Horses have always captured the human imagination. As early as 30,000 years ago, early humans painted horses on cave walls. That love affair with the horse has never abated. For much of human history, however, horses have been beasts of burden, seen as dumb animals to be used for human needs, human work.
More recently, the horse was replaced by cars, trains, tractors, planes and chainsaws, which has freed up humans to start a whole new relationship with the horse. For most people, that relationship still falls into the category of “use.” While most horse owners love their horses, they are still beasts of burden, used for human recreation and pleasure.
A small but growing community of people around the world are finally seeing the horse in a whole new light, and partnering with horses in a whole new way. A way that does not involve “use,” but partnership. I am one of those people.
I partner with horses to help people thrive. They are co-coaches (or maybe lead coaches) in my equine guided coaching practice (equineinsights.org). They are my colleagues and I don’t “use” them for anything. After centuries and millennia of seeing horses as beasts of burden, most humans will read that last sentence and think it sounds bizarre at best, crazy at worst. Which brings me to the whole point of this article: Why horses? What’s at the heart of what makes horses so unique, and uniquely positioned to help humans expand their consciousness, find spiritual awakening and live in greater peace and harmony?
There is much written about the history of the horse, so I won’t go into that detail here ( I highly recommend the book “The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion” by Wendy Williams). The salient point for me is that horses have survived on this planet for over 50 million years. Humans, on the other hand, have been here for just 200,000 years. Horses evolved a highly complex social system, effective communication, powerful leadership and sensitivity to their environment that has led them to live in harmony with their own species and the world around them for a staggeringly long time. Humans have developed a social system and communication that has led to endless wars, violence, suffering and the distinct possibility that we will destroy our own biosphere before too long. We are basically badly behaved toddlers to the horse’s old, wise elder. Much has been written about what horses model for us in terms of social harmony, effective leadership, clear communication, and the power of intuition and innate wisdom (suggest leadership book here)
But that can’t be enough. You are likely (and rightly) thinking that lots of species have survived on this planet successfully for millions of years. Should we really look to cockroaches for guidance on expanding our consciousness and living more peacefully? Obviously, the answer is no. Which brings me to all the other reasons horses make extraordinary spiritual teachers for humans.
The language of love and stillness
Spiritual teachers and mystics throughout the ages have exuded a special quality, a feeling of stillness, love and full presence that affects people profoundly. Simply being in the presence of that feeling of love and grace touches people, in some way transforms them. Many spiritual traditions look to this feeling as more powerful that any verbal teaching. Here’s how one author on spirituality describes this:
Enlightened people are like spiritual dynamics; they have a very strong presence which touches the people they come in contact with, transmitting something of their enlightenment to them. Even people who aren’t spiritual usually feel a sense of well-being in their presence, and so feel attracted to them without knowing why. But for people who have make some spiritual progress already, the effect can be extremely powerful. ~ Steve Taylor
Why is that? What could it be about this kind of “presence” that affects people so powerfully? There’s an enormous body of writing on spirituality that describes and explains what this means and why it happens, so I won’t go into it in great depth. But I would like to share a visual that has recently been helping me more fully understand this.
I visualize all people as made of pure, beautiful light. On the outside of this light, however, there is a shell. Unlike an egg’s shell, though, I see it as more pliable, more of a membrane really. This shell is made up of all of a person’s conditioning, their years of thinking, judgement and belief about themselves, about other people and about the world around them. Another way to think about what makes up this shell is the word “story.” It’s all of our story about our past, about our flaws, about how other people have wronged us, about what’s been fair or unfair, about how we’re “broken” and not good enough.
The shell is just that, a shell, and not our true essence or nature. The true nature of any human is the light on the inside of the shell. The more we identify with, or beleive, our story or our conditioned thinking, the thicker our “shell” becomes and the harder it is for our light, our true essence to shine through. The less we identify with our conditioned thinking, the thinner our “shell” becomes and the more light shines through. There may be moments when we’re fully present, when we fall our of our thinking and into a state of pure presence, and in those moments our shell might be really thin, there might even be areas where it’s not there at all and our light shines through really brightly.
So what’s the light? It’s who we are without our story. It’s the wisdom, the creativity, the love that we come into this world with. It’s our little portion of the love, energy and wisdom that is behind all life, behind all that is. It comes into this world whole when we are born and it leaves this world whole when we die. It can’t be diminished, tarnished, broken or damaged in any way. All we can do to it is cover it with a shell and allow less of it, or none of it, to shine through.
So what does this have to do with horses? When a horse is allowed to live in a natural environment, she is naturally in that state of light, of presence and love. All a horse needs is the few basics that nature intended for her: freedom to move and graze, the choice to shelter if needed, and most importantly, the company of other horses to be social with and develop bonds with. So long as these few basic needs are met, a horse is naturally and fully in that state of grace. She simply radiates a calms, peaceful, loving presence and this presence has a similar effect on humans as the presence of a spiritually enlightened person.
It’s beyond words, as spiritual truth and experiences always are. it’s not something to be analyzed or rationalized, understood with the logical mind. It’s a feeling, pure and simple. And it can have a profound effect on the people who experience it. It takes people deeply into the present moment, quiets the mind, opens the heart, and from that space people are more open to see their see their own insights, to hear their own wisdom, to see their own light, rather than staying focused on their shell.
Real-time feedback: am I being my light or my shell?
Once someone is in that receptive, open state, horses offer another extraordinary gift, one that no human can provide. Over the course of their 200,000 years as a prey and herd animal this earth, horses have developed an exquisite sensitivity to their environment and to other living beings. Unlike humans, they have a seemingly preternatural ability to read with exquisite sensitivity the inner landscape of another living being. They can sense thoughts, emotions, energy, as well as a human’s level of consciousness in the moment.
The most amazing gift they give humans is that they reflect for us what they “see” on the inside of us. And they do so without judgement of any kind. A horse’s body language will simply be a mirror of the human’s inner landscape. And since there’s no arguing with a being who can’t lie, or judge, you simply can’t argue with a horse. They simply provide information. What you do with it is entirely up to you and they’re not attached in any way to what you choose. The result is that you quickly cut through the defensiveness or arguments that might otherwise take a while to wade through. You cut right to the chase. And when you cut to the chase in an environment that: a) is felt as loving instead of judgmental and b) is grounded in an inside-out understanding of how we create our own reality, the outcomes can be transformational.
He’s one of the most powerful ways that this often manifests: Horses are drawn to humans when we’re operating more from our light rather than our shell. The more present, open-hearted, loving and expansive we are, the more interested they are in being near us (read my previous articles here). Horses are much less interested in being close when we’re operating more from our “shell”.
So a human interacting with a horse will have a real live “consciousness-o-meter,” showing them in real-time how different their energy feels when they’re stuck in their “story, in their “thinking,” than when they drop into the moment, let go of the “story,’ let go of needs and wants, assumptions and expectations and simply be in their true nature, their light.