“Why can’t it just be easy between me and my horse?” – Have you ever asked yourself that too? Why don’t you constantly feel this deep connection between you, when it is actually always there (which it is)? The answer to these questions leads us to ourselves – and to a fulfilled life on all levels.
The search for a truly fine connection between horse and human is a very central theme in the horse world. After all, isn’t it the core of all riding teachings and for many of us the reason why we are drawn to horses? Because this topic is so fundamental, we feel like we have to do a lot to somehow constantly establish this connection. In reality, it is always there and tangible. Our horses are actually good at making it experiential, we just aren’t always open to it. But why is that?
You are not alone with this topic and these questions. Because we are all humans. And for most people, the answer to the question of why we don’t always feel connected to our horses lies in our culture: Because we are rarely truly present. And because we often don’t even realize it.
Our thoughts are so rarely in the present moment because we are constantly busy analyzing the past and planning (or fearing) the future. They are guided by the image we have of ourselves and our place in the world, which we usually put together early in our lives. Typically, there are three central themes:
- Feared inadequacies: We are afraid of not being enough, believe that we have to do more.
- Uncertainty: We don’t feel safe (e.g. with the horse, in the environment, overall in our own skin), and may try to control it as much as possible to create a sense of safety.
- Feared scarcity: We are afraid that we don’t have enough of something (e.g. time, money)
… And of course, we are always particularly preoccupied when we have specifically noticed that something is not how we want it to be or that something is the way we don’t want it to be.
All these thoughts cause stress and thereby diminish our ability to keep our eyes open (literally and metaphorically) and be present. Our nervous system is in fight-or-flight mode and simply doesn’t have time to take in more information – it is too preoccupied with problem-solving or, ultimately, survival.
To explain this, I need to go into a bit more detail: We are controlled by our central nervous system (brain and spinal cord nerves), whose most important job is to keep us alive. For this, it is important that it pays close attention and quickly recognizes dangers. Our nervous system is therefore always looking for threats, it has a fine sensor for potential danger. It searches for signs of danger both in our body and in the immediate and distant environment. So there is always something to discover. And: Stress is addictive, meaning that, roughly simplified: The more danger the nervous system is used to, the more it sees.
To be able to assess what could be dangerous to us, our nervous system refers to the things it has experienced in the past and classified as threatening. It definitely does not want to repeat these things and, in general, it prefers to stick to what it knows and what we have at least survived so far. The experiences that are most strongly weighed are those directly connected to our identity, i.e. those that were either immediately life-threatening (more often the minority) or those that were deemed “important” and contributed to our identity formation and shaping of our self and world views. And these fundamental memories are usually rooted in our childhood.
Therefore, what preoccupies us usually does not originate from the current moment or from what we fear in the present. It only superficially comes from the conversation with the stable owner earlier and the question of whether we should have reacted differently when she asked us if we agreed with the new hay. Instead, it comes from a feeling that the conversation has triggered and that we know from a different context. Something that affects us more deeply and therefore moves us. Perhaps the fear of being rejected or not being enough.
They also don’t really come from our fear of cantering in the riding lesson later, but from, for example, a fear of not having control that we know well from another time. – The connections and stories are very individual. The topic is not: In the end, it always comes down to the fears and concerns described above, sometimes consciously, but mostly subconsciously.
It’s not about what happens, but about what it subconsciously reminds us of.
Where do these fears come from? Especially in the early years of life (it is said, until around the 7th or 8th birthday), our subconscious mind is wide open and very receptive to information that gives us a sense of who we are and what place we have in the world. Fundamental information, right? Information that can determine life and death, especially for a child. A child left alone cannot survive well in nature – our nervous system knows this very well and relentlessly seeks connection with adults who hopefully know what to do.
We gain experiences that we, with our childlike consciousness (lots of emotions, little overview), do not always know how to categorize and process correctly. All these experiences leave an emotional signature. And some of them also leave a signature of helplessness, frustration, anger, shame, sadness, etc., which can ultimately be traced back to fear. And yes, even if they weren’t actually super dramatic experiences. To quote Gabor Maté, the Canadian physician and trauma researcher: “Trauma, derived from the Greek word for ‘wound’, is not what happens to you, but what happens in you as a result.” And no matter what happened at some point – the nervous system remembers it as clearly as if it were yesterday… or rather: now.
Today, these categorizations really could use an update, because we don’t just want to survive, but also live a contented, fulfilled life, right? One in which we feel free to decide what we want to do, who we want to be, and: one of voluntary and loving connection with our environment (for example, with our horses).
For the realization of this, our nervous system is not a good advisor, it is simply too much of a survival nerd. Instead, it is important to understand what is going on and to take our nervous system by the hand with the help of our conscious thinking.
So if you don’t just want to live on autopilot, if you want to have a chance to come into the present moment even though you have things you could think about (which is always the case), if you are used to constantly being lost in thoughts, it requires your active intervention. A decision from you to interrupt these patterns.
If we don’t consciously steer against it, we are constantly running on autopilot.
While a part of our “mind” separates us from our horses (the amygdala and the limbic system – always for our own good, as it believes), we need the part that can consciously think and make decisions (the prefrontal cortex) to come back to feeling and the present moment: It requires the conscious decision to engage in activities such as yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, mindfulness practices, tapping, the decision to seek support. This is not always easy, especially when we are caught up in our nervous system automatisms. Because stress is more addictive than cigarettes and an activated nervous system also has blinders on: it does not easily deviate from what it knows and is familiar with.
Therefore, it makes sense to make the conscious decision easier, i.e. to take the time in a more relaxed, present state to anticipate what stresses us, when we are stressed, and how we can help ourselves out of it, so that it becomes easier (e.g. by already scheduling the yoga class at the beginning of the week in our calendar). Even more meaningful and sustainable is understanding and changing the programming of our nervous system in the long term.
It already helps us enormously to know what experiences our nervous system is exactly referring to – which beliefs and convictions are behind our actions. Because then we can not only recognize them faster, integrate them, and take them by the hand, but even “update” them, i.e. permanently take away their emotional charge. By recognizing the stories they contain, feeling what they do to us – and then realizing that they are not facts. That what we fear the most is not inseparably attached to us, but that we are primarily very skilled at accepting the rhymes that our childlike nervous system once made as the truth.
This way, we can recognize who we are beyond these beliefs and convictions. How much freer we can live when we bring all fears and concerns out of their dark corner into the light, recognize what they want to tell us, and realize that we are not them. Instead, we are the ones who created them and kept them alive. And from this position, we can now also decide to distance ourselves from them, see and try alternatives, and eventually even let go of the old connections completely. So we can categorize what we couldn’t as a child in retrospect and understand it from our adult perspective, and ultimately detach ourselves from it.
We all have the ability to leave behind the emotional charge of our old stories and live more freely.
We all have this invaluable ability to do all of this. We can all find a freer, more fulfilling life and in doing so, we will also find ourselves closer to our horses with each step in this direction. We can better understand what they need from us. We can communicate with them better. And they will also meet us differently.
However, this is not always easy, as we are very used to being the person we know ourselves to be. And then there is this nervous system that generally finds change difficult – like anything it has never experienced before – and sometimes, especially in moments when we are not paying attention, wants to lead us back into the old patterns again and again.
But when our soul eventually longs for an update of our identity, because it has something else in mind for this life than constantly being stuck in the old stories and limiting itself, it can be very helpful to seek support from outside. To find out what is blocking the way, why it is there, and what it needs to clear the way again. And to repeatedly take our nervous system by the hand and step by step find our way back to the person we are when we don’t have to be anything and can be everything – our authentic self. For a fulfilled life and more joy and connection with our horses.
Our horses don’t have these issues to the same extent. They are almost always in the present moment. They often know more precisely than we do what is standing in our way and patiently wait on the other side until we also recognize it. And until then, they give us hints from time to time about where our boundaries lie.
So, if our moments of presence with our horses eventually multiply and extend, we will rediscover the feeling of connection and freedom that attracted so many of us to horses. The key to this lies in remembering our authentic self and the ability to truly engage with the present moment.
It is actually always there. And even though all of this may sound difficult – you are much closer than you probably think.
How to reconnect with yourself and your presence.
You feel like exploring this? Then feel free to get in touch. We can discuss without any obligation where you are, what you desire, and how I can help you help yourself through coaching.
A smaller but also good step in this direction is always having your own good yoga practice, because in the end, yoga aims for this coming back to oneself. If you are looking for inspiration, take a look at my online yoga courses for riders (in German) or my ongoing English-language yoga offering specifically for horse people: The Body, Mind & Horses Yoga Club.