What if I told you that most horsemanship and the way we work with horses are based on myths? Myths that are actually incorrect. Myths like we must dominate to be respected, that they are looking to hurt us, that they need to accept feeling force if they are ever going to work well, that we need to always defend ourselves from them, that the pain we inflict is for their own good and our own safety, and that we need to instill a sense of “do this or else…” or else we humans will hurt you, literally, we will pull, whack, smack, hit, strike. Even though we are 1/10th their size, we are the ones that are smarter, more clever, and we know what is best.
This way of thinking about horses isn’t new. We saw it in times of slavery, before women’s rights, even in today’s schools we see this behavior, this way of thinking. These theories stem from an innate part in all of us that thinks it is safer to be the abuser than the abused, hence bullies are born. Whether we learned physical bullying, or the more complex, emotional bullying, we start to think that in order to protect ourselves, we must assert our power of dominance.
It starts with “If you do this or don’t do this, then I will hurt you.” If you don’t give me the love I want, I will leave you. If you don’t take my advice, I will stonewall you. If you don’t let me yell at you, I will break things, call you names, take things you love away from you. If you don’t do what I say, please ME, then I will chase you out, scare you, blame you, judge you. This is dominance, the struggle to show we hold the power and we are willing to hurt others to make sure we get what we want. We are in control. And questioning our authority will never be tolerated.
This way of thinking, many do it either on a subtle or not so subtle level. We do it with our partners, our children, our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors, and even strangers we have just met. The way we treat horses has become an acceptable way to express this side of our scared humanity, our shadow that we all carry within us, this desire to have control and not get hurt.
What I would like to say, is that this is wrong.
It isn’t wrong because we are evil, it is wrong because many of us don’t know any better, we never learned a different way, and when we start a relationship based in these rules of control and power, we can’t seem to find our way out very easily because we first must embrace the utter and complete hurt, shame, and betrayal that we have inflicted. So first, we must grieve and apologize, really to ourselves that we believed in these ways for so long and became loyal to them, even after we saw and felt the pain they caused.
So how do we stop this cycle of violence?
Think Rosa, Rosa Parks. Can you imagine how much strength it would take to not move? To hold your ground in what you believe? With others yelling their judgement in your ears, with threats, defining you as a person, telling you it would be easier to do what everyone else is doing.
The easier thing to do is abide, to not question, to follow the lead of others hoping they are taking us somewhere with our good interest in mind - like if Rosa had moved a few seats back instead of holding her seat right where she was. But the harder thing, the stronger thing to do, is to break the cycle. To stand up and ask questions, or sit down firmly in what you believe, knowing you have your best intentions at heart, and hopefully the best intentions for all the other underdogs who have had enough. We have had enough being bossed around, being told who we are and who we are not, being told that we must engage in myths of control, and we will not play into these beliefs any more - not with our friends, our families, our partners, our horses, nor with even ourselves.
This truly is a journey. Some folks will believe their whole lives that force and control are the only ways to achieve anything - whether it be with themselves or others or the horse - and they will take that belief to the grave. Some folks will see this cycle for what it is, a way based in fear and hurt, and they will easily choose the opposite, and some of us will play with these ideas for years, partially controlling, partially empowering, before we have faith that we are strong enough to live from a place of love and trust over living from a place of fear.
**For anyone struggling with being bullied or find yourself being controlled by another, I encourage you to reach out and look for support. Often with support, we can stand up for ourselves and help our families, our work place, our relationships with others or we realize we need to walk away, sometimes emotionally or physically, because the other is choosing to live in that cycle and we can’t tolerate anymore. Either way isn’t easy but it is a step towards harmony, which will be rewarding in the long run and I would be honored to help you navigate that path. -Kaia**
Kaia Livingstone is a psychotherapist who runs a private practice outside of Boulder, CO. She specializes in helping horses and humans bond in order to help them relate and connect on a deeper level.