What we love about horses is also the essence of what we often find the be the most challenging: their energy.
“I just don’t get it”, a trainer said to me recently, “why all these women choose these big, powerful horses to work with when they’re clearly over faced”.
I drifted off in thought. “It’s easy”, I replied, “to have this conversation from the level of the obvious. And I agree- there are consequences when horse and rider are mismatched. The work that we both do sees examples of this happening all the time”.
I ignore the sweeping references to ‘all these women’, smoothing down my bristles.
“But I do get why it happens”, I went on, “even if the answer defies what common conversation will allow.”
So, here’s the thing: I don’t know how to write about horses, and our relationships with them, without writing about how I live, and the thoughts that course through my brain-space on the daily. My ramblings aren’t good examples of what posts for social media are s’posed to look like. I could care less.
I can’t answer questions that are asked of me without thinking about how horses-wot-were-probably-too-much-for-me-at-the-time were what scraped me off the floor and motivated me to get up. When the feelings and concerns and day to day happenings of my life felt too much to hold within the edges of my skin.
How life, the more you live it, becomes simpler and more complicated, more defined, and slightly crazier, has many more blurry edges than black and white boxes for us to tick.
And how, many conversations I have involves stories of people ending up with a glorious horse creature in front of them that all at once seems magnificent and terrifying in equal amounts, finding themselves inside a blurry box they ticked themselves and wondering how they got there. How they feel overwhelmed and wrestle with their feelings and thoughts. How they perhaps even feel shame to have decided their way into a relationship that they now don’t know how to navigate or get out of. How hopeless it all feels.
We can’t start that conversation without zooming out to consider things from a much wider lens. And if you’re willing to join me for the chattering about it, that’s where I’d like both of us to start.
If I could title this next section, it would be:
‘Things I would like to have said in reply to the trainer but couldn’t because they either came to me at 2am or when I was in the shower, neither time being appropriate to pick up the conversation. And plus, he’d probably think me crazy.’
Here we go.
The energy of horses is glitter in the blood. Our relationship with them and the shared stories we’ve experienced over history informs our collective unconscious. We see a horse and we respond, their presence inspiring a feeling and a knowing, even if we are unsure from what or where it came.
What our modern mind forgets, the clay of our body remembers. Legs and hooves and fur against skin. Movement of a shared togetherness. Partnerships that words feel inadequate, or not enough or clunky to describe.
Horses, along with everything else, are a cellular remembering. Of vitality. Of connection. Of something beyond what present day living would have us reduced to. Of Aliveness.
When I’m asked, what are these people thinking to have horses beyond what their skill or comfort level might allow, my mind falls to this. It might not appear to make sense, I tell myself, but I believe it comes from yearning, from a desire to be shocked out of the neutrality of spirit and of mind modern life has comforted us into. A call above the frequency of normal hearing that makes us cock our heads and turn them to the side, that catches our attention and fills us with desire.
We want that, a voice responds. We want that, we want that, we want that.
But here we are. We have a horse in the paddock. We might be riding, we might not. We might be working with them on the ground, we might not. We find their energy overwhelming. Our bodies cannot match their bigness. We find that it doesn’t take a lot for us to feel frightened and afraid, even if our logical mind is telling us, it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok.
We feel it is very much not ok.
What is it that communicates not okay-ness to us as humans? Where do we register that in our body? How do we feel that?
I’m going to start this part of the conversation in a back to front fashion, with what vitality feels like in the body and reversing back from there.
A vital body is a full volume feeling body. It’s a body that’s communicating messages to the brain all day long. Our body sends out its tendrils, feeling into the environment all around us. The regular things don’t capture our attention. It’s the novel ones that do. The way that our body communicates change, new experience or an energetic shift is through the language of sensation.
Our conscious brain notices when things change. Novelty is simply change, a communication of something different to what it was a few moments ago.
Something has changed, our senses tell us. We feel sensation.
What creates sensation?
Sensation is created through movement; physical, internal movement. That movement goes in one of two directions, either towards the midline of my body or away from it.
It moves towards with the experience of concern; everything gets tighter, wraps around itself in an effort to protect (we could also call this fight flight).
It moves away when it is in the process of opening, when the tightness is unfurling (we could call this parasympathetic). When we’ve looked out with our binoculars and decided we are safe.
In both opening and closing, we feel sensation. Our organs, our bones, our fluids, moving all-the-day. In the experience of fear or unfurling, we feel sensation. When our body is closing down, or rising up, we feel sensation.
We feel, we feel, we feel, we feel, we feel. Opening or closing, we feel.
A healthy body is designed to feel.
What gets us into trouble?
… which begs the question, what internal state feels good to you? What amount of sensation can you hold within the edges of your skin before your mind associates it with alarm or concern or something unhelpful?
What feeling state do you associate with “being in control”? What feeling state do you associate with “being in danger or alarmed”?
Regardless of the how you arrived here. Regardless of if there is something we would call trauma or not. Regardless of the story. The start point always begins with a reframing and a new conversation with what sensation feels like in the body, and beyond that, what it means.
For most of us, a neutral body and a horse that is half dead is the only energetic space that feels safe. Which means to change, we have to enter a conversation with aliveness.
It’s not the sensation that’s the problem, this is normal.
It’s our interpretation of sensation that’s the problem.
In our mind, we create word chains. It goes like this:
I feel a sensation.
I decide that it’s anxiety (for example).
“This is anxiety”, I tell myself.
Every thought I have is a message to the body to respond a certain way.
Anxiety is not just a label, it’s an instruction.
Be anxiety, I am telling my body. And my body dutifully responds.
The other day I got tagged in a post on another page, a beautiful question.
I share with permission:
“If I sense that the horse near me is even slightly restless, anxious, cautious, in a mood to play, or anything like that, it stirs a deep distrust in me. My adrenaline rises, I can’t feel my body anymore, I am afraid of being overpowered by the horse, of being attacked, of losing control of the horse.”
As adults, our energetic conversation with the world often exists within a very narrow window. Over the span of 7 days, most of us can predict with a high degree of certainty, what our life will look like. We move in predictable ways. We do the same routine activities. Our energetic dial is not challenged beyond a fairly average range, both up and down.
What this means is that our relationship with sensation exists within a narrow window also. Sensation appears in response to novelty. If there’s not much novelty, there’s not much sensation.
But then a horse appears. They have energy, a mind, a life force. Our body senses into theirs. It changes, it sensates. We feel.
We feel, we feel, we feel.
If our only association with feeling is concern, our experiences are always going to be interpreted as dangerous or “bad”. Often swiftly. Often unconsciously.
This is bad, this is bad, this is bad.
The feeling is not the problem. It’s our association with the feeling that is.
The journey might progress to the development of skills, of relational conversations between horse and humans, but from my perspective, it begins in not so obvious place, with a discussion of vitality. And in the very practical ways we can learn to embody it.
In my work, the basis of our renegotiation with the language of sensation lives in movement. We move our body with sensory awareness, in novel ways, and we observe. We begin to have a more nuanced conversation.
We allow more, control less, interpret with discernment, take action and observe.
We re-teach ourselves to feel and stay present in the midst of it.
The capacity to hold bigger energetic frequencies within the edges of our skin is something that can be relearned. To interpret all sensation with alarm is a by-product of modern living. And one that our horses invite us to step out of.