in touch with the world around them, gathering information with all of their senses. They notice everything about us and respond to all the things we are saying and asking. Whether we know it or not.
Meanwhile, we are not really taught to be good listeners. We are taught to tune out most of our senses, especially those pesky, uncomfortable emotions. And more, we mostly are taught to talk over our horses, even punish them if they dare to express an opinion.
It’s hard on these master communicators to be paired up with such an unconscious lot. I never realized how hard until I decided to learn about horses from my herd. And boy, they gave me quite a crash course in the fine art of non-verbal dialogue! First I had to learn to stand still long enough to observe the subtle nuances of what they were trying to tell me. Then I had to get internally still enough to feel the even greater nuances that comprised the emotional content behind the behavior, movement or gesture.
I learned things that summer about horses who have been with me for more than 10 years that I had never known. They guided my hands to the places in their bodies that were sore or stiff and showed me how to support a release. They guided me to place my hands in places that caused a flood of emotions – tears streaming down my face with no idea where the grief was coming from except that the torrent was temporary and followed by such a lifting of weight! Sighs of relief, loud blowing of air, wide yawns and dramatic stretches.
There is a level of communication horses share that goes beyond visual body language. Call it the language of the heart if you like. They are capable of clearly sharing how they feel if we are open to listening with our own heart. Once the doors of perception open to this level of communication the depth of connection and relationship feels like pure magic! It’s hard to believe you couldn’t see it and feel it before.
I’m learning about horses from horses. I’m learning about horses by being in direct communication with horses. And it’s the most amazing thing in the world!
It’s also the most humbling thing in the world. The things they share with me drive me to do better by them. Drive me to find the words to share their stories. When we don’t listen to their side of the conversation we disregard their intelligence, their sentience and their willingness to partner with us in a mutually beneficial, cooperative way.
There is no need for conflict. No need for bribery. No need for force, intimidation or the setting of harsh boundaries. Horses are teaching me what it means to be in relationship with another species that is based in honoring our uniqueness. They demonstrate what mutual respect looks and feels like.
All that’s required is curiosity and a willingness to give your horse a voice in the dialogue. Be patient and give them permission to speak. Then learn to listen and interpret their side of the conversation. You might be surprised by what they have to say!