You'd be hard pressed to find an equestrian who doesn't believe they've learned a lot simply by being around horses. But whether you are an experienced horse person or have never seen a horse up close, there are many things about life and living that horses can teach us. Here are five lessons we learn from our equine therapy partners over and over again.
1. Be Authentic
The dictionary defines authentic as being real or genuine. Humans learn to hide many things inside because of messages we've internalized from our families, friends, and society at large. Constantly hiding our true selves and our experiences can lead to physical and emotional stress. Horses, on the other hand, do not know how to be anything other than who and what they are. They also understand authenticity--it is uncomfortable for a horse to encounter a human who is not being genuine because it is difficult for a horse to gauge how safe that person is to be around. Horses teach us that it is healthy to always be who we truly are.
2. Be Present
Horses aren't very concerned about the past or the future. They don't think in terms of their next meal, they think more along the lines of, "I'm hungry right now." Much of the emotional stress that humans experience has to do with dwelling on what happened before and what might happen in the future. Attending to our here-and-now experience can be powerfully healing. You may have heard the practice of being present referred to as mindfulness. Mindfulness is an important tool in recognizing and managing emotions, something that many clients who struggle with depression, anxiety, or trauma identify as an area of struggle. Horses are always in tune with the present moment so that they can keep themselves comfortable and safe.
3. Let It Go
This idea goes hand-in-hand with being present. Horses are focused on the present moment, so if right now includes a dangerous situation, the herd will immediately react in order to keep everyone safe. Once that danger is past, however, horses have the ability to return almost immediately to their previous state of calm. They don't worry about the next time the bear might come out of the woods or what they could have done differently the last time they encountered a bear. This ability to let it go sets a great example for those dealing with trauma and anxiety.
4. Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say
Have you ever had a conversation with someone that makes you wonder how sincere they are? Horses might not be able to speak, but they are still master communicators. Horses are deliberate with everything they do. In the herd, this keeps other horses from being confused about what is going on and therefore maintains safety. It's difficult for everyone to be secure if they have to second-guess whether their herdmate actually means it when they say that bear is on its way to eat them. For people who struggle to communicate effectively, it can be a challenge to ask a horse for what they want. Horses will respond if we communicate clearly and assertively (note that we didn't say "loudly").
5. We're Better Together
Horses are herd animals. Everything from their physical safety to their emotional security depends on having other horses with them. Humans are also hard-wired to be in relationships and we can gain a lot by having a support network. However, humans have a tendency to withdraw from their social supports when dealing with life's challenges. Horses' relationships with each other become more important during times of stress and danger. They know that having someone at your back can make all the difference. For people, a "herd" can consist of family members, friends, co-workers, and professionals (like teachers or therapists!).
Have you learned any important lessons from horses or other animals?