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Horses and Us Humans

October 20, 2011


 August 16, 2011
Horses and Us Humans

My interest in understanding the body and the nervous system continues to grow.  And understanding how we are related to our animal ancestors and other animals we share this planet with. 
In Peter Levine’s newest book “In An Unspoken Voice:  How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness”, he has a chapter titled  “We are just a bunch of Animals”.    He writes about how as we have become more and more socialized, we are more and more caught in the belief that it is our higher brain that is the wondrous thing about us.  We are less and less connected to our animal nature, our instincts.  He shares a vignette about a nature photographer watching in horror as a wild elephant kicked and kicked the lifeless body of her stillborn calf.  After three hours of watching this gruesome scene the infant stirred.  The mother had resuscitated the calf, bringing him back to life by stimulating his heart.
This was an example of instinct accomplishing a miracle that the higher brain could not have accomplished. Levine, the developer of Somatic Experiencing, says that Darwin “emphasized just how nuanced and intelligent instincts are.”  
Because horses are so big, so powerful and so strong, they are intimidating to most of us.  Unless you are a horse person you probably haven’t thought about the fact that horses are prey animals.  They are grass and hay eaters.  As with other prey animals, a horse’s primary need, primary instinct for survival  is for safety and food.  Not love.  Trust from a horse has to be earned.  You have to prove yourself trustworthy, that you are a safe person to be with.  Horses’ history with human beings is a pretty checkered one.  They have been used and abused.
There is a documentary out now called Buck.  (http://youtube/--u4u_cg7rgIt is the story of Buck Brannaman, the horse whisperer who coached Robert Redford in his role for the movie of that same name.  He grew up severely abused by his alcoholic father and after his mother(who had been some protection for him and his brother)died, he was taken out of the home and placed in a foster family who were very loving and supportive.  He had grown up around horses and always wanted to be a cowboy.  He and his brother performed as cowboys, lassoing, starting when they were 3 and 5. 
Instead of “breaking a horse” through fear, Buck believes in creating a relationship based on respect and instinct.  Because of his own violent childhood he knew what it felt like to be broken, abused and forced.  So, beginning with the empathy he had for the horse, he grew to understand where they were coming from.
In Buck Brannaman’s own words, from his website ( “I’ve started horses since I was 12 years old and have been bit, kicked, bucked off and run over.  I’ve tried every physical means to contain my horse in an effort to keep from getting myself killed. I started to realize that things would come much easier for me once I learned why a horse does what he does.  This method works well for me because of the kinship that develops between horse and rider.”
I want to end with  one more quote from Buck :“Your horse is a mirror to your soul and sometimes you many not like what you  see and sometimes you will.” 
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