Do Horses Really Mirror People?

Horses often mirror the behaviors and emotions around them. Horses also serve as uncannily accurate Relationship Barometers. Unlike people, horses do not lie to themselves or each other. The natural modes of communication for horses are body language and the state of the spirit. Many people have no idea what messages they are sending but horses are seldom confused about their own. Every time a human shows up a horse evaluates him or her as safe, dangerous, or of no consequence. You can’t fool God and you can’t fool a horse.

Watching someone in a mirror tells you a lot about their behavior but little about their motivation. Horses watch what we do and also make pretty good guesses about what inspired our actions. People are not as naturally gifted in this as horses. You can tell WHAT your horse is doing pretty easily, but how often do you know WHY?

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18

Horses are more consistent than people. Why? Because they are not confused about who they are, Who made them, and Who is in charge. Recently I had a little blow back on a comment about the relative constancy of horses and humans.

“Lynn, I have to disagree with you that horses are more consistent than humans. My younger horse can be all over the map within split seconds. One minute he’s charming, the next minute he’s having a temper tantrum, then he gets scared, than he gets really bossy.”

This horse sounds like lots of people I’ve met over the years. They are moody and reactive, changing in a flash based on what they had for lunch, who looked at them cross-ways, and if they are getting what they think they want. Those folks are consistently inconsistent. Some horses are as well. Did it start with the horse, the owner, or did the owner pick a horse with a personality similar to her own?

Relationship is Unique and Personal

Each parent-child relationship is unique. Parents change the way rules and lessons are applied to benefit each child. Coaches change the way strengthening exercises and motivation is applied to develop the individual athlete as well as the team. One does not coach or condition a 90 pound 16-year old female gymnast the same way one does a 30-year old NFL linebacker.

The needs of the child, athlete, or horse dictate the way leadership is applied by the worthy and effective parent, coach, and horse owner (trainer). Horses who are bold seek bold leadership. Horses who are fearful seek leadership that protects as well as help to build their own confidence.

“If my horses mirrored me I would have to be the 7 faces of eve because they are all different in how they act and react to the same situation and to me. I think people sometimes believe their horses and dogs are like them but I think it’s because animals adapt to their environment and how their handlers act.”

God is the same yesterday, today, and forever though the specifics of His leadership varies based on the needs of the person. Each one brings something different to the “family” just like the horses belonging to the person who wrote the previous comment.

Horses and Leadership

Amazing Grays Ministry round pen clinics demonstrate leadership that balances and builds focus and faith in a horse. I never meet the horses in advance; I just need a horse with an obvious problem. No dust, no angst and certainly not entertainment. It doesn’t matter what kind of horse or what problem shows up because the one waiting in the little round pen for me is still a horse.

Do you think there are any humans God can’t handle, no matter their story, personality, or problem? I never know what I’m going to do in advance because the horse directs the program, not me. I am only accountable for the result. My leadership will never be perfect, but a horse is a horse. The perfect study guide of all worthy leadership is God’s Word.

Leadership must benefit those who follow

My job is to help horses and those who love them. Not everyone has the same job – or should! After years in the dust of the barn and arena I now work for the ministry and I work for free. The point I hope to make is that the relationship between people and horses is like a dance – when one moves forward the other yields, both turn together or someone gets stepped on.

“I once had a horse that was beyond my capabilities, but I spent time in clinics and private lessons with him. He was a delightful youngster that turned into a defiant teenager. I probably looked like an abusive horse person with him at times because I felt like I needed to hit him on the head with a 2×4 to get his attention! When it comes to flight or fight, I definitely choose the fight route, otherwise I think I would have gotten rid of him years ago. I don’t lose my temper anymore, but that doesn’t mean that if he makes me get off his back it’s going to be easy for him. I get off and make him work, and push all his buttons that I can, because he definitely pushes mine.”

Rather than offer her horse a better deal the previous comment indicates how the human’s personality was pretty well matched by her horse. She chose to fight and so did he. She purposefully pushes his buttons and he pushes hers. Not every dancer can be successfully partnered with every other dancer. Not every trainer is right for every horse. No woman would make the perfect wife for any man (or vice versa.)

Spiritual and Physical Reflection

Until the face of Christ is reflected in our own spirit and behavior it isn’t possible to see how that same spirit and behavior affects others. Perhaps the mirror that reflects horse and human works both ways. It’s best when the reflection of horse and human is a pleasant one, benefiting both.

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18

Samantha Harvey, Alternative Horsemanship,  wrote a comment that deserves to be shared. It has been edited for brevity and is shared with her permission.

As a “reflection of us” example I think of a clinic offered to new students. They stood facing me in a semi circle with their horses standing behind them held with just the lead rope. I was giving an “overview” asking nothing of the students.

One horse was agitated, busy, couldn’t stand still. The horse next to him looked like he was bored. Without saying anything, I switched the “busy” horse’s handler with the “disinterested” horse’s handler.

Again, I was just talking, handlers holding horses with their backs to the horses asking nothing off them. Within five minutes of the switch, the busy horse blew his nose, passed manure, dropped his head, cocked a rear foot and dozed off. The other originally disinterested horse started becoming more and more agitated.

It doesn’t take much and people are often unaware at the baggage they bring with them to the barn. I suggest folks “Leave reality at the door. Take time to get emotionally and mentally clear before you show up to work with your horse.”

What do you think about the following observation? Does mirroring really differ from reacting? How? Is there really no change of spirit when we are rushed?

After all these years, I don’t see horses mirroring my mood or intentions so much as reacting to my behavior. If I’m in a rush, the horses are more likely to be edgy, not because of my mood–which may be just dandy–but because I’m moving faster than their minds can accommodate and instinct kicks in.

The owner who knowingly pushes a horse “faster than their minds can accommodate” is asking for a negative response, like being edgy as noted in the previous comment. In my opinion the horse is absolutely reflecting the spirit of the human.

Students reflect the spirit, instruction, and personalities of not just the teacher, but parents, friends, and circumstances. Owners who board their horses away from home have to consider what happens when they aren’t present.

Language and Relationship Barriers

Would you agree that communication snafus are the cause of many, if not most disagreements? My husband and I agree on almost everything, but words don’t always mean the exact same thing to both of us. How many times have you been told that you hurt someone’s feelings when that was the furthest thing from your mind?

Misunderstandings are usually innocent. They only escalate if we allow them to.

People don’t always know what they’re communicating to their horses. Likewise, people don’t always understand what a horse is trying to tell them. Horses are never going to learn English (German, Italian, or Swedish) so the responsibility for establishing accurate communication rests on the human side of the equation.

Rules for Communicating with a Horse

  1. You are accountable for communication success, not the horse.
  2. Always give your horse the benefit of your doubt. This is one definition of grace.

If things aren’t working out there is either a problem with communication, a problem with inability, or a pure and simple desire to NOT cooperate. The horse will never provide the solution, so you must.

When your horse responds in an unexpected way the first place to look is in the mirror — look at yourself. The horse is telling you that he is confused, angry, or afraid. Don’t give him a confused, angry, or fearful response.

What might someone conclude about you if they met your horse? What might someone think about your Savior based on your words and actions?

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