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What is it about horses that draws us to imagine the best in ourselves? We feel a connection to this species as we do with no other. Dogs, cats, dolphins, birds; we love them all, yet the horse is the one animal that can transcend any demographic, or geographical location on the planet. 

Historically, the horse has been used  by humans in ways no other species has; they’ve toiled alongside us in our fields, they’ve carried our burdens, they’ve died in our wars, they’ve been eaten, beaten, starved and run to death. The horse has also been our companion, our adventure guide, our savior, and our teacher. Only the horse can lay claim to all these things and more, and yet, even today, in 2019, they are being harmed by humans claiming to be trainers, instructors and coaches. 

I run a private and secret horse group for women only and today, one posted a video of a rider shocking a horse with some sort of thing behind or under the saddle. This appeared to be happening at some event, maybe a training clinic and the rider was teaching? The audience can be heard screaming for the rider to get off. Cussing and yelling abound throughout the very long and hideous ordeal. I don’t know where it came from or when it happened. I don’t know who the rider was or where this took place, but it spurred (pun intended) me to abandon what I had been working on in order to write this instead.

The video: A rider is shocking a horse by hitting a buzzer that is under or behind the saddle. The horse reacts by kicking, but not bucking. He hits the fence with his hind feet and knocks out a section of panels. The horse stops, head high, ears twitching, as he tries to figure out what is happening and what he needs to do to make it stop. He backs up, over and over, he kicks out, but doesn’t buck, he stands, he goes forward, he stops. Rider keeps shocking him. 

Watching in horror, I can’t figure out what she wants from the horse either, so I keep watching for as long as I can stand it. I think, but am not sure, that she wants him to go forward. When he does, she keeps banging him with her legs and continues to shock him again, and again. 

To say this made my blood boil doesn’t touch the true reaction I felt. My heart raced watching it and my own litany of profanity streamed like a geyser. Had I been there, I’d have yanked that rider off of the horse and likely would have been arrested for doing so, but I know myself, and I know it would have happened just as I’m writing it here.

I tell myself to step back, stop for a minute and settle. I give up writing the previous almost-done piece and jump ship to this one. Because this is way more important than the other. 

I do believe that most of us with horses are intent on doing our best with them, and for them. I also believe that sometimes our best is sorely lacking. So how do we do better? The following seven things jump out at me, though the list is much longer. 

  • Education. 
  • Empathy.
  • Intention.
  • Relationship.
  • Communication.
  • Forgiveness.
  • Love.

Education includes people putting forth the effort to learn how horses differ from us, or from any other species. Learning the psychology of a species, including humans helps determine how to best “exploit” them (nicely) to get what we want, and face it, we always want something, don’t we?

Empathy for how another being (of any species) interprets and feels about what is being asked can help make them feel better and therefore, more willing to comply. 

Intention regarding our own desires requires a thorough understanding of what we want and coupled with empathy and education, allows the most gentle approach to achieving those desires. 

Relationship between horse and human is critical unless your horse has given up and practices what he was taught through pain and fear so that he is no longer even trying to voice his opinion. 

Communication enables us to comprehend the silent body language of an animal in a way that correct interpretation of his “voice” is heard, and then, our own desires for his behavior be made clear to him. Without understanding flowing between our two species, no agreement can be met.

Forgiveness of our own transgressions and forgiving the horse, his. We all make mistakes. We learn from them, as does the horse. Forgiving is the real crux of the relationship and the enabling of communication. 

Love. Now, you wouldn’t think this one should be necessary to complete this list, but it is the primary reason we have horses. Love. Love of the animal’s grace, strength, beauty and his willingness to forgive us all link together to show us why we love them. Why horses love us is, I believe, is because the horse is wiser than we can ever guess. They teach us to connect with them and with ourselves in a way no other animal does. 

The way horses enable us to feel about ourselves when we forgive them and ourselves is paramount to building good communication. Our intent to be better for them and with them allows our own spiritual growth and deepens our ability to more clearly communicate our love.  Being loving towards horses incorporates empathy and sympathy into a synergy that allows us to forgive.

It is this constant sharing of energies, laughter, experiences and obstacles that keep us most bound to our horses and them to us. Horses are magical, aren’t they?

I don’t know what the rider in the video thinks about when watching herself abuse the horse as she did. Does she think she’s done anything wrong? Does her stomach churn at the harm she has caused? Or does she believe the people around her who must encourage her? I don’t know. I don’t know what happened to the horse. I hope, I really hope, that he’s okay. He was trying so hard in my opinion, yet she continued to hurt him, and with horses being the energy-sensing creatures they are, the harm runs far deeper than what he felt physically. I send him hope and love, and her, too, that she may realize what harm she’s done to him and to herself so she can forgive and become the horsewoman she must surely want most to be.

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Hug your horse, and create your own Happily Ever After!

~Tanya Buck

Tanya Buck
Published on 07-11-2019
Tanya Buck is an equine advocate, an author (101 Ways to Die with a Horse or Live Happily Ever After and White Horse, A Novel), horse trainer, coach and riding instructor. And if that list isn't long enough, she is also a member of the Front Range Animal Evacuation Team in Colorado and founder of the Horses Happily Ever After Project. Tanya believes that a holistic approach incorporating the horse's physical, mental and emotional state combined with reciprocal communication is most beneficial in creating the bond of champions. Her ongoing work to better the world for the horse drives her to keep doing what she does!