Today while I was teaching a riding lesson, the horse spooked. It was a silly thing, really. The horse was sort of in a curious mood and he wasn’t paying much attention to his rider (much to his rider’s chagrin) and he wandered up to the back door of the arena. It was a cold, windy day, and so the back door was shut. It’s a big metal sliding door that latches into place, but even when it is latched it can still make a big metallic banging sound that echoes very loudly. The curious, meandering horse went up to the door and pushed it with his snout, and the sound that erupted from the door scared the horse, and he jumped back in a spooky movement. The rider screamed, but held on, and the horse recovered quickly (therapy horses are good like that. Usually….) Luckily, the rider recovered too, and we had a good talk about how all horses can spook, and how that is a risk that everybody takes when they get on a horse.
This rider didn’t know that horses spook. It was a good lesson, and one that will keep her safer in the future. She will be more aware of how a horse thinks, and will be more likely to identify potential hazards in the environment. The more she is able to see things from the horse’s point of view, the more successful she will be.
I had another talk with a student about what she thinks will “hurt the horse’s feelings”. We had to talk about how horses don’t have the same feelings as we do, and that it’s safer and kinder to the horse to figure out what kind of feelings they really DO have and go from there. Treating a horse like a human isn’t actually being kind to the horse. As prey animals who have strong herd instincts and a very highly tuned flight response (hence the spooking at the loud door), horses have vastly different physical and emotional needs than a human does. Understanding that their needs are different than ours again will ensure a higher rate of success, both with riding, bonding, and caring for the animal. And meeting their horsey needs is kinder than caring for their non-existent human needs.
But as we teach our students to approach a horse in the way a horse needs them to, it strikes me that these lessons could probably apply to humans too. Sure, humans share basic needs, but we can’t just assume that another person is the same as us, and needs the same things. We all have different thoughts, and different ideas, different likes and dislikes. We all have come to this point in our lives through different means, different experiences, and different joys and tragedies have shaped who we are. How much more successful would we be with our relationships if we took the time to understand the other person’s needs, instead of assuming that what works for us would work for them?
This is pretty hard to do, of course, and the pay offs just aren’t the same as trying to understand an animal. Also, animals are often warm and soft and fluffy. Humans, not so much, especially the ones with pricklier outsides who aren’t very friendly and don’t wag their tails too often (metaphorically speaking, of course. Or, well, maybe not.) And what about those particularly icky humans who tick you off? The ones that are downright rude, or offensive, or just annoying? The thought of trying to get inside somebody’s head like that sort of bums me out.
A therapist I know likes to say, “Irritation is an invitation”. When somebody bugs the crud out of you, it’s an invitation to do a couple of things: try to see where they are coming from, try to exercise charity, try to be kinder.
I’m gonna be honest with y’all. Those suggestions irritate me. I get along pretty well with most people, but I have a hard time hiding my irritation when it comes, and when somebody gets under my skin, it’s really hard to get them out. Like a tick. (Yuck. Sorry. Gross image, but you get my meaning. Unless you’ve never had to remove a tick from your skin, in which case, don’t google it, just count yourself lucky.)
Unfortunately, as Anne Lamott says, earth is really just “forgiveness school”, where we try (and fail) to find the good in others and hopefully make a connection and forgive others for being dummies and try to figure out why they are being such dummies and hope that in meeting them halfway and understanding truly what will spook them that they will give us the same courtesy and patience. Because for heaven’s sake, we need it.
So, the next time you ride a horse, be aware that it can spook at any time. Try to think through what might be freaky to a horse–loud sudden noises, unexpected movements from other animals, plastic bags (seriously. Not joking.) and be aware so you can do your best to keep your horse calm and happy. And the next time you can’t figure out why the heck somebody in your family or somebody at work is acting the way that they are, try to think through what might be freaky to them, too.
But mostly, people should just ride horses more.