On Horses

Feeling For Horses

Thanks to the Internet, there is an extreme amount of information available to research on how to care for and train horses. There is so much information that it takes just as much of a talent to discriminate between valid and invalid as it does to actually ride a horse. (Some will say it is impossible to learn from reading the things that are important to safely handling a horse. Well, if that were true, why is so much written about it?) The current trend is "Natural Horsemanship" with many variations on the same theme of a more humane and friendly approach to establishing a communication between two very different species of animal, horse and human. It is not "new" in the sense that Natural Horsemanship has always existed as long as humans have interacted with the horse. It is only "new" to those who have never viewed their interactions with a horse as anything more than a object/manipulator relationship. Perhaps that superficial, shallow approach to horses is a symptom of a stagnant growth and evolution of the personality, and since the horse/human relationship is no longer driven by need, it is much more apparent in this "new" era of horsemanship.

Psychology 101

There is more information available about people than there is about horses. The upside to this statement-of-the-obvious is that if you are reading this, you have direct experience with being a person! That direct experience tells you immediately that everyone is an individual with a different set of experiences and therefore a different interpretation of those experiences than anyone that might have shared those experiences with you. A 'soft' science, there are libraries filled with an infinite number of Psych theories to explain those different interpretations of experiences. The only way to survive the glut of information is to sift through whatever you can get your hands on and relate. In other words, if it rings true to you, then it is true. Through understanding ourselves as people, Psychology can shine a light on why some people insist that a horse is an inanimate object to be taken off the shelf and used without any more thought than if a horse were, say, a radio.

As an extreme example, Psychology has given us the profile of a psychopathic personality. The first clue to this type of personality disorder is a cruelty to animals in childhood. Often, this person is very intelligent and capable of fully functioning in day to day life. Signs of objectivism do not become apparent until interpersonal relationships are attempted. Described as a lack of conscience, everything within this person's life is nothing more than an object to be manipulated in order to satisfy selfish needs. To muddy the picture, most psychopaths go through life unnoticed. It is a matter of degree, and none will go to a therapist with complaints of unsatisfied needs. Most will decide it is not in their best interest to do anything that would threaten their ability to satisfy needs, so they do not commit acts that lead to arrest and incarceration. Some theorize that psychopathic tendencies are due to a perceived childhood trauma that diverts energy into sustaining a false reality instead of true growth of the personality while others theorize there is some sort of short in the brain. Either way, this personality disorder does not respond to treatment of any sort. The horse, just as another human being, is just a means to an end to the psychopathic personality.

Needs (http://www.ship.edu/~cgboeree/maslow.html)

Psychology also gives us developmental theories that describe 'normal' development of the personality. One theory is "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs", the full theory can be found at the link above. Visualize a pyramid, wide at the bottom, cut into 5 levels, signifying the amount of energy needed to satisfy needs on each level and only able to adress the needs on the next higher level after the needs have been met. On the first level is Physiological Needs such as food, clothing and water. The next level is Safety and Security, which deals more with fears and anxieties. Next is Love and Belonging followed by the Esteem level. The highest, smallest part of the pyramid is Self-Actualization. The majority of needs at each level must be met in order to expend energy on higher level needs, though this is not absolute.

Self-Actualization may be the key to understanding the attraction to horses, especially since there is no longer the need to use horses for transportation and plowing fields. The needs of a person expending energy on this level seem to more clearly lend itself to this theory. A person expending energy on Self-Actualization seeks:

Truth, rather than dishonesty.
Goodness, rather than evil.
Beauty, not ugliness or vulgarity.
Unity, wholeness, and transcendence of opposites, not arbitrariness or forced choices.
Aliveness, not deadness or the mechanization of life.
Uniqueness, not bland uniformity.
Perfection and necessity, not sloppiness, inconsistency, or accident.
Completion, rather than incompleteness.
Justice and order, not injustice and lawlessness.
Simplicity, not unnecessary complexity.
Richness, not environmental impoverishment.
Effortlessness, not strain.
Playfulness, not grim, humorless, drudgery.
Self-sufficiency, not dependency.
Meaningfulness, rather than senselessness.

Within our relationship with our horses, these are a reality - for those of us who strive for a relationship with our horse. A life with horses gives us actualization!

Obviously, this is not a full exploration of the differences between those who seek a partnership with their horse vs those who approach their horse as an object. Think about it for awhile and see what parts of it ring true for you.

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