Many people learn of therapeutic equestrian programs, or even seemingly obsessively committed horse owners, and ask the same question. Why a horse? Common answers include the hard work instilled from providing horse care, the self-sacrifice to put another’s needs above yourself, the self-accomplishment from directing a 1200+ pound animal, the bond that one forms with another species, the apparent acceptance and lack of judgment from another being. These are all great aspects of horsemanship, but only scratch the surface of the many benefits of involving horses in your life.
First, it is important to truly understand the basic nature of horses and their lifestyle.
• Horses are herd animals that establish social dynamics with each other. They chose to live in groups, or family bands, and have clearly defined relationships within their group.
• Horses are prey animals. Their primary concern is safety from predators (followed by food, comfort and play). Living in a herd increases a horse’s ability to stay safe and ensures that other needs are met.
• Horses rely on highly tuned body language to communicate with one another. Intention, energy, and intensity are all part of the equine language, in addition to presentation of the body and different movements.
• Horses are nomadic foragers; they are continuously moving to find food, shelter and water, and may move up to 15-20 miles a day on their own accord.
• Horses develop strong bonds with other horses. They are often seen grooming each other, laying down together, protecting each other, sharing food together, and even grieving the loss of another.
Now, let’s dig a little deeper:
• Within the herd, there are clear roles. There is the individual who has the utmost responsibility regarding protecting the herd, and is constantly on alert for any threats. The leader enjoys privileges of getting to eat and drink first and chooses other horses to have close relationships with.
• There is often ongoing “dialog” within the herd as to the roles of herd members. Horses are often seen engaging in dominance behaviors, and the horse that “wins” assumes a leadership role. Along with that role comes greater responsibility. The other horse benefits from the confidence that another horse is responsible for looking out for the safety of the herd.
• As prey animals, horses are known for their fight or flight instincts. They are most known for their flight response, as they often have an instinctual response to flee from threats and assess situations from a safe distance, however they do have the ability to “lean in” to pressure and fight for their safety if needed, especially if there is no clear escape from the danger.
• Horses do not “bluff”; they are authentic in their responses to other beings and their environments. They do not pretend to be something they are not, and give unadulterated feedback to those around them.
So, what does that mean for us?
Most often people view horses as animals to be trained, “broken”, used, bossed around. Even with the best of intentions, we tend to diminish the spirit of the horse in an effort to meet our goals, and have a misguided sense that a submissive horse is the partner we need. In doing so, we not only miss out on the true nature of the horse, we also cause undue suffering and discomfort to the animals we so love.
Engaging with horses can be a highly enlightening, life changing experience, IF we choose to view the horse as a being to learn from. Having an open mind can lead us to the following learnings from our horse interactions:
• How to be more authentic. Horses respond to our energy and emotions; while we may be able to hide our feelings from others or even ourselves, horses are going to respond to those aspects and read through any attempt to disguise negative energies.
• How to be more aware of body language. Often our words say one thing while our bodies say another. By the same token, we may interpret someone’s body language to mean one thing when it really means something different. Horses provide feedback based on the body language of those around them; by paying attention to the response of the horse, we can learn to be congruent not only within ourselves but also in our interactions with other people
• How to be more present. So many of us are going in a dozen directions at a time, multi-tasking to the max and not giving our full attention to what is in front of us. By connecting with the horse and aligning your breath, step, and energy, you can become more aware of your environment and more present in the moment. This presence brings with it the possibility of peace.
• How to be more empathetic. One must understand the nature of the horse and horse behavior before being able to effectively impact the horse. When we learn to be more empathetic, we can then deepen our relationships and effect change in our own lives.
• How to be empowered to change. While horses give us immediate feedback on how we present ourselves to them, they also respond when we adapt to be more desirable partners and communicators. They do not hold a grudge, and allow us to grow into the partners we desire to be.
While these are very powerful lessons, it is imperative to keep in mind that the horse is not being used to teach these lessons. When we use horses, we compromise their best interests to learn from them or create some other benefit.
Rather, we must engage with horses in a manner that is respectful, intentional, and reflective of how they interact with one another. By doing so, we become more like those characteristics we admire in our horse partners; we become better leaders, better communicators, more authentic, more present. Our intention is to do FOR the horse, in a manner that makes sense to the horse. By doing so, we become a better version of ourselves.
With this in mind, Ruby’s Home for Good is dedicated to equine welfare as well as programs that promote the benefits of human-equine interactions. We believe that horses, like all animals, deserve to be cared for through humane, species appropriate care, free of cruelty. Our horses have a safe, permanent home when they come in to our care. Their well-being is the priority.
We engage specific populations to participate in our horse care and education program in order to share the benefits of equine interactions. We are focused on serving our veteran community and at-risk youth, with great confidence in the positive change we can bring to these individuals.