The relationships we have with our horses often painfully reflect the rest of our lives. Whether we avoid conflict or seek it out, too passive or too aggressive or fluctuating between either. It tends to shed light on the good, bad and the ugly in a way that can be very uncomfortable. One thing that I’ve learned about people throughout my time as a teacher, is that people tend to avoid discomfort, and that they can become committed to their regular dysfunction.
This is why horse training is so tricky. People have subconscious ways of sabotaging the horses progress when it gets to territory they aren’t familiar with. Even if their regular interactions with their horses are unpleasant, stressful or even dangerous, the devil you know is better than that devil you don’t know. The discomfort of feeling out of their element, learning to behave in different ways, or accept personal responsibility can be too great for some to bear. It’s much easier to work on learning different training methods, and new tricks, rather than any deep personal change. The tricks and methods might work for a time, but inevitably they will fail because they don’t come with systemic, personal change.
I’ve often noticed the phenomenon of getting to the heart of the matter with a problem horse, and things are looking up. The horse is becoming more confident, peaceful and having the client actually become less satisfied. I’ve had clients create contention over seemingly minor issues that didn’t exist before and take their horses home. I’ve had clients sneak back to their old habits when they think I’m not watching such as feeding treats to the nippy horse, while resentfully commenting “it’s my horse and I’ll do what I please.”
I don’t mean to make these out to be bad people. They’re not. They’re wonderful people who came to get help and love their horses. And obviously I’m not free of ego myself. But I think it’s an important discussion to have because if we don’t recognize it, we can’t help our horses.
The ego is a nasty thing. Eckhart Tolle, author and mindfulness teacher describes the ego as a living entity. I like thinking of it this way because it helps me understand how otherwise good people can lash out, retreat, or return to disfunction with so much devotion. The ego wants to live, and being confronted, having a light shined on it, threatens it’s very existence. It has a sneaky little way of keeping itself strong; and if we aren’t aware and open, we may not even realize the cycle of ego keeping us in dysfunction.
This is what I think Ray Hunt meant when he said “when I see your horse, I see you too.” Horses are such amazing teachers because they really show us what’s inside of us and offer the unique opportunity to make real changes in our lives.