On Losing The Capacity For Self-Preservation

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I recently was in a rather blokey conversation with a rather blokey man. We were talking about motorbikes and things that go fast and things that you can shoot. In other words, things that I have absolutely no authority to speak on. I feel I did a somewhat magical job just keeping up.

At one point, the conversation turned to horses, and I felt myself pull out of the slow lane and step excitedly on the accelerator. After spending a not insignificant amount of time talking about all manner of relatively dangerous things that this person happily does daily, he turned to me with an ashen look on his face and said quietly, you know, I really am kinda afraid of horses.

I faltered for a moment and then said, that makes sense. A healthy respect for the size and stature of such a glorious creature seems to me to be a very normal response.

I thought back to the clinics and lessons I have taught over the last few years. It’s not uncommon to have someone enter the arena with their horse completely on top of them.

It’s ok, the owner lovingly croons, stroking their neck. There’s nothing for you to be worried about.

From my position, the opposite is true. There is, indeed, a lot to be worried about.

As I examine the small print of my insurance policy, I watch near misses of flying trotters being swung over the arena, big, muscular shoulders maneuvering their owners around, and a series of reactive movements putting them both in a position that I would classify as fundamentally dangerous.

So, what’s up with this? Why is it that an otherwise rational human can be oblivious to a situation where there is potential- even likelihood- of physical harm?

What is it that makes us unable to create a healthy boundary between ourselves and our horses for the simple reason of keeping both of us safe?

There are a few main reasons why I understand this to be the case.

The first and most striking one is that a system in collapse loses its capacity for self-preservation. We have literally and metaphorically lost the necessary oomph to be able to assert ourselves, and beyond that, the sensory information coming into the brain is turned down to the point where we have little awareness of ourselves in relationship to our environment. In other words, our capacity to accurately determine our safety is so compromised, it’s as good as non-existent.

You see this reflected in people’s relationship with their horses, and within human-to-human relationships; where one person is treating the other badly and it feels like all indicators of potential harm on the receiver’s end have been snuffed out.

The second ties into the first and that is a lack of physical agency. The ability of my body to both draw things in and push things away requires adaptability of structure, posture, and the capacity for my internal world to hold different tensions. In collapse, I am essentially porous; I allow everything in without an appropriate filter, and I lack the strength to be able to push things away.

You can observe in movement the same mechanism of action that is reflected emotionally and in boundary setting. They all exist together as a co-dependent whole.

The third relates to our survival patterns. Sometimes, the owner can see what’s happening but doesn’t want to be the one to have “that” conversation with their horse.

You do it, they say, handing the lead rope over.

The need to be “liked” or non-confrontational trumps the reality of what they know needs to happen; a firm conversation for the benefit of all concerned (which to my mind, ironically, is the most loving thing to do).

Nervous system adaptability and the ability to respond appropriately to your environment is fundamental to not only keeping you safe but keeping your horse safe also. With some time and energy, it’s all figureoutable. If you’re interested in exploring with me further, you can check out my membership- I’ll post the link below.


❤️ Jane

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