Horses provide us with a respite from thinking about ourselves, a chance to escape from the prison of being ourselves by ourselves. Because horses function from the premise of a herd identity, they see relationships as partnerships. They struggle to include us in their concept of a herd — a huge leap considering they are the ultimate prey species and we the über predators. As humans, it is almost inconceivable to us how dramatically different the equine perspective of inclusivity really is.
For illustrative purposes, however, imagine waking up on Christmas morning. As you sit down to open your presents, you suddenly discover an 800-pound Bengal tiger seated next to you on the living room sofa. And your response? You are scared out of your wits; you want to scream, run, and scramble for the nearest rifle or tree limb. Imagine instead you strive to include that tiger in a communal context. Rather than flee, you rack your brain to figure out how to hang a stocking on the hearth to make the tiger feel at home, a part of your family.
This gives us an inkling of the enormous emotional achievement horses accomplish each day to include us, human predators, as an integral part of their daily working (and emotional) lives. It's a remarkable spiritual statement about the capacity of the equine heart and soul. As horses derive their very essence from inclusion in a herd, so they struggle to extend that relationship to us as shared being. When a horse is with us, we become a part of his herd. As far as time is concerned, horses live only in the moment. There are no expectations for the future or disappointments from the past to cloud their relationships with us.
Without such agendas, horses don't know how to lie, cheat, or deceive. Horses thus offer us a unique opportunity to see ourselves in "divine mirrors," reflecting back the chi we give off in our own emotions, to show ourselves in the moment. Horses react to what lies in our hearts, not in our heads. They are not confused by the words we use to lie to ourselves or hide from others. Horses awaken the dormant right half of the human brain.
Because the output of our right hemisphere has been largely suppressed since early childhood, it takes time to feel comfortable as a right-sided "we" instead of a left-sided "me." Eliminating the voice of our egos creates a silence that is at first frightening, but later, we learn, also enthralling. With that silence comes breathtaking power and clarity of thought. As Obi-Wan-Kanobi in Star Wars encourages Luke Skywalker to trust "the Force," so horses exhort us to trust our intuitive right-brain abilities.
Working with horses gives us the opportunity to return to a primal, nonverbal state of awareness. Without the interference of language, we reconnect with the energy shared among all life forms. The connection is palpable and immediate. We learn how to find it, focus it, and let it fly. We explore how to apply chi for the purposes of asking our horses to move naturally, effortlessly, and respectfully wherever we wish them to go. We discover by direct, personal interaction with the horse that we are equal parts body and spirit: half chi, half DNA.
Theologist John O'Donahue wrote: "Beyond the veils of language and the noise of activity, the most profound events of our lives take place in those fleeting moments where something else shines through, something that can never be fixed in language, something given as quietly as the gift of your next breath." My goal with the horses is not to beat someone; it's to win within myself. To do the best job I can do and tomorrow to try to do better. You'll be working on yourself to accomplish this, not your horse.
Every time you step into the round pen with a horse, remind yourself that today you may stand on the threshold of a great new personal discovery. Each horse, in his own way, is ready to coach you. And when your resolution to change — to work on the person you want to become — becomes heartfelt and sincere, then the horse will reveal his next great secret, his next great gift, to you.
Excerpt from Zen Mind, Zen Horse by Dr. Alan J. Hamilton M.D.