"I LOVE MY HORSE!"
We horse folks are often heard saying “I love my horse;” but do we really? And if we do, how do we let the horse know that it is so deeply in our affections? …And is it useful to have that type of relationship/ interaction for the horse?
Answer: yes I think we do love our horses, whatever we mean by the word ‘love,’ although this is not an exploration of exactly what ‘love’ means. What I refer to in this context is that we admire, appreciate and care for our equine partners, that they hold a special place in our hearts and in our lives.
The tricky part comes when we look at how we express love to our horse, or how we interact on a close level with the horse. I think it starts by how we are inside ourselves; let’s be honest, if we're feeling stressed, frustrated, hurried, insecure, nervous or over-ambitious we’re probably going to be flashing those moods up like a lighthouse and for a sensitive creature like the horse we’re not a comfortable or easy companion, which means any loving expression will probably not get through. Being around horses requires us to be fair, centred and calm - some solid qualities of good leadership - and if we are able to be those things then we can have a whole new level of loving interaction with the horse because the horse can relax with us and a relaxed horse is a prerequisite for good feelings. Horses like to be surrounded by people with those relaxing qualities - people who have a centred and yet openly authentic way about them. Horses like horses which are like that too!… So instead of being bad tempered, short-fused or pushing the horse for results and performance and then feeling bad and buying him a pretty new rug or giving him extra dollops of molassed grain, a great way to start being loving towards our horse is to stay emotionally intelligent around him or her.
What else can we do to ‘show’ our horse love? Most folks I meet recognise the glaring fact that every horse is different and once we’ve fully realised it we can look at what things in particular our horse enjoys doing. From my experience most horses seem to enjoy the physical and mental stimulation of good quality classical training in the arena, but some really thrive on it in the same way that some people sign up for yoga or gym classes and some only go for a minimalist weekly walk in the park. Riding out on the trail is another way of sharing and enhancing your horse’s experience with you and some absolutely love it; but again, some horses are so terrified by the outside world that it seems the opposite of loving to force them into a fear situation without first helping them to feel confident enough to cope.
Physical touch is important for most horses - again I say most horses, because I have known one or two overly sensitive horses who found it intolerable. So instead of a cursory scrub with a grooming brush as though getting fluff out of an old rug, we can use our grooming time as a an opportunity for building a loving connection. Bare hands that touch and rub the horse in ways he likes are especially nice ways for connecting with the animal, not least because it is giving him another necessary ingredient for love to grow: time. Over the years I’ve often been fortunate to have a lifestyle where I work/ride my horses all day every day. During the 1990’s I would spend all day every day for months or even years riding the same horse out over the Exmoor wilderness for my job. As the time passed the horse and I would build a bond which is difficult to emulate without sharing so many hours in each other’s company. I’m not saying you need to give up your day job and run away to the wilderness with your horse to show him love, but to think about how much ‘quality’ time you can spend around each other so you come to know each other more and more closely.
There are many ways to show our horse we love him, but we need to be aware of ways we think we’re showing him we love him but are only our own anthropomorphic (humanised) ideas of what he might like and which don't take into consideration the true nature of the animal. Examples of this might be feeding him tidbits or treats all the time like a mom stuffing sweeties into her kids mouths; not setting boundaries, especially about our personal space, is another one; as is not being consistent in our ways of treating the horse - he gains confidence from stability and knowing where the goal posts are; buying him matching pink and purple spotted rugs and boots when he just wants to be brown, camouflaged and inconspicuous etc…
The joy to be had from a genuine connection with our horse is immense and I think it is greatly appreciated by the horse, not least because he is a sociable prey animal, which means that being with a connected human meets a number of the horse’s needs - feeling safe and enjoying interaction among them. It also meets the horse’s need for stimulation too: let’s be honest, without us on his back he’s probably not going to do that 15 mile sponsored ride and see all that fun stuff! Horses, especially mares, naturally form long and close bonds with one another in the natural herd situation and whilst this may essentially stem from their survival pattern of safety in numbers, luckily for us it means the horse comes ready-wired to look for connections and to build trusting and loving bonds… Enjoy loving your horse