Updated: Dec 24, 2021
When it comes to horses, the term connection is used often. People generally use it to explain the emotional bond between a horse and a person, or to describe the physical exchange established through the aids when riding. However, there is something else happening here that is actually quite extraordinary, and it's much more than the horse simply "hooking on" and following us around.
There is a link that can be generated between horse and human that's best referred to as an energetic connection. Because of the horses' natural reflective tendencies (The Reflective Tendencies of Horses), we can create energetic ties with them that feel as if we are bound by invisible tethers. Energy can be potent, and if we learn how to capture, control, and diffuse it in ways that communicate things to horses, we can establish connections that feel unlike anything else.
Energy is everything. It's what life is made of. It can't be created or destroyed - only exchanged or transformed. It's a universal language because it is information that is constantly being passed around between all entities. It's part of our body language. It's given off emotionally. It's in our eye contact. We can send energy, summon it, receive it, hold it, direct it, release it, and absorb it. It is simply what makes interaction and cause and effect possible.
A grazing horse will respond to his environment by momentarily holding onto energy that stimulates him enough to take him out of his neutral rhythm. This is alertness. The alertness causes a spike in adrenaline, which summons physiological energy reserves that will enable him to take flight if necessary. This energy must be diffused in some way. If the stimulus is well under the horse's flight threshold, he will likely release the energy by blowing through his nostrils and going back to grazing. If the stimulus approaches his threshold, he may feel the need to investigate it before depleting his energy reserve through flight. If the stimulus retreats, he might feel drawn towards it, or he may snort in it's scent to obtain more information. If the stimulus takes him over threshold, he will run to diffuse the compiled energy before stopping and turning around to re-evaluate the situation from a safer distance. Regardless of the reaction, he must release the energy in some way to diffuse the tension it creates in his body.
We are predators. Our simple presence can trigger alertness in horses. The more sensitive a horse is to his environment, the quicker he will respond to our presence in his vicinity. Feral horses may be alerted to the energy that your presence creates hundreds of feet sooner than domesticated horses because in many cases their survival has depended on this level of energetic awareness. A domesticated horse may be well aware of your approach from quite a distance but may not feel alerted until you reach his individual threshold of what he will tolerate energetically.
It's our job as practitioners of relationship-based horsemanship to understand where these individual thresholds are, and learn to utilize them to communicate and connect with our horses. Liberty work helps us locate their fields of energetic awareness and energetic tolerance so we can remain within their comfort zones as we work with them. If we stimulate our horses while being careful to stay under their flight threshold, we can use their natural inclinations to create elastic energetic connections with them that spark their curiosity and enrich our relationships. We do this by developing control over how the energy from the stimulus is diffused.
THE ENERGETIC LANGUAGE
One of the ways we can enhance our communication with horses is to teach them a clear cue system. We apply the cue we would like the horse to learn and then bridge it to an energetic stimulus. We immediately release the stimulus when the horse tries to find the correct response. This is a binary system (Building Language with Horses Through Binary Code) of communicating because we are using the presence of energy vs. its absence to convey meaning to the horse. This is the horse's natural means of communication. It's how they interact with each other in a herd. We can initiate this sort of communication with something as simple as waving a bandana or piece of cloth, and stopping instantly when the horse's mind is on the cloth. The horse learns that he can control the stimulus, and begins to understand that there is something to figure out while we are in session with him.
All language gets to the point where it becomes more than a binary system. During the process of developing our horse's attention span and building a fundamental cue system, we begin to form an energetic connection with him. Working in a round pen can keep us within close enough proximity to establish rhythm with the horse while we polarize sending (stimulus) and receiving (retreat) energies. As we work on isolating these two opposing forces, we begin to develop an energetic feel for the balance point in between, followed by a feel for all of the varying degrees of connection along the spectrum. This is when we start achieving a shared flow state with our horse that feels like dancing. So essentially, what we are doing is strengthening the horse's own natural energetic language to a point where we have created a floating neutral zone where the horse begins to hover during our interaction. And within this neutral zone we can then begin to refine the communication even further.
Now this is a beautiful way of interacting with horses but the energetic connection goes even deeper ...
We are all made up of energy. Our bodies are surrounded by an invisible field of energy that radiates off of us and dissipates gradually as it moves off into the space around us. It is well researched by the HeartMath Institute, that our heart rate variability (HRV) corresponds directly to how we are feeling emotionally. Our hearts beat more rhythmically when we are in pleasant (coherent) states of mind, and more erratically when we are stressed out (incoherent). Our hearts also generate significantly more electro-magnetic energy than the rest of our organs. This energy can be detected in an electrocardiogram external to one's body. So our energy is not just inside of us. It's all around us and can be perceived. This is probably why we can often feel good or bad "vibes" coming off of the people around us. Our horses are much more perceptive to energy than we are, which means it's only logical that they will be more sensitive to heart rate frequencies than we are as well. So emotional energy can play a huge part in communicating with horses energetically.
Just like with people, horses will respond to us in different ways depending on our emotional state. Applying a cue with erratic emotion will give you a much different response than if it's applied with calmness or love. Calmness and love also make us more careful, mindful, and clear. Horses are drawn to coherent states and repelled by incoherence. Subconsciously so are we. This is most likely the case because the natural, neutral state of life IS coherence. It is when we are in our most efficient, optimal state of being. When all our systems are in energetic alignment with one another, there is no friction of conflict, and the rhythm and flow established as a result creates momentum that can help push us through incoherent states should they arise. Being able to summon coherence at will, particularly calmness, is one of the most important skills a horseman can have. Our horsemanship also offers us a way of practicing this skill so we are improving continuously.
Being aware and in control of our energy offers us a chance to experience the beautiful subtleties of the present moment. It helps us understand patience and the benefits of stillness. There is immense power that can come from energy gathered within stillness when released skillfully.
Energy is directed through intention. Intention is what we are authentically focused on in the moment. Just as a laser is an acute form of light, we can create potent energetic effects by shooting compiled energy towards a target with intention and precision. This is the difference between a dominant horse and a true alpha. The dominant horse will often move another horse by sending energy out chaotically, spreading its effect over a wider area, and thereby wasting valuable energy reserves. The alpha uses precision over power. He will minimize his energetic output, moving other horses by directing energy towards smaller, more accurate targets. He is prepared to follow through, and there is certainty in his intention. You cannot fake true intention to a horse. This would make you incongruent, and the horse would perceive you as incapable of maintaining the awareness that makes him feel as safe with you as he does when he is within the collective awareness of the herd.
There is a saying, "energy flows where awareness goes”. When we focus on sensory awareness, and tune in deeply enough, we are able to read the horse's subtle responses to our energetic pushes and pulls. Our acknowledgement of these responses strengthens and shapes them to the point where elasticity develops within this connection. This is energetic feel. The best way I can explain energetic feel, is that it's the sensation of where the horse begins to feel for you while you are feeling for him.
Because horses are so sensitive to energetic imbalances, we can use fluctuations in energy to teach them things and help guide them towards answers with energetic feel. We can use anything that can be released as a way of communicating. Our release in response to a specific behavior from our horse is what teaches him. Everything from eye contact to muscle tension ... even mental visualization can be perceived by horses if they are attentive to us.
Energetic feel requires conscious participation from both horse and human, so this sort of interaction can only happen when our horsemanship is practiced from a relationship-based standpoint. We want to build our leadership skills authentically and sharpen our horses to the connection, not desensitize them. Desensitization is what causes horses to become shut down, unresponsive, and unmotivated, which dulls them to the energetic connection.
As we become better at communicating with our horses, our feel becomes more refined. We begin to reach for information and explore the range of our senses. We look deeper, scanning for the slightest effects we have on our horses so we can release to the most subtle changes. This tunes our horses in deeper as well. They begin to speak to us more because we are acknowledging their attempts to communicate, and the conversation becomes continuously more refined to the point of teetering on the brink of telepathy. After all, what is thought if it is not yet just another form of energy.
THE ENERGETIC CONNCETION
The energetic connection can be mesmerizing and it's something the horses seem to desire as much as we do. It makes sense to them because it is simply a refinement of a universal language they already understand. More advanced liberty horses get good at honing in on super subtle signals. They tune into all of the varying degrees, intensities, and directions of energy that we exchange with them from moment to moment, and respond to us as if they are part of our own bodies. The horse co-regulates us through the experience, helping us maintain the connection even when our human minds try to pull us out of the moment. There is balance, give and take, with the lead dynamic and ever-changing. We freestyle together with the leader switching back and forth based on what feels right in the moment. This sort of work empowers the horse and stimulates his desire to interact, while also keeping him respectful of our guidance and confident in our ability to lead him.
The energetic connection is lively, organic, and full of vibration. My best days are when I am alone with the horses, and in a deep mindfulness state with a coherent heart. I get pulled into a universal current of ebb and flow and feel as bound within my horse's energetic field as he does in mine. It's a primal experience. I can seriously feel the waves of energy all around me. This phenomenon has given me the most bone chilling moments and I can honestly say I love it more than riding. It verifies the existence of the beautiful invisible forces that surround us, and shows us how to harness energy in ways that make it feel absolutely tangible. I think this is the most magical part of working with horses and it's something that inspires and challenges me everyday.