Horses communicate with emotions
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
Your mood is dark. You had a fight with your partner in the morning and work has been stressful all week. In addition, your mind is spinning over an issue with money, your health, your children - what have you. But you know exactly what will make you feel better: horses!
At the barn, however, your horse, who is usually happy to see you, ignores you completely. In fact, it takes you almost fifteen minutes to catch him from the field. When you groom him, he acts out, and is particularly sour when you tack him up. Riding isn't fun, because your horse is a pill. He even bucks, which is very uncharacteristic for him.
What the heck, why is this happening today, of all days?
Soon your frustration boils up to anger and your ride ends in tears of guilt and shame.
Horses are masters of emotional agility. They are sensitive prey animals, whose survival in the world has for centuries relied on their ability to sense changes in the emotional energy of their environment. Horses scan and monitor their surroundings at all times, they are always ready to respond appropriately to any situation. Sometimes they respond by fleeing or fighting, other by settling down to graze.
Horses treat emotions as information and a tool for communication. If one horse spooks, the entire herd reacts, moving quickly to safer ground without questioning the source of the spook. When the situation has passed, the herd returns to peaceful existence as if nothing just happened. People, on the other hand, have a different approach. Depending on the nature of the emotion, we might try to deny, hide or suffocate what we feel, Often, especially with emotions we consider difficult, we cover our feelings up with a smiling face, aggressive behavior or other armour.
Horses, however, can see through our armour, they know inherently what we feel in our bodies, hearts and minds, no matter how hard we try to hide it. Often, when our insides don't match our exterior i.e. the behavior and outer appearance of a person, horses interpret the situation as unsettling. Sometimes they even seek to express the very emotions we are hiding with behavior we interpret as "naughty".
Many people have a limited ability to recognize their own emotions. Already as children we learn to ignore our bodies' intuitive messages and hide how we feel. Especially emotions such as fear, frustration and anger are often seen as bad and undesirable. Unexpressed emotions get stuck in our bodies and move us away from our inner wisdom. Then, when we try to connect with horses, they react to our invisible baggage in different ways.
It is possible to learn to recognize our own energy and emotions.
Bring your attention to your body and determine where you are inside your body. Are you aware of your stomach, your heart, your legs or your throat? Or does it feel like the connection to your body neck down is barely there and even the thought of connecting to it is foreign? The following exercise will help you listen to your body and its messages.
Exercise 1 The Wisdom of the Body
Lie down on your back or take a comfortable sitting position. Close your eyes and take three calm, deep breaths. Feel how every breathe brings you more into your body. Focus first on your breath, but slowly bring your awareness to your body. Start from your toes and focus on each body part at a time. Scan your body slowly and methodically until you reach the crown of your head. What do you feel in your body? Give each body part the permission to relax. Is there a certain part of your body where you feel something in particular? Focus on this feeling for a moment. You can ask the sensation, if it has a message to you. The answer may be another feeling in your body or you may hear it as a thought. When you have scanned your entire body, take a deep breath. Rest a moment and enjoy the relaxed feeling.
Before you go to the barn to meet your horse, pay attention to your body.
You can also do this when you are with your horse. When you have determined "where" you are in your body (for ex chest, head, throat etc), notice how your body feels in this area. What emotion is this body part holding for you? What is the message from the emotion? If the emotion is fear, is it telling you to move to safety? Or are you feeling frustration? Usually frustration's message is that your strategy is not working or efficient. It often is telling you that you have been doing the same thing over and over again, hoping that something will change.. If you feel anger you may need to focus on your boundaries and determine, if they have been violated. Or is anger protecting and covering up another, deeper emotion, such as fear or shame?
Don't try to get rid of or cover up your emotion, whatever it is, instead, sit with it for a moment, listen to it and find the message behind the emotion. Emotions are information about what is important to you in this moment and they direct you towards the future. Feeling emotions doesn't have to mean that you have completely lost it and are unable to act. When you are aware of your energy and your body, you have the opportunity to regulate your emotions and choose how to react to them. I know this is easier said than done, but through practice, this, too, can become second nature.
Horses have shown this to me over and over again. When a person is able to name and accept their emotions, horses calm down and want to connect. I often encourage my students to name the emotion out loud, because this automatically not only lowers the intensity of the emotion, but also brings us to the present moment.
"I'm so afraid my hands are shaking."
"I'm so mad, nothing is working and I just want to scream."
When we are able to be genuine and open in the moment, horses want to connect with us. Each horse is, of course, different and even though they often reflect the emotions of us humans, they also have their own. Just like us, horses have their own individual capacity to handle uncertainty or excitement. Every horse does, however, appreciate authenticity. They accept us as we are, if we just dare to lower our armour.
No matter what your level of equestrian knowledge, emotional intelligence will change your relationship with horses, because your emotions directly affect all your interactions with horses.
In the end, horses don't really care what you feel. The most important fact is to accept the existence of your emotions and learn to recognize the effect your energy has on the environment. It is also important to have body awareness and to strive to be in your body, not merely in your head. Dare to let horses help you in this endeavour. If you are ready to listen to horses, they will tell you where to look in your own emotional landscape. Be prepared, as this work is more of a practice than something with a deadline. Often during the process you will be pushed our of your comfort zone, but that, too, is important if you want growth to happen.
In the end, it will all be worth it. Self-knowledge is not something that can be bought and a heart connection to horses is priceless.
Finally my favorite exercise for stressful moments. It is short, taking only about a minute to perform. The more your practice this exercise, the easier it is and the healthier your energy becomes. Try this exercise also with a horse, they love it!
Exercise 2 Quick Heart Coherence (It is one of Heart Math Institutes many heart-centered exercises.)
Close your eyes. Take three deep breaths, then bring your attention to your heart center. You can put your other hand over your heart, if this helps your focus. Keep breathing freely, but image that instead of your mouth, your breath flows in and out of your body through an opening in your heart. When you have found your heart breathing, introduce a heart emotion. You can think of someone your love or feel gratitude about something or someone in your life. Continue breathing deeply through your heart and at the same time allow yourself to feel this heart emotion. Breath deeply three more times with the emotion. Open your eyes. (this exercise can also be done with your eyes open).
The writer is a biomechanics coach, equestrian emotion coach, life coach and speaker, who teaches people to find a deeper connection with their horses.
For more information about Katariina Alongi, visit www.withconnection.net