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.