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Fear and Pain

I have been reading a lot of Anna Blake lately ( She is a trainer who teaches humans “horse”. Her whole training philosophy is based on effective communication leading to peaceful co-operation. The brilliant thing being that this is exactly what we humans need more of, too. Our emotional habits, grown on the fertile soil of years of experience, often drown out what otherwise we might hear – if we really listened.

The other problem is time. We feel we do not have enough and we want results now. Maybe we are even a little afraid of what might bubble up if we just paused and listened for a bit. Well, Anna, she wants us to pause and listen a lot. In fact, she wants us to pause and listen every time, before we ask, before we act. Tricky! Especially, when we already know how to do this, what is coming, and where we are going to end up. Again.

Horses, of course, know a lot about fear and pain. Nature is not a gentle teacher, and humans can be very harsh. Harsh with themselves, with other humans, and with horses. Harshness often seems to work. Then some of us ask ourselves if this is how we want things to be. Is there another way? Then something happens, an accident, an attack, a threat. Fear and pain take us straight to the habits of a lifetime. Fight or flight, winning or losing, shouting, not listening, neither to ourselves nor anyone else.

Horses, equally, are good at masking fear and pain. Their overarching goal is to keep things calm and to survive. So, if they can, they will work to overcome their own fear and pain to stay in the herd, to comply with their humans' demands. Anyone who has ever watched a riding school horse manage to translate the confusing signals, often painful, from beginner riders and work out somehow what they want, must be in awe of horses' ability to interpret human demands. Like being taught to speak English, only to be shouted at very loudly in French or Chinese!

Fear and pain, of course, are not reserved solely for training horses. Teaching our children seems to require this as well. The old argument about “toddler running into the road”. As a famous neurosurgeon explains very well (I shall insert her name here when I can find it again...), when the toddler is too young to understand about the road, being smacked is only going to lead to fear and rage, but the wiring isn't there to lead to learning. Once the child is old enough to understand, smacking is not needed anyway.

Where am I going with this? Watching one of my clients yesterday, in utter stillness with two horses, a long and peaceful communication of the subtlest nature, listening to each other with total abandon, I was close to tears. Of joy. The power of now was happening for all of us, humans and horses, in that circle, and a deep, delicious peace. That might seem nothing much, a blip, a moment. Yet, new experiences are made of such moments, for horses and for humans.

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