When I first learned that you could read the nervous system state you were in at any one time by understanding structural patterns of the body, one of the first things I thought was “I wonder what my body says about me currently?”
This personal, slightly morbid fascination with wanting to know whether your body is more fightey, more flightey, more freezey or more collapsey is not just mine; most of everyone I work with is keen to know about theirs too.
The more experienced I got, the more I came to understand, the more I realized that any sympathetic patterns that were showing up in the body as structural patterns were nothing more than the sum of our past experiences. It lets you say, “your body is showing ‘x’ pattern, which tells us nothing more than how it’s dominantly reacted to things in your life previously.”
So, while it can be interesting, yes, what matters much more is what is happening right now, and how we approach and are in life moving forward. To spend too much time on anything else is to do nothing more than keep facing in the wrong direction: backwards.
I was thinking about this recently in relation to the amount of material we are presented with online to do with horse wellness and welfare. It’s truly fabulous. We know so much more detail than we ever knew previously. About what lines in the horse’s muscular tell us about their tension patterns.
What it means to work with our horses in a way that promotes soundness and wellness (and what it doesn’t).
We can peer at their feet and have a better understanding of structure and shape.
We see riders and know more about what they can correct to find greater harmony for the sake of both them and their horse.
There are still massive strides to be made (understatement), but there is a large pool of us who really care, and who are doing our best to cause not only as little harm as possible, but as much good as possible.
With all the sharing on social media, however, what it seems to have allowed less for is tolerance, patience, and compassion for the journey from A to B. We still are not that great about allowing for the messy middle whilst we all do our best to promote, make and create the changes.
We click on the photo, pinch it with our fingers, and zoom in for the analysis. And we let people know about it.
We look at a horse, a rider now and we compare them to the ideal of everything I have mentioned above. But we often know little about the start point. Sharing on social media can be a scary landscape for sharing progress, for sharing the messy middle. In other words, for sharing the reality. Because the playing ground we meet, however well intentioned, can be a brutal one.
My big chestnut mare, for instance, I have been working to get her feet “right” for many, many years. She has lines on her body from old tension patterns and a susceptibility to allergies that can create some fullness in the parotid glands around the jaw at certain times of year. I’m acutely aware of this.
I saw a photo of us the other day and I found myself scrutinizing it for everything that was wrong, that I would like to improve, that still wasn’t quite right. If this sounds over the top, it’s very much not. Those of you who are in the public eye for your work (and for many of us this is not our natural state), get pretty hot off the press feedback from the gallery. And beyond that, my horse’s welfare is my top priority.
But when I found myself doing this, I stopped. I said to myself, this horse has changed beyond recognition. Sure, there are still things that don’t fit within the ideal, but she is a healthy, happy horse enjoying her work.
And I wondered, I’m sure there are others out there doing the same; perhaps not showing the middle ground, the progress because of what we see that we are aiming to change that still show up in the body in the body as snapshots of the past.
Are we accountable and responsible for ourselves and our horses? Absolutely.
Is it important to learn more about them and ourselves on every level so we can do better? Absolutely.
Is there a way to do that with more kindness and grace, to allow for the imperfections, and the time it takes to make those changes and to support people as they do so? I think so.