Stephanie Fry – whose article “Full Circle: Beyond Partnership to Partnership Beyond” was recently featured in our member magazine, the Savvy Times – sent us this fantastic blog. Take it away, Stephanie!
Do you love your horse? Seems like a silly question, doesn’t it. Why else would you be reading this? “Being Parelli,” after all, means putting the relationship with your horse first. I expect that, like me, you delight in seeing your horse healthy and happy, but toss and turn at night when he is unwell. Like me, you probably go without (happily and frequently!) to make sure your horse gets the new saddle, that new supplement or the alternative treatment he needs.
What about him? Does your horse show you affection? I would venture a guess that the resounding answer from most of us would also be: “Of course!” But what about when we are not holding a carrot? What about affection for its own sake?
Horses are very touchy-feely with each other and, at times, also surprisingly intimate (as, for example, when they are sharing breath with one another) but never overly demonstrative in their loving displays in the same way as dogs are, for example. They have no hands, so the exchange happens mainly by means of body posturing, acknowledgment of one another and invitations to share personal space. Real intimacy ensues when the face, the muzzle and the mouth get involved.
This is certainly something to keep in the forefront of our minds where the use of bits is concerned. Have we REALLY been invited? Or have we invited ourselves? In fact, to take take this one step further: Have we even been invited to touch our horse’s face, be that with our hands or with the halter? Pat Parelli makes “haltering and unhaltering with savvy” one of the very first lessons we are expected to learn. If I can simply hold the halter, and my horse voluntarily puts his nose in it, then (and only then) the scene is set for partnership play.
Now then: So we love our horses. We take care not to be intrusive and careless with their personal space. We respect them and allow them to have an opinion. We nurture the relationship in order to generate trust. We are on a journey, and it is a good road. But here is my next question: Do we perhaps love them too much?
Because this is the thing: Horses are so subtle and selective with their behaviours that we may simply be too keen to show them that WE love THEM to allow them the space to be affectionate with us. Think about it: Do we even make time, and are we even present enough in the moment, to notice that try to reach out, that incline of the head, the look of acknowledgment in their eye, that tiny change of posture, that softening of the stance, that slight relaxation in their musculature? All these (and more) can be displays of their affection.
I am not suggesting that it isn’t okay to hug our horses; far from it. But maybe there is no need to always reciprocate, touch, talk… Maybe our eagerness to express ourselves in that way can, in fact, spoil the moment by preempting their display and prematurely filling the space before they had a chance to occupy it, as if we were cutting them off before they had a chance to speak.
For myself, as a recovering co-dependent and child abuse survivor, the mere idea of containing my urge to “get in there” is a huge ask. I have never been comfortable with receiving, and much less so with receiving graciously. My lack of self-worth always compels me to give back, and I have been known in the past to give inappropriately.
This has nothing to do with the spiritual premise that “to give is more rewarding than to receive,” but everything to do with a compulsive need to be liked. In other words, it is people-pleasing behaviour. It is an attempt to fix that feeling of being unlovable and inadequate as a person, as well as unworthy and undeserving of what is being bestowed on me, be that material values, acknowledgment or love.
My horses, of course, only seek leadership and see straight through that charade. In fact, any lack of authenticity feels downright unsafe to them. And it is because they always mirror (and make clearly visible) what goes on in our subconscious mind, that horses are the best therapy there is. It is their unflinching honesty that causes me to want to grow into a Human of Incorruptible Integrity. I owe them much. They owe me nothing.
The other night, after feeding and bedtime carrots, I quietly stood with the once-”dangerous”horse who originally came to me because of his challenging, defensive-aggressive and dominant behaviour. These days, thanks to Parelli, our relationship is based on genuine trust, love and respect for each other. Normally, I would have kissed him good-night and left the field. This time, I kept my hands and my lips to myself. After a few seconds, he reached out to me, testing my bubble by nuzzling my sleeve with his top lip. It was hard, but I stood firm. All I did was say, in my mind: “Thank you.” He blew out. He licked and chewed. And then, for the very first time in our almost 5 years together, he put his head on my shoulder.
We both knew what had occurred between us in that instant. Maybe we all need to become better at truly receiving our horses’ affection. Let us learn to simply sit with what being loved by our horse feels like and be content with it. Just that.