Contagious

Here’s an article I wrote for Rosie Withey at Horses-As-Teachers last month

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The amount of sheer enjoyment I get from just watching horses would make most people think I’m totally crazy. Hours, days, weeks… it’s been 28 years now and I’m still no less awestruck. Young horses, especially. The curiosity present in the eyes and actions of a young horse is one of the most joyous sights to behold.

I find it sort of infectious. When I spend time around eager, inquisitive horses I feel my own keenness to leap, buck and use this capable body of mine to explore as much as I possibly can of the world around me; make use of all my senses; be sure to see, touch, taste, smell, hear everything.

This infectiousness of feelings is a subject I find endlessly interesting. I suppose it is something akin to what renowned horsewoman Lucy Rees describes in horse behaviour as synchrony – horses have evolved so successfully over millions of years by being in sync as a herd… both physically and emotionally; one horse’s heart rate skyrockets and the others all follow suit. Again, more wonderful behaviour to observe. And I think if you observe human emotion, its clear we’re wired in similar ways too. Consider the infectiousness of laughter…

Perhaps an awareness of our body’s ability to emotionally synchronise could help us understand our feelings in certain situations more clearly, as its not just the positive emotions that are infectious. I recall the period of my life that I spent working on a horse stud further south, backing and schooling horses to classical dressage principles. I’d watch the 3 year olds, bold and full of zest in their paddocks, full of the curiosity I admire. I was there to learn their high class training methods and felt privileged to do so, yet I surprised myself with the feelings of unease that began to bubble up from inside me as I watched the lively curiosity and shining-bright spirit of these youngsters being dampened as they were confined to boxes and circles in indoor schools. I noticed their frustration as they pawed the ground and fidgeted for freedom between the cross-ties, I noticed their boredom as they spent yet another day on the end of a lunge line between 4 walls. I wondered, at the time, why I was feeling bored and frustrated too. As the light behind their eyes shone less bright each day with every expression of opinion being ignored or shut down, I felt the spirit in me dimming too. Sometimes our ability to sync with the feelings of those around us really sucks, especially if we’re unable to recognise where the feelings might be coming from.

I suppose life circumstances can do to us humans what so many methods of ’training’ can do to horses: shut us down. I believe it is actually the body doing its best to protect itself. If you feel too much, but no amount of effort can change the situation, you numb it all out and end up simply going through the motions. Perhaps its a trick we should actually thank our bodies for… another smart survival tool. And the best thing is that under the layers of numbness, somewhere not too deep, a curious young filly is waiting for the right moment to shake off all those suppressed feelings, stretch her limbs and slowly begin nibbling at life’s textures once again, regaining the strength to leap and play.

With added awareness of our body’s tuning, we can seek the company of those whose emotions and actions we’d relish in synchronising with. We can learn to recognise when the feelings we are holding are not entirely our own, and ground ourselves during these times… or watch and allow as the infectiousness takes hold in circumstances full of feelings we’d like to enjoy. We can use feelings as the breadcrumb trail on the path that is our lives; following the trail of the emotions that feel good, and using the negative emotions as signs that we may be heading off track.

Had I not learned to listen to my body I might have allowed my spirit to dim, and continued working on the dressage yard down south. I didn’t, I left, and without that experience I wouldn’t be where I am now. Sometimes I wish I weren’t so sensitive, yet this breadcrumb trail of feelings is taking me on a rich and fulfilling journey. It is horses, and the curiosity of both the inner and the outer worlds that they inspire in me, that I have to thank for this. I like to think that curiosity and eagerness are not qualities inherent only in the young, and the key to keeping spirit in tact is to choose not to submit to monotony. For any creature, young or old, following their curiosity with open senses is a joyous sight to behold. X

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