Though just a couple of people chose to read The Tao Of Equus along with me, a vibrant conversation ensued anyway. I want to thank those who particpated in that discussion, along with everyone else who takes the time to post their thoughts on other topics. Without interaction the blog is nothing more than me seeing myself in print. And while I find myself entertaining (insert *smirk* here), it’s infinitely better when others express their thoughts and opinions. Part 2 of Tao is a much larger section of the book, covering about half its entirety. I’ve picked just a few points to discuss.
‘Joy’ is a client and begins the ‘equine therapy’ program that the author runs. On Joy’s first day she’s shown to a paddock of four horses and is asked to assess each horse’s personality and placement in the herd, then to pick the most appropriate one to work with based on her assessment (and including her own limited equine experience and personality). She is immediately attracted to the horse which approaches her boldly and nibbles at her clothing. She thinks the horse is cute, friendly. She’s wrong. As it turns out the horse is the bully in the herd and was just recently saved from slaughter because he was too aggressive and dangerous. To make a long story short, Joy also picks the same kind of men in her life and it’s one of the reasons she begins the program.
How many of us know (or have heard of) someone who’s picked the wrong animal? Be it dog, cat, horse, doesn’t matter. They quickly find themselves in over their heads and unable to deal with an animal that has taken over their lives. It’s why animal trainers/behaviorists like Caesar Millan and Jackson Galaxy have successful businesses and TV shows, and why *equine gurus* have become all the rage. The inability to correctly assess temperament, personality, emotion etc… in an animal is a huge barrier for many to overcome. And that’s not even considering the knowledge required to train the animal.
The author believes it starts with (and goes back to) incongruence in people, in ourselves. If you don’t know who you are (particularly in the moment), you can’t know who anyone else is (in that same moment). You also can’t correctly identify what’s behind those big, almond shaped eyes. It’s not necessarily *our* fault. Many times we grow up not knowing, having learned incongruence from our parents and later experiencing it in our peers, co-workers, authority figures.
Do you know what you like in a horse and why? Do you know what you don’t like in a horse and why? Can you identify those traits in an individual even if they’ve come from a trying situation and therefore unlikely to be their true selves in the moment? Do you know that the horse that cowers in the corner and trembles is more likely to hurt you when you aren’t looking than the one who aggressively comes at your face with teeth bared? Can you tell the difference between the horse that acts out because of insecurity and fear over the one that acts out because it wants you to cease to exist?
Which brings me back to the incredible popularity of *equine gurus*. The author talks at great length about this phenomenon (and not always in a positive light). The seemingly instant miracles, the extensive marketing and promotion of specialized tack (required of course to get desired results), videos, books and of course the ‘apprenticeship’ model whereby a student can rise through the levels and ranks to become a clone of the guru himself. She discusses how participants in clinics fork over wads of money and go home with arms full of product and a head full of ideas only to find that implementation of the methods isn’t nearly as easy as the guru made it look. There’s a lot wrong with the entire process, but it boils down to the fact you can’t teach someone how to effectively communicate (long term) with a horse by having them spend gobs of money on specialized tack and a few minutes imitating you. It takes years to develop the unspoken nuances of horse training, the ability to assess a situation and adjust your approach on the fly, and the humility to accept that today might not be the day the horse allows you to ask that of it.
The author also talks of laying down a horse and how it can induce a form of disassociation which changes the horse’s personality instantly, and is akin to the survival ‘freeze’ response that happens to prey animals just before they die. I posted a video of just such an occurance not too long ago in another blog entry. If you recall, I’m against laying down a horse. Very against it. It makes me physically ill every time I see it done. Asking a horse to lay down because you’ve introduced a series of cues in a systematic way so you can perform it on command is a different story; the horse always has the option of saying, no. Forcing an animal into a position of pure submission against its will is despicable and speaks to the person’s (at the very least) ignorance and (at the very worst) their cruel nature. The author claims to have witnessed a way to lay down a horse in the moment and to prevent disassociation, but you’ll have to read the book to get the nitty gritty details. I’m inclined to agree with her, especially the point she makes about it requiring a skilled horseman, but I’m still against it.
Other ways to create disassociation in a horse and change its personality;
- Tying the head tightly, often times for extended periods of time
- Application of conflicting aids, over and over again causing confusion and frustration until the horse can no longer stand it and checks out
- Drilling exercises, especially if conflicting aids are also utilized
- Unfair and/or inconsistent treatment
- Repeated abuses
- Poor management practises that rob the horse of its very nature; lack of social experiences, lack of adequate movement
When I think of all that I’ve seen done to horses, it makes me wonder why they ever trusted us in the first place and I’m equally amazed they’re ever willing to particpate in human therapy programs (of all kinds, not just the author’s) to help us. Do we really deserve that kind of generosity?
Note: I’m taking off in a few days for a week’s time and there’s likely not going to be a blog entry until I return, unless someone drops me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) with their own contribution, which of course I encourage you all to consider doing.