With a handful of exceptions, most riders I work with have a pre-disposition to the flight and freeze response and as a consequence, I’ve developed a fascination around some of the cultural and community dynamics that feed into us responding the way that we do. Horses are such a brilliant magnifying glass for highlighting how we respond under pressure, and as such, give us the opportunity to examine things on a much deeper level than we may have entertained otherwise.
My observation is that the majority of us have been trained out of the ability to respond and mobilise under stress, and in its place, been trained into helplessness and a sense of needing someone or something else to fix problems for us. We see this manifest in a variety of different ways; our voice becomes muted when we find ourselves disagreeing with someone in the moment but unable to express it (freeze). Any sort of activity that calls for expansion or discomfort creates near instant anxiety (flight). In the face of something not quite going to plan- be that in training or otherwise- we dissolve quickly into self-blame and internalize the situation at hand as a personal flaw (freeze).
As a collective nervous system, this is not really surprising. It’s really only very recently that women have had a voice- domestically and publicly- or personal agency. For most of us, we would be the first, and possibly second at a stretch- generation to have that opportunity, and as a consequence, there are few role models and a long lineage of unspoken voices and disempowered actions whose essence we hold in our bodies.
Healing our nervous systems, increasing our capacity involves coming back to your own centre and rooting yourself in your own power; not power over, or power to. Just here I am, taking up all the space that’s owed to me and welcoming you to do the same.
Before we have that integration, it’s impossible to be a sustainable and steady presence. Our horses feel into our lack of steadiness and it feels untrustworthy.
Finding that power is not selfish or indulgent. It’s an essential part of tending to the individual and community collective and of creating a way of being that allows us to be reliable and compassionate partners for our horses.