Truth can be hard.
Hard: meaning a certain amount of finality. A total immovable and insurmountable awareness that gives you no wiggle room for something otherwise.
A hard truth, a type of honesty that cannot be manipulated, explained, excused or danced around. Smoke and mirrors cannot distort it. You are almost coerced into confronting it. It is not comfortable. But the old adage is true, the truth will set you free.
My favorite equine author and a horseman I admire greatly, Mark Rashid, has a fabulous book called ‘Horses Never Lie’. I’ve read it several times. Even the title, Horses Never Lie, is a hard truth. It is a final and simple statement. The consequences would be devastating to the dishonest, and gives wings to those who allow it to wash them clean of pretending, allow them to take a deep cleansing breath and grow and gather ability in truth!
Yet the few times when ‘non-horsey’ people asked me what I was reading, and they saw the title, their response was everything from an uncomfortable raised eyebrow followed by hasty retreat, to an unfortunate comment…
‘I bet they do.’
I believe Mark to be telling the truth. I think ALL horses are honest, always. A universal truth. I believe horses are unable to respond to anything that is not true. Dishonesty confuses them, they have no concept of it. How they feel is how they behave. They never say to you one thing, and then do another. It is something I love them for. It is one of the reasons I and so many others, crave their company over the company of most people. We can trust that our horses will always be honest with us.
One of my earliest lessons in horsemanship my mentors sat me down and told me,
“You cannot lie to the horse. If you are sad or angry, but choose to slap a smile on your face, or try to pretend you are not feeling how you feel, you will irritate and confuse the horse and keep them away from you. Emotional dishonesty will cause the horse to not want to be with you, work with you or respond to you. You do not have to be perfect, you just have to be honest. “
My experience has proven this to be true. Without getting too personal, I have had some really dark days, when I came to my horse, or others, and he wanted nothing to do with me. Remembering what my mentors taught me, I took a moment, sat myself down, took a breath and thought,
“What is going on with me today? What unrecognised emotion is stirring in me today?”
Once identified it was usually some uncomfortable truth that I was running from. Like sadness, anger, frustration, chronic exhaustion etc. So, I would simply bring that clearly and openly to the horse.
It should be said at this point that I have had these experiences with more horses than just Sanson, including some pretty awesome Polish sport horse mares many years ago. Sanson is my horse, but he is not the ONLY honest horse. Even those cheeky, naughty ponies at your local livery yard are being honest.
Instead of attempting to hide how I felt, I would openly admit it to the horse. I would verbalise it if I felt safe to do so, safe meaning no people around.
“I am feeling really broken today. This is how I am. I am imperfect. I am emotionally vulnerable today. Please be gentle and forgiving with me”.
The horse would always respond. Whom moments before had turned away from me in disgust, they would sigh, blink, and calmly follow me from the paddock. The horse who tried to exit the arena with me would stay with me no matter what I asked them to do. The horse who would be urgent and nervous would now feel connected and manageable.
Horses do not need perfection! They need honesty! To be CONGRUENT. Everything about you from the hair on your head to the tip of your toes says one, clean, clear direct message: I am: —–. I feel:—–. I do:—-. No smoke and mirrors. No cover ups. No distortions….
No manners. No social graces. No trained behavioural responses. Just authenticity!
So I have a big problem when I see horse people who prove themselves dishonest, or who assign dishonesty onto a horse. A common phrase my fellow horseman and sadly also myself have resorted to when we are out of our minds are:
“He is just taking the piss!”
Meaning; he-knows-what-you-want-but-is-trying-to-trick-you. The horse is trying to lie to you. You see it all the time in for sale adverts SUPER HONEST MARE. SCHOOLMASTER GELDING, HONEST AND BOMBPROOF.
Well of course they are bloody honest.
If the horse knows what you asked them to do, but is not doing it, it is for a GOOD reason.
They are not ready. Or more subtly, they would like or need more time. A need is not yet being met. Needs are needs and cannot be avoided and there are no short cuts. Their nervous system is perceiving the request of the rider as a danger to their safety… like asking for a jump to high.
Sometimes a horse CAN do something, but needs convincing that they can. And afterwards they realise it is no big deal. Like the first trot poles. Some horses I have seen refuse to step over a flat trot pole. They can do it, they need encouragement. They need to trust the human. They need to understand what the process is, and that everything is ok. They are not taking the piss. But maybe you are?
Sanson for example can often stop when being led. Some might call this stubborn. Baulking. And it is to a certain extent. But this is also part of his ‘re-starting’ I have done with him. Sanson- as an individual really NEEDS and LIKES to process his environment very thoroughly. He pays attention! He pays attention to you, that shadow, that smell… that memory of that place right there. He processes things in great detail. I know this after paying great attention to HIM over many years. Hundreds of thousands of hours of time spent with him, observing and analysing every inch of this horse I adore, getting to know him.
Historically, when he was led anywhere by something who was just going through the motions, someone who was not paying attention, or someone who didn’t give him time to process his environment, he would get in trouble. He would spook instead, even to the point of running people over, once putting someone in hospital. So, he learned that he will get rushed through things, that people with a certain ‘absent’ awareness cannot be trusted to meet his needs, and his only coping mechanism was to rush himself.
Until he met me. I didn’t rush. When I lead him, I had eyes in the back of my head. Like those spooky teachers at school who knew who was acting up when their back was turned. I would watch every step he took and either comfort him before he spooked, or set a clear boundary before he spooked. I would say NO to him.
Me: NO Sanson.
Sanson: What? I am about to die I don’t have time right now….
NO. You don’t run me over.
But I need to so I can survive
I deserve to survive also. Trust me, that hissing hose will not kill you today.
How can you be so sure.
Look at me. Do I look like an unsure two-legged to you? Go on. Try and run me over. I will show you how sure I am that you won’t.
Hmm, I would like Plan B please.
Just walk. Follow me. Good. See? You’re ok. I got your back buddy. But you DON’T run me over.
I feel better now. Thanks.
No worries. I will always give you time to process things, before you feel the need to spook. Alright?
When I got him home with me I went back to basics. His rushing was dangerous for him and for me. Especially now he had flat sandy trails and moderate temperatures with which to spook for longer and further with. In the past you could just point him up the mountain until he ran out of breath. He is large, not tall, and yet powerful. No bit known to man can physically stop him when he panics.
I showed him that he now has time. I will give him time. If something bothers him, I allow him to stop. So he does. Instead of bolting he will now freeze. Stand still. Smell it. Look at it. Then he asks me; ‘What do I do?”. The answer is usually, ‘Just walk’.
I had a Parelli Natural Horsemanship follower once admonish me for this, telling me what I had done with Sanson was not natural, because I had taught him that behaviour. I smiled, said it was natural because he offers these behaviours himself (stopping when worries instead of bolting) of his own accord, without a cue from me! I had changed his emotional response to fear. I did not micro-manage that behaviour with a carrot-stick, clicker, or carrots. Just plain, boring, time and honesty and life experience. You CAN change a horses nature. If their natural response to something does not work for them or for you, CHANGE it! We get one life! Why suffer more than we need to?
It can be frustrating when I am leading Sanson through the barn and he wants to stop and smell EVERY bucket, smell the newly gelded horse whom we are not supposed to allow to go nose to nose with other horses yet, or stop in front of other riders or strange lights because he is aware of the confinement and the potential for danger. It can be annoying.
But, on the flip side, it means he is one of the best guide horses you can get. He will ALWAYS go in front and lead the other horses. Because he is not blundering mindlessly through his environment but pays attention to everything, he is able to go out in front and make new trails, even with more experienced horses behind him. Especially when the human in the saddle is someone who has proven trustworthy and honest time and time again!
One of my biggest challenges with him is to get him to just relax and not worry and just go forwards in a simple way. Which is why trail riding is one of our best ‘training’ tools. Just relax and go forwards in a simple way.
Another horse person might say that he is taking the piss, being crazy, or being stubborn. No, he is being honestly himself. The only way he knows how!
With people, I find this hard. Let’s think of children. How many children do we know have the habit of speaking an awkward truth at an awkward time, without perceiving how awkward adults found it? The child doesn’t know or care about the adults social graces, the child just observes what is, and speaks the truth.
Horses are the same. I is no secret, horses and children have a natural attraction to each other for this reason and more. Many people as children find the company of horses easy, but when returning to horses as adults, find it harder. What happens to us as teenagers that breaks this connection?
I believe that as teenagers, when we enter education that is centred less around play, discovery and growth, but instead on career, competition and corporation, we are taught to disconnect with our inner child.
Part of this disconnect means learning active dishonesty. In another word we can call this active, ‘functional’, dishonesty;
To some, professionalism requires the active participation of emotional and sometimes even factual dishonesty. How many of us who have ever participated in customer service wanted to tell a rude client to go FUCK themselves (excuse my language but it is just a word and can also be used beautifully), but could not? How many of us wanted to tell their supervisor that they were fucking awful, incompetent and patronising but in the name of PROFESSIONALISM could not do anything but smile, acquiesce and comply? How many of us had to wish a customer a great day when they did nothing to deserve our kindness?
How many of us have participated in being POLITE to people who did not earn it or deserve it or who actively gave you reason to defend yourself from them?
What are MANNERS except for the denial of your inner emotional state, to allow others to feel more comfortable around you? How is the denial of your needs in the service of others anything other than inviting abusive narcissist into our midst?
I am not advocating that we become abusive. There is a big difference between honesty and abuse. We can be honest without being abusive in how we communicate. It is not difficult to do and you do not need to train in NLProgramming to do it.
I have had experiences were clients would tell me one thing, and then immediately afterwards go and do the EXACT opposite. They did this, I guess, to appear POLITE, have good MANNERS and be CORRECT to me. I would rather they just told me the truth and spared us all the hassle of navigating their chaos.
This is why I like horses. If I screw up, they tell me immediately. If I am congruent, they stay connected to me.
But, and this is a big but, be VERY careful of horses that had the chance to connect with someone very honest. In some cases, they will not tolerate your dishonesty afterwards.
I’ve seen what happens to these horse/human pairings. Picture this: The Owner, whom myself and the horse can see is in an emotionally agitated state (Anxiety, confusion, ego and more) a painful smile on their face, behaving calmly, nicely, politely to the horse. And their horse? Last week would just look the other way and comply but with a slight vacancy, a hollowness in their expression. After exposure to an honest horseperson, now looks at their owner with full force and says NO! No, human, your energy and your behaviour do NOT match. I will NOT. Fix yourself, and come back to me when you’re fixed!
Sometimes those owners fix themselves. Usually they do not. They then return to mechanical horse training. The root of their problems left unaddressed.
And that is a hard truth.
And I do not require anyone criticism on that statement. 🙂