Can your horse sense your mood? Your emotions?
“We can hide our irritation from other people by masking our emotions, because humans are not good at reading energy fields,” says Margrit Coates. “A horse will read and see through everything we are feeling. Emotional health must be in control. We need to be a confident leader emotionally with our horses.” This means we need to be very vigilant about how we’re feeling when we’re around our horses.
“We need to look deeper at our inner state because the horse reacts to the truth,” says Margrit. “If horses could speak or write they would tell us exactly how we are. We cannot put horses into human boxes, analysing these animals as types from our viewpoint. Horses are full of emotional instinct, and the nearest we ever get to associating with a wild animal. “Past experiences will program a horse to behave in a certain way,” she adds. “They are incredibly emotional animals. Even our own past experiences will emotionally affect how we are with our horses. If we have been told that we are useless and feel it, this will come through when we are around horses. Finding it difficult to take criticism can also have an effect on our behavior. I believe that it’s a wise idea to involve the help of a good life coach, one who is not “horsey” at all, so that we can work on ourselves without any focus on horses.”
This philosophy includes other people who will be working with your horse. “Before getting a trainer, you need to look at the emotional state, characteristics and qualities of that trainer before you let him/her near your horse, as they have a massive influence upon your horse emotionally.”
Training? Be happy
“The first rule is that if you feel tense and angry, just don’t bother to school your horse,” says Sheila Bryant, who has been riding and training horses for over 30 years and uses the Bowen technique professionally on both horses and humans (www.healthwithbowen.co.uk). “When it comes to schooling, you need to feel emotionally positive and relaxed. Otherwise the horse will pick up on your mood and respond negatively.”
Sheila emphasizes the value of checking your breathing. “Is it easy and relaxed? This is of paramount importance as your breathing can influence the purity, strength and speed of your pace. If it’s ragged and aggressive, imagine what that can do to the horse.”
Breathing is also important to Jenny Rolfe, a classical trainer and author of the upcoming book, Ride from the Heart (www.spanishdressagehorses.co.uk). She has based her training methods on the horse’s sensitivity to our breathing. In her book, she shows how we can use lateral breathing exercises to help master our emotions and lead to a feeling of calmness. The horse responds to the deep breathing, becoming the rider’s emotional mirror, and the rider can then influence him with calm leadership.
“We can sometimes forget we are not programming a machine,” adds Jenny. “Horses are living animals. We have to make a conscious effort, especially in the beginning, to be very self-aware and vigilant about where our emotions are when training horses. By becoming aware of how much more perceptive horses are than humans, we then start to make it work for us when communicating with our horses. We need to treat them as our friends, not naughty students. We need to be emotionally consistent to develop a strong, solid relationship. It is no good being patient one day and impatient the next.”
For the best ride, Jenny also advises warming up to determine how your horse is feeling that day. “Loose work is very good before riding as it not only helps prepare the horse for ridden work, but it’s another way for the trainer to find out where her mood is at, rather than getting straight on without a thought,” says Jenny.
The same goes for you as the rider. If you’re feeling emotional, it’s important to get your feelings in line before riding, since the emotional and the physical are so deeply connected. “If we can learn to control our emotions and feelings, then we can control our physical body,” explains Jenny. “Rarely can we have a thought without a reaction from our body.”
As you can see, emotions are the driving force behind everything we do, and play a huge part in how we and our horses learn. So take the time to stop and think about how you’re feeling when arriving at the stable. Look in that imaginary mirror before you get out of the car. Do it again when standing next to your horse, and you will feel it. A happy you is a happy horse.
Margrit Coates is a part-time lecturer in the Department of Animal Behavior at Southampton University and author of Healing for Horses and Horses Talking: How to Share Healing Messages with the Horses in your Life (www.thehorsehealer.com).