Last week, I wrote about the predator-prey relationship that we have with our horses – or, more to the point, don’t have to have. Instead of looking at our working relationship with horses through the lens of predator and prey, let’s look at it through the lens of masculine and feminine.
Our horses do not respond to us with a flight, fight, or freeze response because we are trying to eat them (predatory behavior). Let’s give them, and ourselves, enough credit to see that we don’t have that dynamic with our personal horses. We are not hunting them. In fact, most of us want to be friends with our horses and build strong, trusting relationships with them. We want to partner up.
However, there is still something going on that creates a disconnect in our communication and our approach to training. It is the fact that we go to the barn with an intent to train. We are not going with an intent to explore, feel, and relate. I see this as being the difference between masculine and feminine energy.
Masculine energy is associated with the left-brain functioning. It is the yang energy. Meanwhile, feminine energy is associated with the right-brain. It is the yin. Both masculine and feminine energy is within all beings – male and female; human and horse. The idea is to balance the two into a healthy flow. To better understand these energies, you can see a brief comparison below.
You will hear the call for a feminine approach often in the natural horsemanship movement. We know that horses aren’t on a time table and never show up with an agenda – they live in the moment. We know that horses “think like a prey animal” meaning they see the big picture and think globally. Horses have relational energy that is all about movement and grace and beauty. The horse – even strong, bold, powerful stallions – have a lot of feminine energy.
Humans, on the other hand, are very masculine. Our society has become very left-brained. We value logic and reason, work on schedules, head toward deadlines, and want results in our lives. We “think like a predator” which really means that we are focused and task-oriented. It is true that a hunter has this focused energy, but we don’t have to continue acting that way.
I said that our society has become very left-brained. In fact, it is Western society specifically that has swayed toward the masculine. Richard Tarnas, author of The Passion of the Western Mind, says that “the masculinity of the Western mind is a questing force, ceaselessly striving for freedom and progress.” Meanwhile the horse is, itself, a symbol of freedom and progress. It is on the backs of horses that we have been able to live out those ideals.
By blending of the masculine and feminine energies – the human-mind and horse-mind – we find unity, freedom, and the connection that we seek. It is only through the balancing of these energies that we can begin to both learn from the horse and guide them toward an interspecies interaction that is of benefit to both the horse and the human.
Even though natural horsemanship understands this more feminine aspect of horses, the tasks and goals that we approach our horses will are still very masculine and left-brained. We are going to get that horse to do what we want before we give up for the day. The fact that we enter the round pen with a desired result in mind is proof of our goal-oriented approach.
While these masculine and feminine energies are present in everyone regardless of gender, I do think that it is interesting to look at our horsemanship world through the lens of gender for just a moment. We have a lot of men teaching horsemanship to huge followings of women. While some of them know that they need to think more like a horse (right-brain), they are still teaching methods, strategies, and techniques to get the horse to submit to a desired behavior. The processes have a somewhat aggressive or confrontational feel to push the horse around.
When we drive a horse forward, we are in that masculine energy looking for a direct route to a desired outcome. I find it interesting that men are at the top of the teaching/guru pyramid and under them are tons of women looking for a gentler way to approach the horse. Why don’t we look to women – or ourselves – and tune into the right-brain to be with the horse in a relational way?
If you look at the top women in the industry who are teaching innovative methods (think Linda Tellington-Jones or Caroline Rider), you will see that softer side. When we drop into our hearts and embrace the emotional, creative energy of the feminine, you see holistic approaches emerge. You will not see the driving force around a round pen. Instead, you see a softer dance, the integration of energy systems, healing body work, and other innovative ideas.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a few amazing men in the industry who are very much so innovating with a feminine approach and plenty of women who are still promoting that traditional, masculine approach to training. I just think that it is interesting to view the different methods through this lens of masculine and feminine rather than just a catch-all predator-prey lens.
When we learn to be more right-brained or horse-brained, we start to communicate from emotions, intuition, intention, and energy. The focus is on relationship and time spent together enjoying one another’s presence. As you do that, you begin to balance the yin and yang within your body and open to new levels of soulful connection with yourself, your horse, and others. You can tap into the dance of working with horses and creatively, lovingly play with your partner.
Be more horse-like in your approach. Be receptive. Seek out connection. Spend less time doing and more time being. Enjoy your horse’s company and don’t get too hung up on finding a straight line from here to where you are going. The path will emerge as you soulfully co-create your experience with your horse.