The idea that horses are a mirror that will reflect the inner state of being in a person is a prevalent topic amongst Equine-Assisted Practitioners. While I completely agree that our horses mirror human emotion, there is a lot more going on within the interaction. Horses are much more than a mirror.
Yes, horses will respond to the energy and emotion of individuals in their presence, but to say that every interaction is a clear reflection of the human’s internal state would be a gross misinterpretation of the horse’s behavior. If a horse were nothing more than a mirror, he would not be a sentient being. Yet it is his very sentience that allows him to respond to the internal energy (thoughts and feelings) of those in his presence.
Working with Equine-Assisted Practitioners, I have started to see a pattern where everything a horse does is viewed through the lens of mirroring. I find this practice to be devaluing of the horse and his full experience and expression. It makes the horse seem like a divination tool rather than a partner who is collaborating in a nuanced exchange with life.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Soulful means “full of or expressing feeling or emotion.” The foundation of The Soulful Method is to recognize and nurture the emotional component of our interactions with horses. That means that we not only look within, we must also honor the horses’ emotional responses as well.
The horse’s response to our emotion is not a mechanical response. Each horse has his own internal experience. Just like you, your horse has feelings and memories that get triggered. A horse who has been conditioned to act a certain way, or who has gone through a traumatizing experience, will react to a person differently than a horse who has not.
We must also take into account the personality and natural tendency of each individual. Not all horses are as sensitive, curious, or outgoing. Some horses may not have a desire to connect with people while others seek out closeness and attention.
Therefore, when a horse responds to a human, it is not enough to say that the horse is just a mirror. You can use that interaction for self-reflection, but you must always take the horse’s experience into consideration. What is the horse telling you about the interaction? Keep in mind that an interaction between two beings is a blending of energy.
Horses (and most animals) naturally tune into emotion. A horse can bring to our awareness the energy that we are putting out into the world and help us to identify our inner experience so that we may connect with our feelings to be guided by them. We can learn a lot from emotionally mature horses – just don’t expect every horse to be masterful or ready to cleanly reflect what you are feeling. We must support their growth, healing, and mastery so that they can become wise teachers.