In her book, Healing for Horses, one of the fundamental things that animal healer and communicator Margrit Coates urges us to do is to get to know who our horse is as a person. I listened to an interview with her recently and she spoke on the same theme: she said, “No horse is the same as another horse… Our first thought should be ‘who are you?’”
It makes so much sense - every horse is as different as people are. Some (hopefully, many) people will wonder why this needs to be pointed out at all as, to them, it seems an obvious statement, but why then are there so many rules and set ways of handling, riding and keeping horses? Humans take comfort from rules and methods as they are reassuring to them – they are doing what they’re told to do and they’re assured that as a result their horse will be ‘cured’ or ‘trained’, will stop napping, bucking, etc. They try techniques because they have seen famous horsemen/women perform them with miraculous results. If it doesn’t work they are made to believe that their horse must be difficult or a ‘problem horse’. But every horse will need a different approach, which is why traditional rules and the branded and trademarked training methods out there, however ‘natural’, don’t work for every horse. Also, too often we categorise our horses according to their breed or gender , e.g. Warmbloods are slow-witted (however, I know several very intelligent and sensitive warmbloods), Arabs are crazy (not all are – mine wasn’t!), Thoroughbreds are too hot-blooded and sensitive to be good and safe all-rounders (again, not true – they all vary!), mares are moody (and again, no!). The key is to get to know your horse as an individual. Who is your horse? What are his likes and dislikes? What sort of horse does he get on with? How would he behave in a herd? What’s his sense of humour like? Does he like to play or is he more serious? Is he a fretter or a source of comfort to other horses? Does he like other animals too? Does he enjoy being out and about hacking and seeing new things or does he find it threatening? Does he enjoy competing? What are his talents? And this last question is important because it makes us think about what the horse is good at or enjoys doing rather than ourselves: so many of us put our expectations and our pride on our horses backs without really knowing who our horse is and what they are comfortably capable of. We have high-expectations and dreams, fuelled by the media and films (who didn’t want to be the Tatum O’Neal character in International Velvet?!). We are likely to have much more success and pleasure if we acknowledge that our horse isn’t a potential Olympic showjumper/eventer/dressage star and our combined talent isn’t waiting to be discovered, and just enjoy them and our partnership for what it is. Realistic ambition (and the strength to demonstrate this) is an achievement to be proud of in itself, but it can take us a long time to realise this. It is also important to realise that if adjustment is necessary, it should be us that adapts to our horse not the other way around. If we bought our beautiful warmblood with his flashy paces to excel at dressage but he doesn’t enjoy it we should try to find out what he does enjoy – for it to be a fulfilling and truly happy partnership we should both enjoy what we do. This is how it is meant to be – it’s part of our journey and it can prove to be even more fulfilling that the path that we originally envisaged. Horses can’t speak to say they’re unhappy, in pain or scared: they can’t object except physically which often scares us, puts the fear barrier between us and they get told off, which adds to their emotional frustration. This emotional frustration and unhappiness builds up and ends up manifesting itself outwardly in behavioural or physical problems, which only add to the original problem. However, once you are really listening to your horse and being sensitive to him or her he will realise that you are trying your best and will appreciate it: they know – they read our thoughts. Trust your instincts, give it time and you will find that they will respond to the smallest amount of energy on your part as more effective and sensitive communication (and even telepathy) replaces force and ‘method’. Your horse will also be more willing to show more of his personality as he will be more confident that there will be an appreciative response from you. Your horse can be your best friend not just because he’s a horse and carries our dreams, but because of the ‘person’ he is inside.