Safety Rules for Horses… and Wild Horses

We live in a world obsessed with ‘safety’. Even at the cost of joy, connection, vigor and vitality. I view things a little differently.

Why would I throw someone who’s never been around horses, into the middle of my herd of formerly wild and semi-feral horses? Did I mention he’s barefoot? Take a look at what happens…

I’ve watched a similar situation unfold with numerous people at my barn – and it’s happened to me a few times too. The most common response is to try to run, to get out of the way. Keep in mind, none of this is conscious. The horses move so fast your conscious mind has no time to analyze or decide anything!

When a herd of 8 or 11 powerful horses bolt into flight and whirl around/at you, your reflexes and subconscious take over entirely. This recently happened with my cousin Katrina. First she dove left, then she ducked right, then she planted both legs and threw both her arms up in the air, her body declaring, “I’m here!! And I’m not moving!” and the horses jumped nimbly around her. She was shaken, but unscathed.

This response is consistent with Katrina’s character and her ability to set strong boundaries. She manages multiple emergency spill response teams (environmental disasters like oil spills) across Western Canada. These are high stress, emergency, potentially devastating and hugely expensive operations – and she’s in charge.

Just like you see in the video with Dainis – if you spend decades training your reflexes to block, avoid, or re-direct bodily aggression, then your body automatically plants, rotates, or flows with the action. And it’s no big deal.

The exact same thing happened to my husband Ian a few months ago. Amazingly, he was in exactly the same spot as Dainis – right up against the arena panels. But this time, Aude drove Xadaa into Ian.

Subconscious aspects made conscious

Ian is already scared of horses and he hasn’t had any martial arts training. If he had stood his ground and pushed Xadaa (with body or energy) around him, he would have been fine. If he’d jumped up a rung on the arena panels, he would have been fine. Instead, he did the worst possible thing; he tried to run away – in front of Xadaa. In his panic, and because she was pushing into him, he tripped, went down in front of her, and she then scrambled/leaped to avoid trampling him. He injured his thumb and his knee. He was terribly frightened, angry, stressed, and shook up.

However, the interesting thing about Ian’s situation is there were only 2 horses on the barn road when this happened. And I was standing right beside him. Was it entirely random? Or were Aude and Xadaa facilitating an experience for Ian that contained important messages for his growth and well-being?

As Ian unpacked the reasons for his experience (and took multiple photos of his thumb – which he insists I include here) he identified two important messages contained within Aude and Xadaa’s action. Ian says:

1. “The horses were telling me to be more powerful, be more assertive and go for what I want. I had been very angry at the injustice of covid – the way it removed my joy and freedom. All my travel plans to expand the UK business got put on hold. I couldn’t move forward with any of the soccer stuff I had planned for the UK and also to bring Premier League coaches here. Likewise, I got shut in with the horses. But they were saying, ‘You didn’t need to get knocked down. All you needed to do was stand firm and carry on with what you were doing.’ So with this whole covid thing, you don’t need to give away your power. Just keep doing stuff and moving forward. You may have to shift plans, or do things differently, but if you stand in your power, you can make things happen.”

5 weeks later
2. “I find horses really powerful and so I held a fear of being knocked down. Then guess what, the energy of my expectation pulled that experience into existence. I stood right in the middle of the flow, instead of moving to the side. So the message was to be mindful of the energy/expectation you’re holding! If you don’t want that to manifest, then change your energy/expectation.”

The horses’ method of physically messaging humans is something I’ve seen over and over again. Sometimes the horses will physically hurt someone in order to teach them. But the person always comes to realize that the intensity of the physical message is proportionate to the seriousness of the lesson or issue. Afterwards, the person also asserts that they probably would not have learned or understood this teaching any other way. Oftentimes, the person is already aware that this issue is wrecking or sabotaging their life, but they have not taken action. So the horses show them, “Enough! This is how serious this issue/behaviour/saboteur is and you need to take action NOW.”

The Singing Horse herd will not tolerate incongruence – they are not just ‘nice horses’ to be pet or cuddled. They are powerful teachers and facilitators of transformation – always advocating for your highest good; your truest self.

Your energy creates your reality

The last time this happened to me, Aude had just been stung and leaped towards me, but as she turned right to avoid me, I also sidestepped right, we both then reversed directions and went left. You know how when you meet another human in a narrow hallway and you do a little side-shuffle dance to try and get out of each other’s way? Try that with 1800 lbs of Big Mama barrelling towards you. Of course, she was running as slowly as she could – not wanting to run me over. And I was running backwards and sidestepping as fast as I could. After two simultaneous dekes, my panic rose as I realized this could not continue or I would go down soon, so I shoved her to the right with both my arms, “You go THAT way!” and she gladly veered right and bolted away, kicking out at the insect as she ran.

We were in the middle of a huge field – with no other horses around us. Why did Aude leap towards me when she got stung? I stood there with my heart pounding, waves of stress and anger rolling off me… and I acknowledged that Aude was simply responding/mirroring back to me my emotional state. The vibration of my energy field was like a magnet pulling disaster towards me.

Big Mama Audelina

Horses are ALL about energy – that’s how they know whether the cougar at the edge of their field is a danger, or not. That’s why Montaro faced off against the mama bear who’d already sent her cubs up the tree in preparation for battle.

As I contemplated the toxicity of my energy/emotional state, I went over to stand on my Montaro-rock and debrief myself. This is a rock that Montaro told me to stand on a few years ago – the left side of the rock is lower than the right and he told me this would help correct the remaining curvature/shortening in my spine (I have spent the last 25 years straightening an S-curve scoliosis – it is almost straight except for the thoracic region which is now only 1-inch off center). I had my functional movement therapist come out to check what happened when I stood on the rock and he said that, yes, standing there balanced out my hips and made them even.

So I stood on my Montaro-rock and sought to balance my mind/body/spirit. I cried for the 3 lads, who I missed terribly. And I released a bunch of other stressors I was unaware that I was holding. It was a blessed time – one that would not have happened if Audelina had not shaken me out of my pseudo-equilibrium.

Each time the horses have used shocking physical methods to deliver a message to me (or others) I’m grateful for the teaching… but I can’t say that I would ever consent to it, if they asked me ahead of time!

It also makes me very careful about who is allowed to be with the herd. I always ask the herd ahead of time whether someone can come to visit, or not. And sometimes, when people have just shown up, the horses have either said they cannot come into their space, or, they have physically pushed the person back through the gate!

This is an aspect that gets negated or switched off when horsepeople demand/assert dominance over their horses. I have hardly/barely been injured – my injury rate compared to traditional horsepeople is miniscule. A friend’s daughter worked at a jumper/eventing stable for a few years and the injuries to both horses and humans was constant. In 5 years, not one of my barn helpers has been injured. So although people claim their dominance keeps them ‘safe’ – it actually does not.

In my experience, the safest place to be is in deep listening with your own body, whilst simultaneously listening to your horse – and having a healthy respect for both.

Has your horse ever physically hurt you as a way to deliver an important message? I’d love to hear your stories…

Safety Rules for Horses… and Wild Horses

11 thoughts on “Safety Rules for Horses… and Wild Horses

  • September 6, 2020 at 7:23 am
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    Very interesting. Excellent observations.
    I have some safety rules for people I work with, but I have 2 rules for rules: 1) Never make a rule you don’t NEED, and 2) Never make a rule you don’t enforce.
    Also a rule is pointless if you don’t understand the rationale behind it. I don’t want mindless obedience from my students, I want mindful engagement. Because no two tactical situations are identical, safety rules have to be made of rubber, not steel. Students have to be able to apply the safety PRINCIPLE to each new situation they encounter. Rules are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.
    The main danger in rule flexibility is human hubris: people quite often believe they are more competent than they really are, and so violate a safety rule out of ignorance+arrogance, a reliable formula for disaster.

    I often wonder about the “wear a helmet” rule.
    Previous horse people, including both cowboys (real cowboys, not rodeo cowboys) and horse culture people like”Indians,” spent much of their waking (and sometimes sleeping!) lives on horseback. Their oral histories and traditions should be replete with cautionary tales about all the individuals who got seriously injured, maimed, crippled or killed handling horses. But we don’t seem to have that. Why not? Were those experiences simply excluded? Possible, but it seems unlikely to me. The other possibility is that they didn’t occur. If that’s the case, why not?
    It’s possible that long hours, days and years of intimate companionship with horses provided a certain safety “sense” and centering (as evidenced by your kick-boxing friend) for which no helmet, padded vest or steel-toed boot can substitute. Unfortunately, the typical “equestrian” of today spends only a tiny fraction of that time in the company of their horse, and too much of that time has a specific focus on a human-goal-driven product, instead of present-moment-awareness process. Most people I’ve encountered spend a lot of time time DOING with their horses, and very little time just BEING with their horses. Me, I like being so connected that when a fly lands on my pony’s back, I can feel it; and vice versa.
    But now, I think I’m preaching to the choir.
    Anyway, very interesting video. Something to think about.

    Reply
    • September 6, 2020 at 11:13 pm
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      Awesome and yes, I totally agree. I started riding at 2, had my own horse by age 8 – and rode bareback for the next decade. I’ve been thrown off a horse every way possible, at least 50 times and never broken anything. Never wore a helmet either. BUT I also was not ‘trained’ by a human to try to keep control of the horse, no matter what. So my arms were not taken up with trying to hold onto the reins. And for whatever reason, my body would automatically tuck and roll. So my head never hit the ground.

      But yes, the helmet lobby got so strong that by the time I was in my forties I considered whether I should wear one… I wondered what would happen if I were thrown – would my body still instinctively tuck and roll? If so, then a helmet would be a disaster – weighting my head unevenly, preventing me from rolling normally… what if the brim got caught? Well I obviously threw that question out to the universe and got my answer when I was thrown from a galloping pony who went into full buck. My mind was thinking we should hang on and try to calm him down, but my body made an executive decision and bailed before he hit top speed. And yep, I tucked and rolled. My worst injury was gravel in my hands and a skinned knee. So no helmet for me! Unless my body tells me to put one on 😉

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  • September 6, 2020 at 9:51 am
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    Oh boy let me count the ways!
    I too, have not had a “serious injury “ in the last 12 years of sharing life with horses! I have been banged around here and there and yes there was a message I needed in all of them! Banner seems to be the one who has shown me the most painful knocks! Although they have all sent painful bumpy messages to me!
    A few stick out quite clearly but one in particular I feel led to share today!

    Banner and I were still pretty newish to each other ( somewhere between 1-3 years ) and I was extremely green with horses! We were both slowly exploring riding with tack in a minimal way! Being a child of metal braces, retainers, and the dreaded metal head gear I really had a hard time wrapping my mind around using bits! So when we would go for ..our ..almost daily walks together across the road that was about 200 acres of sand, I would sometimes get enough courage to jump on bareback and with a halter and we would cruise around! We were really developing a deep trust and connection and I don’t think many humans had ever approached Banner in this more vulnerable way? He was a horse from a very traditional background of stalls, metal shoes, and bits and chains across his nose for added control! All of these things were just not me! So I slowly & quietly ditched them all, the Chain on the nose was the first one!

    So one night a group of us went to a team penning event at a local barn a few miles away! I was so proud & excited to “show Off Banner” and our new bitless connected riding! Well I wasn’t listening to him or my inner ..very knowing self😞 because when I got on him out in the parking lot for a little pre jaunt…he was a fire breathing dragon! I could actually hear words coming out of him that said do you see how scared I am? This is not the fun exploration of the sand acreage across the road! Why are you doing this to me? Why are you going to make me hurt you? We have come so far with our connection (I know you can hear/feel me) why are you being so incongruent with how we both feel right now?

    But my ego took control (never good) and I entered that arena …(knowing it was wrong for both of us) ..with a couple of friends to round up the number ..painted on three cows they called out! The object being you cut the cows with that number out of the group and try and get them in a designated space in a certain amount of time! Well Banner liked to chase cows but he despised arenas and I soon realized ..they scared him senseless!

    So we get started and Banner is crow hopping and moving in ways I had never experienced! I am scared to death and so is he! Finally after getting close to a few cows he says I’m done FU! He takes off the length of the very large Rodeo arena right in front of all the spectators in the stands …bucking the whole way! I hear my one very experienced friend yelling get his head! I could barely hang on and was just about to go over his ears when he was already at the end of the arena , back at the entrance gate and he decided to stop with me pulling on that halter with all I had!

    I was so embarrassed and so mad at him! Not to mention banged up from hitting that horn and being thrown like a rag doll in the saddle over and over again! WHY…was I mad…because of ego! He told me don’t take me in there I am so scared! He warned me in the parking lot! Don’t do it! But I still did! It was my fault not his!

    As punishment I threw a bit in his mouth and let my friend who was that same very experienced rider …take him in again!🥺 She had ridden Banner a lot but still had a very hard time controlling him and basically just wrenched on his mouth with that bit…as hard as she could the entire time limit😢 and held on for dear life! It is still one of my biggest regrets and I can’t believe he didn’t do more damage to me! I was bruised badly (especially my ego) from all the bucking! I flew into that horn so hard so many times! I didn’t trust him after that for a long while! I’m know he felt the same way…very justifiably! But eventually the lesson sank in, that being incongruent about my feelings and ignoring the clear message I was getting from the horse …leads to negative outcomes! I sacrificed our connection and trust to do something he was so clearly not ok with! He showed me that not listening ends up getting me hurt or causing me emotional and physical pain that is all my fault!

    I think that night ended up being a final turning point for me about bits! I just decided I just couldn’t use one anymore and if I felt a horse needed one (to be so called controlled) then that horse was trying to tell me …your doing things to me I am not ok with! I also am not ok with anyone else riding a horse I have the decision making for …with a bit!

    This is definitely not a bit versus bitless pitch! Because this was definitely not the lesson or the message Banner was trying to teach me that night! But “for me” metal in a mouth brings up feelings that are not comfortable and I do not resonate with…so it was a decision I wanted to make…to stay congruent with how I feel deep down inside my soul!

    Banner and I eventually got back to our low key, easy going, fun explorations across the road …bareback and bitless and we both learned to trust each other again!
    Although we have had many more painful lessons that one was a big one for me in a lot of ways! Unfortunately I have still let my ego and desire to control and then ultimately dominate the horse bubble up from time to time!

    I am by nature a very controlling and strong women! The horses have had to bang me around to get some of the messages to get through my hard shell and even now it still sometimes takes pain to get through to me ☹️

    At the end of last year I found the Hoof Self Trimming group and mostly reembarked on that approach to the horses hooves! It has been something I dabbled in a few time’s but did not stay the course! But with improved better diet & nutrition and now enough space to allow more movement on variable surfaces…I really wanted to give it a go again! Al, the horses …but especially Dreamer have had to help me stay the course! Dreamer has refused to pick up his hooves when I have anything other then a hoof pick! He has now stepped on my foot three times along with a back muscle pull..in order to tell me don’t touch my hooves…with nippers! Of course I get so mad at him and demand he listen to me…all the while realizing I am not listening to him!
    I get so focused on completing a task I want to achieve …like getting that one chunk of exfoliating bar or flapping sole out…that I throw listening right out the window and want his best robotic good boy behavior😔 His hooves are like concrete and my hand strength is not good so I result to nippers to try and help but he says no every time!

    I am a constant work in progress and I know I still fail a lot! When I see things from the outside looking in it’s so clear but in the moment I get very stubborn and my horse listening suffers tremendously & my default kicks in & I want things my way!😵

    I see the neighbors horse also trying to help her! From breaking fences and escaping to not letting her put on his fly mask to injuring himself! Most of his actions I think he does to try and get her to start spending more time with him! Some he does to try and help her gain her confidence with horses! She is definitely a very fearful person around horses (although loves & admires them deeply) and always thinks the worst will happen! I see him try so hard to open her up to explore her inner feelings, and although her intuition is so brilliant , she seems to be over ridden by in-congruency!

    Well I have so many stories I could go on and on about painful messages from the horses…but I agree 100%… horses do things to help us!
    It might not seem that way in the moment and anger and fear and embarrassment or feelings of being let down might be our go to!
    But if I step back and feel into it, I can usually figure out the why of what there message was! You know my mantra
    HORSES ARE THE BEST TEACHERS ON THE PLANET 🌏
    ✌🏼💚🐴

    Reply
    • September 6, 2020 at 10:45 pm
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      Ooooh Michelle, I FEEL YA!! I too am one of those strong women who get fixated on something and just want to ride that wave in! It is a continual challenge to not give in to a default setting. You and I also have a lot of Fire element, which is awesome for lots of things, but not so awesome for calm horse listening! My daughter has a lot of Water element and the horses respond SO much better to her – she doesn’t have to work on anything, it’s just how she is. And of course, she never gets strong signals like I do – because she doesn’t need them! I was lamenting this with Montaro (another Fire soul) and he said, “We like you just the way you are, it’s no big deal.” Which helped put it in perspective – yes, the horses respond very differently to people like my daughter Zara, and Guliz and Kesia, then they do to me. But both have their pros and cons. The horses are happy to play to our strengths and set us straight when we need it 😉

      Your story about the riding event was riveting – I was right there with ya! Reminded me of a time that haunts me to this day – and I was only 10! – where I ran my mare downhill in front of a group of visitors to show off my bareback riding skills (pure ego). And she kicked up her heels and sent me FLYING over her head. I came down on my left shoulder – badly sprained – and ran crying (in front of the group) to the house while my mum took my horse back to her field. Absolutely humiliated and deserved every second of it! That was also the worst injury I ever received from/around a horse. The last time I was thrown (age 46) was because I had lots of ideas about what was good for the horse and what would be helpful BUT I was not fully listening to HIM and his ideas – my agenda was still primary.

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  • September 6, 2020 at 2:51 pm
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    This is so cool! I have five horses/ponies. I’ve never set boundaries with them in the British traditional sense (BHS training) way of thinking. They can walk right up to me and express some close physical contact. It’s fairly frowned upon and perceived as bad practice, if not downright dangerous. Yet I’ve been fine and not even a toe squished in more than ten years. Yes there are times when they’ve had the usual crazy horse moments all around me. I’ve got a really strong idea of where that leaves me. Ideally hopping over a fence or gate but if that’s not possible I can hold my space. And I can hold it no matter what! And actually it doesn’t take much. And I’m a quiet, small person.
    I went on a workshop a while ago and the teacher had us practice a routine where she walked towards us from the length of the horse arena. Most people expressed some twitch of discomfort when she was still very far away. Not even close to entering what might be perceived as ‘personal space’. There was me thinking I’ll be fine with this and I’m sure she will be able to walk right up to me. But no I was one of the worst. I speculated later that the distance she was when people started twitching was a distance that it would be possible to throw a spear or shoot an arrow from. I’m not sure that’s related to this conversation but I think it maybe.
    We also did an exercise where we had a stick and she walked towards us and we had to indicate to her with energy and our tool to stop coming. I seemed to do very well and could stop her progress after only a couple of steps at an arenas distance!!
    So yes, pretty cool. Would love to see how I fare with your gang! Thanks for all your ideas!

    Reply
    • September 6, 2020 at 10:57 pm
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      Well from what you’ve written, I suspect they would either move with a waggle of your fingers OR they would make you go to a whole new level of getting bigger and working with your power in expanded ways. I watched Xadaa push my cousin Katrina (who has stellar boundaries) beyond anything I’ve ever seen them do. And then I realized, Ah, she’s showing Katrina the kind of power she needs to mobilize and bring forth into the Universe, to bring Katrina’s big project idea into creation, “For what you want to bring into reality, THIS is how much power you must gather and send out. And this is how strongly you must hold it.” So it had nothing to do with boundaries, or getting a horse to move, etc. It was about the power to manifest her vision.

      Reply
  • September 6, 2020 at 4:10 pm
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    too many concussions I can’t even remember. and broken bones. bicycles. and cars. ski-racing first, then horses too. i need a total life do-over. xoxox

    Reply
    • September 6, 2020 at 11:02 pm
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      It’s never too late 🙂 I was talking about this with my 76 year old mum. I said, “Do you really want to incarnate again and spend 20 years in that life, just to get to the point you are now, and hope you deal with it then? OR do you want to deal with it now, and come into your next life finally DONE with that shit?” Something to think about… xoxo

      Reply
  • September 11, 2020 at 4:41 pm
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    The video was very insightful. But your writing to accompany it, is extraordinary. Light bulb after light bulb!
    In hindsight I had a very influential and formative experience, when my feral girls came under my care. I was still stuck in the fucked up paradigm of modern horsemanship practices. A year or two earlier I had slowly slipped out of a freer place to work from with my horses, when it was about a child loving his horse friends. I can’t remember many details of those times because I was sunken firmly into flow around them, fairly consistently. Anyway by the time my feral girls came along, I was definitely more burdened and agenda driven. During the first week of having them, I tried to walk between them, for what reason I have no clue. But as I approached, Enna planted a really hard kick directly on the muscle mass of my thigh. I went flying back a metre and was really hurt (and bruised). I was sore, emotionally I was upset and angry. Looking back it was the perfect amount of force to snap me out of my own shut down state. It made me step into a space where I was in my body and aware more than anything. It took me two years to get over the bodily state I was put back into when I was near her hind legs. But now their are 4 of us and we all hang out in close proximity. They’re always shifting each other around, and I just flow with them in the same space. The energy can be big, but it’s actually quite enjoyable. They know I’m able to be in their space now, even when they’re having big emotions and reactions. I believe it’s been a big part of my journey towards embodiment and empowerment around other beings. Historically it’s been hard for me, but now I feel deep and safe within their practices lol. I don’t know how I could’ve gotten to this place without horses that were embodied and alive… and that beautifully painful kick.

    Reply
    • September 11, 2020 at 7:25 pm
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      LOVE what you’ve written here Ben! So cool. Big energy, big emotions, big reactions – YES! I love it – I also have no desire to make them calmer, smaller, safer.

      Our human default seems to move everything we touch towards domestication, but slowly we are remembering the value of wild. And the incredible joy available when we build relationship with animals on THEIR terms, not ours.

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      • September 11, 2020 at 7:42 pm
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        Amen!
        Thank you Jini🙏🏼

        Reply

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