“Horsemanship is the art of mastering our own movements, thoughts, emotions and behavior. Not the horses.” ~Mark Rashid
Creating feel in horsemanship is difficult to teach. Some people intuitively have it, while others it takes years to develop. Feel in simple terms is communication with the horse through body language or physical contact. It is a dance, a conversation of two bodies in motion. It is difficult for a few reasons.
1) It requires people to be aware of their bodies. How often do we stub our toes, bump into coffee tables, bonk our heads? Probably a lot more often than we would care to admit. Being aware of our bodies is vitally important to feel. Horses are expert body language readers and they assign meaning to the slightest movement. For example, my sweet husband, who did not grow up with horses, needed to catch the horses yesterday and tie them up so they didn’t get in the way as he was removing a stump. In his attempt to catch my horse, Rosie, he took the halter straight to the front of her face and attempted to put it over her nose. In his attempt, she felt the indirect feel of his unintentional aggressive posture come directly at her face and she backed away and trotted off. Mark did not mean to come at Rosie in a way that would make her feel unsafe. He just was unaware of what his body was doing.
2) It requires for us to be aware of our energy and emotions. I tell my students frequently “horses are like mirrors, whatever you are, they will be. If you are content and calm, they will be content and calm. If you are anxious and frustrated, they will be anxious and frustrated. If you are scared, they will be scared.” Energy is a real thing. In the Evangelical church we tend to shy away from using such language for fear of sounding a little “new age-y” but you can’t deny that there are different energy levels of tone, volume and touch when it comes to how we use our body. A pat on the back has a different energy than a gentle rub on the back. An angry thought has a different energy than a loving thought. For example, when I was near the end of my seminary education, feeling overwhelmed, insecure, and frustrated. I took my horse at the time, Dorie, for a ride in an arena when another instructor began to give me an unsolicited lesson. All my mind was allowing me to hear was “You aren’t doing it right. You don’t do anything right. Why do you keep doing it all wrong?!” My internal critic got louder and louder. This was how I felt in my time at Seminary, too. I was always doing “it” wrong. Whatever “it” happened to be at any moment. My critic got so loud that my body began to tense up, my emotions started to swell. And then I broke down. Tears began to flow. What was remarkable about this time was that all the while my tension grew, Dorie would listen less and less. She began to tense up and become anxious. She was mirroring my emotions and energy. Then when the floodgates opened, she relaxed and made herself receptive to me again. This brings me to my next point.
3) It requires that we grow in becoming more of who we are and let go of our false selves. Horses are BS detectors. They know when someone is faking it. They know when we are not walking in who we were created to be. This connects back with our awareness of our energy and emotions. Our energy and emotions change when we try to be someone we are not. It takes more effort, and horses can read that in our body language. The natural leader in the herd of horses is the one without anything to prove. The assertive one, neither aggressive nor passive. Anyone else like me who sometimes feels like an impostor? Afraid of being found out as a fraud? Just me? *insert nervous laughter here* We struggle with all sorts of things that make us question ourselves and who we are. What horses, much like our communities, need most of us, however, is for us to simply be honest with ourselves and others. Knowing who you are takes the pressure off. It invites humility and the opportunity to be known. I have recently been revisiting the enneagram and rediscovering my type. I am a 3. I can automatically assess (within about 30 seconds) the dynamic in a room and become who I think the room requires me to be. I struggle with the lie that no one will like me unless I am who I believe they want me to be. Oof. Talk about a challenge when it comes to horsemanship. It takes me slowing down and meditating on or practicing the presence of God for me to experience the peace and leadership that horses need in order to feel safe. If you would like to know more about becoming your true self, I encourage you to pick up Ian Cron’s book “The Road Back to You” and Brennan Manning’s book “Abba’s Child.”
While these are the difficulties found in learning feel, I encourage you to not shy away from learning! What is beautiful about this process is that you come away with a deeper understanding and acceptance of yourself – your mind, your emotions, your body, your spirituality and your social self. There are not many other things you can do in life that can offer you such an opportunity!