Anyone who spends a reasonable time around horses can attest to the special qualities of warmth and peacefulness that emanate from our equine friends. Horses just have an intangible goodness to them that we want to be around. Horse-aided therapies, rehabilitation programs, leadership and personal development training, and even healing sessions are becoming common place as humans explore the emotional services horses might offer us. These phenomena are no surprise to most horse owners, who are well-accustomed to the “therapy” of barn time.
This change in relationship, from a beast of burden to partner in healing, is largely a positive one. Certainly, it’s a beneficial shift of consciousness for both of our species that horses are seen as beings with their own thoughts, feelings, and personalities instead of as emotionless things. Plus, the positive results of these partnerships speak for themselves, as many people are finding solace in the comfort of a horse when they are unable to do so in any other way. Even beyond the obvious emotional benefits, research indicates that humans receive a positive physical boost while in the proximity of happy horses. All of this sounds like cause for celebration as we usher in a new era of connectedness with our equines.
But here’s where I have the teensiest problem.
I hear a lot of folks talking about the healing powers of horses and how wonderful and magical they are. Children get to walk again, veterans find peace, ex-cons learn how to love, women become empowered. Take it a step farther and you have many intuitive people speaking out about the role of horses here on earth, and how they’re here to heal us, to teach us, to be our spiritual guides and lead us forth into some new dimension or what ever your brand of spirituality’s promised land might be.
All of these things are beautiful, even miraculous. I don’t mean to trivialize their importance. I won’t even argue that there’s some truth to the metaphysical assertions, as Fiona discussed. But my problem is that most people are viewing and speaking of these gifts as if they are simply ours to take. Have we truly transcended an out-dated modality as beasts of burdens, or are we just seeing these developments as new services that horses can perform for people? There is no difference in mentality to use a horse for healing or companionship versus engaging him for war, industry, or sport – other than the former may make us feel better about ourselves than the latter. The assumption remains that it is our right to use the horse for our desires, what ever those may be. Just because a therapy horse helps children or because an energy healing horse helps battered women doesn’t mean that there is some moral and ethical high ground to those practices over the rest of man’s relationship with equines. Nor does it mean that the horse is necessarily happier or better off in these professions. To believe such is anthropomorphizing the horse by projecting a human sense of ethics upon her. Therein lies the slippery stroke of ego that all conscientious equestrians must address: undoubtedly, humans receive many benefits from these healing relationships; what’s in it for the horses?
It’s a question that we should really apply to all of our equine endeavors, but let’s hold off on that topic for now and just focus on the healing piece. In fact, that’s why I am writing this now, before we embark on the journey of growing and healing through our horses, because there can be no partnership or advancement of consciousness if both participants do not receive from the engagement.
Sure, it’s arguable that horses are receiving care, feeding, and housing in exchange for their labor. It’s an argument that has attempted to justify many ill-uses of animals for hundreds if not thousands of years. But suppose that we remember that were it not for man’s intervention, horses were well-designed to meet their own needs in the wild. That we have domesticated horses and placed them into conditions that they would not survive without our assistance speaks more about our needs than theirs. As such, forced dependence is not a substantial argument to prove an equitable partnership. In other words, we are the ones who purchased and chose to own horses; we owe them the basics of survival because we agreed to that responsibility, not because of what they can do for us.
So what are horses really getting from healing human beings? Don’t get me wrong: some horses enjoy the therapy/healing lifestyle. Those horses find pleasure or the equine version of fulfillment in this collaboration, which is certainly a reward. Other horses simply would prefer it to other forms of work which require physical pain or exertion. But right there is the problem. It’s still work. It might feel better to some horses than being shot in a war or kept in a stall all day, but the expectation is still that the horse is serving us in some capacity.
Let’s come back to that and talk about energy for a moment. From an energetic standpoint, the reason humans feel so wonderful around animals is because they are much more connected to the divine than most humans ever will be. As I talked about in a previous blog, most people have pinched themselves off from their souls to the point where it barely registers in their daily lives. Even when animals fall into slumber, they remain connected to their souls far more than we can understand. Consequently, a calm or happy animal radiates the infinite love and aliveness of the divine and it feels darn good to be in that presence! That energy draws us back to our own soul and we feel happier and more at peace as our energy rises to match the animal’s.
In that context, the healing presence of horses makes a lot of sense, and it might be hard to fathom why I am nitpicking about the service aspect. Allow me to explain. Just as we rise in energetic alignment as we visit our horse, prolonged exposure to lower energies affects the horse conversely. Have you ever been in a great mood and then gone out to lunch with a friend who was so miserable or depressed that s/he sucked the happiness right out of you? That drain happens to our animals, too. To be sure, the effects are not as dramatic because of the strength of the animals’ connection to the divine, and animals usually return to their happy selves as soon as the offending energy is no longer present. But when animals are repeatedly exposed to uncomfortable vibrations, ie in domestication with us lovable but energetically-messy humans, they begin to pinch themselves off just as we do. They begin to shut down, as Fiona described.
Our household pets tend to receive the brunt of this, as they are present with humans for most of their waking hours and don’t usually have the chance to “recharge” like a grazing horse might. Energetically, they open to physical and emotional challenges that start to erode their quality of life – usually the same stuff their human friends are facing. Animals are our energetic mirrors, and horses are particularly powerful reflectors. When we place them next to humans and then remove their ability to recharge, such as confining them to a stall or forcing them into an unending show schedule or even just housing them in a place with low energy, most horses are unable maintain their connection to their souls and will likely enter that waking slumber because of it. They begin to accumulate human energetic “clutter.”
So, when we begin to consider horses who are funneled into healing jobs working with emotionally damaged or difficult people, you may now start to understand my misgivings. Some horses find those conditions to be extremely stressful, regardless of how much “good” is done for the people involved. This is why I do not take the concept of healing with the horse lightly, even on a personal level, without a whole-hearted look in the mirror.
Now, if suddenly you’re feeling devastated about “inflicting” your problems on your horse, relax. This blog is a simplistic overview of a very complex topic. Horses do choose to be with us, to partner with humans, and they would not do so as a species if they were harmed in the process. Moreover, you are not the cause of all your horse’s problems; she is an individual with her own life experience, perspective, and areas of growth in this lifetime. Horses are not merely victims of the human race. Let me repeat that because it’s hugely important: horses are not victims of the human race. Seeing any horse as such is to see him as less than a sentient being living his own life.
However, that individuality does not absolve us of our responsibility to create true partnerships with our equine friends instead of one-way service. We must still seek to work with our horses as partners instead of servants. In the context of personal growth and healing through our connection with our horses, as I speak about in this blog, this responsibility means that we must do our own work. The horse offers us an energy of healing and we must make the journey to rise up to it. That is our growth, our task, to rise above what life has caused us to become, rather than to ask the horse to come down to our level.
In practical terms, this can mean following the barn rules that I described. It can mean allowing yourself to have the stress or depression or tears that you want to bury in a soft horse mane, and then making a choice to turn around and focus on the positives in your life so that you follow your horse back up to that state of happiness. It can mean taking that proverbial outstretched hoof your horse offers with his friendly nicker and choosing to smile and feel your love for her rather than bitching about her torn blanket. It means maintaining your awareness of your emotional state while you’re riding, and being willing to see the feelings of frustration or boredom or anxiety come up – and then doing something about them. It means finding the courage in yourself to face, rather than hide from, the challenges in your life and use them as way to better understand yourself and grow as a human being. It means waking up.
When you do your own work, instead of relying on your horse to medicate your emotional wounds, you are being a partner to him. You are giving him a gift by using your power to focus and energetically change yourself, which will be reflected in his life and energy as well. In this way, you open the door for your horse’s movement, too. You grow together, in concert, with him shining the light and you forging the path. That is co-creation at its best and it is a beautiful thing to behold. It is how you may both reclaim yourselves within each other. Both benefitting, both rejoicing, both partnering for a greater purpose than either of you could have met individually. That is why horses are here to work with us, and that is where the union becomes divine.
That’s pretty heavy to think about, but there is a deep worthiness in that contemplation. To even consider this matter offers an honor so great to your equine friend that he or she will be forever appreciative. (She might still hassle you, but she will do it appreciatively.) For you see, by considering how you can give as your horse gives to you, you reflect to her that she matters in the world and that her value is greater than her body. You show to her that you see her as alive.
I’ll explore this concept and how it relates to riding and working with horses in other ways over the next few months, but I’ll return once more to healing and therapy pursuits to finish my thoughts. I absolutely believe we can work with our horses and mutually benefit, both on an individual level as described above, as well as by engaging horses in a healing capacity such as therapy or energy work. The human responsibility of doing our work is the same whether it’s with our own horses or in a more professional setting.
However, we must take care to ensure that the horse is a good match for the job just as in any other discipline. Some horses hate dressage, others wouldn’t be caught dead around a cow, and some find cross country to be the best thing since sliced bread. Similarly, some horses find great fulfillment in working with the disabled, or teaching people leadership skills, or bringing out the love in a troubled human. Others cannot stand to be around those energies. Remember that horses are biologically-programmed to avoid low energy bands like disease and physical distress, because their survival depended on it for generations. Emotional wounding carries those same low band energies, so many horses find therapy or healing jobs to be stressful or even threatening. Do not use their love for humanity as a reason to coerce them into discomfort. Instead, find and cherish those who thrive off the work you desire to do so that they act not in work but in joy, and allow the others to enjoy their lives in what ever capacity brings them happiness. Then, treat yourself with the same kindness.