The Art of Non-Doing and Real Horse Power
By Rachel Gedaliya, Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning® facilitator
Editors note: Animal-Assisted Interventions are an emerging trend in clinical counselling. In the post below, an equine trainer shares her perspective of working with horses. If you are interested in learning more about the use of animals in therapeutic work, check out the Winter 2018 issue of INSIGHTS magazine here.
“What is real horse power?” is a question that came up when I was “just” hanging out in the pasture with the horses. Every time I would go to visit the herd, I observed how they walked the earth, reaching their big odd shaped heads to the ground, sniffing and grabbing with their teeth a mouthful of grass, chewing then continue on with another step to the next spot. It felt like we were part of a bigger picture, but there were no words exchanged. It was simple, we “did” nothing. What kind of real power were the horses offering us, humans? “Nothingness”? In eastern practices, there is a lot said about ‘doing nothing’. From Buddhism to Zen and even in Judaism’s Shabbat has a similar concept.
How can horses teach us the art of “doing nothing”?
With a clear mind to “do” nothing, the horses will lift their heads from the grass, acknowledge me and go right ‘back to grazing’. Years ago, before I started to practice this work, I was unaware of where my body-mind-spirit combination was entering the pasture. I would have an interesting dialogue with the horses, or rather it would not be a dialogue, since no choice was there for the horses to be made. Often they would gallop away from me to the far corner where they continued on and on. It took me a while to let go of frustration and self-anger. I, who worked with horses for years, can’t even catch a horse!
It’s not that the horses didn’t want to be caught. They were merely reacting to my chatter, frustration and anger. There was no openness in dialogue, which was similar to predatory behaviour. Who wants to be close to a predator? Over the years I noticed that when I took a deep breath and grounded myself, the drama disappeared, and the horses were ‘back to grazing’. I could approach the horse I wanted to work with that day with a calm mind, open to conversation, not only with the horse but with myself as well.
It’s not that whatever troubled me didn’t matter, but it was not part of the moment when I came to get the horses. These moments of being in the present with breath, allowed me to see things differently and clear my anxiety. The horses allowed me to see, understand and process what I felt. Looking back on these moments, I gathered myself and continued the day clear, and focused. Clarity brought inspiration and creative thinking. Clarity nourished the ground for creative seeds to germinate.
The horses are continually asking us to be present in their environment. They want to feel safe so they can do their work with us. In the wild, horses live in a social structure. In a homogeneous herd, we will see male and female horses, older and younger each bringing experiences and a ‘skill’ they share to the herd. As prey animals, strength is in numbers and all are tuned into each another and to their environment. By “doing” nothing with the horses, we have an opportunity to step into their world to discover what tuning in means. We start with learning how to “do nothing”. In sharing their environment with us, the horses ask us to be present in the moment. Then they are willing to engage and take us for a journey that validates our presence.
When we learn to be present, we are not thinking about the future, which often brings anxieties, and we are not troubled by the past.
Being in the moment is a gift to both of us which leads to engagement, sharing ideas, visions, play or a good groom. The domestic horse, when given living conditions similar to the wild, will have strong abilities to tune in to their environment, reflect and much more. Why are horses choosing to show us how to be? Francesco De Giorgio from the international institute for Zooanthropology describes the horses and their ability to communicate with us: “For a social animal, dialogue is a fundamental element of individual growth. Both what you exchange in a dialogue and the experience itself can help you in your personal development and understanding of yourself” (Equus lost? How we misunderstand the nature of the horse-human relationship-plus, brave new ideas for the future, 2016).
When horses in domestic realms have a choice to engage with us or not, the experience is more authentic. We have shared dialogue to learn from. Engaging with horses leads to an opening of our emotions. Horses experience many sensations from jealousy, love, frustration to contentment and pride. Their advantage over us is not holding on to them. They let the energy from the emotion pass through and ‘go back to grazing’. This has great benefits in holding space for reflection, healing and personal development. As long as we are true to what we feel in the moment, they will be there to support and lead us through what we need to understand and teach us how to let go and continue “back to grazing”.
Over the years I have become more observant and notice the slightest gesture a horse will make towards me or another herd mate. When I start to be present, I am starting to be aware of my surroundings. After a while, like a trained muscle, I start to observe more and feel, see, sense and think. I bring my intuitive sense inwards and create a grounded place versus a reactive place. Self-observation and “doing” nothing are important skills for self-development, be it mental, physical and or spiritual.
Horses give us the gift of a broader perspective. They show us our real power, having a profound effect on our being.
A young woman came to work with me a few years ago. She was bent over in her posture. After engaging with the horses in the first two sessions, where she learnt new skills of observing, grounding and self-acceptance, she gained more trust in the horses and was ready to “dive in”. On the third session, she was leading one of the horses. By asking the horse to follow her with no touch, she discovered a powerful place that was hidden inside of her. A place she can tap into wherever she is. After the session, she thanked the horse for his teachings and I noticed her energy level was brighter and her whole posture had changed. She was standing upright.
A change like that, subtle as it may be, can bring higher self-esteem, and help the physical body breathe and move more efficiently. Being present and in the moment with horses, the magnetic field around our heart and senses become engaged. The experience is whole and memorable. It creates a ‘power’ place a person can tap into any moment they need to bring strength. The horses teach us to observe with a clear mind, breathe and have healthy boundaries and trust. They ask us to understand the messages behind our emotions and let them go.
They are teaching us to enter the space between the notes.
Spending time with the horses is honouring special moments. These visits are an excuse to start breathing and connect to the heart. To me, this is the real horse power.
Rachel Gedaliya, FEEL (Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning) facilitator – After a self-discovery workshop at Horse Spirit Connections, I began training in the full FEEL program. Since graduating in 2016, I started my practice-OPEN GAITS, where people who are looking to deepen their connection to self and community through the way of the horse, can come and explore. OPEN GAITS invites people from all walks of life; from young adults to women in transition to veterans and more. The work is done at a beautiful farm in Saanich, Vancouver Island, BC. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.