I believe it is time to take our work with horses to the next level. While we used to rely on the horse for our basic needs, our relationship has shifted over the years and can now be one of seeking self-actualization. In order to do that, we first need to take an objective look at the current horse/human relationship. It is important to understand how things are so that we can make an informed decision about what we would like in the future. So many riders are seeking more from their relationship with their horse, or feel that something is missing, which stems from a mechanized way of interacting with horses.
We must take an honest look at the way we keep, train, and interact with horses. There are a wide range of standards for stable management and horsemanship depending on your location and discipline. I remember how shocked I was when I first went to the west coast and saw the way horses were kept compared to the east coast. There is a totally different standard based on geography and weather. In addition, each discipline has a set of social mores, beliefs, techniques and tools that have developed within that subculture of horse care and training. The methods used in one barn or another are not necessarily better or worse and they all stem from the same basic concepts.
The horse/human connection is a long, complicated, interesting, and evolving relationship that has rarely been equally beneficial. The interaction began as hunter and hunted. This was followed by the domestication of the horse which was one of the most influential developments for civilization. The horse has been used by people to travel, explore, fight battles, harvest food, hunt game, and control livestock. The horse has always been seen as a symbol of power, affluence, and prestige because what one could accomplish with a horse far outweighed what man could do without this beast. The development of societies would have taken a very different shape if it were not for the exploitative relationship with the horse.
As the world became more mechanized the need for horses in everyday life began to dwindle but the importance of the horse remained. Humans began to use horses for recreation, competition and sport. Numerous disciplines developed, all of which stemmed from the traditional roles that the horse played in human’s lives. As we transitioned from reliance on the horse to working with the horse for recreational purposes, we maintained the equipment and techniques that were developed over centuries to break and train horses. In the process, we turned tasks that were developed based on need into sport – the art of war became dressage, horses pulling buggies to market became driving sports, working cattle became western competitions, the need to travel over distance became endurance riding.
Horses could have easily faded into history as humans no longer relied on them but, instead, we made a great effort to maintain the knowledge that had been gained. The only reason to do this is out of reverence for the horse. Humans are drawn to horses in way that goes beyond our intertwined history that makes them a part of our culture and heritage. The horse is depicted in many cultures and spiritual practices as a divine creature. Little girls are mystified by the horse. Individuals who have been touched by a horse never forget the feeling and long for connection with them. Though the reliance on horses in everyday life no longer exists, the equine industry is still strong. Humans are drawn to this animal and feel compelled to keep and work with horses.
Horses symbolize freedom, movement, power, and travel. They gave humans the freedom from the constraints of our communities. Riding raises us above the mundane and renews our sense of power. The horse can teach you to follow your desires and how to ride in new directions. The horse allows you to awaken your power and discover your freedom. Riding horses is one of the most magnificent things that you can do and that has been recognized by individual throughout history. The horse has the ability to guide you to self-healing and to empower you. However, this is often done at the horse’s expense.
The horse’s life is about freedom of movement – this is where their power originates. The horse’s language, protection, intuition, joy, playfulness, safety, and experience come through his body. It is through this magnificent expression of form that humans are able to rejoice in the equine experience. Whether it is watching a stallion run in open space, witnessing a foal stagger on her gangly legs in the first moments of life or being carried on the back of your favorite gelding, we are in awe of the horse’s power and grace. Unfortunately, it is precisely that freedom of movement that we take away from our horses.
Humans restrict the horse’s movement in every possible way and in doing so disempower the horse. We strip from them the very qualities that make us admire the horse. Due to the horse living in captivity and a reliance on antiquated methodology carried over in the pursuit of sport we manage to deny the essence of the horse. We need to understand the ways in which we make the horse less confident, deprive them of power, authority and influence and how we make them weak, ineffectual and unimportant. We need to look at the ways that we control the horse through fear, pain, manipulations and demands in order to find a way to return power to the horse.
Horses live in captivity. That is a fact that we cannot change. Nor should we want to. Horses and humans have come together in a fantastic manner throughout history and that should not be lost. It would be a disservice to the horse and human. However, it is our responsibility to understand the way of the horse and how they experience the world. It is necessary to take a close look at how the horse’s natural instincts are affected by living in a human world. They have lost their freedom and rely on humans, a deadly predator, to care for them. It is time to shift from ego driven, self-centered demands of the horse to an empathetic, compassionate partnership with the horse.
Humans started out by dominating the horse to break their spirit and get them to do our bidding. Man relied on the horse and therefore it was best that the horse submitted to every request so as to be a useful tool. Though the horse has always been revered, for the most part people broke them in order to benefit from them. It is not a coincidence that we use the term “breaking” when talking about the initial training of the horse. In order to dominate such a large, powerful animal the human must exert himself as the boss. The more recent language such as “gentling” or “starting” a horse comes from the rising of consciousness. It is no longer considered ethical to use some of the old, brutal methods to get a horse to surrender. However, we still have considerable room for improvement.