Have you ever thought about the impact you have on your horse’s environment?
How your presence, your behavior and your needs influence your horse’s behavior?
Of course I know that when I am doing something with my horse they are picking up on all sorts of small things from me. If I’m edgy they’ll be edgy and if I’m calm, generally they can be calm too. At this most basic level sure, I know I have an impact on my horse’s environment and how they behave around me.
When Anna Blake was here teaching with me we had some fascinating experiences with the horses that I hope I can put into words!
During the weekend there were several occasions where we had a herd of people in with a herd of horses. My guys are pretty laid back so I didn’t think much of it. It was a brisk day with a cold wind and scattered showers so the horses were huddled together under the shelter and more or less ignored us as Anna began her demonstration.
It felt as though we were a presence that was not disruptive to the horses. We could co-exist in the same space easily, without bothering each other much, which you can clearly see in the image above.
Then something changed. As we moved around the pen seeking a better view or some shelter from the wind, we began to come into touching range of the horses. I don’t know what it is, but it seems to happen to all of us, myself included, and it seems to be especially insidious around horses we don’t know. We want the horse to come see us and let us touch them. We can’t help it. It’s some deep heart desire to be chosen by a horse. We don’t care if they want to use as a scratching post we’re just honored they chose us!
And that’s how it happened, sneakily, somewhere in this mix of horse and people contact was made. Someone touched a horse, more than likely more than one of us! Just like that the focus was no longer on Anna’s demonstration. The peaceful feeling of coexisting was gone, replaced by a bunch of ‘needy’ horses crowding people and begging for scratches. It seemed innocent and kind of fun to those involved. I mean, how cool is it to have a bunch of friendly horses come and choose to hang with you?
Into the midst of this rather chaotic scene rang the voice of authority. Anna calls it like she sees it. It’s one of the things I love most about her. And she says: “Who’s aggravating horses!?”
That got everyone’s attention. I don’t think anyone there, myself included, would have seen it that way. That the humans had aggravated the horses and the behavior we were witnessing was not, in fact, cute, friendly and cuddly, but rather a reflection of our neediness. The horses responded to our need to touch them by becoming rather obnoxious and pushy. Anna’s take seemed to be that in our reaching out and touching in the way we do we were actually causing the obnoxious behavior in the horses.
That this behavior was not in fact happy, friendly horses but irritated horses.
Anna’s suggestion – “let’s see if we can become invisible again”. And that’s when the most amazing thing happened. As each of us re-focused our attention on the demonstration and moved out of the herd’s space they all quietly moved off, bunched back up and went back to resting comfortably. No more irritation, no more pushy behavior.
What blew me away about witnessing this was realizing how much we influence our horse’s environment and behavior even when we don’t intend to! The best way I could interpret the behavior we saw was “needy” – they were reflecting our need to touch them back to us in such an obvious way.
How often do we invade their space and put our paws all over them? We call it love. But what do they call it? I swear it’s a curse at this point because now I can’t un-see this. Every time I approach my horses now it’s with this awareness of how they actually feel about my approach, my touch, my need to be close to them. Not my rose colored glasses vision of how I think they feel or how I want them to feel. I think I’m starting to be able to tell the difference between affection and irritation. There is a peaceful quality to the connection when it’s mutual that isn’t there when I’m forcing myself on them.
This whole experience helped solidify something I always knew but have so much more appreciation for now. Horses have a whole, complete, rich life that has absolutely nothing to do with me. When I enter their space I enter their home and boy, I do so with a great deal more consciousness now than I used to. They give me subtle signs that I’m invited in or not, that they are up for an interaction or not. The more I honor their life and their boundaries around being touched the more likely they are to do the things I have in mind AND honor my space and how I would like to be approached and touched.
My relationships with my own horses have blossomed since I stopped assuming they want to be touched. I ask their permission and pay close attention to whether or not they like how and where I’m touching them. If they don’t want me to touch them I honor that. After all, I don’t want them barreling into my space and shoving their nose in my face either.
If you aren’t happy with your horse’s behavior you might want to ask yourself: How am I influencing my horse’s environment, mood and behavior? You might be surprised! I know I was!