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  • Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.

From Domination to Listening

Updated: Dec 13, 2019

Recently a student pointed out that my work is defined by how I listen to horses. The traditional way of interacting with horses is to tell them what to do, its unidirectional communication. The human tells the horse what to do and the horse must do it. If the horse protests, then the human gets stronger and ‘shows the horse who is the boss’ until the horse does it. This is how I was taught and this is what I did for many years. I was good at it and most horses did what I asked most of the time. For this reason I was considered a good horsewoman. When I look back now, I see myself as an egotistical dominatrix. Strong words I know, but a good description of the total domination I had over most horses. I was admired for this ability. It seems I’ve come a long way from there. As my student pointed out, I spend more time listening than asking now. In the Natural Horsemanship world we have the term ‘horse whisperer’. It’s a huge step on from ‘horse dominator’ but is still a unidirectional concept. In our very language we are still saying it goes from the human to the horse. I’d like to suggest that what’s much more important is the communication from the horse to the human. Many horses spend their entire lives never being listened to. Every attempt at communication either isn’t noticed, is noticed but not considered important or is noticed and deliberately squashed. How horses react to this depends on their personality. Some will just give up trying to communicate anything at all; they retreat inside, becoming obedient automatons with totally switched off brains and hearts. Some keep trying; they end up shouting and may be labelled difficult or dangerous. A few find a middle road, they find a way of dealing with humans strange ways but never get a chance to show the world how truly amazing they are. When a horse first comes into contact with a human who listens to them it can be like watching a flower open up. As they realise someone is listening they start talking. At first there isn't a lot of trust, they expect it all to go back to how it’s always been, and it's a totally new way of interacting with humans for them. Then slowly but surely, they talk more and more. It's not words, it’s behaviours that express how a horse feels and thinks. It might be a simple thing like a horse swishing their tail or stamping their foot when worried, or subtle behaviours such as a turn of the ear, a lick and chew, a softening of the eye. All horses are talking all the time, it’s what they do. They are the grand masters of body language. If we are totally in the moment and open to every nuance of the horses’ body and energy we come to realise what chatter-bugs they really are! It’s a continuous stream of information. And if we change our behaviour in response to what they’re saying, they realise we are listening, then the magic starts happening. The shut-down lost horses come out of their shell, and they usually have a lot to say, years’ worth of bottled up stuff. As the old stuff comes out and we deal with each new thing, they become happier and more interested in life. Slow horses will pick up their speed and find a freedom in life they have not known before. Reactive horses who’ve been shouting can finally quieten down; someone is listening so they don’t need to shout anymore. Behaviours become less extreme and the horses become happier and safer. There are huge benefits for the human as well; they get to experience two way communications with one of the most beautiful creatures on this earth. The healing that is then possible for both the horse and the human is truly amazing.

Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.

Happy Horses Bitless

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