Sharing Awareness With Horses
Why do you have horses in your life? This may be a question many of us have asked ourselves from time to time. One answer is that it is a genetic disorder or disease that keeps us spending thousands of dollars on keeping a creature in captivity that would no doubt be happier running wild with its friends. However, many of these wonderful beings we call horses seem to enjoy our companionship and the social aspects of being ridden. Some horses even seem to know the games we play better than we do and they derive joy from competition and horse shows.
So what is behind this obsession of humans to ride and have relationships with horses? A more philosophical answer is that we, like horses are very social beings, and we desire to have relationships with other beings we can trust and enjoy. Often our relationships with our horses are deep and personal and we may be offended if people try to convince us that our horse is just a "dumb" animal. In fact, horses may be far smarter or at least more "aware" than we give them credit for being. After 25 years of research as a behavioral wildlife ecologist focusing on horses, I have spent most of my life studying the relationships between animals and people and their environment. This is known in science as cognitive ethology, or the study of consciousness and awareness. Here lies the best answer this author can account for our desire to share awareness with horses.
We cannot say that horses talk to us in the way we humans communicate, but horses do exchange thoughts and feelings with us all the time. Whether using body language or staring at us with intent, this process is more accurately described as "sharing awareness". Often we interpret this as "gut feeling" or intuition, which leads us to the question, "What is gut feeling?" It is an energetic recognition in our solar plexus region or "gut". Our bodies then transfer some form of connection to our brains to make an interpretation of the possible meaning. Gut feeling can also be recognized as the masculine or "yang" side of the feminine or " yin" intuition. People with accurate gut feelings or intuition often do not know how they process this feeling into meaning. Tracking this process and verifying the accuracy of interpreting gut feelings and intuition were the basis for developing the O.F.F.E.R. Techniques for Sharing Awareness with Animals. The process was developed in 1982 based on my undergraduate research and has been taught to hundreds of professionals and lay people with successful results. Although the experience of sharing awareness with animals (aka animal communication) may vary among individuals, there is a high degree of measurable results when the process is taught in a scientific manner.
Sharing awareness with animals is a cognitive process that engages our subconscious mind to link with an animal's subconscious mind. Then our conscious minds interpret the thoughts or feelings of the animals. These thoughts or feelings are transferred probably by electro-magnetic signals to our bodies and brains. Although this process is as yet not scientifically documented, there is growing evidence of some level of energetic exchange being measured between animals and people. Riding in itself is an energetic exchange and often horses and riders share similar physical imbalances. For instance, when I explain to a rider that her horse is moving in an imbalanced pattern because of compensation of a shoulder or a sacrum, the rider will often tell me that the horse sounds just like her and asks whether she could be causing the horse's problem. Whether this is caused purely by physical weight distribution or by energetic compensation or a combination of the two is not as important as the realization that physical, emotional and mental energetic exchanges take place between horse and rider.
Sharing awareness with animals requires an openness - letting go of judgement and beliefs about animals and adopting an attitude of being "with " the animal. Often we hold onto judgements or beliefs about animals and never question where and when these attitudes developed. For example, when I was conducting wild horse research in Wyoming in 1974, the paradigm or belief was that stallions led the herd. Only after working with the local BLM (Bureau of Land Management) on trying to identify the stallion and group of mares trespassing onto private ranch land, and only after finding a "lead mare" to fit the description of the "stallion" was the local belief changed about who leads the herd. The belief was so strong that I had to identify and document the foal belonging to the lead mare and then ask what could the foal possibly be nursing on if it were not a mare? The thought of a foal suckling on a stallion was the only image to really change the belief.
Being friendly was the second attitude in the process of sharing awareness. Friendliness implied a light and somewhat joyful attitude around the animal. Often people who were not friendly to other people were very friendly to animals and confided and trusted in their animal relationships more than in those with people. Animals like friendly and social people as long as they do not always initiate the conversation. A rule of thumb the author developed from years of working with wild horses is "never touch horses until they touch you first" or in other terms, be friendly and reduce the animals' fear to the point at which they are curious and want to investigate you. When horses start the conversations, they are much more likely to want to continue "talking" with you if they already know that you will be a friendly listener.
Focusing "with" the horse not "at" the horse is probably the most difficult for people to learn, because it requires humans to pay attention to their thoughts. We must learn how to be "present in the moment" with our horses. We humans have very distracted minds and may only focus on one thought for 4 seconds. The average horse can focus on something like a scary object or a positive stimulus like a carrot far longer than we do. Hence, we start off with a handicap when it comes to holding our thoughts still. Most horses like to focus on one thing at a time and often become stressed when asked to process more than one stimulus at a time. Humans, however, will often create distractions and activities to keep themselves consciously or unconsciously occupied on several thoughts at one time. Horses have a difficult time following our thoughts. Consciously slowing our thoughts down and holding an empty space open and blank in our mind allows us an opportunity to sense what the horse is thinking or feeling.
Another way to focus with horses is to "think" and "feel" with them. This requires us to know something about how horses think and feel. A horse's brain is very front-brain, occupied with sensory input, but not a lot of reasoning ability compared to humans. If we focus our thoughts on how a horse processes its environment through smell, taste, hearing and seeing, we allow our own minds to link closer to those of our horses.
Empathy, or sharing how a horse feels, is usually easy for most people who "love" their horses. However, humans often project their own feelings onto the horse and do not get accurate interpretations. Being able to match and sense the horse's "vibration" or energetic patterns while being open and focussing will allow the human to more accurately empathize with the animal. Animals enjoy and are often attracted to people who seem to empathize with the animal's condition. This is probably the reason why so many people have wonderful relationships with "rescue animals". The animals DOappreciate our help.
Showing respect for the animal, oddly, was a difficult attitude for most people to adopt. Often people who said they "loved" animals had their own idea about how the animal should be treated based on the humans needs not those of the animal. Respect implies that the human honor the animal's desire. This means that sometimes the animal does not want to be touched. We humans have this tremendous desire to "nurture" other animals and make ourselves feel better. People who truly respect animals often do not care for the animal in the way that many of us have been taught but, rather, listen to the animal's wishes. For example, the cowboy from Wyoming who rode his horse hard all day on the range and then unsaddled his horse and turned it out, all sweaty, in the pasture with its friends. The author asked the cowboy if he were going to at least brush or hose off the sweat on his horse, but the cowboy replied that the horse would be happier rolling in the dirt and being out with its friends rather than spending another minute with him. The horse obviously liked the cowboy, as it is the same horse who jumped into the man's stock-racked pickup truck on its own to go to work that day.
The art of riding is a communication between two species sharing energy. In this horse-human relationship that has often been over-analyzed and even mechanized through equipment, we sometimes forget what is at its core. Riding is a form of sharing awareness with horses, allowing us to become partners in each other's thoughts, feelings and movements. The more we understand about how the horse thinks, feels, and relates to us, the more we will share in this magical and enchanted relationship we call riding.