Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Horses and humans, meeting in the middle

Last night in the barn I was cleaning feed tubs and waiting for husband to bring out the dinner buckets. Keil Bay thought I was getting ready to feed, so he joined me at the feed room door, but when I just stood there, rubbing his neck, he nudged me, a big (some would say rude) nudge with his muzzle.

I stepped back to catch my balance, made a little shriek sound, and the Big Bay's eyes went wide and a sliver of white showed. He raised his head. I collected myself. Then, just as suddenly, I relaxed and breathed out in a sigh. He lowered his head and made a soft snort.

Keil Bay and I know one another well enough that this kind of communication happens all the time. He got overly excited about dinner, I misread his appearance at the doorway, I offered affection, he wanted food, he expressed himself, I reacted, he reacted. Then we both breathed and relaxed and grounded ourselves together. I think if you simmer the essence of horse and human communication down to its most basic, this is what you have.

I kept thinking about it, though it's not a new idea to me, nor to most people who spend time with horses and spend more time pondering how this relationship works.

Horses are large compared to humans and their instincts tend toward flight in moments of fear, boldness in times of play, and what to a horse is a simple nudge asking for movement, can be a rough shove to a smaller human. A shriek quite normal in volume as a reaction of surprise by a female human is incredibly loud to a horse.

This could have gone another way if Keil didn't know me and I didn't know Keil. Years of living together have taught us a few things.

Horses bolt and flee when things get scary, sometimes they rear and spin. Humans grip on tight and fold forward into a modified fetal position. Humans usually tense up, horses do too but their tension is released by their motion, if allowed.

Put the human who grips on tight and folds forward into a ball of hard muscle on a horse trying to get away from something scary and you have a recipe for disaster.

For humans to coexist peacefully with horses we have to engage in a mutual training down of our natural instincts. We teach the horse not to bolt, not to run away, to keep his hooves on the ground, to spin only when we ask him to. We teach ourselves to sit up straight, to resist the urge to grip on tight with hands and legs, to let our seats go deep instead of forward, to relax our bodies into the horses' forward motion. It's almost never an equal endeavor.

A young horse with less training usually needs a more experienced human and vice versa. Personalities play a role, and for the human, a basic philosophy about how we treat "others" plays a role as well.

I think the best horse people meet their horses in the middle. They listen to the horses to learn how to give at the right moments, in ways that are safe for both, in consistent patterns of behavior that build trust.

The image I have is of a human and a horse walking into an open space, an arena, or a field, and both working in unison to control instincts and join forces. A well-known Rumi poem came to mind, but I'd never considered it in the context of humans and horses. I think it fits pretty well.

Out Beyond Ideas
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.  I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense


Matthew said...

I love that Rumi poem!

And the poetic prose you wrote about horse-human communication / relationship. It always fascinates me what it is like to get to know horses well from interacting with them every day. Not sure why it is, but they have a deep emotional / grounding effect on us.

billie said...

I love it too but never considered it in the context of horses and people and how they are together.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I like the poem too. Our relationship with horses can only benefit from each of us getting to know the other and their personalities. Having horses in my life is in a sense a big part of my emotional well being. My horses ground me to the here and now. I find that being calm and patient around horses carries into other aspects of my life. If only more people would learn how to interact with horses maybe the world wouldn't be in such a mess.

billie said...

I so agree, A. I can't imagine life without them at this point. I spend so many years of my younger life WANTING to live with horses - it has been a dream come true but also as you say, a huge part of my emotional well being.