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