The Human-Horse Connection
"He is pure air and fire." Shakespeare, Henry V.
Sometimes you have to let go of all that presses in on you, burdensome and heavy, and turn wholly to what nourishes, vitalizes, and calms you.
So many of us are drawn to something in the world for that--art, activism, the woods or water, and often animals. I love that word "drawn." It's a palpable, actual pulse through all things in the world, an attraction worth purifying ourselves to inhabit. I'm continually drawn to Dorian, whose eyes are so filled with some wonderful vision of the world he inhabits, that I feel graced to be in his presence.
Most trainers advise doing ground work with your horse as the first step in training. Some advise just hanging out with him, with no agenda. There was a horse at the rescue named White Heat, and he was dumped by his trainer one day who then sped off without a word.
No one could get near him. He is a very well-made horse, keeps his large-muscled body without thought, has beautiful eyes, and moves gracefully. So a lot of trainers and individual adopters would look longingly at him. But the moment you approached with a halter, off he'd go at a canter to the far ends of the pasture. He'd obviously been sorely abused on the racetrack.
One winter, I made it my focus to rid him of the horrible fear he had of humans and see if I could get him into the round pen and begin some training. But it took, literally months and months of me standing in the pasture--a bit far off at first, and then closer and closer, until he became comfortable enough with me to let me stand quietly by his side.
So . . . all winter, in the snow and wind, I stood there with him, not touching him, just being together with no pressure or need to have him do anything except be himself. Come spring, guess what?
I did get him haltered, and eventually led him out of the pasture and into the round pen. He began lunging well on a long line. If he knew what you wanted, he'd happily comply. Then on went the saddle. He was such a good boy, stood quietly and got to actually enjoy being worked with.
He's still at the rescue. I had other chores, and then eventually I took Dorian and left. I saw him just last month, though, and he's happy and healthy, and was munching away at a huge round bale.
I know I'm not the only one who's drawn this way to horses. They call us out of ourselves, somehow, to do what they need when they need it. And their progress fills us with a quiet joy that's something I rarely experience elsewhere. I think that's been true for centuries, as the photos here from Paris attest to.
So why are so many of us drawn to horses?
The Human-Horse Connection is a matter of the heart.
Well, at least in part it seems to be. A preliminary study was conducted in 2017 by Paolo Baragli, DVM, PhD, researcher in the University of Pisa Department of Veterinary Sciences in Italy and his colleague Antonio Lanata, PhD, of the University of Pisa’s E. Piaggio Bioengineering and Robotics Research Center.
They coupled people and mares, and found that when the person sat in a chair (Part 2 of the study) and allowed the horse to approach, sniff, investigate, the human-horse HRV (heart rate variability, or how the heart beats change, beat-to-beat) achieved the highest rate of synchronization. When the person groomed the horse (Part 3), the HRV recorded its lowest findings.
“In Part 2 the horse is free to move and can decide by himself to approach the human or not,” Baragli commented. “In Part 3 the horse is ‘forced’ to the contact with human."
Such incredibly subtle findings, I think. And ones that have such resonance. When we don't push our own agenda--don't try to "groom" the situation, the atmosphere is clarified so natural attraction operates all on its own.
And, as I experienced with White Heat, and continually do with Dorian, what we receive in return, is beyond what art or words can express.