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Trusting Movement

Curiosity and play helps virtually all mammals learn how to navigate movement, that includes us humans too!

When you were a kid, do you remember your parents or any adult in general telling you not to do something because it was too dangerous and that you could get hurt? Do you remember being bummed because you felt confident that you would totally be able to do it and that in your mind it would have been really fun? Of course being safe is important, but these moments of exploration go beyond building confidence and for some of us, those restrictions may not have been as helpful or safe for us as we developed.

When I think back to my childhood, I remember constantly moving and exploring. I would be doing anything from climbing trees, chasing animals, racing, and yes even though its embarrassing to admit... I would run around on all 4's pretending to be a horse. I was constantly exploring movement and seeing what my body was capable of without even realizing it because it was all just fun to me! In that fun I innately learned what I physically could and couldn't do. I remember most of those things being subconscious and all of it felt natural.

When I think about doing all of those things today at almost 34 years old I wince a bit. I no longer trust my body, and it hurts a bit more now when I fell down! I Don't play in the same way that I did when I was young, most adults don't actually. In this country as well as many others, playing in the same sense of how we did as kids is not really seen as socially acceptable. But what if play was the answer to many issues and long lasting chronic pain for us? And what if the same could be said for our horses? There is so much information out there about the benefits of play movement and activities and how critical play is for the learning process of virtually all mammals, why would it not be important? And why as a society are we adults furthering ourselves more and more from this play, especially when it comes to our horses?

When I think about how many horses were and are denied movement exploration through play, I wonder just how much that effects their confidence in what they are being asked to do. And I honestly don't have to think too hard about it because I feel like I see it all the time. Horses with a serious lack of confidence trying to work through a simple task, their owners writing them off as being a chicken, stubborn etc. But when I think about just how restricted some horses are from birth it makes me wince a bit. They are born into padded stalls, not even allowed outside for the first few days of life, kept in isolation with their mother. Often from there they move to a smaller fenced in paddock with little to no stimuli or friends to first experience the world. Then often times they get moved to a larger space with other mares and foals, but this isn't always the case and some unfortunately continue to grow in isolation. They don't know quite how to play because they never had a friend to do so. They don't know how to be curious because they lived in a flat open green pasture with no other stimuli other than the grass and their mother. They don't get to play like the other foals play, so do they ever innately learn to trust their own bodies?

As these horses grow up to become adults, they often go from one stall to the next, may have to continue to live in isolation because they never learned to properly socialize and so never get the option to explore as an adult either. Life long isolation and confinement wreaks havoc on horses, especially when you think back to how it all could have started when they were so young. Our human restrictions set these horses up for failure, and continue to do so when after all of this, they are then told no over and over and over again in the work that they do. They may get lunged in side reins of a pessoa system to help settle them before riding because they are known for being reactive or spooky. Their body is constantly being told no. You cannot move that way, you cannot move your neck how you may need to, you can only work within the barriers set. It is the same for ridden work. They are constantly being told with repetitive aids that they cannot move this way or that way, it has to be a certain "correct" way that this horse has never properly learned. When it is all written out and considered, what aspect of the horse's life isn't restricted in this situation? How can we make that better, how can we help these horses learn to explore and play again?

When I think of a well rounded and happy horse, I think of an animal that was born and raised in an environment where they had access to friends, were able to play and explore as youngsters, but also learned about boundaries from firm yet fair matriarchs who set the tone of their herds. I think of horses being allowed to be curious, to run without fear of injury and being allowed to explore their own movement and bodies on their terms. I also think of young horses being handled regularly and also being introduced to our human world in a fair way so as not to be traumatizing. I think of young horses being afforded the space and time to learn, grow and make mistakes so that they build their own confidence. I have met many horses who were raised in such a way, and continued to be handled/trained in this way. I have raised and rehabbed all of my own horses in this same way and can tell you that there is a palpable difference. I've seen horses raised in this way start to finish who just seemed absolutely incredible... I've rehabbed horses that were not afforded this way of living and watched them evolve and melt into their true selves. Either way we as humans need to have the awareness to make positive changes in how we work with and keep our horses to allow for freedom of exploration, play and curiosity, besides I'm sure we can all remember a moment from when we were young and our parents told us no or stopped us from doing something we really wanted to and how crappy it felt having to shift our actions and thinking to fit within those boundaries. Yes in many cases it was meant to keep us safe... but were they responding with their own fear of knowing what they themselves were incapable of and in turn allowed their fear to halt your own learning?

Our own reconnection to play, going with the ebbs and flows, breaking rigidity and letting go is just as much medicine for us as it is for our horses. Start playing with your horse, start being silly. It's a win win as play will help us adults reconnect to trusting movement and trusting our own bodies within that movement (when I say trust it has to do with the messages being sent through our nervous system). We can all learn a thing or two from the wisdom of children.

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