"Emotional vulnerabilities are not weaknesses, only the body can become weak. It is a mistake to view emotional instability and interrupted behaviors as flaws upon the individual. These are not flaws of nature but an indication of one individuals’ strength-of-dependency upon another. We only “see” a portion in reflection of what the horse is feeling. The horse will show us their areas of emotional vulnerability and where we need to provide enrichment when they are extracted from herd structure, for by nature the herd provides emotional camouflage for its members." *Excerpt from Sensory Soundness and Mapping Course, Lesson One*
Few things during my research have fascinated me more than the complex nature and intricate relationship between predator and prey. I have always felt that in order to truly understand a species it is essential to study, appreciate and comprehend the environment(s) in which that species is naturally designed to live. And for me, I wanted to experience these environments first hand as much as I could, immersing myself into the natural world has made a dramatic difference in my understanding of things. Myself included.
Considering the horse for me has always been about a consideration and drive to understand the core of their nature as compared to the natural world. Though we may domesticate the horse, their inherent nature is not domestic, and therefore I felt my initial view of it should be observed away from the fence line. Mother Nature should be my teacher, the natural world my laboratory.
I wanted to know how the individual pieces of the herd puzzle fit together, what was the fabric of life made of and how did it connect horse to horse, and horse to environment? My initial fascination with the relationship predators had with their target prey species brought forth the realization that this ebb and flow and balancing act of an offensive and defensive way of survival was, on both parties, one rooted in emotional intelligence. One being equipped to counter the aggressions of the another, both equipped to survive the aggressions of the environment. To truly understand either, one must endeavor to understand both.
As my focus shifted to herd-wired species in the natural environment, my fascination with horse herd structure took hold. How did these relationships work beyond the obvious physical provocations of mating? What, if any, were the significant differences between a family herd and a bachelor herd? And the biggest question of all, for me at least, was how do herding species conceal their true hierarchical structure while living in open spaces in such a way that provide protection from the ever watchful eye of any predators they may have? The keys to this I knew were to be found in the ways in which they communicated. Within the subtleties of visible physical expressions was an underlying, more dynamic form of communication, emotional. The emotional relationships horses have with one another is what makes the herd, not the number of horses present.
From the two horse buddy system of young colts in a bachelor herd to a full fledged and functioning family herd, the emotional connection between them is the tie that binds. Hierarchical structure has a physical element to be sure, but the true order is set by the degree of emotional intelligence of its members. Emotional intelligence is in part a measure of the individual ability to communicate themselves with controlled expressions. Which itself is determined, as I discovered the further I went down the rabbit hole, within the efficiency of the sensory system. The capacity to adapt and assimilate is an extension of interpreting, processing and responding. The herd members who do this with efficiency have a higher standing than those who do not, in isolation the less "sensory sound" are vulnerable and exposed, but within the herd structure they are provided emotional camouflage. In the natural world of predator and prey, the providing of emotional camouflage lends itself to herd sustainability.
When we translate this to our domestic world we have to remain mindful that as we isolate the individual we are exposing vulnerabilities as much as we are isolating inherent strengths. When we do this we risk kicking in predator/prey styled responses to triggers and stimulus and it is our responsibility to understand this and provide the emotional camouflage the horse depends upon. Without emotional succor it is folly to expect a horse to optimize and sustain physical talent or realize harmony and contentment that is the "happiness" we all want for our horses. Emotional vulnerability is not itself a sign of weakness, rather from a coaching and training standpoint it is an opportunity to nurture and enrich, to provide the required emotional camouflage that improves the horses sensory efficiency and completes the sequence that leads to sensory soundness.
The emotional inflection attached to physical action communicates a great deal to those with more vulnerabilities than those with less. Being mindful that how information is presented affects how it is received matters, responding aggressively to what appears to be responses laced with aggression only instigates a predator v/s prey instinct. That's not a battle you're going to win. The quality of your relationship with your horse is found in the depth of your ability to communicate your intentions with emotion, and to absorb theirs with softness of expression.
Thank you for stopping by! I always appreciate your time and this blog section, still new for me, is a space for me to drop in some thoughts, often as an extension of larger writing projects. The above bit is itself an extension of a key and in depth segment I just finished writing for Lesson One of the Sensory Soundness and Mapping Course. At this time, I am 2/3 the way finished writing the first lesson, and I'm quite excited by how it's all coming together. My intention is not to offer you a "Course" about horses but rather to take you on a journey of discovery. I want you to have an experience, immersed within the mind of the horse as I share with you the things I have discovered in the best way I know how.
~ Your Friend, Kerry