Whenever I talk about a model of relationship in which we view the horse as an equal partner, the number one feedback I get is about the importance of boundaries. Often the person I am talking to will add in other species and children as examples for why we must have boundaries. Everyone really wants to make sure that their boundaries aren’t crossed.
I find this really interesting and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. First of all, I have never said that there shouldn’t be boundaries. I believe that we can give our horses a choice and a voice. I believe that we can honor their mental-emotional state of being. I believe that we don’t have the right to dominate, manipulate, or force the horse into actions based on fear and control.
Nowhere in that belief do I say that you shouldn’t have boundaries. The question is, what do you mean by a boundary? Some of the most common things I hear are:
- Well sometimes the horse has to do what you are asking even if they don’t like it – you have to set boundaries.
- It’s just like with children; you have to set boundaries for their own good.
- Boundaries are so incredibly important with horses, or they will take advantage of you.
- If you don’t establish a boundary with dangerous horses, you will get hurt.
Let’s address these different ideas about boundaries.
In the first scenario, you want to accomplish something and the horse isn’t complying so you must set a boundary that enforces your control and ability to get them to do what you want. If the horse has some medical emergency, I agree that there are times when you just have to get something taken care of. The same does not hold true simply because you want to load the horse onto a trailer.
Do you have the horse’s best interest in mind? Are you simply trying to get your needs met or is there a legitimate reason that you must impose your will upon the horse? What actions do we have a right to demand even if the horse is unwilling? Where s the line between control and domination versus setting a boundary in the name of looking out for their wellbeing?
Second, there is the idea that boundaries help to direct the life of the horse and make them feel safe. I suppose that depends on the type of boundary that you are setting. Is a boundary a rule? I line not to be crossed? A personal delineation which cannot be invaded? I think clear communication and authenticity creates a feeling of safety. I’m not sure that strong boundaries are the answer.
Third, is the argument that without boundaries, they would just be totally unruly and wild. To that, I ask, so?
If you want to control, condition, and train the horse for your own agenda, then it would be pretty scary to have no boundaries. But, if you want to interact in partnership with them, then you have to let go. A little less domestication and a lot more authenticity is a good thing. How can you work together to enjoy a common activity? In what way can they take advantage of you if you are not wedded to an outcome?
Finally, if you want to have an equal partnership, then you have to respect the boundaries of both parties. Often we have this idea that the horse is not to cross our boundaries – it is sort of a “do as I say or else” mentality. You may not cross me and my desires. Yet, we are not at all taking into account the horse’s boundaries, and the actions that we take that impose upon their free will and autonomy.
A horse can become aggressive when his boundaries are crossed and not respected. If you didn’t cross that boundary to begin with, then there would be no way to get hurt. If you respected the first time he asked for you to leave, then there would be no escalation of behavior. It is only because we feel that we have the right to impose our will on them, because we own them, that it gets to the point that you must physically establish your personal boundaries for safety purposes.
The idea of working with another being in a conscious relationship is so incredibly foreign that we can find it quite threatening. We don’t want to lose control. But, having control over another is an illusion anyway. We don’t want to get hurt. But, without force and coercion, there is much less opportunity for suffering.
Perhaps the boundaries that we need to establish are within. Perhaps we can take a stand for uncompromising values, for truth, for unconditional love, for compassion and understanding. Perhaps the lines we need to draw are within us as we let go of the desire to control and manipulate our external world and those that we love.
Maybe it is time to know that setting a boundary can be as simple as saying, “I would prefer you didn’t do that.” In a relationship in which everyone is heard and respected, that’s all you need. You don’t have to push anyone out of your space, you can create space by walking away. You don’t have to force an outcome, you can change your expectation. You don’t have to micromanage their experience, you can stand in the light as an example of wholeness.