Thursday, November 14, 2013

What About Horses' Emotions

Howdy Folks,
I'm often asked about how I feel about horses' emotions. Surely horses don't have emotions on the same level as humans, some folks say. Some say to try to project human emotions on horses is folly, foolish. Some say we simply want to believe horses feel emotions like we do. Some folks don't even think about it.
Kessy edits my stories with love.
Are emotions the same as caring, connection, bonding, or even the ever popular, joining up? I believe you can't have any of those without emotions, and we all know our horses care about us, bond with us, and yes, join up.

What about respect? Some will ask. To gain respect from a horse we must first give it. Isn't that the same as with our human peers?

What about love? Can they love us the same as a person can love us? What would be so wrong about accepting and believing that a horse can love a human as deeply as they can another horse, or we can another human? When I'm gone a few days doing clinics, Kessy nickers and loves on me when I get back something silly. Robbie says if I'm gone more than 2 days she even gets pouty. When I get home I want to get right into the house to Robbie as soon as I park our geriatric Tahoe, but Kessy will carry on so much I often need to hug her first! Then she'll follow right to the back door!
For a long time Kessy had a fear of circles, from things in her past. So for a long time, months, we did this important spine limbering exercise in a straight line. Now she has the confidence to walk slowly in any size circle.
Oh their just acting that way because they're trained, or looking to you for food, or any other of the many standard explanations of how horses act and react. When I watch Lesson and Therapy Horses gently teach and heal, I see a blanket of love and emotion guiding every step.

Emotions play a huge part relationships. Any relationship. Human to human or horse to human. In relationships with my horses over the years I not only considered what they required when learning new things, but also their emotions while learning too. In the time I spent rehabilitating horses I noticed a wide range of emotions – from fear, to mistrust, to need, to shut down, too confusion, to seeking advice and leadership. Rebuilding their confidence meant understanding their emotions, on a level equal to mine. And it meant seeing them as equals. I really dislike the, "You gotta be in charge" theme. If we're equals we can achieve cooperation, support, loyalty and love. In true partnerships, partners do things for each other because they want to, not because they're "trained" to … I see Kessy as my equal.
Kessy stands like a statue for me to mount & dismount. It is difficult for me to dismount but her understanding of that, and our emotional bond, guides her in helping me.
I'm not a trainer but in all things, I believe love, honor, respect and understanding and feeling emotions make any relationship strong, lasting and sterling. Including a relationship with horses. Sure training is important too, of course. But I submit understanding and honoring the emotions of the horse makes training smoother and more lasting. And actually I'm not even fond of the word, "training." I like education or teaching better.
We'd been out fooling with some exercises, and I had to sit down. Whenever I do this Kessy stands with me. What's more, she'll offer her neck for me to use to pull myself up.
In my heart I believe if a lot more folks projected human emotions on horses … A lot fewer horses would suffer.
Just lovin'
So go ahead, project your emotions onto your horse, and remember to let hers, touch your heart, and guide your hand as you teach, and learn together, too.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry


  1. I love the label "education" or "teaching" much better. The standard definition of "training" a horse to show him/her we are the leader never really sat right with me.

  2. Thanks, Patricia! ... It sounds so dominating, impersonal - I chose not to share my thoughts on the term "Break " ... gosh.

  3. Love this, as usual! (this is a test comment) did you get it?

  4. I've never bought into the theory that horses don't care. I didn't get my own horse until I was 29, but when I had pneumonia at 32, the horses meet me at the gate and I leaned on two of them to the barn, feed and they took me back to the gate morning and evening for three days. The next year the landlord, who owned five of the horses came up after his father's funeral. Those horses lined up single file at the gate and each one came up and rubbed him. There's more going on in there than people are willing to admit.

    1. Ahh yes, Debra - and all we need do, is listen ... Thanks!