I consider horses to be sentient beings. To help explain that term, I visited wordcentral.com and they used this language in their definition: capable of sensing or feeling; aware. I also know that horses are masters of detecting when things are incongruent, because their survival depends on it. To make what could be a very long story short, I feel that horses know a lot and have a lot to teach us.
At times, I have been confused in my heart and in my head about how to weave this deep respect and love for the horse into my schooling and training. It’s documented and taught over and over again that you must be the leader when you work with horses. They have to see you as a dominant presence, or things don’t go best as they can. It felt as though these two doctrines were in conflict with one another. I didn’t understand how I could bring both ideas that I fully subscribed to into my interactions with horses.
Then, I finally realized what my missing link was. I will share it here, and maybe somebody will read it and find that they also had the same gap in how they were relating things, or maybe it will spark some thinking that changes how their own personal philosophy reads in another profound way. Maybe, and I’m guessing more likely, I will get a grin or groan from someone that can’t believe I didn’t grasp what was going on. So, here is what I realized: the flaw was in my definition of “leader”.
I was attaching a very authoritarian style to my definition of leader, possibly stemming from the word dominant documented in much of the horse literature. What I chose to add to my new and improved description of a leader was listening. Of course, with horses, listening to their words isn’t as much what I need to do as I need to watch what effect my actions have on them. What do they do in response to me and then I can evaluate the interaction and decide if I want to repeat it or not. But, I cannot know how I am being perceived if I don’t pay attention to reactions. My old version of a leader didn’t necessarily take into account self-reflection and molding my requests based on feedback. It more revolved around saying something and then witnessing that wish being executed. Having a deep respect, and often fear of authority figures from my own childhood, I can understand how this belief got inside my head. However, it isn’t working very well for me anymore, and it needs to be amended. Adding this overlooked aspect of a good leader into working with horses will help immensely in my struggle to incorporate their wisdom and nature into the equation. Thanks to my horses, I’ve already started my internal redefining. They are always teaching me something….thank goodness!