One of the guiding principles at Hidden Acres is that all healing and growth take place in the present moment within the context of the attuned, connected relationship. Our primary goal in all horse-human interactions is the promotion of a healthy relationship. Bettina and Tim Jobe of the Natural Lifemanship Institute state that good relationship principles are good principles for every relationship in life- horse, human or otherwise. Therefore, by teaching good relationship skills with a horse, we are teaching good skills for relationships with other people.
There are some basic building blocks to healthy relationships. When a person first enters the round pen with me and a horse it quickly becomes apparent that to start building a relationship we first must have the attention of our potential relationship partner. Without gaining our partner’s attention we cannot even begin to attempt to communicate, build trust, or engage in a healthy way. We often spend several sessions with a horse before clients are comfortable asking for and maintaining their horse’s attention. But the beauty is that it is very easy to know when we have our horse’s attention. The horse’s large size and clear body language make it simple to see where their attention is focused. And they never, ever pretend to be paying attention to something if they are not.
The second relationship principle we teach is that to develop trust in a relationship both partners must experience vulnerability with each other. We cannot fully engage in a relationship until we let our guard down, and allow our partner to show us they are trustworthy. Likewise, we must demonstrate to our partner that we can be trusted. The horse’s massive strength makes us inherently vulnerable when we are near them. The horse’s nature as a prey animal makes them vulnerable to us, because humans are natural predators. This dynamic creates the ideal setting to practice vulnerability in relationships. We will engage in many activities with the horse designed to establish and build trust between two vulnerable relationship partners.
Once a tentative bond is formed between person and horse, we can introduce the concept of reciprocity. Reciprocity is the establishment of a rhythmic back and forth, give and take between partners. It is the foundation of communication, the sense of “your turn, my turn” that allows partners to first be acknowledged and then to acknowledge their partner. Through activities such as breathing together, walking together, scratching each other and sharing attention with each other, horse and person develop a predictable pattern of relating and lay the groundwork for true intentional communication which lies just ahead.
These three basic relationship principles: attention, vulnerability and reciprocity, are the necessary foundation for every healthy relationship. Practicing these principles with horses allows people to explore how and why they are so important, and how to recognize when something has gone awry in developing a connected relationship with a partner.