21 June 2020

Paying Attention To Your Horse

Listening is an art, an essential element in forming a relationship of cooperation, safety and trust between you and your horse.

Listening in essence is a simple skill.  The word listening is derived from an old term meaning to pay attention.  It engages your senses of sound and touch, it can stimulate your imagination and emotions, it can drive you into action.  Most of all listening builds trust and helps you develop deep social connections.

The act of listening stimulates movement of your facial muscles.  In some animals it stimulates movement of the ears, to track the source and direction of the vibration or sound.

Vibrations in the air known as sound waves are funnelled into the ear canal and translated into movement of the eardrum and the bones of the middle ear.  Movement of the ear bones stimulate movement of the cochlear fluid, which in turn creates waves of movement along the hairs lining the inner ear.  Movement of the hairs create nerve impulses which are relayed to the brain stem and then to the auditory cortex, to be interpreted as sound in the brain.

Your senses track vibrations in the air before your brain perceives and interprets it as sound.  Listening is an innate skill for most mammals.  Paying attention to vibrations can occur with or without an ability to hear in some cases, as the auditory complex of the brain has the capacity to sense and interpret vibrations in the air as sound or as touch.

Horses are often soundless animals.  They can move with stealth through their environment.

I recall riding with a colleague in Eastern Arrernte country along a wide, dry creek bed.   We were following a herd of brumbies, wild horses who had come down from the ranges for water.  They were moving through the trees across the creek, they were very close to us.  They moved almost soundlessly like the wind, felt yet unseen.  The only sound, an occasional hoof hitting a stone.

Soundness is an old term describing horse health.  It relates to the cadence of footfalls, a regular or irregular hoofbeat as a measure of health.  In holistic medicine, horse health is not only measured by listening to footfalls, we pay attention to the health of the whole horse and the environment they live in.

Listening has become a rare and precious commodity.  Listening, paying attention is an essential skill in forming a safe bond with your horse.


Practice your listening skills.

Listen to the breathing of your horse.

Listen to the movement of your horse.

Listen to the silence that fills the shared space.

Listen as you are transported beyond the separateness of you and your horse.

What is the story of your horse? 

Listen as you develop your shared connection.



Listening Exercise - Being Present

  • Stand near your horse, at a distance which is safe and comfortable to both you and your horse.
  • Bring your attention into the present moment, notice your environment, notice your horse.
  • Pay attention to being present with your horse.
  • Allow your thoughts and feelings to come and go, as you simply focus on being present with yourself and your horse.
  • If you need a specific focus for your attention, focus on expectant gratitude or expectant appreciation - that feeling you have when you are excited about your day.
  • Be with yourself and your horse for several minutes.
  • Then allow this exercise to come to a close.
  • Notice your feet on the ground, make sure you are feeling safe and aware of and present in your body.  If you are not, sit down until you feel present in your body.
  • Move away from your horse.
  • Return to your usual activities with your horse.
  • If you have any insights, make a note of them and apply them with your horse.

Copyright © Zarna Carter 2020

Hello, I'm listening...


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Tortora and Grabowski. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology 7th Edition (HarperCollins) 1993.