|Written by Rohan More|
“The outside of a horse is very good for the inside of a man”: - Sir Winston Churchill. Never were truer words spoken. Since time immemorial, horses have always held man in their thrall. There is magic in them, and those touched by it will stand witness to this fact.
In my line of work, as a riding instructor, I get to see this magic every single day and be enchanted by it every time I touch a horse’s silky smooth muzzle.
Horses and horse riding is now being recognized as a very effective means of therapy in the west, from simple act of providing good exercise to a complex one of de-stressing, horse riding also is a source of spiritual development. So effective has it been found that, even management training gurus use this as a means to teach and learn.
Children benefit immensely from taking part in this exceptional sport. Aside from Riding being an extremely physical sport, which develops strength and stamina. The “up down, forward backward” movement encourages balance and muscle coordination. This is being used as a very successful form of therapy for children suffering from Downs Syndrome. The benefits however are not completely related to the physical self; the advantages to the psyche are numerous. The fact that you can ride and control an animal that weighs 12 to 15 times as much as you do gives tremendous confidence to a young rider. Most children are not content with merely riding a horse. They love to interact with the horses by grooming, bathing and feeding them. This also teaches responsibility and encourages love for animals.
The advantages of horse riding are not limited to children only. They extend to all ages and types of people. Just observing a herd of horses out in a paddock can teach you a lot.
The first lesson I try and teach people about horses is that how they are so different from people and yet so similar. Their pack structure is one that resembles a large corporate organization. Typically its very pyramidal, at the top you have the alpha male (the stallion) he controls the whole pack, he is the boss horse. And though he has all the female horses of his harem at his disposal, he also has to work the hardest to keep his herd safe and sound from predators and other horses that want to steal away his females. So for all that privilege he has to pay a great price “complete responsibility“. If he manages his pack well enough then the numbers will grow and the will prosper, but if he doesn’t take care of his herd then they will voluntarily leave for other herds, or be stolen by smarter competitors. Second levels of horses in the pack called the “matriarchs” are a sort of board of directors that backs up the Alpha male. They function teachers and disciplinarians. They also help keep a watch for danger. These horses have and average of 68% less rest than the others. Sounds like a familiar corporate occurance?
There are many therapies that involve horses; some of the simpler ones are listed below.
The simplest of them all is some thing that I call “predator versus prey vision” It draws its concept from a the fact that humans now days do not use their peripheral vision and hence often tend to miss out on details.
The exercise is as follows:- the subject is to stand looking at a field of horses and observe them. Most obvious thing that is done is that we tend to single out one object and focus on it. This is a prime example of how a predator sees; it is almost like the cross hairs of a rifle, just the target, everything else is shut out.
The prey animals tend to have a broader viewing. Their tendency is to look at the whole scene, and be able to take in all the details. They do this so that they can detect any irregularity in the surroundings that might indicate danger. We call the few people who are capable of this attribute to posess a sixth sense, when in reality all they are doing is being able to take in all the data from the surroundings and making a simple conclusion. Something that is not a very difficult task, and is possible for us.
All it needs is a simple exercise, you stand looking at a vast open space and slowly allow you vision fields to relax and with out moving your eye balls try to see more with your peripheral vision. It takes a fair bit of practice but once you have got the hang of it, there are some pretty good pay offs
One of the most beautiful things about horses is the tremendous sense of calm that they can instill in you. A nice way to experience this is to try the exercise below with a quiet calm horse. (With lots of stress on the calm part, highly-strung racehorses DO NOT qualify).
The exercise is as follows:- place your hands against the horses chest and hug it. Try and feel its breathing, try and synchronize its breathing with yours, like the horse breathe in and out completely. Slowly you will feel the same sense of calm that the horse possesses. This exercise has its roots in Pranayam. Another way is to so this just after a ride where both you and the horse are breathing hard. The slow return to normal breathing is very comforting and serves as an excellent means of bonding with your horse.
In my 30 years that I have lived I have spent 28 of them among horses. Some of my best lessons in life I learnt from them. Maybe some time you could try and be touched by them and the magic that lies within one of the noblest of beasts ever created, the horse.