How partnering with your horse can increase your own self-awareness and sense of self.

For most of us, the overarching problem in our lives is time itself. Our schedules no longer seem to belong to us. Our waking hours (and many sleeping ones, too) seem allocated to issues other than our own deep personal needs and values. Happiness and tranquillity do not receive high priority in our daily regimens. Instead, they drift out of sight in the fog of daily routine.

Life is filled with highs and lows. Finding a balance can, at times, be very hard for a human being. The majority of us crave happiness and peace of mind but these rights are usually put on the back burner. For most of us, the concept of time itself is a problem. Our daily routines leave little to the imagination and each breath, whether awake or sleeping, seems to be to be overwhelmed by our own personal unresolved issues. Our minds can become our own worst nightmares and the routines we believe keep us in line are exactly what extinguish our joie de vivre.

The truth is our ego, our own personal identity, is perpetually thinking aloud, within our own head. “ The source of numerous psychic disturbances and difficulties occasioned by man’s progressive alienation from his instinctual foundation, i.e., by his uprootedness and identification with his conscious knowledge of himself, by his concern with consciousness at the expense of the unconscious… he forgets himself in the process, losing sight of his instinctual nature and putting his own conception of himself in place of his real being” (Carl Gustav Jung, The Undiscovered Self, 1957). Obsessively listening to this ego of ours, however, is not living and many of us can relate to the uncomfortable feeling we get when our minds rule our actions in life. Can we change? (Alan Hamilton, Zen mind, Zen horse, pg 161).

Alan Hamilton in “Zen mind, Zen horse” speaks of the of the necessity to create inner silence and peace of mind. He continues on to explain that “it is our thoughts that take shape as words. Our identity is constantly thinking aloud, inside our head. This autobiographical self is a unique byproduct of our cerebral dominance and comes from our dependence on language. The left brain demands absolute loyalty. It zealously safeguards the supremacy of it’s creation: namely, ego” (Alan Hamilton, Zen mind, Zen horse, pg. 212).

To continue on in understanding our brain, Hamilton explains that the right side of the brain is based more in creative thinking, thoughts and actions. “Though this side has no voice, it has the power to remind us silently of the union we once enjoyed with life around us. The right hemisphere offers us the hope that a sense of unification might be more important to our spiritual well-being than a sense of identification” (Alan Hamilton, Zen mind, Zen horse, pg 219). The battle that exists between the left and right side of the brain is a total battle of consciousness – a battle of the ego, a battle of “me” against an all encompassing “we”.

Detaching from ego, detaching from the perpetuation of toxic thoughts is only possible with the intentional work of recognising the obsessive psyche at work. Watching the melodrama it creates and letting go of our desire to fix everything from moment to moment. Breathe, relax, release and stop giving your analytical mind the job of changing reality. Let life come at you, surrender to it and heal that monkey mind of yours. A natural shift from the use of the left brain to the right brain starts happening. 

The whole premise of Alan Hamilton’s book is to investigate how horses can help us activate the side right side of the brain more because “for most of us, that right-sided function has atrophied. It’s weak, feeble, shaky. Our innate longing for connectivity and the profound warmth, peace, and happiness that we derive from it requires us to rely on the right hemisphere” (Alan Hamilton, Zen mind, Zen horse, pg 221). It seems, to truly achieve the quiet mindedness coming from the right we need to look within and build up that intuitive power that comes from going beyond language and into silence.

By being and interacting with the equine species we are able to see the world from an entirely different light, dominated mainly by the right hemisphere of the brain. Alan Hamilton explains that our left brain is muted around horses, forcing it in to silence. Horses help us to stop thinking about ourselves unnecessarily (Alan Hamilton, Zen mind, Zen horse, pg 224).

“Because horses function from the premise of a herd identity, they see relationships as partnerships. They struggle to include us in their concept of a herd – a huge leap considering they are the ultimate prey species and we, the uber predators. As humans, it is almost inconceivable to us how dramatically different the equine perspective of inclusivity really is. For illustrative purposes, however, imagine waking up Christmas morning. As you sit down to open your presents, you suddenly discover an 800-pound Bengal tiger seated next to you on the living room sofa.

And your response? You are scared out of your wits; you want to scream, run, an scramble for the nearest rifle or tree limb. Imagine instead you strive to include that tiger in a communal context. Rather than flee, you rack your brain to figure out how to hang a stocking on the hearth to make the tiger feel at home, a part of your family. This gives us an inkling of the enormous emotional achievement horses accomplish each day to include us, human predators, as an integral part of their daily working (and emotional) lives. It is a remarkable spiritual statement about the capacity of the equine heart and soul” (Alan Hamilton, Zen mind, Zen horse, pg 235).

A horse defines itself by its ability to be included in a herd dynamic. They are inclusive animals and, as such, it is not easy for them to welcome a human as part of this structure. Ultimately, when we are with horses – we become part of their herd. Because horses live solely for the moment, when we are with these animals they see us only for the energy we emit and not for our personal past mistakes or angst of the future (Alan Hamilton, Zen mind, Zen horse, pg 224). “Without such agendas, horses don’t know how to lie, cheat, or deceive. Horses thus offer us a unique opportunity to see ourselves in “divine mirrors”, reflecting back the energy we give off in our emotions, to show ourselves in truth within the moment. Horses react to what lies in our hearts, not in our heads. They are not confused by the words we use to lie to ourselves or hide from others” (Alan Hamilton, Zen mind, Zen horse, pg 224).

The use of our right hemisphere has been largely quieted since childhood, moving from thought processes dominated by the “left sided” ego to a “right sided” inclusive energy is at times quite challenging for humans. Alan Hamilton emphasizes that horses have the ability to awaken the dormant right side of our brain. “Eliminating the voice of our egos creates a silence that is at first frightening, but later, we learn, also enthralling. With that silence comes breathtaking power and clarity of thought. Horses exhort us to trust our intuitive right-brain abilities” (Alan Hamilton, Zen mind, Zen horse, pg 224).

Too conclude, according to Alan Hamilton (as well as many other sources), horses can play a large role in helping us develop a deeper sense of self beyond the egoic mind. Working with horses gives us the opportunity to return to a primal, nonverbal state of awareness. Since a horse forces us to move away from our use language, we reconnect with a natural energy that is shared among all life forms. “The connection is palpable and immediate. We learn how to find it, focus it, and let it fly. We explore how to apply our energy  for the purposes of asking our horses to move naturally, effortlessly, and respectfully wherever we wish them to go. We discover by direct, personal interaction with the horse that we are equal parts body and spirit: half energy, half DNA” (Alan Hamilton, Zen mind, Zen horse, pg 224).

Theologist John O’donahue wrote: “Beyond the veils of language and the noise of activity, the most profound events of our lives take place in those fleeting moments where something else shines through, something that can never be fixed in language, something given as quietly as the gift of your next breath”. Let the horse be your guide in life and see how much un-learning we have to do to return to a balanced, centered self.

If we can strip away the layers of our ego we can start to exist more and more in the present moment. This is what our horses need from us, open your hearts to them and discover who you are in the process.