Using the horse as a personality

In my training so far, I have seen in therapeutic riding that the main uses of the horse include:

  • movement (their gaits directly transmit movement and require balance reactions)
  • reflection of actions (as herd animals, horses act a mirror to the rider’s own tensions and actions, which can be used to change behavior)
  • acceptance (horses don’t judge, the rider can be themselves)
  • animal behavior (how to read horse behavior and respond accordingly)

Recently I’ve become aware of another facet, what I’ll call:

  • using the horse as a personality (anthropomorphism)

Now, horses of course have their own personality, but I’m talking about making the horse into a more human like personality in order to cultivate something in the rider. The main cultivations being:

  •  compassion – asking the rider to consider what do you think the horse wants to do today? Let’s ask him! or, Today Lucky is hurt, he would really like to just rest and get cared for, would you help me hose his leg off?
  • convincing the rider – saying I know sitting trot isn’t your favorite, but Lucky would love for you to practice it! or, Lucky is very tired today, he would rather not trot, but walk a pattern instead. (aka, put the fault on the horse!)

A few considerations on this usage:

  • Beware of fictionalizing? – When I first started teaching, I actually think this was discussed in my workshop, we were told “don’t fictionalize the horse to force a relationship. Instead of saying ‘Lucky loves you and waits here for you every week.’ Say ‘Lucky is really enjoying your attention. Do you miss her when you leave the barn and go home?'” So on one hand, you don’t want to by lying to your riders. But on the other hand, I imagine that for some riders doing this would help them create a stronger relationship with the horse.
  • Don’t let it replace teaching real horse behavior – just remember to notice the horse’s body language and discuss what it means he’s saying, instead of letting the rider make it up
  • Transference – be aware that the rider’s responses to “what do you think the horse needs?” could be a reflection of what’s going on inside their own head, creating an opportunity for a relational moment

In the end I think it totally depends on the rider, whether using the horse as a personality would be helpful or appropriate! From what I’ve seen, it works really well with young riders that have definite opinions on what they want to do with the horse. Overall, I love the intentionality of incorporating the horse and his wishes and desires into a lesson more.

What are your thoughts? How much do you incorporate the horse as a personality into your lesson?

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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 judgment!

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