I read an article today about responding to transference with your students, which is when they attribute their own feelings onto their horses or other people. For example your student says, “I think Buster is nervous,” when in reality the horse’s ears are lax and his eyes half closed.
According to the author, “your response will either help or hinder their healing process.” For example you could respond with, “No he’s not, he’s very relaxed, see how his ears are drooped?”. This is what my first reaction would be, but the author points out that this can close the door to further conversation about the rider’s feelings. A better response would be more open. The author describes an open response as one that “is open to the client’s interpretation of events, but does not compromise honesty…[and] encouraged the child to talk about his feelings”. For example, in this situation you could say, “Hm, what makes you say that?…I can see why you would think that, are you feeling nervous too?” (And later weave in an explanation about how to tell that the horse is not actually nervous).
This article really opened my eyes to being aware of “relational moments” (opening the conversation to talk about feelings) as much as I am aware of teaching skills and “teachable moments” (applying riding lessons to life).
For more ways to respond to transference and even better examples than the one I made, read “Healing Feelings” by Melissa Abbey in the Fall 2010 NARHA (now PATH) Strides Magazine p.36-39.
How do you respond to transference? Or open up relational moments?
Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!