The Intuitive Magic of Horses
The intuitive magic of horses is something that gets eluded to, but generally left unsaid, in the discussions held by equine assisted learning practitioners. Why? Because using the word ‘magic’ doesn’t seem like it reflects a high level of professionalism. Yet so much of what horses bring into the corral is so deeply and naturally intuitive it seems like it is magic when it is witnessed.
Here’s a powerful example. A couple has come to me for an equine assisted learning session with the horses. They tell me they are interested in exploring ways to make their communication between each other clearer. Each selects a horse to partner with for the day. The couple leads their partner horse to the round pen . I give each pair, horse and human, a task to accomplish as a team while the other pair waits. The woman gives her horse a metaphoric value that represents an issue she feels she has to work with in her relationship with the man. In this case she tells me that the horse represents how a lack of respect from her partner gets in the way of her accomplishing what she wants to.
I ask her to remove the halter and lead from the horse so he is completely at liberty to do what he wants. We’re almost all set. I ask her to motivate the horse to walk the whole way around the round pen and meet her in the middle in between some orange cones I have placed there.She’s not allowed to touch him nor offer him treats as a means to get him to move where his stomach leads him. So she sets about accomplishing their task, and issues and triggers arise that are familiar to her. She feels frustrated when the horse doesn’t automatically know what she wants. More frustration as she works to discover ways to improve her own communication that helps the horse tune in to what she’s asking. And so on.
Finding Aha Moments
This is one very lovely aspect of this work that plays out time after time. People start figuring out new ways to tackle old challenges that lead to “aha” moments and new thought patterns. She checks in with me from time to time for helpful information that I share as soon as she gives that a metaphoric value.
In other words, I happen to know this horse will move away from the energy of a waving flag attached to the end of a stick. I share this with her as soon as she answer this question, “What person or resources does this information represent to you back in your regular life?” I explain ” When you ask for help, are you seeking the advice of a friend or a counselor or looking for answers online?” She thinks it through and shares her answer. “This info represents the feedback I get from a trusted circle of friends.” Perfect!
I show her how to wave the flag at the horse’s rear end and off he goes. We work like this until both she and the horse, who represents her communication with her partner, stand together between those orange cones. That example is fairly straight forward. Now let’s talk about how things went with the man.
The people and their horses change positions and now it is he and his equine partner waiting for their assignment in the round pen. We go over what metaphoric value he would like to give his horse. He begins by talking about frustrations with communication, but after a few minutes he has decided that his horse will represent his son who has a track record of being reluctant to do his homework much to the dismay of his father, my client.
I’m excited because I know this is going to be an interesting session! For starters, he has selected one of the horses I know does not allow himself to be forced to do anything. The man is simply going to have to discover some new ways to motivate his ‘son’ this horse to complete the task I give them. Things do not go well. He has observed how it worked with the flag and the women’s success at moving her horse so he begins with that. But his horse has a different response to that energy and kicks out at him and gallops around the far edge of the corral! NOT the response he had wanted.
Triggers in Motion
The man gets angry and starts waving the flag in front of the horse. The horse spins throwing a great drift of the sandy surface of the pen into the air and runs away in the other direction. So, that’s not working. But the man persists. He does not ask for help. He is getting more and more angry and frustrated. It is almost painful to watch. The horse is having a blast running here and there.
I chimb in from time to time “Remember, you can always ask me for some information. All you have to do is assign me a metaphoric value.” But, remember, this is a man who does not like to ask for help. He is a successful independent businessman. this continues for awhile until the horse’s mood starts to change. I notice that and ask the man once more if he’s like some help. Finally he says yas! He tells me I can represent him talking with a trusted friend. Phew! I ask him to put down the flag and move between the orange cones. I tell him to turn his back on the horse and wait. The horse is suddenly interested. He turns and faces the man. This represents a paradigm shift in the dynamic of this round pen.
The man softens his stance. The horse takes a step forward. HUGE SUCCESS!
The Intuitive Magic of Horses: Part Two
I end the session there and ask the man to join me on the other side of the corral to discuss the subtle shifts and changes we just witnessed. Our backs are to the horse. As we talk I feel the movement from the horse. Without turning around I sense the magic of the moment. Sure enough, the horse walks across the corral and gently places his chin on the man’s shoulder. The man is dumbfounded. At a very deep level, he understands the beauty of this choice the horse has demonstrated. I point out how the horse has made this journey to be with him. The man has tears in his eyes. So do I. It is a beautiful, beautiful moment.
Without treats. And no bribes. Needing no direction from any of us, that horse knew exactly what that man needed throughout their entire session. He demonstrated his independence. He showed how he could acquiesce. Then in a moment of exquisite beauty he shows what forgiveness and acceptance are. His deliberate walk over and gentle physical contact says it all.
Is that just highly developed intuitive social behavior on the part of the horse? Or is that a bit of magic?