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Photo courtesy of  Alessandra Deerinck
Photo courtesy of Alessandra Deerinck

by Alessandra Deerinck

The connection between humans and horses has always been strong and universally evident ... Opposites attract. Horses do not change their surroundings, adapt to survive wherever they find food, water and other horses, and live always alert, completely immersed in the environment. On the other side of the spectrum, man, by nature, tends to modify everything to fulfill his life needs. For example, he builds houses that allow him to live in safety, abstracting himself from the surrounding environment.

When man met the horse he tamed it, because it seemed a resource to improve life ... and so it was! Over the centuries, humans have even modified the original equine species, creating breeds that have genetic traits that can satisfy human needs and desires. The horse has been able to adapt to survive in conditions that are extremely different from the natural ones for him, allowing man to build entire civilizations. Nowadays the original functions that the horse has had in human life are performed by mechanical means, but, once again, due to their flexible nature, horses still find a place in our life as men of the twenty-first century.

The flexible nature of the horse

The profoundly free and flexible behavior of horses is so rooted in the genetic code that it always returns to the surface even after centuries of living in the domestic state, in which man kept horses while trying to modify them. The adaptation to the human environment that the horse has developed is fascinating and even more so is the opposite phenomenon: the horse’s return to the wild after being domesticated. The populations of the so-called "wild horses" that are found nowadays scattered all over the world testify this. Think of the American Mustangs or the Australian Brumbies, derived from domestic horses that escaped and have readapted to live in the wild after being genetically modified to serve the human needs.

Even the only horse that was truly wild, the Przewalsky’s horse (in Mongolia), survived extinction after being bred in captivity and reintroduced into the wild. Thus, also this horse, which differs genetically from the domestic species by the number of chromosomes, has been influenced by man. Thinking about other domesticated animal species, such as dogs, cats and cattle, none of them has been as successful as the horse! Once returned to its natural state, the horse that finds others of its kind reorganizes into families and over time forms herds, harmoniously reconnecting with the earth, nature and other creatures that populate the territory that surrounds them.

Life in a herd has a very important effect on the domestic horse, intended to be used in equestrian sports. There are many breeders who keep their horses in a semi-wild state for the first years of their life, allowing the foals to live with the herd of mares and receive a real "good social education" in equine terms. In their natural state, horses are social animals that live in herds. The character of each individual is developed initially by interactions with the mother and then through life with the herd. This process, necessary for the complete development and well-being of an individual of the equine species, ensures that the horse finds its place in the order of the herd that exists in the horse community and is based on territory and pecking order. It has been observed that horses that do not experience social interactions are often individuals with a difficult personality, dominant or submissive rather than balanced. These horses have no desire to interact with other individuals, be they human or equines and this can lead to problems when the subjects are ridden or worked on the ground.

The human-horse relationship

The past century has seen many changes in the way in which man relates to the horse. It is a fact that the horse has taken a different position in our human reality. Since horses are no longer just a life necessity, people who opt to have one in their life do it freely and try to make it a pleasure. Although the use that man makes of the horse has taken on many connotations, it is interesting to note how the horse's behavior towards humans has not undergone changes over time. Equine behavior is so deeply rooted in the genetic code that even the most overwhelming genetic selection only scratches the surface, without touching the deep character of freedom of the horse's nature. Instead, it is interesting to see how the horse manages to reach human nature in all its nuances, adapting to the time in which we live.

The communication between human and horse

Despite the most recent trends aimed at finding a true communication channel between human and horse, unfortunately the methods mainly used still involve training by conditioning, the use of tack, repetitive exercises, containment structures and sometimes the use of coercion. Furthermore, this fact often goes unnoticed. What happens between men and horses is a monologue rather than a dialogue, and the horse is very rarely left free to express his opinion. Many have worked in this last century to understand the needs of the horse and communicate with him. New horizons have been explored, ranging from science, where communication has been investigated from an anatomical, biomechanical, physiological and psychological point of view, to more spiritual aspects, where we use our intellectual skills to reach the horses. All these approaches are always implemented while remaining in a human mode, a dimension that appears alien to the horse and often even a source of fear for him. There are many examples of those who have studied horses, but very rare are those who really went to study the natural behavior of the horse, looking for an answer in the response to our actions, from horse to man.

In the light of time, culture, scientific studies and my professional experience, I have thoroughly studied the interaction between humans and horses and I observed objectively how communication occurs naturally.

I have applied the information gained from this approach to the interaction between humans and horses in many different contexts, from breeding to training, competition and exhibition in events. Experience has suggested to me the possibility of carrying out profound and innovative changes in the relational and communicative modality between man and horse, making a radical transition from an interaction based on training to giving a structure to the interspecific communication that occurs spontaneously at any moment.

The communication present in the interaction between man and horse can be managed through intentional movements that take into account the content, the modality and the sense through which the information is perceived; this applies both to movements performed from the ground (which involve communicating through sight, hearing and touch) and to movements performed in the saddle (which involve communicating through touch and hearing).

The interaction that I found being effective has the same meaning for man and horse, is maintained in the social context of the relationship, involves the use of concepts that are instinctive for man and horse and does not include the use of force or fear.

The result is a system for communicating with the horse through behavior, in a dynamic dialogue with an approach that always takes into consideration both sides, human and equine. The book “Human Horse Sensing Horsemanship” illustrates this way of interacting spontaneously and purposefully with horses in any circumstance.

This model allows us to manage the situation in the exact moment in which it occurs, modulating and remodeling it, moment by moment.

This type of approach to work with horses in a purposeful way, using clear and understandable communication for man and horse allows to relate to the horse without having to condition him to respond to our actions. This way of communicating that allows a spontaneous approach to the relationship between man and horse can easily be learned not through imitation, because it has no aspects without explanation or attributed to personal skills. What will be possible to do when men and horses meet and truly understand each other spontaneously is part of the near future!

There are more interesting articles in our sections on Health & Education and Books.

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