Fight, Flight, or Responsive Change by Beth-Marie Gardner

the future is female Jan 19, 2018


There is a primal feel, a collective heartbeat most humans have become mute to. The way thousands of starlings fly together and never bump into each other, the way a school of fish moves, the way a herd of horses flow over the land…. in complete unity.
Horses communicate with each other in the same way a murmuration of starlings communicate with each other... through something called feel.  Feel is a metaphysical truth.  It’s more like aikido than rodeo. This primal feel it is not magic, it is science and art joined and married together.  Feel is as old as nature, as old as time.

Horses don't have an executive reasoning ability.  They are thoroughly in the moment.  They are responding to the feel of the stimulus around them, the habits they have learned, and their innate needs.  Human and horse, predator and prey, together we create a partnership that inherently demands that we seek peace, that we challenge our innate weaknesses that we stretch, develop and grow.  Horses literally become our feet and we become their mind. This is the marriage of a true horseman and his horse. 

We humans have an ability to change through reactivity or response.  My goal in all I do is to change through a mindful response verses an emotional reaction.  The difference between responding and reacting is the difference between fight/flight, and making a conscious choice.  The work of a change maker, a horseman, is one who requests a responsive change in a horse.  Requesting is different from demanding.  Many trainers break colts and make horses into what they want to fulfill their agenda. The horse is a means to an end. The life and the relationships I am interested in with my humans and equines is one in which I step out of my predatory mode and I come from the place foremost of respecting the other’s sovereignty. Respecting others as a sovereign being is the beginning of radical empathy and the ability to play with feel. What I want to be to my horses and my people is a capable leader and decision maker that creates play, freedom and access to parts of themselves that are liberated through collective change and development. 

When horses live in a herd they decide upon a hierarchy. Each horse has a set role that the herd delegates. My lead horse is Arthur. He is a horse’s horse. He is fair and benevolent. He creates safety around him. His job is not one that he necessarily wants but the herd has chosen him as their boss. When I join the herd to feed hay or involve myself in their system, I become the leader. Arthur defers to me. How did I secure my role as herd leader? Through decades of failure and learning. I do not maintain my position in the heard by coercion or treats. I don't hand feed my horses or reward them with sugar cubes. I don't do it with big bits and whips and harsh hands. I have learned to be a leader by coming to know the horse. I have completely committed myself for many years to hours and hours a week of being a student to the horse. I have a teacher that is my guide who I have completely committed to learning from. I have traveled around the country seeking more knowledge. It has been at times exhausting and excruciatingly frustrating but my stubbornness has served me well. I just don't quit. I have not mastered any of this. I may never come close to mastering this. I am on a journey that could last many life times. I'm committed to continually learning to tap into the same feel that a murmuration of starlings understand as they fly grouped in thousands, as a singular being.

One of the profound gifts of my work with horses is that the foundational principles of horsemanship are based on a solid, ultimate truth that transcends all of life. If I can translate the truth of horsemanship to my relationships with my people I can learn to respond to them in an emotional collection that frees us up for true intimacy, respect and empathy. 


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