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Women & Horses by Mary D. Midkiff - horseback riding fitness techniques for women

Women & Horses, knowledge for the female equestrian; female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

Are We Listening To Our Horses?
by Mary D. Midkiff

Maverick Press Article - May, 2001

I'm asked many questions during my workshops, book signings and other presentations, and many of the inquiries come from people looking for the means to understand their horses.

"How do you know when a horse is happy? Do horses have emotions? Are horses jealous? Are they competitive?"

We tend to assign human attributes to our horses when trying to deal with them, and then ask our equine partners to meet these very human expectations. It's the most basic and often ineffective way we try to communicate - by putting something into our realm of thought, then pursuing it on our terms. To genuinely relate to a horse, though, we must leave parts of our world behind, along with our lofty expectations for them, and enter the world of the natural and realistic. We humans may never truly know what horses are thinking, but we can try to tune into their level of consciousness, listen to them, watch them, learn from them and help them realize the most from their individual capabilities.

As keepers of horses, we have a responsibility to listen to what our horses want as best we can, and give them what they need to be comfortable. From that basis, the partnership can move forward and flourish. If you begin your horse engagements by considering his or her point of view - in this case, the innate makeup of the animal - chances are the two of you will begin to more easily exchange messages. Many horses today come from breeds selected for specific purposes, and these horses usually are, consciously or unconsciously, trying to reflect their breed's essence. The warmblood breeds were bred to pull carriages and carry riders over wet, deep terrain, Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds to be speedy racehorses and hunters, Arabians to move over great distances in typically arid climates, Quarter Horses to sprint and deal comfortably with cattle, Tennessee Walking Horses to cover plantations and provide their riders with comfort over many miles and hours. I could go on, but the point should be apparent: breeds of horses have innate capabilities and callings, cultivated by humans, from which they draw in their interactions with their people and their world.

One of my childhood riding teachers told me, "The good ones don't have to have gadgets or artificial aids to perform. Only the bad ones need all that help." I've considered those words many times. The reality is that there are very few "good ones" by that high human standard, and they are usually out of financial reach. The majority of us are partnered with more average (normal) horses that often need assistance in some form. Most of us have at some point have also encountered a "project" horse that cannot survive or achieve much without help.

Many horses don't quite live up to the breed's standards and don't perform as expected within one discipline. Unfortunately, they may end up for sale repeatedly or be unnecessarily headed for the equine trash heap unless someone comes along who can identify and partner with their specific needs. Our horses need to be heard and considered for what they can do best. They should not be pushed and pressured to do something their mind and body cannot endure. If we take the time to understand the situation, we often find they are suitable for some other purpose -- for a child or adult just learning about horses, a police mount, or perhaps a carriage horse for tourists and special events. Many state correctional institutions are looking for horses to help with inmate readjustment, and therapeutic riding programs are always in need of gentle giants to take care of the mentally and physically disabled.

Horses that are also-rans in one pursuit may be champions in another. It's up to us to try to work from their point of view, to listen to their individual expressions and needs, to properly size up their capabilities rather than force them into preconceived, often unworkable plans. Communication is all about understanding, understanding leads to the adjustment, and adjustment leads to happiness and harmony for horse and human.

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