The metaphor of horses - Mastery Horsemanship
The metaphor of horses

The metaphor of horses

November 30, 2021 3 Comments

It's been our pleasure throughout our careers to help, not only horse lovers but people who know nothing about horses to learn from our four legged friends in equine therapy classes of sorts. As a result of these classes we've come to one simple conclusion we find quite useful. The horse... is a grand metaphor. This applies, not only to therapy clients but to all horse owners as well. 

Have you ever heard the expression, "Your horse is your mirror?" It's a fun way of saying, whatever is going on for your horse, is probably indicative of something failing or succeeding in your own leadership and self development skillsets. For instance, if your horse fails to cross water on command, there is a chance you have failed to be a leader in some way during his development. His failure mirrors some form of your own failure. In contrast, if your horse succeeds at a task, that success mirrors your own hard earned leadership, kindness, and persistence. 

I don't like how the expression, "your horse is your mirror," can sometimes turn too anthropomorphic. Some people say, your horse is scared, that means you're scared too. Or your horse is lashing out at people, that means you lash out at people too. It can mean that, but it's more by chance than anything else that your horse has the same external expressions as you. The truth is, the metaphor of the mirror is deeper than that surface expression. Here is what we've learned about the metaphor of horses in human lives.

The horse represents self. Your inner self. 

It represents communication with yourself. It often represents fears, frustrations, and failures like the ones described above. At times, the horse can represent others, like a husband and wife communication team. But mostly it shouldn't. Because if I think my wife is my horse, metaphorically speaking, what does that make me? Her leader? No... The lines get blurry here. Sure families need leadership but they don't need benevolent dictators. 

Horses, on the other hand, do need leadership. Horses need us to guide and lead and befriend them. And when we do lead correctly, bond correctly, and earn their respect and trust, they perform in magical ways. In contrast, if you don't lead correctly, they can run right over you, leave you fearful or damaged. You might miss important boundary setting moments and leave yourself exposed. It's in these moments that the horse begins to show us our strengths and weaknesses. 

The men, women, and children who experience therapy with horses most often describe, how in dealing with the animal, they tapped into something that's been plaguing their own emotional well-being. I often hear how the horse helps them see that they are not taking care of their body, or respecting their own boundaries, allowing people in their lives to run over them and even allowing themselves to be ran over by runaway thoughts or behaviors. The cool thing is that when we hear this kind of thing we can help the person begin to become that leader for the horse and the information learned transfers to the same kind of leadership in real life with the inner self. I've met people who's relationships were falling apart, only to have them dive deep into the horse leadership side of training and begin to mend their human relationships as a result. 

I once heard this saying and it stuck with me: "How you do anything, is how you do everything!"  Read that again. "How you do anything is how you do everything." It's useful to adopt that kind of saying as an affirmation in your life. It helps you to focus on the moment and understand the results of your actions in that moment. This means if you're playing with a horse, you need to be aware, slow down, be kind, be firm at the right moments, and so on. It takes time to learn it all, but the time you take learning is also moment by moment. Are you living with grace, giving yourself some grace, your horse some grace? Or are you living with frustration? It's useful to check in and see how you're responding to pressure and tasks you ask your horse to do. The most balanced horses owners demand very little of their horse and achieve enormous amounts. It's all possible because they understand how one moment shapes into another. They understand that how they do what they do now, matters for later. I could go deeper but I'm going to step back now and keep it simple. 

Horses are a great metaphor for reading our own emotional responses to pressure. There are many different kinds of therapy imbedded into the equine industry so I hope you don't believe the one's we're describing here are the only way to Rome. But I want to leave you with this...  

Some concepts related to equine therapy seem to crossover and stick, but we have to be careful around those blurry lines of drawing the wrong kind of metaphor from our horse experience. Example: If you learn a technique that works with a horse, don't assume it will work on people. It might even have a negative effect if you do.

Imagine being in the round pen, not able to get your horse's attention. Then, your instructor prompts you to put a little pressure on the horse to get him moving about. You comply, then... when the horse finally looks your way, you turn away, taking the pressure off the horse, essentially rewarding him for looking. Voila, you're beginning to establish a connection with your horse. Sometimes, people take that advice back to the human world and try it with other people. But be careful, you can't put your spouse or child in a round pen and chase them around trying to get them to behave. Trust me, it doesn't work that way. So don't get caught thinking other people are like horses and you should treat them so or use all the same techniques. People are much more complex. Think of horses more like a metaphor for you, for your own self love, discipline, control, focus, trust, communication, intention, personal training etc.

I am beyond blessed to have horses in my life and I'm constantly inspired to write and share my experiences. I have learned to be present, less demanding, more controlled in pressure situations, more graceful toward instinctive behaviors that I, and even others express, and more graceful in my word choices toward myself and others. It's all because of horses. I'd love to hear from you as well...

Comment below and tell me how horses have helped you become aware of a strength or weakness and how you've made moves to improve your life, all because of the horse.

Don Jessop



3 Responses

Donna
Donna

December 02, 2021

Excellent article!

Kathy Wattles
Kathy Wattles

December 01, 2021

Don, I am so glad you bought this up.
It has made me think about instinctive behaviors. We, as people, can identify instinctive behavior as natural reactions, two types given the circumstance. So if we experience a comfortable or pleasant event we engage in a friendly way that makes us feel happy. But if that event goes against our grain, we instinctively react negatively, even harshly, taking it out on someone else. We might even accept that reaction in ourselves or others with the excuse that it is ok because " oh well, just that kind of person, What you see is what you get" or " It’s ok, she is just having a bad day". It is allowable and we let it go. But in our horses we might be quick to reprimand, be a tough “leader”. Say, all that is unacceptable and it needs to be fixed now. .One moment your horse is sweet and attentive then the next he’s biting the walls and kicking out at you. Horses and humans both react out of instinct, but we have to understand the triggers. Paying attention to our horses’ behaviors can help us to understand our own.

Kathy
Kathy

December 01, 2021

So I recently had a very needy houseguest….she didn’t contribute to the food, expected me to not only loan her a horse to ride, but to saddle, bridle, etc. even though she has horses. So ok. I was tolerating this. But then she’d let the dogs out and leave the gate open, feed my horses when I asked her not to, had the gate”fall off”, stand nose to. Use with a coughing horse when I asked her to keep a little distance (on my horse!). Now I understood what my horses must feel like when they don’t feel safe. I did not feel that my animals were safe with this person around and it was causing me lots of inner turmoil! Aha! I couldn’t wait for this houseguest to leave. So I could feel safe again. I believe this inner turmoil must be what Ruti has to overcome. And understanding this helps me understand a little more about what he needs. Thank you for this article, Don!

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