I started riding when I was eight years old. For all these years, my horse world has been my safe haven. It’s where I find joy, love, trust, and hope. In my professional career, I teach our volunteers how to build healthy foundational relationships with students. That is innate in me and in some recent reflection it’s because of how I have built foundational relationships with my horses.
I have a yearling, which for those of you not familiar with the horse world, that’s a 1-year-old horse, and no, ponies are a type of horse, not baby horses. I was out visiting her in the field the other day and it had been some time since I had really spent some quality time with her. Throughout my visit, I had to keep reminding me of the essentials in building a relationship with a young horse. As I started traveling home, I realized that these essentials can help all of us show up to build healthy, foundational relationships around us.
1. No agenda.
Horses have this uncanny sense when you show up if you are in for the long haul. You have to act like you have all the time in the world to spend with them. When I show up and immediately want out of them what I came to hope would happen, it often takes me twice as long as it needs to, but the whole time, I’m frustrated that this isn’t working on my timeframe.
People are the same way. When we show up in whatever relationship just to show up, people can read that. But when we show up to get our needs met and our to-dos crossed off, we are showing up with an agenda in hand ready to go. Not to mention, when we want to check off a box on our to-do list, it will take twice as long as it needs to be. People don’t want to be a project — they want to be your friend, your community, your village.
2. Leave your stuff at the gate (or door in this conversation).
Horses mimick your energy. If you’ve had a bad day from getting in trouble at work or had a difficult conversation, we often carry that previous event with us for the rest of the day. I often find myself ruminating over a conversation, email, or interaction for the remainder and then as I enter into the pasture or the stall to get my horse, my tension, frustration, anxiety, or whatever, gets translated over to my horse. I find that my horse will pick up whatever I’m putting off. But it’s not my horse’s fault about that email, that hard conversation, or that interaction. My horse shows up in our relationship as helpful, willing, and loving, but the real question is how am I showing up? That doesn’t mean that we can’t be our authentic selves, it just means that I no longer have to carry over the issues of the day, and it definitely means my horse doesn’t have to pick them up.
We show up to our friends, family, or village with all the stresses, mishaps, etc. of the day and our people take the brunt of it. But what if we checked some of that baggage at the door? I think it’s still possible to show up and be our true selves by sharing that baggage without unloading it on someone else and then being upset when they get dumped on and act accordingly.
3. It’s all in how you present yourself.
Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it”? When I show up to greet my horse and already have a tone with her, she knows. Then I proceed to get on and ask for more and she immediately she goes from wanting to please and help to feeling like she’s being nagged or poked and prodded. But it all started with me and how I presented myself to her. We do this all the time in relationships. We are shocked when others around us get their feelings hurt or are offended, but yet we showed up to that relationship with a tone in our voice, an eye roll, or a sarcastic comment.
My mom used to tell me all the time that I could catch more bees with honey than I could with vinegar. Usually my response was something about that I needed people to take me seriously or change their actions or behavior, but in turn she was right. People want to be valued: seen, heard, and accepted, and so how I show up and present myself and what I have to say, depends all on how it’s shared. Is it encouraging, loving, compassionate or the opposite?
4. Respect goes both ways.
Horses are still animals even if they have been domesticated and living in a barn stall. They long to be loved and cared for, but need hard boundaries. Even from a young age, we teach them to walk with a halter on them and lead them by a lead rope while walking next to you. A hard boundary from the beginning is that they don’t walk on top of you while you are leading them. But there is nothing like letting an animal that weighs a ton or more walk next to you with a piece of rope connecting you to remind you that they are still animals.
When horses learn that they will be treated fairly and loved unconditionally, they will do anything for you within their ability. But often times, we take advantage of them and of others. We push boundaries with people. It might start slowly and just a little push, but before you know it, we are walking on top of them. When don’t treat others fairly and with unconditional love, they lose respect and the ability to know what’s going to happen next and then reaction happen. Respect is a two way street and when we treat others with respect within their’s and our boundaries and treat them fairly with unconditional love, most people will do anything they can to be there for you.
5. Make love your intention.
We are human and we screw up. It’s going to happen — it’s inevitable. Not only have I screwed up with horses but I continuously screw up with those around me. Here’s what I keep coming back to in those moments, is what was my intention? If my intention was out of love, kindness, and compassion, then most people will realize my intentions, no matter the outcome. But then there are those times, that love, kindness, and compassion weren’t at the root of my actions and I need to own it and apologize. When we train horses, it’s one in the same. I’m continuously learning how to train horses; it’ll be never ending just like learning how to be in relationships with others will be never ending. But my hope is that my horses know and trust me because my intentions are always rooted in love and what’s best for them.
Building healthy relationships around you is hard — there’s no doubt about that. But when you can make sure that you are showing up in a way that opens yourself up to building trust and healthy communication, it eliminates that much more between you and the other person. My encouragement to you is to take some time and reflect on your current relationships, and then ask yourself if you are showing up with all five of these pieces. If not, figure out what’s in the way and how to make it happen.
All you can do in this world is control your reaction and actions, but I can tell you from years of working with horses, that the response when we show up authentically, compassionately, and lovingly with these five pieces, it’s highly noted and can make a world of difference!