When you’re around horses, magical things can happen. It connects you to the person you really are, deep down. More and more people realise that horses are able to ‘mirror’ us, and make us aware of how we’re living our lives. ‘Horse coach’ is a relatively new profession that’s becoming more and more popular: the horses are the teachers, the human coach simply translates what’s happening.
In a workshop with horse coach Piet Nibbelink, journalist Roos Tesselaar found out how deeply some people are connected to horses. Piet says horses know exactly what we’re feeling: ‘They’re able to see right through pretences, they know what’s beneath. You can’t fool a horse, it knows from a distance how you’re doing. A horse responds to your emotions, mirrors them. If you’re uncertain, the horse will be uncertain. If you’re afraid, the horse will be afraid. But if you can be rash like a child, the horse will frolic like a colt.’
In Piets lessons and courses, he invites people to really see the ‘mirrors on four legs’. The horses walk freely around you, without a rope, without a saddle. They can be themselves, and that’s why they’re able to show us a realistic mirror: one without scratches or cracks, that doesn’t transform us, nor flatters us. Piet: ‘A horse confronts you with everything you’re taking with you, and it’s not always pleasant. A psychologist once told me: I need quite a couple of sessions to find out how a person is doing, the horse clarifies it in a few hours.’
How is it possible that horses feel what we feel? A horse has antennas that reach for meters. We’re used to them living in a stable, but in their genes, horses are still prey animals – and vulnerable. If the vegetarians wanted to survive in nature, they had to be extremely alert and sensitive. The smallest signal could be of vital importance. Even now that horses have been domesticated for thousands of years, their emotional antennas are just as strong.
They don’t fall for sweet talk, it doesn’t mean a thing to them. There’s only one language they understand, and it’s body language – a language we’re don’t master well, according to coach Piet, because we’re unaware of what our bodies are expressing. We don’t listen to our trembling hearts, ignore a cramp in our necks and shoulders and don’t realise we’re staring at others with a blank eye. Our breathing, heartbeat, posture and muscle tension, however, tell horses everything they need to know.
‘We can’t lie to horses, nor can they lie to us. If a horse feels unsafe with you, he’ll keep a distance. He’ll only come up to you if he feels you’ll treat him well, if he trusts you. He sees you as a leader: someone who’s insightful, is able to look past the horizon, has a natural authority. A good leader is essential for the herd’s wellbeing. Horses know immediately who’s able to lead,’ Piet says.
The beauty of it is: horses keep giving you a new chance. ‘They live in the now. They take an honest look at you, without any knowledge, without judgment. No matter how difficult it is to be with them, as soon as you change your approach, they react on it. They see you the way you are then, it doesn’t matter what you were like before. Besides, they’re very forgiving: they forgive you for your mistakes and accept your apology. That’s why they’re such great teachers. They can handle a lot, as long as the intention is good.’
‘Horses give us an experience that makes us grow, makes us become more of a person,’ is Piets conviction. ‘They show who you are – at least, if you’re ready to take a look in the mirror. I often say: people help you develop yourself. In the course of live, you’ve grown lots of layers, starting as a baby: with diapers, clothing, rules, values, your parents’ issues and so on. If you peel off all the layers, you’ll get to your essence.’
If you walk away from your issues, from your feelings, the horse will walk away, too. That’s because your signals are mixed. The horse wants a simple, clear message. ‘It’s about acknowledging your feelings, being congruent. If you pretend to be different than you are, it’s confusing – to you, and to the horse.’
Text: Roos Tesselaar – Photo: Lisa Lyne Blevins
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