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Emotional Wellbeing: The True Heart of Horsemanship

Updated: Dec 18, 2022

There is nothing quite like experience.

You can read about something, watch a film about something, listen to someone else's experiences about something, but nothing tops the impact of living through that experience yourself.

Today I really want to talk about my lived experience of teaching and what I am coming to realise in ever increasing degrees of certainty. Focusing on and developing emotional wellbeing as the core component of horsemanship reaps the biggest rewards and facilitates the biggest changes. The popular assumption is that focusing on emotional issues and challenges falls more within the realms of Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) rather than the realms of horsemanship. I think the world is waking up to the fact that making emotions peripheral at best or leaving emotions out of training alltogether is like unwrapping a chocolate bar, eating the wrapper and throwing the chocolate in the bin. We are missing the really great stuff just to chew on something tasteless!

It has taken me a while to figure this out.

Rewind to 2011 when I was sitting in a room of student 'horse trainers' Forty or so of us were discussing optimal ways to teach a variety of different adults. I enthusiastically raised the fact that during my lessons, some people became very emotional about breakthroughs and that it was hard not to keep the focus off some very deep and personal experiences sometimes. I finished talking and you could literally hear a pin drop. The person who was leading the session looked sternly at me and said "We are not counsellors." Conversation over. I retreated a little more into my shell, feeling that I had somehow said something bizarre or strange. 'Best to keep these thoughts to yourself Bolam', I told myself.

Fast forward to today and I am as free as a bird to explore, feel, express... heck, shout from the roof tops, those things that I absolutely KNOW to be real, relevant and essential in supporting people to progress and develop their own unique way of being with horses!

So why do I feel it is so important?

Quite simply, how we are feeling affects how we move, think and breathe. It affects how we sit on the horse, stand next to our horse, how we hold the lead rope or reins. Everything we are feeling is radiated through the air towards our horse or through our direct touch. It impacts on our motivation, determination and self belief. It influences our every action moment by moment. Emotional balance and wellbeing can make the difference between staying safe, or experiencing a calamity. It defines whether we can keep calm and kind or turn angry and abusive when we are not getting the results we are looking for.

What kind of insanity prevails that still the majority of tuition with horses focuses solely on the technical with no acknowledgement or engagement with our emotional state. This is not exclusively so I know. It is still the mainstream approach however.

I wonder if working with the students feelings would necessitate acknowledging the horses feelings and for many, this is a can of worms that they will definitely want to keep the lid on.

So the next time you are with your horse and strong (or even small) emotions arise that feel troubling to you... STOP... Breathe... notice and get curious. What is your clever body trying to communicate to you?

Who knows what this one small act of noticing and fully experiencing this feeling will lead on to. It could radically change everything for the better. Enlightenment is never just an intellectual act, it is the unfolding of the heart and our heart can only unfold if we are listening to it.

So lets start listening...

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