Energy is incredibly important factor in our relationship with our horses. This is an article I wrote for Putting Horses First magazine in January, explaining how we can use energy to lay the foundation for achieving a deeper connection with them.
Let's go back to the beginning. Can you remember when you first fell in love with horses? If you were lucky enough to do so as a young child maybe not, but as an older child or adult it is often remembered as a life-changing moment. Young children who connect with horses (and other animals) do so easily because they are still a little bit wild inside; they still have that primal instinct that sees the horse as another soul rather than another species, so for them it is natural to energetically sync with them. By the time we are older this instinct will most likely have been buried under a few layers of life, but it is still there and the horse can bring it out and reconnect us with it.
What tends to happen once we fall in love with horses is that we have riding lessons and, in the process of being taught to ride and handle horses, the traditional rules and do’s and don’t’s take over. While there is still a certain magic in the smell of tack, buying your first pair of riding boots and the whole equestrian lifestyle, what tends to get lost? The creator of that feeling and instinct that first knocked you off your feet and made you fall in love – the horse himself!
The wonderful thing is that this can be rediscovered and even deepened, and will lead to a connection and rapport with your horse that will replace the ‘lost in translation’ frustration, as well as the underlying uneasiness of feeling that there must be a better way of being with our horses – something that many of us feel. And it will more than replace the glamour of equestrianism.
First things first – your energy
Everything on earth, including ourselves and our horses, is made up of energy. We have an energetic field around us (often referred to as our aura) which is not usually visible but is also part of us. Our energy field interconnects and affects and is affected by other energy fields all the time – something that many of us are unaware of (Dr. Bruce Lipton explains this very well here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zy-vkYQz12Q). Energy affects our minds, our spirits and our bodies – our happiness, our moods and our health. And of course, the same goes for our horses, but of course horses (and again, other animals) are much more sensitive to it than we are and are actually aware of how energy works and use it very effectively in their everyday life.
So, reconnection begins with self-awareness; being aware of your energy and your emotions – how you feel, and how that translates to your horse. The saying that horses are our mirrors is now a bit hackneyed, but very true – they can read our intentions, hearts and minds as soon as we enter their space. Being a herd animal with finely-honed survival skills, horses are attuned to the network of energy that surrounds them and how each herd member is feeling. In just the same way they pick up on our energetic vibrations (there is no point in covering up how we feel!) and it will ALWAYS affect them, even if they don’t obviously show it.
How often have we rushed to the yard because we only have a small window of time to get the chores done before we have to be somewhere else, but have been held up by an uncharacteristically uncooperative horse? Typical, we think, of all the days! But this is no coincidence and he is not being awkward on purpose. It makes horses uneasy if we are rushing – they can’t trust our judgement and have to think harder about what we are asking them to do. This slows them down and can make us impatient with them, giving them even more reason to doubt us! When we are calm, grounded and happy in ourselves things tend to go much better anyway, but we also have space in our minds for patience and understanding.
When you next go to see your horse you could do this simple exercise in self-awareness, without changing anything else. Remember to notice how you feel:
Before you go to see your horse.
When you’re with your horse.
After you have spent time with your horse.
A couple of hours after that.
If you could measure your body’s response scientifically there will very likely be a slowing down of your heart rate while your level of endorphins and of the hormone oxytoxin would increase. Your heart will have synced with your horses (HeartMath Institute has some fascinating information about how our hearts sync with our horses: www.heartmath.org) and you will probably feel lighter in yourself and more positive as well as calm and grounded.
The time after that, or when you know that you will have some undisturbed time with your horse, either in his field or stable, try the following:
Stand near your horse.
Be in the moment (or, some call it getting present) – this means brin
ging your energy down from your head and into your body, letting go of any worries and your mental to-do list.
To help you clear and calm your mind, concentrate on the breath going in and out of your lungs and visualise them expanding and contracting so that you begin to be more aware of your body than your mind. Or, consciously relax your muscles, working from your head, neck and shoulders all the way down to your toes.
Try to feel and think with your heart and stop thinking with your head.
Just enjoy this time together without expectation.
This may take a little time and a few sessions, but your horse will recognise what you are doing and there begins the foundation of trust and the beginning of true connection. You are beginning to speak his language! It sounds simple, and it really is – it just takes a bit of time and patience, and no goalposts! You will notice that by slowing down your pace, keeping your mind open and allowing him the space to do so, your horse will begin to respond to you more meaningfully, rather than in an obedient ‘robotic’ way. Horses are so subtle and you will begin noticing little things that you might have ordinarily missed. These may lead to you making little changes to the way you look after him. And all the little changes can add up to big improvements in the way he lives his life (but that’s for another article!).
The more time you spend with your horse just being, and being open to him with no expectation,
the closer you will become. You will have allowed space for a conversation to take place between you –one of feelings, instinct and subtle body language. You may feel you can develop this further and use telepathy (this will develop naturally if you remain open) and energy to communicate - in the stable, whilst doing groundwork and riding. You can incorporate it into your routines and your rides so that it's second nature for you both. Let your horse explore – in fact explore together. Maybe go for a leisurely walk together, side-by-side. Give him time to smell, see or listen to things that catch his interest, and notice his reaction.
Connection doesn't mean that you always agree, but it does mean respect and equality - listening to each other. We humans tend to fear loss of control – we will stop fearing that the more we develop our connection and have respect for and welcome our horse’s choices. To help with this we can replace negative language with positive – words have an energy of their own. Instead of seeing spooking as an undesirable trait, for example, praise his incredible senses and quick reactions and survival instinct! Changing negative language for positive will have a knock-on effect on your relationship and it will become habitual.
Of course, if you cannot calm yourself as much as you would like to because you are tense or worried about something it’s always best not to do anything with your horse except just be. You will both benefit from this – the horse will help you relax if you open your mind and heart to him. Whereas if try to ride or even do groundwork with him it is not likely to go well and could damage your relationship. Remember, nobody HAS to DO anything with their horse! Enjoying the journey together is what is should all be about. The small achievements on the way, that build your relationship, end up being the actual and much more valuable prize.
Understanding our horse’s energy
When a herd of horses interact in the wild they will very rarely actually touch each other to communicate or move each other about - they are a complete network of energy and use the energy field around each horse to do this and are also highly telepathic. Pain has been normalised in the world of equestrianism – the total opposite to herd life, where it is avoided. Each horse has a large bubble of energy around him or her which, if we take our lead from them, means that we as handlers don't actually need to touch them to move them about - we can just use the energy of our intention and gentle movement around the horse's bubble of energy and, if we are consistent and patient and don't rush the response, our horses will respond to this.
When I worked at a large yard I used this method, and slowly but surely every single horse learned that when I went into the stable to do something I wouldn't push or prod them to ask them to move and he or she would move for me as I just used my energy and intention. They are so sensitive to it, it's much more pleasant and less stressful for them and shows that we respect them. It also comes to be second nature to work with them this way, and so much nicer for us not to be pushing them around and to have a natural connection with them instead.
There is a big difference in the way that our respective energies work - horses have a very grounded energy - they feel the vibrations of the earth through their hooves and have their heads close to the ground grazing, whereas we tend to keep our energy higher up, cerebrally, and are not so connected with the earth. This is probably why quite often, if we relax with our horses and connect, we come away saying we feel more 'grounded' - it could be something we have picked up from them. Gardeners say the same, which could be because they are handling plants and trees that have their roots in the earth, as well as being close to the earth themselves whilst tending them.
So, something else that is really good to do, whilst or just before being with our horse, is to feel the ground through our feet as he does, taking the energy away from our minds and use our senses to see, smell and feel all that is around us and our horse in a relaxed purely observant way, not in a planning, 'I must mend that fence' way - notice the birds and the plants nearby, the sound of the wind, the scent on it, the feel of it on the skin. This exercise makes our heart rate lower and our minds relaxed, both of which are noticeable to horses and makes us far more attractive for them to be around. Then, if you are there to do something with your horse, do whatever you need to do in a thoughtful conversational way with plenty of space for both sides of the conversation. Slowing ourselves down to his pace reassures him and is good for us too.
Giving a horse time to make decisions is very important, and so is choice, so we should also remember that they won't always want our energy near them or within their energy bubble, even if we think we are relaxed, as my mare has no problem in telling me! They also appreciate it if we take the time to explain and show them what we’re going to do with them, for example show them the medication you are about to use or the tack you are about to put on them. It is courteous and it is much more likely to be accepted (if it’s not – listen!). Something else to remember is that if we make the treatment as natural as possible and offer them a choice they can use their natural instincts to choose whether it will do them good or not.
Horses love gentle touch, and nothing beats a good mutual scratch, but touch isn't always necessary, especially for horses – the energy that surrounds and connects us can often be powerful enough and is sometimes the sort of connection that they prefer; just sharing quiet time with each other. Intuition and a real soul-to-soul sympathetic connection can often come more easily this way too, if we open ourselves up and let ourselves be in the moment, not invading the animals space with our own energy and busy minds. It can be incredibly special time, and if we do this and listen to our horses, respecting their wishes, they will often offer physical affection to say thank you - the touch of a muzzle on your arm for example. Listening rather than asking, telling or projecting our wishes on our horses will teach us so much more - they are so infinitely wise and seem to hold centuries of knowledge and understanding. They, especially when released from an unnatural life, will show us our true selves. In fact when we look into our horse's eye when there is a strong energetic and soulful connection we can see so deeply into their soul it seems to be reflected back into us.