• Stephanie

As I continue to cover some of the not-so-obvious basics about horses for newcomers especially, we come to a rather spectacularly unique fact about them:

Horses take in separate sets of sensory information from each side of their body, including their eyes.

You read that right.

Often when investigating something new the horse will pass back and forth in front of the object in a serpentine pattern so that he can visually assess the object or situation from both the left and right. As the horse is doing this, you may also notice changes in his posture, speed, and proximity to the object of his attention as he decides whether to approach it or flee from it.

It can be really interesting, when your horse is at liberty, to observe his body language in new/unsure situations or circumstances and also to take note if there is a side of his body he naturally offers or protects when interacting with different people, pieces of equipment, other horses, etc. Like the horse gaining information from each side, we can hone our observation skills and see there is SO MUCH information to glean from the horse from moment to moment which will inform us to help him through our next steps together.

If a particular horse is very "one-sided," we can usually work on balancing that asymmetry with patience and practice, by gaining more information about the horse's current and previous experiences, and by working through physical, emotional, or energetic issues as they arise.

To those of you who really love and know horses, that title seems awfully silly, but for those of you with little or no actual horse experience, it got your attention, didn't it?

I have met people who love horses from a distance, and from a distance, they can seem like just another domesticated pet -- like their dog or even their cat.

But there's a huge difference that affects everything: dogs and cats are natural predators. They remind you of this once in a while when, for example, your cat or dog brings you an unexpected and probably dead "present."

Horses, on the other hand, are prey animals. They are big and beautiful and fast and smart, and so with little knowledge of them, this may come as a surprise.

Understanding the prey animal mindset give us a lot of insight into how to meet their needs so that we can create safe and mutually beneficial relationships with them. For example, horses are hard-wired to be constantly aware of their environment in order to recognize and react to potential threats in a timely manner (quickly enough for the entire herd to avoid losing a member as dinner to a predator). Of course WE know that our domesticated horses are generally safe from large predators, but that doesn't change the horse's instinctual way of being in the world.

For horses, reacting quickly to something that startles them or makes them nervous is a survival mechanism that is not a conscious decision. This is known as the flight response.

It's important to understand that a horse that moves, jumps, or runs away from a potential threat is not being intentionally dangerous, disrespecting us, or trying to gain the upper hand, even though, to us, it may be an undesirable, frightening, or frustrating behavior. He is reflexively doing what had kept his species alive in the wild for eons. There are ways to work with and through the flight response in horses with confidence and calmness. Learning about this and other typical prey animal behaviors is step one in understanding the horse, their needs and desires, and the dynamics of their relationships with other horses and humans.

  • Stephanie

Did the title speak to you? Maybe you have always been someone who is drawn to horses. Maybe when you were younger, you dreamed of riding, imagined yourself as a "horse person," even figured out what kind of horse you would want. And yet to this day, when you think about actually taking a lesson or asking that friend with horses to introduce you to them, you can feel the nervous knots building in your stomach and so you never pursue this intense interest or respond to this soul's calling.

Or maybe you did take a lesson or a bunch of lessons but you had a teacher who pushed too hard and too fast and didn't take your fears into consideration. Or you started to ride but had a bad fall -- or a fall that didn't result in any injury but left a mark on your courage.

You are not alone.

There are so many of these sorts of stories out there. I hear them all the time.

I hear those stories all the time not just from people who still can't face their fears but from countless people who come to me to do just that. There is a way beyond the fear and you can fulfill those dreams and longings.

Do these sound familiar?

Myth: "Don't show the horse you're afraid".

Truth: You can't hide fear from a horse.

Me: AND THAT'S OK. The truth of the moment is an EXCELLENT starting point AND there's a way forward from there.

Myth: "You have to get right back on after a fall".

Truth: You don't.

Me: But if it's something you choose to do there's an empowering and safe way to go about it that honors you and the horse.

These are only two of countless examples.

I have a successful way of working with people that addresses both the physical and emotional aspects of the horse-human relationship that helps them regain their confidence and joy with horses again and... fear is welcome here.

​© 2016 by Stephanie Sawtelle