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A Horse’s Instincts

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What is Instinct?

Instinct is not a fixed quality. It grows and adapts. It changes. Everyone’s instincts can be different. Our instincts and our horses’ instincts are also different.

Horses are prey animals and humans are predators so our instincts come from different perspectives.

We are always learning from our mistakes which makes us and our instincts flexible and fluid.

So it’s not that far from normal to see humans and horses having trouble now and again understanding each other or communicating.

However, understanding your horse’s instincts can help you reach your horse on his own terms, in his own world.

Now there is a difference between instincts and feelings. People say, “feel what your horse is feeling and this will connect the two of you”. This is true, but it takes more than that to connect at a deeper level.

You also have to understand your horse’s emotions as well as his or her instincts. Feelings are fleeting. They are only on the surface. But emotions are deeper, just like instincts. But instincts are even more primal.

When you don’t understand what you’re seeing, listen with your emotions. Listen to what’s calling inside. Tap into your emotions and try to understand your horse’s instincts.

Let me give you an example of an instinct I’ve seen with my horses.

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I’ve noticed my horses don’t like neediness in a person. I think it’s their instinct for a safe environment. They want to be around a person who they feel is safe and someone who can protect them.

I’m not sure if it is just my horses because they were rescues or if it is just the horses I was attracted to and purchased.

But regardless, it has been every single one of them. Even my little 15-month Friesian Merlin.

Here is how I first noticed this…

When I was first learning how to connect at a deeper level with Jazz and Apollo, I would go out and sit with them for 15-30 minutes. I would sit there and say to myself that I wanted them to come over to me and stand next to me, or say hello, or just be closer.

I would think and think about it and even start to wonder why they weren’t coming over to me and I would get frustrated or sad thinking that they didn’t want to be around me.

Sometimes they would even look up from the other side of the arena and I would think, “Yes, this is it”. But unfortunately they would just put their head back down and eat or sniff the ground. Sometimes they would walk even farther away from me.

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This definitely was giving me a complex.

Before I learned how important hanging out with my horses was, I would just go get them, put a halter on, bring them in, groom them, tack them up, and go riding. And I gave them lots of TLC in between all that other stuff.

I never thought I had an issue with connection before I started hanging out with them. I never thought we weren’t connected. But the first time I just hung out with my horses and didn’t ask anything from them, they didn’t want anything to do with me.

That’s when I realized I wasn’t as connected as I thought I was. I didn’t have the relationship that I thought I did. Bummer! I was really disappointed. But this is also when I realized how needy I was with my horses.

Every time I would hang out with my horses I couldn’t stop thinking and wanting them to pay attention to me. And instead of my neediness getting better, it got worse. I overthink a lot.

My trainer at the time just laughed at me and kept telling me to stop being so needy. That was easier said than done. But my trainer didn’t tell me how to do that. So, it was really tough for me to figure out on my own.

Then I took a book into the pasture because I wanted to see if hanging out longer would help and I didn’t want to be bored. The session started out the same with my needing them to pay attention to me and then after a while I gave up and started to read.

I got so intrigued with the book that I forgot why I was in the pasture and low and behold, there was Jazz behind me looking over my shoulder. At first it scared me because I had not seen him or heard him walk over to me.

I don’t know how long he had been there either. I noticed when he snorted and made a noise. I swear he was laughing at me when I almost jumped out of my chair.

Then of course I was so happy he was there I started to talk to him and pet him. What did he do? He walked away from me and turned his butt towards me. Well, back to sad I went.

You know me, then I had to try to figure it out and over analyze. But I went back to reading and again got caught up with my book. And then sure enough, Jazz was right there with me. This time I just went back to reading and let him stand there.

Then Apollo showed up and they both stood there next to me as if reading with me. I was so happy, I just kept reading. After a while I realized they had both gone to sleep right next to me and I had finished my book.

I was so happy. I could feel the connection between the two of them deepening and the deep-down joy in my own heart. It was incredible. That’s when I realized Jazz and Apollo didn’t like my neediness.

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They preferred a happy, calm, easy going person to be around. Someone safe.

When I looked at my current experiences hanging out with Jazz and Apollo reading a book, the lightbulb went off in my head.

Aha! It’s the neediness, they don’t like it. After that moment, I practiced being relaxed and willing to go with the flow and enjoy every moment with my horses whether we were doing something or nothing at all.

It worked every time.

So, today’s lesson:

  • If you are having issues connecting with your horse, especially when you don’t have any tack on, try letting go of that need.
  • If you don’t feel a deep heart-to-heart connection with your horse, try reading an interesting, uplifting book while hanging out with your horse and see what your horse does.
  • If you really want your horse to pay attention to you over anything else, let go of your neediness, be patient, and wait for the magic to happen.


I hope you and your horse find the magic in each other’s company always.

Until next week, Happy Horses!

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