Every horse seeks connection whether this is with other horses or humans. Even when it seems that your horse kicks or comes at you and challenges you, it does seek connection. They want to be with another being. Now when your horse kicks or comes at you or even disconnects it means several things. All of the reasons and the solutions lay within us.
When your horse kicks in your direction
This means that your horse is either afraid and doesn’t trust you, that he is scared in his environment and wants to show you this or that he wants to get your attention. The answer to this is to stay calm and hold your ground. You may want to take some more space, but this asks very precise balancing. This is something that can only be learned through interaction with horses. When it is too much your horse will distrust you even more, when it is too little your horse will distrust you even more J
When your horse comes at you and challenges you
This also means distrust in you. It is exactly the same thing as when your horse kicks you. What is important is that in both cases your horse asks connection. It may seem a bit strange, but this is the essence. Your horse is asking you to be there for him and the answer is found in holding your ground, being calm, and allowing connection to take place when it is appropriate. Here too we need to balance our giving and taking space and it can only be learned from horses. Humans can teach you to see the signals or how to give signals, but the most important part to achieve connection and overcome such challenges is learning to understand the language of your horse and learning how to respond very precisely and nuanced…
When a horse disconnects
I see this quite often: it is visible when your horse looks away, when his eyes aren’t shining and bright, when he doesn’t light up when he sees you, when he withdraws when you approach…. It means that your horse doesn’t feel that you hear him or her, that you worry about things surrounding your horse instead of seeing your horse.
For instance when you are thinking instead of listening, when you question whether you can interact with this horse in the way you want (for riding, breeding… ), when you are afraid that your horse might get hurt when he or she would interact with other horses, when you are afraid that your horse might become too strong for you when you would give him more “space” (social interaction, positive reinforcement, freedom), when your horse is sick and you worry… All of these questions aren’t necessarily bad questions, but they can have a negative effect on your relationship when all you can see are your thoughts and forget about your horse.
The answers to these questions and to true connection lay not in stripping away basic needs from your horse. For instance a foal doesn’t become easier to handle when you take him or her away from his mom, this is an illusion and most probably the opposite will happen. Because when a foal is on his own he becomes afraid and tests you to see whether you can be there for him (like a horse would) or he will withdraw completely. A horse that has no social interaction with other horses will become depressed and will loose his spirit. He will ask you to fill this hole, but honestly we aren’t horses. Yes we can be there for our horse and achieve a wonderful connection, but what horses do for each other is almost impossible to do as a human.
What we can do as a human is add our human abilities and spirit to the relationship with a horse. You can offer your horse a beautiful range of additional experiences which enables a horse to evolve in more ways than he would when he would only connect with other horses. But for this to take place the primal needs of a horse need to be met.
The primal needs
Many people have written about these basic needs and if you aren’t familiar with them I would really recommend to look into them.
Those needs are good food (mostly hay, grass, leaves and branches, maybe supplements..) remember that horses aren’t dogs or humans and they graze in their natural state…
Social interaction: horses naturally live in herds, they are individuals but are also part of a collective. They need to be part of a “band”, even when you can’t provide for more than one horse there are always other options to allow your horse to connect with other ones. Social interaction with other horses enables your horse to be part of something greater, to take his place in this world, to cuddle and connect, to learn about boundaries and strength, to brush each other, to give each other safety… They nurture each other physically, emotionally and mentally…
Another primal basic need is space: a pasture for instance gives a horse a chance to move at his own pace; they can roll on the ground which gives emotional comfort, but also physical comfort (for instance when they have a block, or when there are insects they can cover themselves with some dirt..). Forced movement like a horse walker is not good for your horse in any way: it is unhealthy to walk at a forced pace for many many reasons… I have never seen a horse that looked happy and healthy when he was walking or running in a horse walker. If your horse needs regular movement it is better to lunge him (off course in a respectful way).
Depending on each individual horse more specific needs will arise, these can be about having and raising a foal, more specific aspects of physical health (back, teeth, feet…), mental and physical challenges in training, playfulness…
Now you could think if my horse has all of his primal needs fulfilled why does he need me? But in fact the beauty of this is that you are able to dive in deeper in a relationship with a horse when you don’t need to provide as a human for their primal needs. For instance you don’t need to make your foal feel safe, the mare does this for you when you allow them. When those needs are fulfilled you are able to interact with a horse that is more stable, more powerful and this allows you to take your relationship on to the next level.
Each one of us humans has specific talents that he or she can bring into the relationship and each horse has them as well. The beauty in this interaction is that the exchange that will occur opens up new challenges for the both of you. As long as these challenges do not affect your or your horse’s wellbeing: it is all good!!
When the wellbeing is affected we are seeing disconnecting behavior: either your horse or yourself will withdraw from the relationship and all the happiness will fade away… Whether you compete with your horse, you collaborate with your horse in healing others, you ride together in the woods… all of that doesn’t matter, what matters is how are you doing it? Are you both ready? Do you both feel happy and are all of the basic needs of your horse met?
Then the dive will take you into a deep understanding of each other’s language, each other’s being and into a soulful experience.