The Human/Horse Affinities
We have many things in common with the horse + plenty to share with each other!
Celebrating our Commonalities
Horses are social-bonded beings, like us, and we have a lot in common. Here at Smiling Horse, we call the ethological commonalities between our two species 'affinities'. We believe that for humans, the skills required to function in harmony within our society, or even with ourselves, can become temporarily lost or clouded by our own complicated social environment, our disconnection from nature and the hectic pace at which we live.
We have discovered that, by spending time with the horse, taking a deep breath, slowing down a little, reconnecting with a natural way of being, observing and doing activities with them - we can explore the affinities, gain awareness and rediscover a way of being that can be very beneficial and healing for us.
What are some of the affinities and what are horses telling us?
Social Consciousness: I WANT TO LIVE IN PEACE WITH MY family and community
Horses are masters of social consciousness. They live in a very organized and highly functional society made up of family bands and larger herds, where the well-being of the group is the prime directive and peace and harmony are the norm. Just like us, they want to live quietly, free from threat, pain and stress - and be able to carry out their natural functions according to their own ethology/zoology. It is at the core of their being to live and have physical contact with other horses and when isolated, they can experience panic, fear, loneliness, depression and even complete emotional shutdown - very much like us. Their society never breaks down as they move through everyday life in the way that has guaranteed their survival through the millennia.
Awareness: I AM AWARE OF THE WORLD AROUND ME
A horse is the ultimate aware being. He knows where he is, where everyone else is and what's going on around him. All of his highly-developed senses are at work - watching, listening, smelling, tasting and feeling. He has a connection to the rest of the group - is aware and ready to initiate an action or follow another if needed. When he needs to rest, he relies on fellow group members who will be his 'eyes and ears', as they take turns keeping watch, constantly scanning the world around them for critical information. They are aware and the have each others back!
Individuality: I am unique!
Horses have their own personalities. They can be shy, outgoing, energetic, quiet - and comical - their sense of humour keeps us constantly amused! Like us, they appreciate being respected and treated as individuals with their own unique preferences and ways.
Emotional Intelligence: I am Congruent
Horses process emotions as information, make adjustments and get on with the day-to-day with very little fuss and they rely quite heavily on their intuition and instinct. This is one of the most important areas of learning between them and humans, who often do not process thoughts and emotions in such a direct and efficient manner. Horses are congruent at all times - they know how they are feeling and take appropriate, immediate action to relieve stress as required. When they are happy and content, it is easy to see through observation. Humans can benefit greatly from learning how to be congruent and horses provide an excellent example to study.
Presence: i live in the here and now
Horses mostly live in the present moment. That is not to say that they don't have an agenda or 'something to do'. They are very particular about moving from one activity to another. They can remember places, routes, favorite eating spots, waterholes and other horses in their lives. They have a daily schedule and an innate sense of time of day. They recognize humans too and they remember good and bad experiences. They can spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to open a gate latch so they can get to the grass on the other side! But, they don't worry, feel guilty or regret the past - or ruminate over future plans like we do. They have a way of helping us to live 'in the moment' and appreciate all of the gifts that nature provides to all of us all of the time, regardless of who we are or where we are going.
Friendship: i am a good friend
A horse will often choose another horse to hang around with - a 'bestie'. We call it 'peer attachment' or 'preferred association'. It's an intentional process and not every horse gets along with every other horse. Their relationships within the group can be complex. Sound familiar? Like us, they appreciate the enrichment and security that a special friend can offer.
Leadership and Followership: I will be a good leader or follow one
Horses know and respect the unique abilities of each group member and depend on each other to perform those tasks that they do well. At any given time, the group will follow a worthy leader(s). Leadership is gained through proof of ability and necessity and is not, as myth would have it, through demonstration of the most aggression or physical presence. Recent studies have shown that there may not even be a hierarchical mechanism, but rather, trust based on personal relationship. In fact, it is often the most peaceful and benevolent horse who is leading at any given time. As an example, the lead horse in one situation may be the one who at a certain time happens to be the most observant or externally focused and able to alert the group of present danger. Other horses in the group may lead at another time because they have experiential or innate knowledge about routes and the location of various necessities such as water, food, minerals, safe shelter, etc. Often, if a particular horse moves away from the herd, all the others will follow - they know and trust that their herd-member has a good reason for doing so and they go along together. This is leadership/followership by capability/worthiness. Individuals will follow those who have the most capacity to lead at the time, because they are stronger, have some critical knowledge or ability. In the horse band or herd, the structure is very dynamic, quite flexible and at any given time, leadership functions - including instruction of the young - are shared as needed. This is another area where observation and interaction can be of great benefit to humans who are struggling with group dynamics. We value leadership by worthiness, but it is sometimes difficult to achieve!
Communications: i speak plainly and Honestly
Horses have a very sophisticated system of body language, gestures and sounds that are known to every member of their society. They are either innate or are taught to them by the group when they are young. They express their intention clearly, get a result and return to normal, peaceful life as soon as possible. Their straightforward and practical approach to communications offers a meaningful example for humans who are seeking to be more effective communicators.
Lack of Prejudice: i want to know the real you
This is a special affinity because it's one that humans do not often practice, even though we do admire those who are able to view others this way. Horses decide about their associations based on experienced behaviour and do not have the capacity to make assumptions about individuals whom they have not yet met. They only know a horse or person as they are presenting to them in the moment - the energy and intention. They don't know a person's story, understand where they are from, or any other details about them, so they don't make judgements about any of that. They respond to others based on direct interaction with them and they decide in the moment how they want to relate to another horse or human. They provide instant and honest feedback that can be very revealing, healing and helpful to humans.
Personal Space: Please be nice and respect my boundaries
Yes, horses are just like us in this regard. In the physical sense, they have a 'comfort zone' or 'bubble' around them and they take great care to approach each other in a considerate and socially-acceptable way. They also have individual needs in this area. Some are very gregarious and physical and are fine with a high level of contact and energy, while others are more reserved or introverted and would prefer to be approached in a more quiet and respectful manner - and they will express that if their space is invaded inappropriately! We practice this affinity every day with the horses and often with other people. When meeting our horses, visitors learn the 'horse handshake'. It's an analogy of course, but describes the concept quite well and ensures that everyone's personal space is being respected. Horses also are masters of expressing their emotional boundaries. They respond instantly to a situation that makes them uncomfortable, angry or fearful and take steps to address unwanted or inappropriate behaviour from other individuals. They will also support each other individually and collectively to ensure that harmonious balance is maintained within the group at all times.
Freedom: I want to move and express myself freely
This is one of the most overlooked affinities in the horse/human relationship because we are so conditioned to viewing the horse as a utility unit rather than a sentient being. In the same way, we often overlook, ignore or minimize the reality of this need for freedom of movement, socialization and expression in humans, or even withdraw these freedoms as a punishment. Like us, horses do not want to be restrained or incarcerated. Their emotional health depends on the ability to move freely, behave, socialize and express themselves fully within their society. And just like humans, their mental, emotional and physical health is compromised in an environment where they are not free to act, think and express themselves as natural, sentient beings. Exploration of this affinity often provides us with insight about our own individual and collective reality.
That's Why We Bring Humans and Horses Together!
As we welcome people to come and explore all of these horse/human affinities - and probably some that we haven't even become aware of - we maintain an unwavering commitment to a horsekeeping model that ensures that the health and well being of our treasured charges is always top priority. Here, you will find healthy, calm, content beings, much respected and appreciated as unique individuals, who are always ready to meet new people and share their ‘horseness’ with anyone who wants to take a few minutes to be with them.
We stick together.
I pay attention to what's going on around me.
We run and play together!