Equine Experiential Education
You wouldn’t think that spending my days with horses would give me greater insight into recent world events, but I’m convinced that everything I’ve learned about human nature and the troubles that exist in everyday life has been through my experiences with them. Horses live in groups and have to learn to get along, so why can’t we? They figure out in the early stages of their interactions with each other, that color or size, age or breed does not matter. What matters is how they’re going to survive together as a group, always willing to adapt if necessary. They don’t judge each other for who or where they came from. Their priority is keeping the group as a whole intact. They seek safety as a community, they depend on each other for help with their young and in turn the young learn to behave and grow up as well rounded, respectful individuals. Each member of the herd with his or her own personality has a place and a role to play. Not everyone can be a leader, but no one is excluded.
COMPARING VS. CONNECTING
Horses don’t stand around comparing themselves to one another, second guessing their own abilities or qualities, creating strategies to undercut and criticize other horses in an attempt to prove that they are “better than those other horses.” Horses are honest and don’t come up with stories to explain why they can’t possibly be good enough or smart enough to know what’s best for them. They’re able to use their senses and their experience to tell them if what is happening RIGHT NOW is good for them, keeping them safe and enhancing their chances for survival.
Horses don’t “pre-judge” either. They base their decision for a response or action on what they see right in front of them in the present moment. It’s what makes them so attractive to humans. You can unintentionally scare or hurt a horse one day and the next day, if they see that you’re behaving in their best interest, they’ll let you try again. They don’t assume and they don’t take things personally.
HEALTHY BOUNDARIES ARE IMPORTANT
That doesn’t mean they allow behavior that harms or scares them to continue. They recognize patterns and they make it very clear that a behavior is not acceptable, whether it be by a human or another horse. But, again, if approached in a safe, considerate and respectful manner, a horse who’s mind and body is healthy and whole will allow for future encounters, expecting the experience to proceed with a good outcome. Horses are tolerant of change and adapt to their environment. They are willing to accept new things, given the time to process the information, patient in their desire to find balance in their life.
Humans create thoughts based on encounters with others, starting with their family that tells them they are good, bad, ugly, pretty, right, wrong and everything in between. The more they hear those thoughts, the more they believe them to be true. It’s called personal perspective and it turns into stories that we repeat, you know, like a family tale that gets passed around at every gathering or event. And you don’t have to have personal experience to know the details-the stories have given you all the information you need. That’s called prejudice.
Each encounter for a horse is a fresh start, a clean slate. Horses communicate with their bodies and read the intentions of others without the need for the spoken word. They do not question their reading of the situation. A creature whose life depends on this precision needs only to listen and respond. With practice, the responses are more finely tuned, less about reaction and more about intuition.
I know we humans have cognitive and rational thinking on our side that allows us to be more evolved and we might be a more intelligent being than the horse. But this has proven, time and time again, to be a double edged sword. As time passes and I spend more of my days with the horse, I am inclined to take wisdom and intuition, tolerance and acceptance over rational thinking that emphasizes the importance of self over all else. Whether we like it or not, we live in a community, a herd. We must find a way to live in a way that benefits ALL and enhances the quality of our lives as a group, not just the health and well-being of one person or sub-group.
Find peace, joy and balance in your life and if you can’t, come spend time with a horse-you’ll learn a lot!