Seven months and two weeks. Traveling is always a big education and has the power to change you as a person if you let it, at least from what I have experienced. However, staying in a place together with people who want to change the world, learn about yourself through horses at the same time as you live a simple community life in nature with everything you need but not more - has even more power to get you new perspectives and change who you are.
Horses have been a way from me to spend time in nature every day. I´m forever grateful that I grew up on the countryside with horses on my side, but I would lie if I said it was only pleasure every day. Every day since I was 11 years old I needed to clean out the stable and ride my horse. Most of the time I enjoyed it of course, but it was also very hard sometimes when I wanted to do something with my friends and couldn’t or it was freezing cold or heavy rain or I wanted to go somewhere for the weekend. Today, I wouldn’t change it for anything. What horses have brought to me in life is extremely valuable and have made me to the person I am today. I have learned to take responsibility, to be efficient, work hard, to plan and the greatest gift of all; to be aware, appreciate and discover nature every day.
I thought I had reached all the life lessons I could learn from horses but no that was before I entered the doors to Richmond Vale Academy, seven months and two weeks ago. I soon realized that the real lesson was just about to start. When I summarize all the lessons the horses have given me during my Richmond time I ended up with seven topics.
I came to Richmond knowing that I would learn many new things about horses. But what I did not expect was that I, after 15 years with horses, was about to learn how to say hello to a horse and how to lead a horse. I admit that I felt a little bit embarrassed or stupid considering these very basic skills. I realized plenty of things. It makes me angry that this is not something horse people talk about and especially not in riding schools which should be an essential place to learn it. It makes me a little bit disappointed that I have lived my life so far without knowing what I know today, but at the same time I feel very grateful that I now know the right, natural and true way of being with the animals I love. It is really about having fun and train and do things that you think will improve your relationship with the horse.
Learning new things always takes a big portion of patience. I beneficially have a calm personality, which has helped me connect with the horses. Stress and irritation is not a part of our natural behavior, neither is it a part of horse’s behavior. Connecting with horses takes the ability to let go of whatever is in your mind and be totally here and now with the horse, this because that is how horses live their lives, so we better meet them there to be on the same page.
After my realization that I did not really know so much about the language of the horses I have been working hard to understand as much as possible of what the horses are saying, because there is so much communication as long as we are open to look for it and respond to it.
During my time here I´ve tried many different ways of making a schedule of tasks. I came to one point where I noticed that I didn’t have fun all the time because I stuck to my plan and what tasks that needed to be done instead of being flexible with myself and meet the horses in their state of mind. I realized it after some time and in discussion with Stina I was able to open my mind even more to be ready for any change of plan anytime. All it takes is an open mind and some patience and that is the recipe for always having a great time with your horse.
3. Body language
One thing is talking, but I think we say a lot more than we are aware of with our body language. At least that is what I´ve learned. Being with horses this way gets you the opportunity to discover so much about yourself. I didn´t think that much before about where I aimed my gaze in the presence of horses, where I turned my body, how I used my arms and in what height and speed- but now I am very aware of all this. However, this has made me think and use my body language a lot in my daily life, which I have found very useful in social contexts with other animals and humans as well.
4. Horses’ behavior
Natural horsemanship is based on the horse’s natural behavior so I´ve been studying and observing the horses in the herd in a way I have never done before, which has helped me gain a better understanding for the reasons why we are doing the things we are doing. An example is the leading from behind which you can see very clear in the herd. The observations have also helped me to improve my gaze, position and body language since the horse’s way to communicate with each other is based on that. It is also very interesting to observe leadership in the herd, to see that leadership is not about always leading, but a balanced position where the leader is shifting between letting the others lead sometimes and only lead when it is needed/necessary. That defines a good leader. It has helped me a lot in my leader position with the horses and also with people and I think it can inspire more people to get a better relationship with their horses.
We can learn many lessons from horses, the most precious one for me has been the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is very beneficial for the general health and can reduce stress, depression and anxiety. It is also the only way to go when working with horses since the horses are living in the moment. If you are not able to meet them in the moment and share the moment together, you will not have the deep connection and ability to be one with your horse. This is a challenge since we all have our bad days and a lot on our mind. The mare Spirit has been my greatest teacher in this subject; she would get afraid of me if I was not totally there in the presence with her. She taught me that I had to stop for a moment before I was going in the pasture and just breathe and remind myself that whatever is going on in my mind can wait until later. This has also helped me to always have fun with the horses. If I ever will teach children and teenagers about having a horse I will teach them to be flexible with horses, to really feel what day it is for you and what kind of day the horse have that day.
6. Personal development
It has been a personal developmental boost working with the horses in this environment. Stina has a very interesting way of teaching where she explains how to be with horses with how people behave with each other and what is socially accepted and common sense for us. To mention one example is the way we greet each other. We do not start touching each other faces the first time we meet a new person and we respect each other’s personal space.
Sometimes she uses the horses as a comparison with how we would raise children and sometimes how we would behave among our friends – and this has been a great way for me and others to gain a very good understanding in why and when we choose to act like we act with horses.
Some say that when you teach something to others is when you understand how much you actually know. Teaching other students and visitors has helped me a lot to understand what I’m actually doing when everything had become habits. I have had a lot of fun teaching though it really helps people to compare the relationship with the horses to other relationships in your life.
One example is how we teach our kids to behave around the dinner table and to ask nicely and be polite when receiving something- same with horses around food. But it wouldn’t be a good relationship if we always treated our horses, as they are children. It takes practice and knowledge in when to know when you have to treat them like kids and when to treat them like they are your best friends. The balance is extremely important.
7. Going natural
The understanding about that everything is connected with everything has become more and more clear for me during these months. We are not something outside nature and we are sharing this earth with everything that is surrounding us and that all has a great equal value. I think the horse’s part in this is that the traditional way with horses is basically based on what humans would like to do which is best for them in their spare time, there is not so much consideration about what is natural and in agreement with nature and the horse. We create an atmosphere for horses that is suitable for us, which is actually harming the animals we love. We destroy their hooves by putting shoes on their feet and use iron in their mouth to control them instead of following more natural ways.
Horses are nature, humans are nature and nature is nature- the natural horsemanship has inspired me to follow nature in many senses. We can learn so much by just watching them. I have one example of Jack and Darling when Darling got sick. We had them together while she was sick and when she was getting more and more sick, Jack was just there for her. Not worrying, not over caring, not ignoring- he was just there acting the normal he until the moment she closed her eyes and he then went out of the pasture to the other horses. Another example is how the horses pick their food and find what they are lacking, like minerals and herbs.
I’ve taught many people that horses actually have a lot of feelings and thoughts, which surprises many. Horses are fair; they only care about how you are with them and not about how you look or where you come from or anything on the outside. Because they know all that matters is what is inside and how you communicate this to them.
No matter how nerdy this may sound like; I would really like to be more like a horse; mindful, clear, fair, expressive and one with nature.
Seven beautiful months has given me seven important lessons for life that has made my life healthier and with higher quality. Being with horses CAN and SHOULD be a pleasure every day, but that is up to you. I am very grateful that the horses, the nature in St Vincent and the people I’ve met here have led me closer to nature and taught me to go more natural in as many ways as possible in my daily life. But I also know that there is more to come, there are endless lessons the horses would like to teach anyone who is willing to listen.
Open your mind and let yourself be inspired by these wonderful animals!