Insights from the Horses

hay bale at SCSI love the way that horses teach us through their behavior. We humans can learn so much from watching and interacting with them!

A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I were sitting in the pasture with her horse and his herd. The topic of our discussion was boundaries, and how difficult it is to set good boundaries with those closest to us. We were also thinking about how hard it is sometimes to accept and honor the boundaries that others—again, especially those close to us—set for themselves.

Boundaries are so important! They keep us from being “run over” by other people. Without good boundaries, we can find it impossible to say “no” to requests or to avoid emotional entanglements even when we know they are unhealthy. We can end up taking responsibility for so many things that aren’t really ours at all. The end result, for me at least, is a feeling of being overwhelmed and resentful.

As we talked, the horses were going about their business, ignoring us for the most part. Two or three of them were standing around the hay munching quietly, more or less evenly spaced around the bale. Then the lead gelding walked up to the hay. He lowered his head slightly, pinned his ears, and just LOOKED at the horse on his right.

Instantly, the other horse stepped back and moved to the opposite side of the hay bale, leaving the lead gelding with plenty of space. The other horses adjusted their positions slightly and everyone went back to eating. No fuss, no hurt feelings. They never questioned the hierarchy that allowed the lead gelding to claim his space, and they didn’t appear to take it personally when they were told to move.

My friend and I laughed at the “lesson” that was offered in such a timely manner. “Here. Let me show you how it’s done.”

Boundaries are a vital part of the herd dynamics, and horses learn about them from their mothers and their herdmates when they are very young. They are just part of life. If only it were so easy for humans!

A second “lesson” occurred last weekend, when I watched another friend working with a horse at the Ranch. She was having a hard time getting the horse to go through an obstacle. He had been doing very well earlier in the afternoon, but had started to refuse requests. My friend was getting more and more frustrated.

It’s always easier to see what someone else is doing than to see it in ourselves, so I was able to see that the horse was refusing because he felt her frustration and anger. I suggested that my friend ground herself and bring her energy level down. As soon as she dropped her energy, the horse dropped his head and moved much more quietly.

Talk about instant feedback! That’s the best part of working with horses in this kind of situation. They respond to what they feel in the moment, and as soon as that feeling changes, their behavior changes, too.

They’re so helpful in my line of work, because a client can see the change for themselves. It’s not just my opinion—it’s the horse himself who interprets their actions and energy. And when the client changes, the horse’s behavior changes—simple as that.

Wouldn’t it be great if humans were so easy?