One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students
Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train
To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.
First, thank you all for your support on the Documentary, this amazing week we met our funding goal! Take a look at the trailer here, and join us as a backer to make the best movie ever! Any further funds that get donated allow us to invest in filming the Mustangs in the wild. That is really where this journey started and the better we can illustrate that, the more completely we can tell this beautiful story.
Everyone Deserves to Feel Safe
It was only a matter of time before this Blog needed to be written; though perhaps it really should have been one of the first blogs I ever wrote. You may think you know what I am going to write, but you may be surprised to find that my view on safety digs a little deeper than what is usually talked about.
We talk about safety a lot in the world of horses, saying things like: wear your helmet; walk carefully behind a horse; coil your rope in your hand correctly so it doesn’t get caught; wear correct foot protection; don’t do this, always do that… the list goes on and on.
I don’t disagree with those checklist points; we can do many physical things to help in the efforts of safety. I would like to dig a little deeper though and think about what underlies all that. What does it take to really FEEL safe.
This FEELING of safety, I believe, is crucial and central to the issue, because as the saying goes: “hurt people, hurt people” and I think it can be extrapolated farther: hurt horses, hurt horses…. Or people, or dogs…. Or…. The list goes on. We hurt others when we are hurting, because feeling safe is an instinctual need.
Feeling safe is a core and universal concept that each and every one of us feels we have to defend, and sometimes defending ourselves seems to require hurting someone else. If for some reason we suppress that defense of feeling safe, that is where the hopeless unbearable crushing depression is born. Life begins to feel pointless.
Look around you; think about the people and animals you know with a sparkle in their eye and spring to their step. Somehow they are anchored in that feeling of safety. Their life is firm and sure because they FEEL SAFE.
So for those of us who struggle with depression or anger management or panic attacks or anxiety disorders or social frustration, how do we find a feeling of safety again? I think every one of us has felt that insecurity at some point, and every one of us can see it at times in the people and animals we love. As a society though, we often lack the tools to move past it ourselves or help the ones we love in moving forward to a sense of safety.
The spiral of insecurity can feel like a death trap because, when I feel unsafe, the instinct is to protect myself and defend against anyone threatening my safety. In that defense I in turn threaten someone else’s safety, and they feel the need to defend as well; so they lash out and the cycle is born into a cascading downward spiral.
Why does this happen? Why can’t we support each other instead of always defending ourselves? I believe it is instinctual and not actually within our control, until we understand it more.
So let us touch in with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, as they give us a good understanding of how this all fits together.
- Body/Physiological needs- air, food, sleep, stimulation, activity.
- Security/Safety Needs- security, protections from threats.
- Social/love and belonging needs- love, friends, comradeship.
- Ego/Self-Esteem- Self-respect, personal worth, autonomy
- Self-actualization/Fulfillment needs- purpose, personal growth, development of potential.
We FEEL completely safe, to the degree we have all these things. It isn’t black and white, all or nothing. It is only greater or lesser. The negative spiral begins when we start sacrificing ourselves, or others in fundamental ways in order to move up the scale.
Yes, that is a big statement, read it again.
I am saying, for example, if we lose track of the basic body needs – air, food, sleep and exercise – to gain security or protection from threats… it can’t work. Sooner or later that security or protection from threats is going to fail, because its base of body needs was neglected. This continues up the chart; our next step is only as secure as the one before it.
It gets complicated at step three. We all deserve love, friends, comradeship; however, if I reach for those without taking care of steps one and two, I can never really feel safe enough in being loved. If I don’t feel safe, I am going to get defensive, because it is my right to feel safe. If I don’t get defensive, I am going to get depressed, because what’s the point of living if I don’t even get to feel safe.
Spelled out like that, it is simple right? We just build incrementally and everything will work out perfectly; and I believe that is absolutely true to the degree we have the patience and perseverance and fortitude to live it.
With horses we build a relationship that is usually centered on OUR needs. Let’s just say my day is going beautifully, my body is well taken care of, I feel pretty safe from obvious threats, I have good friends and am loved, I feel good about who I am and my personal worth, and now I am ready to tackle fulfillment and purpose. So I tack up my horse to go start training because I want to feel that development of potential.
Sticking point – did I ask my horse how safe they felt today?
Often we may know their physical needs are taken care of… but then the horse is jumping out of their skin every time the wind blows because they don’t feel secure. When that happens, we find it really gets in the way of the dressage pattern/jump course/ trail ride, etc. that we want for our fulfillment needs!
Dang it! Get over it, it’s just the wind!
(Or whatever it is that is bothering your horse that day)
That puts your horse in a predicament. If they give up their need for overall safety (in this case the specific step of security) so you can pursue your goals of purpose and development, they end up depressed or angry. It is their right to feel safe. It is everyone’s right to feel safe.
So when does my right trump yours?
Check the list, Body needs first, then security, then social, then self esteem, then purpose and development.
Our work with horses is a good place to practice this awareness, but we will find it inevitably present in all our relationships. The feeling of safety comes from our entire hierarchy of needs being addressed, one step at a time. Every day a layer at a time as we understand and develop and become who we are.
It isn’t always easy to be patient and clear and take life one step at a time, but it is simple.
Here is to everyone’s right to feel safe.