The Horse As Mirror

Psychotherapist Pat Rothchild talks about how the horse has more mirror neurons in its brain than dogs, cats, or even humans, “which cause them to experience and reflect the emotional state of those in their territories. Mirror neurons enable our companion critters to get where we’re coming from, often better than we do.”

And boy, did I get a chance to experience the ‘horse as mirror’ effect last week! I arrived at the barn and greeted the 5 members of my herd – one of whom was already walking over to the hay shed to tell me, “Yes, it’s lovely to see you, now let’s get the alfalfa out in the field, chip-chop…”

As my Belgian mare is nursing a 2-month old and the two boys are both still doing a lot of growing, in addition to the low-sugar hay in the slow feeders, I also give them a bale of low-sugar alfalfa, loose, out in the field once a day. This is pretty darn exciting to them and they like (or want/need) this even more than their feed dish with supplements and carrots.

herd-field
The Fabulous Five

After distributing the hay in 6-8 piles around the field, I walked up to my Andalusian mare Zorra to say hello. I stroked her for a bit while she was eating, then scratched her udder for about 5 seconds until she pushed past me and went to the next hay pile. What?? Zorra adores having her udder scratched! There is nothing she won’t trade for udder scratches and however long you scratch is not long enough. How bizarre.

Little Jun-bug was staring at me, so I went over to give him some neck scratches (one of his favorite spots) and he bit me. What? “Hey, Juno, that’s not okay, that hurts!” And he bit me again. Not hard enough to break skin or leave a bruise – just hard enough to hurt sharply.

Now I’m upset. I huff my way over to his mother, Audelina, who is my most loving, affectionate horse, who loves to smooch with me, and I press my cheek against her side as my arm slides under her belly for a hug and a scratch, and… she immediately walks off away from me.

Moving emotions into flow

By this time, even dimwit here is starting to realize there’s something wrong… with me. So this time I go to Montaro Sensei and I don’t touch him, I just stand across from him and sink my feet into the earth (as he has trained me to do whenever I’m around him), roll my shoulders back, and say, “What?? Why is everyone ignoring me, and Juno bit me, and I don’t understand–” And as the frustrated questions roll off my tongue, the tears well up from inside me and I’m bawling my head off before I finish the sentence. Because the boy holds a space and I’m finally open to seeing/hearing.

juno-field
Montaro and baby Juno

What am I so upset about? As my thinking-brain kicks in to try and figure out what’s causing the tears, the tears recede and the wiser part of me says, “Stop thinking! Just let the emotion flow.” So I do and I’m back crying again. The horses continue to eat calmly around me, Juno raising his head to peer intently at me between chews.

I cry on and off over the next 20 minutes or so, as the dogs come and go, and I spy a piece of old garbage, and I breathe and look at the trees, the horses, the coyotes, the grass and weeds, the manure.

As my tears come to an end I have loosed enough space inside my tightly wound and clamped together self to realize the tremendous amount of stress I’ve been under.

We have an accepted offer on a new house (close to the kids’ new school) subject to the sale of our existing house. Which is in a rough state from 10 years of dogs, cats and children running amok. So I have been working frantically to get everything fixed, replaced, re-painted, and so on.

I have just managed to settle things down, after much negotiating, with my current boarding place, so hopefully the horses can remain there for the winter months, at least. Which doesn’t take the pressure off me to find OUR LAND – and where the hell is it???!!! Just a wee bit stressed about that one. And part of that process is dealing with the grief that no one in my family wants to live on land, other than me. So my dream of looking out the window at my horses has taken a reality-check. And then… what will my life with my horses look like? At this point, I have no frickin’ idea.

On the business front, we’re switching out some pretty big suppliers, I’ve got deadlines for books that need to go back to print (because we’re nearly out of stock) and it’s taking me 5 days of tech support to get my files transferred over to my new computer, while everything that can go wrong, does.

Because this is my life, and I live here (like the frog in the slowly warming pot of water until it’s boiled alive), I was completely unaware of the boat-load of stress, tension, frustration, disappointment and anger I walked onto the field with. But my horses knew. Every last one of them. And they mirrored it right back to me. As Pat says:

montaro-tree2
Montaro Sensei

“What’s important to horses? The same stuff that’s important to us. Fifty-six-million-years ago, we shared stem parents. In the way-back times, we were siblings. We’ve evolved similarly. We share a social proclivity to live in small, changeable bands that cleave together for safety and emotional comfort. A lone horse is extraordinarily vulnerable, as is a lone human. After centuries of selective breeding, the domesticated horse is highly tuned to humans. In their view, we become members of their bands. If we play our cards right, we can become recipients of their healing in the process.

When people practice mindfulness regularly, we function better. This leads to the development of virtue, which in turn brings wisdom. Mindfulness, virtue and wisdom are what spiritual traditions are charged with cultivating. They’re also what heals character disorders. Horses train us better and faster than religion or psychotherapy. They have more practice and don’t judge. The practice demands physical engagement. This opens the internal space for us to be present in the moment; instead of fretting over when and how we will be shamed, betrayed or abandoned next, we’re focused on keeping our feet out from under theirs.”

The last time this happened, about 6 months ago – because I really am that dense – Zorra whacked me with her head into my pubic bone. Which made me really mad, but I controlled it and continued on with my chores. I imagined the horses exchanged looks, “Geez, now what are we going to do? You’re going to have to hurt her more – no, you do it, no – YOU do it!” So my beloved Audelina bit down on my finger (she’s never bitten me before or since) so hard I exploded with anger, which quickly segued into tears, as they all relaxed their heads and gazed lovingly at me.

Anger creates flow

I realized that what my horses do with me, when I arrive in a tightly wound yet clueless state, is very similar to what my husband, Ian, had to do with a seizure patient at his very first job.

Ian worked at a hospital in the UK for patients deemed mentally ill enough to require lifetime care. There was one patient who suffered terrible seizures, so the staff learned to watch for when the tension was building up in this fellow. If it built too high – without being released – the guy would have a seizure. So when the staff noticed him getting significantly stressed and tense, they purposely made fun of him to make him angry. He would then release his pent-up emotion through anger, his body would relax again, and he would be spared the trauma and injury of a grand mal seizure.

So the challenge for us as horse owners is to always be alert for what our horse’s behaviour means. Sometimes it can mean our horse is unhappy. Maybe there’s something in their environment or diet that needs to change. Maybe a need is not getting met, or other herd members are pressurizing or bullying a horse. Or maybe, the horse is merely mirroring back the problem or imbalance that exists within our own self.

Horses are not afraid of authentic anger, the way many humans are. My herd realizes that when I’m wound up so tight, the only way to access my pain, sadness, fear, or stress is through my anger. Once they get my anger flowing, the rest of my tightly clamped and controlled emotions can also loosen and move into flow.

They have also figured out that the quickest way to make me mad is to physically hurt me – especially if it’s an out-of-the-blue and unjustified attack. But the second they wound me, they do not pull back in fear or jerk away from me, they stand in stillness and gaze at me with loving eyes – even as I erupt I can feel their support.

Once my emotions are flowing freely, I then get clarity about all the things that are not right in my world. Things I need to action, or do some EFT Tapping on, or difficult conversations I need to have, or needs that aren’t being met, or boundaries that need to be set, and so on. And then, I am usually able to meditate, reconnect with my peace and re-set my nervous system. Namaste Equus.

(c) Lotus Wei
Meditating with the Herd (c) Lotus Wei
Jini Patel Thompson is a natural health writer and Freedomite. She began riding at age 2 in Kenya, and got her first horse at age 8 in Alberta, and so continues a life-long journey and love affair with these amazing creatures.
The Horse As Mirror

23 thoughts on “The Horse As Mirror

  • October 15, 2016 at 2:31 pm
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    Beautifully rendered piece, Jini. Thank you for including my stuff so succinctly. And mostly, thank you for your revelations. I appreciate that you made the critical point that there are lots of factors other than us that effect horses’ moods. That’s one of the reasons that it’s important to get high-quality support from someone who knows horses and humans well as we transition from dominions -oriented relationships with our critters toward a holistic one that honors what horses bring to the table.

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    • October 15, 2016 at 3:50 pm
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      Yes I agree Pat; splitting horses up into either all spiritual, or all physical, does us both a disservice. And for those of us who don’t work in a therapy (supported) setting, to always be open to, ‘well it could mean this, or it could mean that’. To try to discern whether the horse is in its spiritual self, or in its horse self, is pretty key.

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    • October 16, 2016 at 2:16 pm
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      Great post. Appreciate the honesty, intimacy and authenticity. Can your or Pat point me to or reference the research on horses having more mirror neurons than dogs, cats or humans? Thanks!

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      • October 16, 2016 at 6:01 pm
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        Hi Thea: Thank you for your question. It’s always a thrill when readers are interested enough to wonder and ask. I’ve been studying psychoneuroimmunology for a few years. It’s been long enough that I’m not sure of my original sources, so I googled it.

        There’s quite a bit of discussion around mirror neurons in the Equine Facilitated Education and Psychotherapy literature. There’s more in the companion animal literature. The Human-Animal Relationship literature is also ripe with references. Dig in and enjoy yourself! This stuff is fascinating!

        Here’s a nice, short article from someone else who works with people and horses in therapeutic settings: http://www.horsecollaborative.com/the-healing-power-of-equine-therapy/.
        Nature: Why We Love Cats and Dogs – is a review of a television show on the subject:
        http://articles.latimes.com/2009/feb/14/entertainment/et-catsanddogs14

        We humans have our fair share of mirror neurons too. They were only discovered in the 1990s, but clinicians have been using them forever. One of the first things I learned in my clinical training, 42-years ago, was how to use them for diagnostics.

        Want to know if someone is a psychopath? Yawn in front of them. If they don’t yawn back, they may not be neurologically equipped for empathy. Try it a few times before passing judgment though!

        Want to know if your cat or dog’s mirror neurons are functioning? Notice how their behavior changes with your mood. My cats, dogs and horses have been and are exquisitely tuned to my moods. They act like different creatures when I’m upset than when I’m meditating or working. Yours do too. It’s a matter of tuning in.

        I first heard of their utility in equine guided education and therapy a few years ago when I took the SkyHorse training. It made perfect sense from a psycho-neuro perspective, which caused me to look back on the decades that I worked with a pack of golden retrievers. I chose that breed because they’re such love muffins. My clients were far quicker to find and release their buried love wounds while the dogs bombarded them with their love and acceptanace. Mirroring goes both ways.

        When I shifted to horses as co-facilitators later in my career, I found that several of the complications implicit in working with dogs vanished. The horses got the job done faster and with less stress than the dogs. That may have also been partially effected by the decades of experience the goldies gave me. I may have just gotten better at what I do.

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        • October 17, 2016 at 8:46 am
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          Thanks for the reply Pat and for taking the time to google for me. The research on mirror neurons isn’t new to me, nor is Equine Facilitated Wellness. I am an Eponaquest Instructor myself, been involved in the work since 2001. The claim that horses have more mirror neurons than other mammals was a new one for me so I wanted to be able to read the research and cite it if I was going to use the information. Not questioning that it’s true so much as wanting to be able to back it up. Thanks.
          .

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          • October 17, 2016 at 6:54 pm
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            You’re welcome, Thea. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Equine therapy is a relatively small world. Perhaps we’ll have the opportunity to meet one day. Best wishes in your work.

  • October 16, 2016 at 12:13 pm
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    Such a relatable subject…..oh the horsey mirror! I had a somewhat similar experience a few days ago with my 3 boys. Each one I tried to connect with and give exactly what they usually yearn for, when offered, you know the special scratches/touches in each of there own special happy places, but instead they all just walked away from me. I even got some of the infamous tail slaps from two of them. One of them being from my very tail expressive paint Banner, if his tail could use words I swear there have been times when I think he was cussing me out with that tail. I used to wonder if the tail slaps were intentional so I really started paying attention to them & if they were coincidence, just chasing flies, or trying to get me purposefully and I I have come to the conclusion that about 80% of the time they are very intensional, so I always pay attention when I am slapped hard with a tail. So anyway I too, got very emotional about being so rejected, but I feel mine was for different emotional feelings. I have been debating for a while now if I put to much emotional expectations on my horses. I am a certifiable horse junkie and because I have the great privilege to live with my 3 boys and work from home I spend a huge amount of time with them and have a hard time even leaving for the day . I don’t feel like I ask a huge amount from them physically because I love horses just cruising all day long doing there thing, but I never stop thinking about them and when I’m not with them I’m reading blogs and books about horses and listening to podcasts and watching videos of horses or writing about horses. You get the idea, very obsessive behavior. So I wonder if my always wanting horses all my life and not getting the privilege to have them until about 8 years ago and I’m now 47… Is a huge burden for them to live up to? I idolize them so much. I put them on such a unicorn/ Pegasus plautoe and want so much from them emotionally. It’s such a dream come true to have them in my life now but I don’t want to overload them with my over the top admiration and love. I personally am not at all mushy with people and don’t like people that come on to strong & try to hard, they really repel me. But I have always been an animal girl, always considered myself way better with animals then people & know they affect me emotionally much more then people ever have. I know some people can not understand but that’s just how it’s always been with me. So how can I expect my horses to feel when I’m so emotionally all up in there kook-aid? I try to hold back my emotional neediness but we all know they see right through that bull—–I guess I’ll just have to keep being aware of my yucky clingy emotional neediness I place on them and try to keep evolving myself and listening to the horses, because I do know…..they are so amazingly wise!

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    • October 16, 2016 at 4:23 pm
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      Hi Michelle – that’s really fascinating, love it! And congrats on being open to such awareness. What jumped out at me from your comments was this:

      “I personally am not at all mushy with people and don’t like people that come on to strong & try to hard, they really repel me.”

      So. Then we juxtapose that perception or judgement with how you behave around your herd – which is exactly all of those qualities you are rejecting in others. So in light of exploring all the gifts being offered up here, I invite you to consider these possibilities:

      – WHY do you give yourself permission to be completely open-hearted and mushy around your horses, but not around humans?

      – I would be interested to see, if you released your judgement towards humans, would your horses’ attitude towards you change? If they are mirroring back your judgement and rejection of open-hearted mushiness, then they would be holding you at arms length for that reason. So if you release that judgement, will they then welcome you with open hearts and love and smooch on you all day long?

      Concurrently, releasing that judgement will no doubt involve some deep-seated (perhaps childhood rejection/trauma) healing within your soul/psyche. Allow the horses to guide you to which healing therapies you need as you walk this pathway to wholeness. Sometimes you need to start with a somato-emotional (body/emotion) type bodywork therapy – like craniosacral, or BodyTalk, or EFT. Be open to leadings as to who you should work with, and when. Perhaps you need to go for equine therapy with someone else’s herd – where a skilled practitioner can facilitate for you? Or perhaps if you begin a meditative practice with your own herd – with this as your intentional goal – they can support you to reach down into the place this judgement formed and help you open to allow healing for this within yourself.

      See if this might be helpful, or at least stimulate some thought:

      http://blog.listentoyourgut.com/child-me-vs-adult-me-in-the-healing-journey/

      hugs,
      Jini

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  • October 17, 2016 at 9:08 am
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    Hi Jini,

    I just love your blog! You write in such a clear, compelling and fun way. Your stories and insights are so open, honest, balanced and such an authentic reflection of your efforts to create a true partnering relationship with your horses. It calls me to keep reaching for more in this quest too! Plus, I get great info that helps me caring for my herd. So huge, ongoing thanks.

    This post really hits home because I find the same thing all the time with my herd. Horses are truly amazing at picking up the areas we are stuck, or not flowing and showing that to us – particularly when we are willing and able to hear them, feel what is there in us and own it as you so artfully did.

    Your story also hit home because I have a daughter with epilepsy. She is incredibly self aware and working on a degree in cognitive neuroscience largely because she wants to make a difference in how people experience conditions such as epilepsy and also find new ways to explore what is really going on. We definitely have experienced how pent up energy that isn’t expressed in a wholesome and purposeful way can potentially lead to a seizure. In fact, one of my horses has had seizures and communicated similar information about her experience with them.

    One piece of feedback i would offer is related to your opening reference to mirror neurons. I’m very excited to see a lot of neurological research coming out that has far reaching implications and also a lot of good research happening to better investigate horses and how they communicate. However, we live in a culture that loves to sensationalize and/or make far-reaching interpretations of data to serve opinions and vague ideas. In my view, this will never serve our work with the horses and can actually erode it. For instance, there was a study by a Norwegian University on the ability of horses to communicate specific preference through the use of symbols. One journal picked this up as “Horses can communicate through symbols” (pretty accurate to the research). Another wrote an article based on the same research about how “Horses can talk with humans” (although this is my consistent experience with horses, this was not what the research was about). Finally, I saw a weather journal had picked it up as “Horses can communicate the weather”. Holy crap!!

    Mirror neuron research is really very new and there is much more unknown than known. In fact, parts of the original research has now been shown to be inaccurate. What the research has shown is that these particular neurons are active when an action is observed and executed — that’s it. The data is correlational only. It’s not known what role they play or whether or not they are even necessary for understanding. As for concrete data that the volume of mirror neurons one being has over another is important as related to the ability to understand the actions of other people in a more sophisticated way, I don’t believe anything has been demonstrated. (If you want to know more, a great reference is The Brain Science Podcast – Dr Ginger Campbell has interviews with several scientists working on original studies of mirror neurons.)

    I love your story and I believe you and your horses are communicating in a very sophisticated way that science has yet to understand and probably goes far beyond the horse’s ability to understand your actions. And in my humble opinion, I don’t think you need science for your story to have impact and merit – your experience speaks volumes through all your posts.

    Thank you again for your wonderful blog. I wish you much grace and ease in your move and I am sending good thoughts that your perfect land shows up for you all.

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    • October 17, 2016 at 9:46 pm
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      Hi Tina – nice to meet you and thanks so much for your very interesting comment and feedback. I spent some time looking around your site (beautiful horses!) and I would love to know the name of your e-learning technology company – that intrigues me…

      Your daughter’s journey sounds fascinating and I think it would make for a good book one day…it would certainly be a book that would span multiple genres – health, neuroscience, horse, therapy, etc. Be sure and tag me if she writes it and I’ll be her first customer for sure!

      I agree with your feedback regarding the importance of providing references for scientific info and when I write one of my health books I substantiate every claim. In this post I was quoting Pat Rothchild’s article, so the claim was not mine and as it jibed with my own personal experience (I have had dogs and cats all my life and currently have 5) I did not feel the need to track down an actual research paper as well. I guess I also have a lot of trust in Pat’s work as she has been a psychotherapist for 36 years and her late husband was an MD – so she is no stranger to research and documentation.

      I am pleased you shared your knowledge of this topic though, and being that you have a daughter with epilepsy I would assume that you also have done a fair amount of research (even though you did not provide source references either). Speaking of which, a book I thoroughly enjoyed was Dr. Norman Doidge, “The Brain That Changes Itself”. The further we go into neuroplasticity, the more we learn that the brain is capable of endless change, reorganization, development, etc. And the “hard science” gets even fuzzier.

      And yes, I also agree with you that in either case (yea or nay to the amount or importance of mirror neurons) my story does not hinge on that data regardless! I also believe animals are operating in dimensions, wavelengths, frequencies, realities, abilities that are far beyond our current scientific understanding or research. I don’t spend a lot of time trying to understand/rationalize what happens with my horses and the things they tell me – I merely accept that I have gone fully over the edge, or down the rabbit hole, and me and Alice are having tea and crumpets. 🙂

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      • November 7, 2016 at 3:34 pm
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        Hi Jini, I smiled and laughed at your rabbit hole comment because that is becoming increasingly my experience and I suppose it’s fun to know others are welcoming the ride too. I actually much prefer the direct, unmitigated experience of others over claims of scientific “proof” … they pave the way to the far beyond 🙂
        The e-learning company was called Digital Ignite — we sold the company to Your Membership but I believe our old website is still kicking around today anyway.
        Thank you for your replying and for checking out The Courage Herd site … I can tell you are a rare gem and I truly appreciate the gift of Listen To Your Horse.

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        • November 7, 2016 at 9:37 pm
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          Awww thanks Tina! And your Crowd Wisdom platform is quite interesting… I have one of my programs set up on WishList Member – but only the admins can add content. It looks like with yours there’s more of a group sharing functionality. Anyway, congrats on developing and selling it – now you have more time for horses! 🙂

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  • October 17, 2016 at 2:04 pm
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    Gush, as if I’ve been reading about my own experiences. Thank you Jini! As I’m still trying to figure out my connection with my horses – your articles are helping me discover more and more layers… <3 Much love

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  • October 17, 2016 at 3:14 pm
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    I’m still tinking about it… Yes, I totally agree that animals are our mirror. My horses become not responding (everything is more interesting), offensive (swishing tail in my face, steping on my feet, bitting etc), nervous or my dog is behaving like a crazy lunatic, overreacting and agressive towards everything that moves. I can say that basically all the time I am tensed, stressed, worried – because I get some ridiculous low salary in a job that is totally not smth I would wish to do, my Mum’s just lost her job and we shouldn’t have 3 horses, 2 dogs and 3 cats to feed for god’s sake! My thyroid just went crazy after some months of succesful natural treatment and I’m 31 and have no idea where my life is going to… Phew, ok. I am stressed, so much that it feels like I have some bomb in my belly trying to go out through my throat, but it got stuck in the process and I’m chocking with it. Dear Jini, could you please give some advice – what should I do to get rid of that anger/frustration/sadness etc. when I just want to be wth my animals? I can’t visit my horses often, I know they feel really good and don’t miss me, but when I finally see them and they show me only that I can bugger off and leave them alone – I just feel like the most miserable looser in the world. I don’t want to feel that way. I want to see my horses and be with them, walking in woods, playing, eating carrots and having scratchess, not feeling like some not needed mistake. I try to breathe and calm down, connect my feet with Earth, feeling the energy flow without the blockade. But it’s not enough :/

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    • October 17, 2016 at 9:18 pm
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      Hi Zuza – funny but I was thinking about you a few days ago when I was on Facebook – thinking that I really MUST get my photos chosen for those coasters you make!

      I don’t know if you’ve read Pat’s response below yet, but I totally agree with everything she said. Here’s my review and also explanation of James French’s Trust Technique:

      http://www.listentoyourhorse.com/lying-down-with-horses/

      If you can start practicing using what’s written there, go for it! If not, then go to his YouTube channel and check out some of his free vids (some have the invitation to the free introductory training). If you did join the course (hard now I know when money’s tight) you would see how he works with people and dogs in the exact same dynamic you just described, and the simple act of being fully present, leads to a state of peace, which shifts both human and dog remarkably.

      One more thing I’d like to give you – since you seem to be in a very similar position to me right now – is this poem a friend of mine sent me today. And actually, let’s take a moment to point out that this emotional state and crazy-brain, balloon-about-to-pop tension is not just about finances. I have plenty of money, but I am still experiencing the same reality as you are. Here’s the poem:

      For a New Beginning

      In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
      Where your thoughts never think to wander,
      This beginning has been quietly forming,
      Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

      For a long time it has watched your desire,
      Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
      Noticing how you willed yourself on,
      Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

      It watched you play with the seduction of safety
      And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
      Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
      Wondered would you always live like this.

      Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
      And out you stepped onto new ground,
      Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
      A path of plenitude opening before you.

      Though your destination is not yet clear
      You can trust the promise of this opening;
      Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
      That is at one with your life’s desire.

      Awaken your spirit to adventure;
      Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
      Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
      For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

      -John O’Donohue

      Reply
      • October 19, 2016 at 1:46 am
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        Hehe, I was thinking about your coasters the other day 😛 I’m waiting for photos!

        I’ve read “Lying down…’ article – maybe this is a very important missing piece for me right now! Great, thank you! I’ve seen that there is an option to watch free videos at trust-technique.com for 24 h, so I will watch as much as I can! 🙂

        The poem is beautifull …
        Though your destination is not yet clear
        You can trust the promise of this opening;
        Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
        That is at one with your life’s desire.
        <3

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  • October 17, 2016 at 6:45 pm
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    Zuza, thank you for sharing. I hope that you don’t mind if I throw in my two cents here. It sounds like the stress of feeling stuck in a dead-end job with more responsibilities and costs than is manageable now is playing havoc with your peace of mind. That’s hugely stressful. This will inevitably show up in your relationships. I know that feeling of circling the drain. There are few worse spaces for a psyche to feel stuck in.

    The good news is that your critters can help. From my perspective, they function like great behavioral therapists. They reinforce us when we’re emotionally centered in the moments we share with them and either ignore or punish us when we’re emotionally whacked. They’re not angry with us; it appears to me that they’re trying to set us straight, or failing that, give us space to figure it out for ourselves. That’s what they do with one another when band members get emotionally funky. The difference between us and their equine buddies is that we personalize it by projecting our values and social norms on them.

    I tend to translate the behavior you describe as, ‘Hmn, you’re mood is contagious. We’re going to show you what your mood looks and feels like to us.’ I have learned to trust that horses, dogs and cats will be equally forthcoming with reinforcement when we slip into a state of mindfulness.

    Mindfulness is elusive in our current cultural melieu. We humans spend most of our bandwidths engaged in a circular argument with ourselves. Mindfulness training can counteract that tendency. Horses are the best mindfulness teachers I know of.

    James French has put out an amazing set of videos in which he demonstrates how to do this with all sorts of critters. He calls his work The Trust Technique. He often sets up a 3-day free access program. I’ve recommended it to loads of folks and have never seen anything but excellent results.

    Mindfulness helps just about everything. It can be a struggle to cross the initial threshold though. Early on, it can be anxiety provoking, especially for those with anxiety issues. We all resist change. Our brains think that background dialogue is important because we do it so much. So, it sends us warning messages. This is just a reflection of a bunch of neurons that are petioning your nervous system for job security. They don’t yet realize that you’re about to lighten their workload and make their jobs a lot more fun. They’ll get into, once you get over the threshold.

    Your horses, dogs and cats will show you when you find the groove. They’ll relax, maybe yawn and even lay down. There will be a definitive release of physical energy followed by at least a moment of bliss. To a critter lover like you, there are few moments more right in life. When we get that kind of steady reinforcement, our brains get on purpose about mastering the skill. Once you have ingrained it as an habitual pattern, it gets easy to slip in and out of it at will.

    The definition of shamanic practice is the capacity to alter one’s consciousness at will. This practice has the potential to open huge new vistas for you and your critters. We humans have been teaching each other how to do this for eons because brains that get to hang out in the moment get healthier, which strengthens our characters and eventually leads us toward wisdom.

    You might be interested in reading the article Jini quoted. It goes into more detail on the how’s and why’s of this phenomenon. Sometimes, it’s helpful to expand one’s context on a question of this nature.

    Best wishes, Zuza. I get that life is rough for you now. It’s so easy to shut down under those circumstances, but you haven’t done that. Instead, you’re seaching for solutions and courageous enough to fly your vulnerability flags. That speaks well for the strength of your character. You can do this!

    http://www.reclaimedconnections.com. Look for the article entitled Reclaiming Our Connections. Or, go to the link in the first paragraph of Jini’s post. That will get you there in one click. I haven’t yet mastered digital links.

    Reply
    • October 19, 2016 at 1:58 am
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      Thank you Patricia! It’s really very helpfull to understand that, as you wrote, they are not angry with me. They actually want to help me. It’s crucial to understand that and have the right perspective. ” The difference between us and their equine buddies is that we personalize it by projecting our values and social norms on them.” – !!!
      I will jump to http://www.relaimedconnection.com for sure, thank you.

      Really I am amazed, how wonderfull you guys are – here at this blog you all share your experiences, wisdom and love, helping people as me (and their animal friends) in this fascinating journey. There are many many people around the world who have amazing skills but TO SHARE it so freely… it’s amazing. THANK YOU, YOU ARE ALL WONDERFULL <3 Much love from far away Poland 🙂

      Reply
      • October 21, 2016 at 8:46 am
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        Thank you, Zazu. There are few things more happy making for me than to support folks to become more receptive to the wisdom their critter friends embody. The more humans who get it, the more likely it is that we can turn the wheel of human destiny from destruction to responsible reverence.

        Reply
      • October 22, 2016 at 11:05 am
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        Zuza, thank you for being so receptive. That’s tough to do when you’re feeling stuck. Your enthusiasm is healing for me.

        I’ve been isolated for 21 months due to an illness that’s finally resolving. During the contagious period, I didn work. For most of the last 2 years, my two feline companions have been my only contacts. As marvelous as their healing mojo is, I notice that my people skills have taken a hit.

        Writing blog posts is my way of reaching out to my fellow humans now. I feel a compulsion to share some of what I’ve learned during this enchanting and challenging ordeal called Life. So, thank you for giving me an opportunity to do my thing!

        My gratitude extends to Jini too. I feel lost in this digital world. Jini’s willingness to share some of my work is a boon for me now. I need to cultivate a fresh set of human connectons to do what I’m called to now. Jini was the first shoot to poke through the frozen tundra. I am loving warming my spirit by her fire. Thank you both!

        Reply
        • October 29, 2016 at 12:49 pm
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          It’s wonderfull how something so simple as internet is connecting people from all over the world – and that among milions of websites and blogs, you’ll always find someone “from your tribe” 🙂 Much love! <3

          ps. I've visited Trust Technique site and watched 24h free videos – it's interesting…
          I've tried practicing Present Moment and my animals didn't respond. At all. My dog went even more crazy like he wanted to "move" me from that place or, as my horses – didn't respond at all. It's even more interesting that I felt much more anger and frustration in myself – feelings that are triggered always by my animals when they don't respond to me. I was thinking about it and I've figured out that the same feelings are triggered in me by my home situation and people I live with. It's something like "I can't stand it any more!!" – I want to scream. If my animals are mirroring me, no wonder they are nervous as well, right? I hope that practicing Trust Technique more often will help me to deal with this frustration inside that just got out to the surface and that will also help my animals…

          Reply
  • October 30, 2016 at 1:29 pm
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    It sounds like you’re in a tough part of your journey, Zuza. I get how disconcerting those times can be. You’re being extraordinarily brave in the face of the anxiety this brings.

    1. Keep breathing. I mean this literally. Tune into your breath, even for just a few in-and-exhales, at least ten-times a day. Let go of your expectations as much as you can. Just be with your breath. Do that with your critters too. Just notice their behavior. For now, this isn’t about control. It’s about noticing.

    2. You have control over what you attend to. When you’re tending your breath, actively hunt for fragrances, temperature shifts, the pressure of breezes, the different feels of various locations in your critters’ lives…

    3. Breathe whill you watch your horses’ bodies while they amble, stand, graze. How often do they check the scent of the air. Which horse decides when and where the band moves under which circumstances? ….

    4. In short, set up frequent brief episodes during which you’re breathing and sensing the world’s of your critters. Notice when the urge to control them rises up. What’s it about? What do you tell yourself when you feel you need to intervene. What’s your heart and head up to when the need to control them comes up? How about after you make a controlling intervention? What’s it like when you don’t?

    5. What parts of your control works for your critters? Mine are dependent on and appreciative of fresh, quality fodder supplements, water, freedom of movement within confined spaces that accommodatE movement, play and work among their own kind. They’re also dependent on my getting them appropriate hoof and health care in a timely fashion.

    6. If I let down on any of those responsibilities, my critters get tense, act out or get sick. Those are the first places I check when things get off in my connections with critters. Sometimes, weird horse behaviour triggers are as straight forward as a bad load of hay, mold growing in feeders or troughs, an acidic diet, poorly trimmed hooves, contaminated water. Check that stuff.

    7. When we’re mindfully present with our critters, those kind of issues bubble up to the surface faster. A while back, I was called in by a woman with 3 horses. She wanted to bring her relationship with them to a higher level. Within a day, she discovered that the holding tank for her pastures water supply had a dead Blue Jay marinating in it. The next week, she discovered that the supplemental clover she fed was sending the blood sugars of two of her horses off the charts. A third needed the energy it provided. By breathing with her band, eventually they figured out a daily supplemental feeding system that worked for everybidy. What’s far more important, they all learned ways of communicating needs and negotiating their resolution.

    So far as I know, there isn’t a way to be with others (regardless of their species) that works consistently. Change is where life is at. Learning to give and receive new information is where it’s at. Seating our relationships with others in thE realms of negotiations within ever-changing moments works. It builds in resilience, growth, and change into our interdependecy. Life likes that.

    Reply
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