Can We Have An Effective Conversation With Our Horse, Even If Our Emotions Aren’t ‘Positive’?

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Yesterday, I wrote briefly about how emotion is an internal experience, rather than an external expression. The following question popped in the JoyRide member’s group in response to that, which is reflective of many conversations on energy and emotion we come across in horsemanship circles:

“Is it true that I can’t be in an effective conversation with my horse if my emotional state is not positive? Even if my actions are appropriate?”

My answer to this question is no, I don’t believe that to be true.

I believe (and beyond that know experientially) that it’s possible to be in an effective conversation with your horse, even when you have judged your emotional state to be “negative” (which, while we’re at it, is an entirely subjective judgement and one that can get us in quite the internal tangle).

Here’s my reasoning as to why…

NB: {If yesterday’s post was brief, today’s answer is not}


Let’s start with confirmation of humanity. I’m human and I’m a horse person which means I’m constantly experiencing emotions, and I’m constantly experiencing emotions in the presence of, and in relationship to, my horse.

The scientific definition of an emotion is a physiological change in the body in response to sensory input.

Put simply, that means my body feels into the environment and my body responds to it. That’s it. That’s an emotion.

The psychological definition of an emotion, is a physiological response followed by a subjective interpretation.

That means:

I feel into the environment and my body changes and responds.

I register this as sensation.

I label the sensation as x, y, or z (“this is anxiety, this is happiness, this is fear”).

How I interpret and label the emotion is my interpretation alone, but it is heavily influenced by culture and story which have ascribed certain feelings in the body to particular emotional states. How I label and create emotion in my mind is subjective.



A tale for you (that we can use to put what we’re talking about into action)

The other day, I was in the arena working with a young horse who has very little handling and at present, feels on edge with being in the arena. Our driveway winds up the long side, partially hidden by an orchard of fruit trees, with a thin strip of grass in between.

As I was working with my pony, my children raced up the driveway and starting thrashing around playing some sort of ninja game near the gate. At that point, my pony went from the relaxed state she had only just found, to the equine version of a helium balloon, and in response, I felt myself flooded with feelings that I interpreted to mean I was cross and frustrated (with my kids, not with the horse).

At this point, I felt a little window of possibility open up. One that made enough room for me to make a choice. This little window came about because of what I practice and teach; I have enough experience now, as well as a different perspective, with strong sensation in the body that I’m able to hold it within the edges of my skin without it short circuiting my brain, a somewhat liberating experience.

My options at this point were:

  • To let my interpretation of the emotions run the show and follow through on perhaps what felt most appealing in that moment, which was to yell at the kids to stop and to blame them for the fact my horse now felt upset.OR:
  • To recognise what I was feeling and decide how to utilise that information.

In other words, what action was I going to take?

In that moment, the best thing to do was transfer my focus off my own irritation and back to the needs of my horse. From there, I was able to take action in alignment with intention to help my horse move to a better feeling place, and quickly my body oriented towards dealing with what was in front of me.

The experience of the emotion was transient, not because I did anything special but because that IS the nature of emotion.

If we don’t invest emotion with story, it’s shelf life in the body is scientifically proven to be only 90 seconds.


The experience of emotion- the action we choose to take- is not inherent to the emotion itself.

It’s MY experience of the emotion, and how I respond to it is MY choice.

Emotion registers in the body as a physiological change, absolutely.

But that change does not dictate our action. In this way, emotions are messages, not demands.

They are signals, but not fixed actions.




When we label an emotion, we both transmute and extend its presence.

Transmute in as far as extend it beyond the physiological shift it began as.

Extend in as far as to have it to consume an amount of time beyond its original design.

The physiological presence of any emotion is only 90 seconds. If we experience anything beyond that, what we are experiencing is our outcome of the STORY we have of the emotion, rather than the emotion itself.

If I use myself again as the example: if I played into the story of the crossness and frustration I described previously, the session would not have continued the way it did.

I would not have been useful to my horse, and I would have felt upset and annoyed that I let the experience overtake me.

As it went, that didn’t happen, and the feelings left as quickly as they arrived.

Emotional experience is transient, not fixed. Over the course of our time together with our horses, our emotional range will naturally be nuanced and extensive.

This is normal and natural.

We are emotional creatures, and that’s ok. Glorious even. As long as we continue to make decisions and take action in line with our ultimate intention, things progress not in spite of it, but because of it, in a useful direction.

In this example, I recognised the emotion and acted in alignment with a different focus. The frustration was part of a control pattern on my part.

I may equally have used that emotion to INFORM the action I take; for example, anger is often a signal that a boundary has been breached. I can use that emotion as a signal to take action on creating a boundary, but the emotion itself is not license to lose my temper or cause emotional or physical harm.

The emotion is a signal; the action is a choice.

The decision of what to do with emotional information and what action to take is the practice of emotional discernment.




What we’re discussing here is very different to suppressing or ignoring emotion.

I’m not trying to escape my experience- quite the opposite.

I’m not trying to present differently to how I feel.

I’m acknowledging what is presenting whilst recognising I have choice as to what to do. And I’m acting in accordance with that choice.

In this way, I’m with the flow of emotion, rather than resisting it in the hope it goes away and pretending something different.


Moving with the flow of emotion manes I recognise that there is no one way to feel, no one way to be.

I do not seek to control my experience, but instead to allow myself to meet the moment; to recognise old patterns as the come up and develop the skills to gently dismantle them.

To recognise that the beauty in life and experience lies in my capacity to be adaptable; for my body and mind to be able to meet the reality of the moment and respond appropriately.

I make a decision, set an intention, take an action and observe what happens.

We are ever changing, emotional creatures. And that is exactly the way it should be.


❤️ Jane


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