Why ‘Group Think’ doesn’t help our horses

Firstly, let me start by saying that no one is getting everything right all the time. The learning curve for anything, including things we thought we already knew, means that sometimes we make assumptions that are not right, or take actions that don’t work out well. Unfortunately, perfectionism in the horse world is rife, so it can be a bit intimidating to make mistakes without falling into a shame spiral and then losing our enthusiasm to be curious.

I’ve been there. I once followed the ‘Group Think’ mentality of doing things with only a mindset of impressing and being of service to others. I also realised that I was raised to be a co-dependent people pleaser. I think this is quite a common predicament for females of my generation. We have a strong tendency to want to fit in with our peers. This is naturally what our mammalian herding instincts tells us to do. Being isolated is scary.

However, if we want to be there for our horses sometimes we have to step away from attachment to humans because some of it is feeding our attachment wounds. We need to get more comfortable listening more to our true selves. Does what you are doing feel right? Are you reacting or responding? Reacting is how we act when in distress, responding is when we are aware and regulated.

I came across so many good quotes this week. The ones used here were garnered from a man who spent six months living as a monk with a strict spiritual teacher.

Desires that arise in agitation are more aligned with your ego. Desires that arise with stillness are more aligned with your soul.

Cory Muscara

Being with horses can allow us to find that stillness if we stop trying to get something ‘done’ all the time.

We often need to get out of alignment with the rest of the world to get back into alignment with ourselves.

Cory Muscara

The ego is not all bad, it’s our protector. But it can get easily wounded and become overwhelming with a need to control outcomes and avoid discomfort. This becomes like layers of paint over the top of our vulnerability. Before you know it, there are so many layers that the tender part of your soul is buried. That piece of you that makes you feel like you is gone.

The biggest step towards listening to your true self is not having to hustle for validation of other people. This takes so much unravelling for many of us, and learning to be comfortable with our own company and the thoughts and emotions that we are typically trying to escape. This is why deep insight, like that of Cory Muscara, has come from undergoing quiet resilience and the endurance of long meditation and solitude. Eventually, you learn how to regulate yourself and cope with discomfort, just like you do when you breathe through your furtherest edge in a yoga practice (this is also why yoga is a spiritual teaching practice).

Some of the deepest peace we can experience is living in integrity. You can lie to other people about who you are, but you can’t lie to your heart.

Cory Muscara

…and you cannot lie to horses either. They see you through an emotional lens.

Nothing in life comes easily, and some of the most difficult work is in ourselves. The journey that led me to start teaching the nervous system for equines came about through this self-work. Six or seven years ago, when I first tried yoga, I could not breathe into my diaphragm – years (maybe decades) of having a shallow anxious breathing habit caused physical pain if I tried to use the deep breathing muscles. I was plagued by insomnia with racing thoughts and taking antidepressant medications to cope. My nervous system had been in a constant state of threat that had overworked my adrenals and I was living in this high functioning but shut-down condition of lethargy and dissociation.

Something had to change because living like this was excruciating. It was a slow process back to health of sorts (although living for such a prolonged period under unmanaged stress still has lingering health effects). As if pinpointing an allergic reaction, I had to eliminate the stressors. In the process of healing (still going), I find myself having to let go of many disregulating attachments that keep my mind and body dissociated. This process is upsetting and follows the stages of grief, hence why the work is difficult. In the end comes acceptance after the stages of discomfort, processing the denial, anger, shame cycles, withdrawal and resignation.

The benefits of this releasing ones self from these inner struggles is to allow a sense of being comfortable in your own skin and flowing with life instead of resisting. There is now no need for shoving uneasy emotions elsewhere with disregulated behaviours and making excuses for ourselves. We can show up for our horses as our true selves, rather than a projection of something that is not authentic. Horses don’t need perfection, they need emotional congruence to feel safe. If we are bothered by emotions then we layer and pretend which causes horses to be wary of us because they can sense the conflict and anxiety.

Your true self comes with a cost. Perhaps loss of something esteemed or even rejection. But suffering to be accepted by others is a greater cost to our mind and body. When we can scrape away the layers and feel like we are within our own skin again then we have the capacity to listen.

Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.

A.A. MilNE – Winne-the-poo