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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.

Self-Awareness when with Horses

Updated: Feb 13

A woman standing with a horse under a tree
A Beautiful Moment of Togetherness

Self-awareness is understanding our own thoughts and emotions and how these affect behaviours, others around us, and ourselves. It is essential to the development of emotional intelligence and emotional regulation . Being self-aware when we are around horses provides insight into our thoughts and emotions resulting in us acting instead of reacting. We all have automatic reactions to events around us. Sometimes horses can push a lot of buttons in humans, resulting in a bit too much reacting and not enough acting. This can damage the relationship between horse and human and make normally easy things quite difficult. I recently had the experience of getting my thumb squashed under the hoof of a horse. It was a silly accident, but my automatic reaction was a flush of anger. If I’d expressed this anger, the horse, who was oblivious to my thumb and what had happened, would not understanding anything, and may have become afraid and distrusting of me as a result. Instead, after doing a brief ‘Ouch!’, I took a deep breath, realised the whole thing was totally my fault, and started laughing at myself. I then planned how I could do this particular thing differently in the future to avoid it happening again. If I’d gone blindly with my anger the whole scenario would have been very different. This is a simple example of emotional regulation, looking at one’s own emotional state and deciding to regulate it. This is different to suppressing emotions. If I’d supressed my anger, it would have still been inside me, and everything I did with that horse would be slightly different from then on. I may have become aggressive or bossy with the horse. Or I could have become fearful of horses, always on the lookout for them hurting me and not wanting to handle them. Ultimately, we are in charge of how we experience and express our emotions, but we can’t do this without self-awareness. Self-awareness allows us to be in tune with what we’re feeling and what’s causing the emotion, then emotional regulation goes a step further and looks at how, when or if we should display those emotions. What I have observed is that with one person a horse can be a huge button pusher, then with someone else hardly at all. This raises the question of where is the work required, with the horse or with the human? Ultimately it always has to be with both. We do need to look at horses’ behaviours and educate where required, and at the same time we need to look at ourselves, and what is happening there. As horse people we all need to engage on a continuous journey of self-discovery. Paying attention to what’s happening inside ourselves when working with horses is sometimes more important than the outside work we do with the horse, and delivers huge rewards for both ourselves and the horses. Empathy fuels connection between individuals. It’s the ability to sense the emotions of the horse and imagine what it’s like for them, what’s it like to be in their hooves? Horses have different perspectives, needs and intentions to us, seeing things from their perspective allows us to connect with and understand them on a deeper level. Developing self-awareness when with horses helps us regulate our emotions and feel empathy for them, resulting in more understanding and richer relationships. Being more in touch with ourselves always allows us to be more in touch with others, regardless of the species.

Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.

Happy Horses Bitless

Considerate Horsemanship

Ph: 0401 249 263

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