The Power of Touch

Horses do not often physically touch other horses, certainly not as often as dogs or some humans (particularly of the southern variety).  Instead, they connect through the space between them, where more subtle energies flow.  They communicate using this space – its size, direction, orientation – and when they do touch, it is with a specific purpose, of addressing a physical need, such as an itch, or reinforcing a boundary-setting message when facial and body language doesn’t seem to convey.  When we put walls or metal bars between horses, we impair their ability to interact through space, and then it becomes clear that visual or auditory cues from other equines are not enough.  Horses housed in boxes become desperate for the free but full space between bodies.  Their often disturbed, depressed, or antisocial behaviors reveal the desperation for this basic equine need.

As human beings, considerably less astute or sensitive than horses, we need the actual physical touch.  When it is lacking, in childhood, the wiring of the brain gets all messed up, the social behavior networks Touching fuzzy bunniescollapse, and the organism fails to thrive.  Like monkeys, we must feel the grasp of protective arms in order to be sure of our place in the world. Touch on specific body areas, such as the outside upper arm where the hugs land, the cheeks, the lips, provides a shot of the attachment hormone oxytocin, that gives us a sense of belonging and safety.  Likewise, the sensation of touching something soft, such as skin, fur or fleece, induces waves of oxytocin to pulse through us.  Maybe this is why children love holding bunnies, kittens and cats, puppies, ducks and chickens, and all other sorts of furry creatures, including horses.

So wheIMG_2535re am I going with this?  People, horsey or not, all like to stroke the horse’s nose, face, neck, back, never pausing to ask themselves if it is indeed as pleasurable for the horse as it is for the human.  Take for instance the hearty slap that many bestow on the horse’s neck: “Good boy!” SLAP!  But when you come to think of it, with all this touching, horses are likely perceiving us as shouting at them, physically and energetically.  And we expect them to enjoy it and don’t really give them much choice about it, most of the time anyway.  If we did, we would find out that being permitted by an equine to touch them is a veritable gift.  With increasing practice and awareness, we may discover that just standing next to a horse, without touching, without ropes or gadgets, and connecting through the space between the bodies, is even more rewarding and electrifying.  Try it.

This translates nicely into a metaphor about relationships, and the expectations, conscious and otherwise, we have about them and about our partners.  We usually assume that what feels good to us, must feel good to the other, and become surprised or even upset when this is not the case, or when our expectations are not met.  Keeping horses in comfortably furnished, cozy, warm stables is an example of such assumption.  Mindfully spending time with horses, or with other non-submissive species, or even with people of differing political convictions, will reveal to us the expectations and assumptions that can cause all sorts of difficulty in forming relationships.  This awareness will free us to consciously decide whether to maintain those expectations or let them go, and then to communicate our expectations more clearly to those around us.  For more on this topic, watch Teal Swan’s episode “Priceless Love Advice (Expectations and Assumptions)”, at


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Horses Teaching People

Most people appreciate horses for their beauty, free spirit, and power.  These large creatures, often weighing more than 1000 pounds, can be quite intimidating, even scary.  As prey animals, they are highly sensitive and incredibly agile, ‘scaredy cats’ programmed by evolution to run for life on a split-second notice.  Unfortunately, because of this flighty behavior even experienced equestrians conclude that horses are not intelligent.  Although their frontal cortex (responsible for reasoning) is smaller relative to humans’, this assumption is far from true.  Seasoned horse trainers argue that horses can teach us more than we can teach them.

We seldom consider the fact that horses’ bodies and brains evolved to detect with precision the intention and arousal in others, be it animals or people (their survival requires it).  As a result, the well-developed limbic regions (emotional centers) of their brains allow them to sense what is going on inside of us, even when we ourselves lack that awareness.  Then, seeing as they are entirely unconcerned with the human ego, their body language and behavior reflect with uncompromising honesty what we are feeling and thinking, particularly the emotional intensity of our state.

As herd animals, horses’ sense of well-being is linked to having a trustworthy leader and clearly established hierarchy in their group.  Leaderless, horses will immediately begin jousting for position, with other horses, people, even other animal species who they identify as members of their ‘herd,’ because to be leaderless means insecurity.  They will submit to domination and intimidation if they have to, but they far prefer to choose a leader based on his or her experience, wisdom, and how comfortable and safe he or she makes them feel most of the time.

Having a smaller neocortex means that horses do not dwell on what happened in the past, nor on possible futures.  They are fully and truly present, just “being” from one moment to the next, and their brainwaves and heart rate show it.  In this sense they are Buddhas incarnate, mindful, never judging or holding a grudge (but they are very capable of using sound judgment as needed).

What does all this mean for human development and learning?  The qualities described above make horses into sensitive, attuned, and kind teachers:

  • They bring to our attention the beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that are so ingrained or unconscious that we do not realize we exhibit them (which may compromise our functioning).
  • They point to deeply buried emotions, even those we think we have dealt with and are done working out (often the source of addictive or stuck behaviors).
  • They teach us about healthy boundaries (essential for having fulfilling personal and professional relationships).
  • They show us what it takes to be an effective, respected and appreciated leader (whether at work or at home).
  • They provide a supportive and comforting presence as we process emotions and new learning, and face our fears.
  • They model a state of present, unattached, mindful being, which many of us struggle to attain, in defiance of our agitated, controlling, judgmental and fearful minds.

Science is only now beginning to examine the effects and function of the powerful electromagnetic field (EMF) produced by neural networks of the human heart (100 times stronger than that produced by the brain).  Emerging evidence points to some extraordinary properties (see HeartMath Institute).  Horses’ hearts are up to 20 times larger than human hearts, so the EMF they create is many times stronger.  There is no telling what effect the enmeshment of our and horse heart energies may have on us.  It is a mystery waiting for each one of us to discover, if we are open and willing.


© Dorota Raciborska and Momo Riding, 2016-2018.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Dorota Raciborska and Momo Riding with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.