Watching my daughter grow and learn has been so much fun, but also a great insight into how humans develop. One of the very first things she learned to do was reach out and grab. First it was my hair – grabbing and pulling it was a lot of fun. Then objects like toys, and now, at almost four months, she grabs nearly everything in sight. We’re made this way – from a very young age, our reflexes of grabbing and pulling are set. It’s what helps us develop refined motor skills but also helps us stay balanced. If you’re falling, you learn to grab something and pull yourself back up.
Anyone who’s spent time around foals know they are up and running very quickly. Foals are curious, getting close to something, maybe tasting or biting it, and running away. They explore their world but always keep running as the first and most important option. They able to be the most curious when the option to get away is kept open. As they develop, their fight or flight instinct is developed more. They’re designed to run and not ask questions, and anyone working with horses knows the more you restrain them, the more afraid they become.
So how is it that these two species, one designed to grab, and one designed to run, came to be together? When we ride, we basically go against all our instinct. Grabbing doesn’t work, squeezing doesn’t work, leaning forward for balance doesn’t work – none of the things we’ve learned to do to help ourselves on our own two feet help us in the saddle. And for a horse to let us ride them goes against all their instincts, as well – to flee and not ask questions. Somehow, humans and horses get along and can have trusting relationships, too. This is nothing short of a miracle.
It’s my belief that horses can’t change their nature, but can learn to trust if the human is willing to change to fit the horse. When we do, beautiful things can happen.