It’s Not Resistance.

Resistance is thought transformed into feeling. Change the thought that creates the resistance, and there is no more resistance. – Robert Conklin

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Photo: Crissi McDonald

 

If you were to give your instant impressions about the photo above, what would they be? Would the word resistance come up?

This way of thinking isn’t uncommon. Many of us started learning or grew up hearing horses spoken about as if they were spiteful people with body hair. Add our tendency to focus on the negative to this species nearsightedness and working with horses can feel like one long battle for supremacy.

For many of us though, this me-against-them perspective hasn’t ever felt right. Battling horses is neither a logical nor a smart choice but we get away with it because of their willing nature.

When we say “my horse is being resistant,” it lets us off the hook. We are self-absolved of the responsibility to listen further or learn more. On the flip side, we also have the ability to educate ourselves and choose different ways of thinking that can short-circuit the downward spiral into fighting with our horse. Here’s an example, as shown in the photos above and below.

In the above photo, Mark is working with Lily. She was returning to work from an injury after almost a year off.  We decided to start with longeing to help her get back into the swing of things; this photo was taken at the beginning of the session.

While it may appear that Lily is resisting the rope (or Mark), another perspective to consider is that by giving Lily time and support,  she can sort out how to use her body in a small circle. Mark’s posture is balanced and he is supporting Lily, as opposed to pulling on her. She hasn’t had to bend her body in a while so giving her time to loosen up can help her start traveling in a balanced way.

Compare this with the photo below, where Lily has been moving in a circle for about five minutes. She has found how to relax her body and move more in balance than the first photo. While there is a connection, there isn’t any pull.

 

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Photo: Crissi McDonald

 

Horses can only pull if you pull back. A tug on the lead rope, a hoof that won’t be picked up, or a horse who dives into the bit can, faster than we are comfortable admitting, send us straight to one of two places: resignation or frustration.  Teaching yourself to maintain a relaxed and balanced structure when you feel a tug is a valuable skill because our bodies are hardwired to push or pull when pushed or pulled upon. Horses aren’t any different; unless we show them another option, the only skills they have to fall back on when they can’t get away or don’t understand is to push, pull or not respond.

I’ve often heard that this is an exercise in semantics but I don’t believe so. I have seen and felt the difference in horses when we approach them with understanding and a positive perspective, versus giving in to frustration and tension.

The first place any change takes place is in our heads and hearts. Without that change, everything else is mechanics and horses know it. When we interact with horses with the knowledge that physical issues or lack of understanding can contribute to what they are doing and how they are doing it, we create an atmosphere of lower pressure. And though some humans may seem to thrive on pressure, I also know many of us who don’t; horses absolutely don’t.

“Acceptance means events can make it through you without resistance”
― Michael SingerAn Untethered Soul

 

Horses are communication, embodied. How you see them behaving is how they are feeling. Why would we then choose to see or what they are doing in a negative light? We love horses for many reasons, and it seems contradictory to accept only the things that are easy about them, and negatively label or ignore those things we don’t understand.

Pressure, resistance, discomfort; we aren’t seeking to eliminate these experiences, but rather develop a response that returns us to inner equilibrium. Being with horses is about building a relationship of such solidity that they feel safe to express the full range of who they are while in connection with us. The distance between resistance and relaxation is a change of thought away. The depth of connection between us and our horse lies within this change of thought.

 

 

 

About the Author

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A lifelong horse woman, learning how to listen to horses.

33 Comments

My expectation Crissi, is that this is the secret to all good relationships, whether horse or human… “building a relationship of such solidity that they feel safe to express the full range of who they are while in connection with us”.

Crissi, thank you for this wise and beautiful discussion. I so agree with every word. The point of it all is partnership. Horses know the difference between that and exploitation. It’s really quite amazing how often they show us that our attitude toward them makes all the difference. I have a gelding who has sometimes found himself misinterpreted, and the difference between my beloved and trusted partner and the monster others have seen in him is vast. Your posts seem to find the heart of the matter every time.

Thank you, Tracey. There are many horses who are like your gelding – we see them too and the relief they experience when they feel understood is palpable. I’m always heartened that there are so many of us who are choosing to interact with horses in a more respectful manner.

Wonderful writing, Crissi. I liked that you used these two photos for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which is that we humans jump to conclusions too often when if we give it a chance, things work themselves out… Beautiful photo description of that and yes, horses understand our intent, so the quality of our thoughts make all the difference. Great blog, thank you.

Thank you, Anna. Yes, using photos to tie text together is really helpful – for writing as well! I was stuck with this one until I started looking for photos – that helped get the words sorted out.

I am finding the same thing regarding giving horses time – they can do what ever we are asking if we are quiet and don’t rush them.

“Many of us started learning or grew up hearing horses spoken about as if they were spiteful people with body hair. Add our tendency to focus on the negative to this species nearsightedness and working with horses can feel like one long battle for supremacy”. love this quote, Crissi. Some really good thoughts in here. I will read this one more than once. Seems that often horse “work” can be like preparing for battle unfortunately..

Thank you! I agree – I’d rather not work with horses as though I’m preparing for battle. Being with them is a great practice in so many good things that I find I’d rather work with them that way.

Very very good…needed to be reminded of that: physical issue or lack of understanding can contribute to what they are doing and how they are doing it…thanks!

Thank you Crissi for your insights. I’ve been working this idea for about 7 years, my horses feel and show me the difference. It’s a life long journey I’m happy to be on, not only for all the horses sakes but for my own as well.

Love,love, love this piece. Crisis, your insight and ability to explain horse behaviour so eloquently is amazing. Changing our way of thinking can open the door to clearer communication with our horses…I try to remind myself of this every time I work with mine, especially when we hit a bump in the road…which are many !

“For many of us though, this me-against-them perspective hasn’t ever felt right.” Never, ever, ever. So many people hold that perspective and pass it on. I thought I was the dreamy and crazy one. But it just never ever made sense.

Timely words for me as my horse moves forward or backward at the mounting block. I take a couple deep breaths and think about what he is feeling and why this is happening. And suddenly he’s standing still and waiting for me 🙂 Thank you, Crissi.

Lovely message throughout-The first picture to me looked like the horse/human connected and concentrated because there was balance and movement in both-both serious-the second picture seemed like a relaxed version of the concentration still connected for a purpose the rope is more relaxed in second photo- I love this stuff!! I always repeat Mark’s and your refrain, “I go, you go, we go” works great with kids too! Rock on, sister💖

The first picture represented concentration and connection through human/horse motion-second picture relaxed concentration evident through more relaxed rope tension—Looked like the interaction was serious and thoughtful with purpose and intention—no wasted motion-but the idea of resistance at every level is worth considering and thoughtfully moving with and through….

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