My Apology To Horses

How do you feel about riding horses for your own pleasure? And how were you initially taught to interact with horses by a trainer or human teacher? We have written quite a few posts on this blog about the tangled conundrum of consensual riding, along with our podcast episode where we explore this topic, and most recently what it can look/feel like when being ridden is entirely the horse’s idea and done with zero training, treats, or equipment.

In the video below, this beautiful woman from Germany shares her personal story of her riding journey with horses from early childhood. It is incredibly moving and my favorite part is towards the end where she puts her childhood horse in with the Singing Horse Herd – oh my heart!!

She emailed me a couple of weeks ago, asking permission to use footage of the herd she’d grabbed from my YouTube videos. After watching her video I was just thrilled with what she’d created and gave her our blessing to publish her video:

You can also start watching at 6:20 minutes for her insightful explanation of the trauma bond she had with her riding horse.

I then found this good description of a trauma bond:

“…trauma bonds occur when we go through periods of intense love and excitement with a person followed by periods of abuse, neglect, and mistreatment. The cycle of being devalued and then rewarded over and over, works overtime to create a strong chemical and hormonal bond between a victim and his or her abuser. This is why victims of abuse often describe feeling more deeply bonded to their abuser than they do to people who actually consistently treat them well.

Anyone who is in an abusive relationship can become trauma bonded to their abuser, but people who experienced traumatic relationships as children may be more prone to these types of bonds. After all, we already experienced these types of relationships with our parents or other caregivers, so our nervous system is already primed up to fall into the cycle.”

What are we doing to children when we teach/train them to hit, kick and dominate another sentient being? What happens on a spiritual/emotional level when we teach them this is normal, necessary, and totally okay – and what kind of neural pathways (grooves of feeling and behaviour) get laid down in their brains?

Perhaps there’s a way that riding can be viewed as a ‘gift’ not a ‘right of ownership’?

And of course, for something to actually be a gift, it has to be freely given, with zero expectation from the receiver. This is my own personal goal for if/when I ever ride again.

Audelina & Jini (c) Linda Bickerton-Ross

At the same time, I know more than a few very compassionate humans whose horses have to work alongside them to make a living. If the horses didn’t work together with the human, the human couldn’t afford to feed them. As we know, humans are taking over and fencing most of the land on this planet, so letting horses free to roam is not a solution, it’s a death sentence. Would your horse rather be dead, or working alongside you to earn a living in partnership? I’ve seen horses that take their job very seriously and are true masters at their work – they are co-creators of the life they have with their human.

I don’t think it’s as simple as ‘riding or not riding’. That’s an oversimplification of a complex, multi-faceted issue. For example, most dogs I know have terrible lives in terms of their health, diet and freedom – but they are truly happy to be in partnership with their human.

Dogs historically gave up their freedom to work together with humans in exchange for food and the bond of a working relationship. So is a city dog that’s always walked on-leash, with no chance to engage in species-specific behaviours, who doesn’t live with a dog companion, who is fed entirely processed food, and subjected to ritual torture at the grooming parlour an abused, trauma-bond dog? Or is s/he a fairly content, happy dog? Is that dog waiting/hoping for its human to change? Or is the dog at peace with his life?

Kumba & Tiah in the horse pasture

Sometimes we can gain some objective distance and clarity by asking our questions in regard to another species. Now explore those same questions in relation to your horse. And also look at your physical and financial parameters. Lastly, examine your own life – how’s your own health, diet, freedom and vitality? Maybe you need to start there; cause you can’t give what you don’t have.

Are you spending hundreds of dollars on supplements and bodywork therapy for your horse, while you walk around injured, out of alignment, tight, hunched, or unbalanced? How’s that working for ya?

In my experience, when animals come into personal relationship with us humans, the dance toward wholeness begins. The horse, the dog, the cat is always advocating for our highest good, our highest wisdom, our freedom and emancipation. Once we truly set ourselves free, we are highly unlikely (perhaps incapable) of enslaving another. Once our consciousness shifts to a higher level and we are capable of telepathy, or feeling/reading the body, then our animal has a voice… because we can hear them.

I remember asking Montaro to practice riding… he side-eyed me and said, “What’s to practice? We’re out hiking, you get tired, I’ll carry you until you’re ready to walk again, or until I get tired.” He flashed me a picture of this happening and him being totally nonchalant as he told me to hop on for a while. Well then. Can’t argue with that! His body, his choice.

Zorra (c) Linda Bickerton-Ross

It reminded me of Zorra. When I purchased Zo, she was 9 years old and had only been ridden for 3 months, back when she was first trained to ride. I hiked the park with her for six months solid – because I had told her I would not get on her back until she ASKED me to. One day we had finished our 2.5 hour loop on the trails and she planted her feet and didn’t want to go home – which was another 20 minutes walk further on. I was worn out. I looked at her and said, “Zo there’s no way I can walk for another hour or two and then walk home. I just cannot do it today!” She huffed and puffed and then said, “Well get on my back then!” Kesia – who was walking with Spero and Amalia – gave me a leg up right there on the road, and I rode Zorra for the first time bareback, in a halter and leadrope, back into the park for another 2 hour loop. It was AWESOME!

Zo continued to give me rides for the next 6 months, although she always wanted me to walk for 20 minutes first, to the entrance to the park. I realized this was because both of us needed to limber up first – probably me more than her! When the rider is unbalanced, tight, or restricted, it is much harder for the horse to carry the rider. One day she told me to go see my chiropractor as my hips were uneven. I told my chiro, he checked me, and said that Zorra was right.

After 6 months of bliss, Zo developed a swelling in one foreleg. This ‘injury’ started a dialogue that led to me getting 3 more horses – Audelina, Jax and Montaro. Then Zorra said she didn’t want me to ride her anymore, she only wants my daughter Zara to ride her. So that was that. I think Zara’s ridden Zo twice in the last five years.

Zara & Zorra – Photo turned Art by Malene Vilstrup

One of my dreams is to have a big-ass ranch and every day or two, the herd and I ride out to check the fenceline. I stand on a big rock and say, “Who wants to give me a ride?” And whoever feels like it, comes over and I climb on. As we ride the fenceline, that horse gets tired, or sore, or has had enough, or wants to bolt and buck with their herdmates, and I get off. Then the next horse comes up alongside me and I get on and continue riding. So it’s this totally fluid experience where every horse is free to choose and to listen to their own body.

In a perfect world, I don’t even have to get down, the next horse comes up alongside and I transfer from one back to the other – wot fun! In an even more perfect world, there are elephants trekking with us and sometimes I ride a horse and sometimes I ride an elephant. BUT, this is only joyful, fun and desirable if the horses and elephants have full freedom of choice and want to give me rides. Because it’s fun and joyful for them too. NOT because I’ve trained them, or given them treats, rewards, etc. Although, I would certainly be happy to give them all some alfalfa when we return home after a job well done. The same way they get alfalfa now after doing a session with someone. The herd likes to complete the circle of, energy out – energy in.

Again, it’s the same nuance, the same feeling for intention and motivation. It’s not that all treats or rewards are bad. But what’s your intention? Are you using them to bribe, cajole, manipulate? How does that align with your core values? Are you using them because your horse asked you to – because a treat makes it easier to do things that are difficult, but that they actually want to do (like get their hooves trimmed, or clean a wound)?

In a world of ‘shoulds’ and judgment, we’re not asking the right questions. We’re not sinking down into each situation, each interaction and observing and perceiving what is actually happening. Instead, we’re looking to appoint some external authority to tell us what to do, how to think, how to view, what’s ‘best’, how to proceed. Granted, this is exactly the way most humans have been raised by their parents – so those neural pathways are deep ruts. The good news is we always have the freedom to choose a different path; starting now, today, tomorrow, or whenever we choose.

Black and white thinking not only excludes so many levels and layers of reality, it makes us rigid and our energy contracts. Compassion, acceptance and wholeness (yin and yang) are open, fluid states of being that allow us to truly observe and perceive all the layers of what’s happening. Or to truly see and understand the results of our actions or intentions. Sometimes a nuance can shift everything – but nuances don’t exist in a world of absolutes. I find it far more rewarding and fulfilling to move through life in this way. Forget rules, training, and whatever’s considered ‘normal’. Listen to your horse and your horse will tell you everything you need to know – and that changes with time, circumstances and the weather! So be in a state of continual listening. How about we stop trying to write a Rule Book for ourselves, and instead develop a willingness to be responsive, flexible and co-creative… Life with your horse will become so much more fulfilling, magical and healing, for both of you.

Aude, Zo and Juno follow me back to the barn. (c) Linda Bickerton-Ross
My Apology To Horses

19 thoughts on “My Apology To Horses

  • April 11, 2021 at 4:22 am

    Great post Jini and I have written a comment under the German woman’s video in YouTube. I also loved where she has let ‘her’ horse come in to play with the Singing Horse Herd! Beautiful. And YES, to it all being nuances and nuances requiring we listen and live in the present moment! Thank you, always xxxxxxxxx

    • April 11, 2021 at 4:23 pm

      Right?? Tears welled up when I saw that part…

      • April 16, 2021 at 6:51 am

        Tears welled up for me too!!!!!

  • April 11, 2021 at 4:46 am

    Beautiful! What a precious soul!
    I actually had to apologise to all the plants I hacked into without a word of explaination today, after I watched a vid on plants making music through bio feedback and midi set up! They respond to us!
    I realized I just did the human thing of- ‘this vegetation needs to go’ and bam off i went.
    I see now it is a pattern of domination in varing degrees, that leeches into all my relationships with animals and plants, sadly!
    It has been somewhat of an epiphany. Now I am aware I can change it! So that’s the good news! My animals and plants will be alot happier, so will I.
    Much love
    Erin 💚🐎🌳

    • April 11, 2021 at 4:25 pm

      Oh so true!! And even AFTER I realized this with plants, there have still been many times when I’m stressed, rushed, or not thinking and I just go pick some lettuce, or prune something, or hack up a blackberry bush. The ‘rebuilding neural pathways’ piece takes time and repetition for sure!

  • April 11, 2021 at 8:17 pm

    So many complex emotions with interacting with horses! Dogs are definitely an analogy I make a lot but they are predators not prey! Although I feel labeling horse as prey conveys an emotion of helplessness and that they are somewhat victimized! We can create this with any creature dogs, cats, horses…..or? For me horses are strong powerful souls that are also gentle and all knowing! So like you said labels are so confining! I have went through so many waves of thought in regards to riding! Anytime I ever rented horses (in my 20s & 30s it left me feeling perplexed emotions … like this lady …that created the video! Now sharing life with the four horsemen (horses the last 12 years ) has opened a plethora of feelings like I have never experienced before in life! They have absolutely changed life for me and my family and enhanced my being and I am enterally grateful! They constantly encourage me to keep working on my health! Dreamer asked that I quit eating all animal products many years ago and after watching a few documentaries I am now plant based eating since late November 2020! I had huge hope this would heal him being IR and he does seem less affected this year by the spring flush but he has had very limited access! Domestication creates so many variables some good some bad! As you have said Jini mares having foals year after year is not an easy life! Or being a stallion fighting for your herd or a cast out bachelor living with other bachelors! Life is not easy! Even the image at the end of this video looks like the horses are being “Chased “ down the beach? Is this beautiful?

    I am not judging as I have had to find ways to move the horses more! Especially If riding is not part of exercise ? In our situation (12 total acres although sectioned off & 4 geldings ages 10, 17 ,26 &?) we must find ways to create health from more movement! I have put these questions to the horses! I have asked they move and run themselves and they do but compared to there wild counterparts it’s a mere spec and IMO not enough to create true health for there species?

    Dream and Buck actually asked to be chased last night with the Polaris! I do it with as much tact and feel as possible but they are still being chased! I leave the gate open and tell them if at any point they are done to go back in the main paddock! They did about 15 minutes and then went back in! Life is definitely not black or white and labels and judgements do not serve! I adored your joyful dreams of life with horses and elephants it paints a picture of pure bliss! That’s what dreams are, but reality can be harsh and brutal! Mother Nature is all things!
    I personally try to stay open to the flow and it presents such harmony and peace of life but my default way can be go go go! When horses see/feel/know you are listening it opens them to you in ways that can be so deep and the gifts they are willing to give are immense ! I do want to expose Gun Sun (almost 2) to this gift exchange and I know he will teach me as he is so amazing with animals ✌🏼💚🐴

    • April 11, 2021 at 9:29 pm

      I had the same thought too Michelle, about the horses on the beach. I was also looking for camera placement as there were many different angles and for sure they were using at least 2 drones and possibly a mounted rider with a GoPro.

      Kaliah said something very interesting to me today, she said, “Impatience is not trustworthy.”

      As I pondered that and the energetic state I move into when I’m impatient… I realized the wisdom and potency of those words. I thought you might enjoy her perspective too 🙂

      • April 13, 2021 at 7:31 am

        It’s a message I need to hear! Because as you can see above my comment was posted twice! The first one did not go directly through as it usually does so I reposted it later that day! Can you please delete one? ✌🏼💚🐴

        • April 13, 2021 at 3:11 pm

          Done! And yes, impatience is the downside of being a go-getter. We each need to work to balance our yin/yang and depending on our base personality, each of us has different challenges. It’s all good.

  • April 12, 2021 at 8:06 am

    It actually is very very simple to stop riding horses … just don’t climb up on their backs. Overcomplicating and overthinking it is when it becomes a rabbit hole of rationalizations. As to the dog analogy, it’s a total red herring. Dogs initiated their own domestication because it was in their interests to do so. Horses were FORCED into being used and domesticated every step of the way. Does cutting horses to let them bleed to become weak in order to work with them sound like horses were interested in being domesticated to you? I still am shocked at the degree to which humans will try to rationalize getting up on horses’ backs. We are living an era where people change careers all the time and horses are in no way obligated to earn their keep. Many many people keep unridden horses and the numbers are increasing. The horrors of how horses here trained in ancient times are all discussed in this book so any comparison to dogs is simply apples to oranges:

    • April 12, 2021 at 3:01 pm

      Thanks for sharing your perspective Monica.

  • April 18, 2021 at 2:11 am

    Listening to her story only reminded me of my own. I had my first ride only a little over a year over. I remember how thrilling and exciting it was; my body filled with adrenaline, my heart racing, my muscles and mind all ready and in sharp focus. Then I got on her back, Trudy’s back, instantly the energy just swift. While I was very excited, I was also torn with confusions. It felt wrong. As I looked around me, people with their horses just circling the pen, learning how to trot. We were all so focused with the ”lesson” that little attention was paid to the horses. It all seems very normal. Because it was “normal”, I thought I was the insane person.

    After the ride I stayed around so I could spend more time (privately) with Trudy. I went to her stable, introduce myself and pulled out my phone to snap some pictures when Trudy said to me, ”stop. I am eating, why are you taking pictures of me.” That was my first encounter with horse communication; it was so unexpected that I was so convinced I was hallucinating.

    Despite this feeling of wrongness riding these horses, i thought this was the ONLY way to connect with horses. So I did it again, at a different stable. I saved up just enough to be able to go for weekly horseback riding lesson. This second time I was given a horse named, Tomas. A horse that REALLY DID NOT want to carry me. Not only was he not in the mood to carry me, but also I was not giving him clear directions. I remember feeling so frustrated, at myself, at Tomas for not cooperating, at the instructor who keeps telling me to kick him harder. For whatever reason, something switched in my head, ”Well, Tomas, we have to work together now. She (the instructor) is not going to stop pulling you until we do what she asked.” Every time she instructed me to do something, I would channel it through my body to Tomas’ and ask him to do his part, to move his body accordingly, while I try my best to do my part which is telling him what the instructor want us to do. Every time we worked in unison I felt so incredibly happy and thankful that he cooperated. After the lesson, just like Trudy, I went to his stable and talked to him, and the workers there gave me funny looks which made me felt very self-conscious. Nonetheless, it was important for me to let him know that I was really grateful for his effort and that I was sorry for putting him through it.

    Another experience of riding-confusion. Despite those experiences I still wanted to know how to ride. I made a plan to take riding seriously when I returned back to Cambodia where riding classes were far cheaper. That was the plan, until I went to the stable and I saw the conditions and the energy in the stable. I just couldn’t. The thought of being on their back was so repulsive that I physically felt sick. I realised then that I didn’t have to ride them to be with them and spend time with them. The best thing I could give to them is my acknowledgment of their presence: an invincible sentient being. I validated their pain, their sufferings, but I also showed them that it’s okay if you don’t want me to touch you; and that ”yes, i would love to give you scratches”. Just like before, the workers gave me funny looks, but it didn’t bother me no more.

    This all happen when I found out about LTYH youtube channel. The ONLY horse channel I came across that I can connect to and relate with. It felt right. And you guys and the herd have taught me so incredibly much. All these horseback riding confusion, wouldn’t have been solved had it not been for your blog. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

    • April 18, 2021 at 2:26 am

      Wow such experiences you’ve had Daline! Thank you so much for sharing all the details with us – just fascinating. And SO GLAD the LTYH channel was there for you!

      I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I think MANY more horse stables should offer people the option of simply hanging out with a horse! People running equine businesses *think* that people have to *do* something with horses – like riding, or therapy. But I believe there are plenty of people like you who would appreciate and be willing to pay for the pure pleasure of relationship. Grooming/scratches, maybe taking the horse out for walks/hikes on a lead line. So many of these horses never get to leave the stable/arena – the chance for them to meander down a trail, stopping to eat fresh plants would be the highlight of their whole week. Which of course would then give the human so much joy/pleasure.

      Well maybe you can ask for this experience at your local stable? If it were me, I would start by offering them half of what they charge for riding lessons and then negotiate from there.

      • April 18, 2021 at 8:01 am

        Right?! I would LOVE it so much to just walk with the horses, take them grazing or simply just be in their presence without being seen as the weirdo.

        I have never thought of your suggestion before; i’m going to give it a try, thank you, Jini. And honestly if that doesn’t work, horse sanctuary off I go!

        • April 18, 2021 at 7:13 pm

          Keep me posted Daline! I’m interested to hear what happens around this…

    • April 18, 2021 at 7:38 am

      Just want to share some pictures with you,

      Black & White: Trudy
      White & Brown: Tomas

  • April 22, 2021 at 11:28 pm

    Sad and beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    I think the answer to the question of riding or not riding, and also how to ride, is relative, to the situation, the connection, the horse and the human, in that moment, and to this balancing act of taking and giving.

    Also I think that it is a nice thought that if you’re riding and you loose the connection to the horse, you can just jump off. Breathe and connect again. The simplicity of this thought is comforting to me.

    Another thing I have thought about, and fought with myself about, is the question of shame and guilt in relation to how we keep and treat and use animals. And in relation to stupid things I’ve done to my horses and so on. And I’ve also thought that our shame and guilt, untransformed, unconsciously, stand in our way to do better, to be better, because we don’t want to face up to it. And that we need more compassionate ways to deal with our shame and guilt, like in this video. So that they can be a force for change, not an obstacle.

    • April 24, 2021 at 9:05 pm

      So true! Brilliant Sofia and yes, shame and guilt stop forward movement and block compassion and connection. So that is definitely something that needs to be healed, released first.


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