FIONA: I have a topic I would like to discuss today. We can chat about your topics later, but for now, this is important.
AMBER: Of course. What would you like to discuss?
FIONA: Many people are wondering about the depth of their partnership with their horses. You have received many questions from those seeking to go deeper, to have that true soul connection. We have talked about this in many ways, and there is more information to impart.
AMBER: Yes, I’ve received a number of e-mails and comments about this, and it seems to be a continuing theme in our conversations lately.
FIONA: That is because for most of you, that deep connection is the only thing that really matters with horses. So many people want it but are not finding it available to them through the equestrian pathways they have learned.
What you must come to understand is that in order to have that connection, there must first be balance between you and your horse. Many people are out of balance in their relationships with their horses. They demand much and give little, or give everything of themselves away. A balanced relationship is when there is a give and a take from both parties. You may be the guide, but just as in dancing, it is a partnership.
Many people crave spiritual connections with their horses, but they do all the taking in the relationship. They get the horse from the pasture when they are ready to interact, on their schedule, in the confines of their time, and then they bring the horse into the barn and tie him so he cannot move. They tack him up and curry him, lead him to the arena, get on, and perform their ride. Then they hop off, tie the horse up again so he cannot move, brush him out, and return him to the pasture with a treat and a kiss.
What is this relationship? It is not of equals. It is not of partners. It is not of trust or mutual giving. The horse has no input in this scenario; it is somewhere between servitude and shepherding. Then the person wonders why the horse does not interact on a spiritual, soulful level. The reason is simple: there is no opportunity to do so! Every moment of your time together is segmented into an allotted script. There is no room for innovation or real connection, just as if you were in a business meeting with an agenda to follow.
Relationship and partnership build out of spontaneity and out of holding the space to ask for, and receive, more. That is the start of the solution for most. Fritz spoke of an example the other day, offering a model which allows the horse to engage at his or her own discretion and free will. For you see, that last bit is key: the horse must have free will to partner with you, otherwise no spiritual connection can be achieved. If you were shackled to someone who wished to be your mate, and every time you attempted to leave or do something else they hauled you back in by your chain asking “Why don’t you love me?!” you would behold them with astonishment. How could you love and deeply trust someone who eliminates your free will?
Now, that is an exaggeration of the relationship many have with their horses, but it illustrates the underlying dynamic at play. Most humans have so little trust for their horses – and their own skills – that they feel they can only operate in the confines of a strict and regimented relationship. They send the message to the horse “I do not trust you or believe in your sovereignty, nor the higher aspect of you and your character. Yet now I wish you to trust me completely and be open with me in intimate connection such that we are as one soul.” It is a mixed message, and it will never lead to that kind of deep bond.
When you observe those rare few who achieve relationships of great depth with their horses, what about it strikes you as powerful? Is it the short chain and whip used to gain control, or is it that the horse chooses in his or her own freedom to partner and connect? I think it is the latter, because you so admire when horses willingly choose to follow your guidance and join you in play. That is the connection you seek, after all, in your dreams of riding bareback on the beach or communicating without a bridle in one mind. Unity begins with total freedom.
This is difficult for many of you to emulate, however, because you receive the message from your employers and culture that you, too, are not trustworthy unless you are on a short rope. Your relationship with horses stems from this inherent belief that if given autonomy, you will go wrong. You bring that projection to your horse. Certainly, horses who have been told their whole lives that they are dangerous and untrustworthy may act this out if they are suddenly released while working with you. You have reinforced this message to them for years such that they have come to believe it. But it does not have to be that way. You can change this dynamic with very small steps to stay in your comfort zone, and watch how both you and your horse blossom in free being.
Just as you received an example from Fritz, here is another model you might employ:
Begin simply by considering your time at the barn differently. There is nothing wrong with having schedule in your life, but imposing your schedule onto your horse will automatically sever your connection. To begin exploring the freedom of togetherness, find a time when you can be at the barn as long as you wish. Do not bring an agenda, but simply the intention of togetherness. This will allow you to be free for your visit with your horse, which is the first step to allowing his or her freedom.
When you arrive at the barn, take a few moments to clear your mind and energy before seeing your horse. Walk through a visualization of letting go of your mental list and preoccupations. Meditate if it feels right. Breathe until you notice the birds, the sunlight, and the breezes on the air. Imagine sending roots into the earth, grounding and connecting you with your own center and all life. Do not ask your horse to bring you to this state; bring this state to your horse.
Remember this feeling of connection and peace, and return to it when you find your thoughts straying elsewhere. Notice the birds and the insects. Listen to the horses snorting and grazing. Hold this space while you meet your horse, and greet him or her with this presence of mind. You may bring a treat to sweeten the encounter, but ask your horse if it is okay to approach. Just as humans begin their interactions with a handshake or a hug, it is polite to make a greeting before connecting with a horse. It is an act of courtesy and will signal to your horse that there is a different dynamic at play today.
Explain to your horse aloud that you have brought a treat and are pleased to see him or her if that’s true, and that today your focus is on what you may bring to him or her. This is more than just the treat, this is your acknowledgement that your relationship is a two-way street. When you make the perspective shift from “what do I want to do in my ride today” to “what can I bring to my horse today,” you create the space for a deeper engagement. You honor the living being and soul in front of you.
Your gift may be as simple as sharing a few delicious morsels, finding the right spots to scratch, or taking your horse to the tastiest grazing area, or it may be more complex. You may give the gift of Seeing and Hearing, as Fritz described. You may give the gift of awareness for your horse’s pain or body issues by paying close attention to her movement and symmetry. You may give the gift of play with a toy, hose, or mud puddle. You may give the gift of connection by enjoying your grounding and presence while sitting near your horse as he or she grazes. What ever your gift is, allow it to be spontaneous, and not agenda-driven.
Ensure that the gift is truly for the horse, and not for you. For example, the new fly mask you’ve purchased or the trail ride you plan to take are either entirely or partially for you, whereas rolling in the muddiest part of the property is for your horse.
When you’ve given your gift, thank your horse for the pleasure of the experience together. In so doing, you acknowledge that connection and relationship have value. In this way, you do not take your horse for granted, but instead recognize the gift of his or her presence in your life.
This is the first step to creating more freedom in your relationship, because you have shifted your focus to give and take – to balance – rather than accomplishment and agenda. Many horses and riders would not do well to go from their most stringent routine to complete freedom without halters and ropes, as chaos would ensue and “prove” that the horse cannot be trusted. Some horses would also find this stressful, as they have turned off their initiative as a safety mechanism when it comes to humans. Instead, focusing on what you can bring, and giving a gift to your horse, honors that she has different desires and needs from you and also creates a positive association of your togetherness.
When you do this often, you may explore some deeper elements of freedom, like taking off the lead rope in the arena, and using this as a chance to give another gift – rolling, play, treats, or other enjoyable horse activities. Do not take this step, however, until your horse begins to greet you with anticipation for your company, as you may find yourself disappointed if your horse does not immediately reciprocate your desire for this new connection. After all, he or she has had years of training into a different mindset, and it may take some time to adjust. Other horses may latch onto this concept quickly, and the process will go quite quickly.
These are just the beginning steps, but they are a start to building free will. What you will find is that as you change your perspective about your interactions with your horse, this will begin to include your other activities together, like riding and training and competing. Your re-orientation on what you bring to the relationship also gives space for the horse to “speak,” because your awareness for what your horse wants has opened the lines of communication. You will be more present to body issues when you tack up and find that your friend swishes his tail when you brush his withers. You will be more kind in your warm up when you feel the difference in his steps after his body loosens rather than basing your ride on your pre-planned regimen. You will honor your horse’s need for a break when he gets antsy or frustrated from your current activity.
This is not about giving your horse everything he wants, when he wants it. It’s about turning your relationship into a conversation where both get their needs and desires met. To reference our earlier metaphor, if you are chained to someone else, but your partner is working with you to ensure that you are enjoying your time together, your needs are met, and you’re having fun, the chain is no longer a limit but a link. You are friends, not captives, and would even seek each other’s company if you weren’t tied together. When unleashed, there is no difference in your interactions from this state of being.
That is how freedom is built. You can have it with your horse even if you still put her in the cross ties for grooming. When there is freedom – balance – in the relationship, the closeness you seek is not far behind.
AMBER: Thank you, Fiona.
Have you ever wanted to ask a horse how they feel about a particular subject? Now’s your chance! Hear about horse-keeping and equestrian subjects straight from the horse’s mouth. These segments are conducted interview-style between Amber and equine guru extraordinaire Fiona, or a guest horse. Have a question or a topic you’d like to know about? Leave a comment here or on Facebook or Twitter with #askahorse.