“The verb “to be” can be misleading, because we cannot be by ourselves, alone. “To be” is always to “inter-be.” If we combine the prefix “inter” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, “inter-be.” To inter-be and the action of interbeing reflects reality more accurately. We inter-are with one another and with all life.” (Thich Nhat Hanh)
The idea that everything and everyone interconnects is as true in the horse world as anywhere else. Inter-being is even more obvious at the barn because horses are so sensitive to what goes on around them.
We, of course, inter-are with our horses. Whether we’re aware of it or not, our horses lives and our own influence each other on every level. Whenever we spend time with our horses, the horses remind us of our interconnectness. They reflect our emotional equilibrium, or lack thereof. They feel our relaxed or tense state of mind, just as we feel theirs. Riding a horse illustrates the concept of inter-being brilliantly. Horses and riders synchronize their body language, their emotional states, their moods, their anxieties. When things are going well, we make each other calmer, stronger, more confident, more mindful, more balanced. On a good day, we experience inter-being as that elusive quality of harmony between horse and rider.
But neither we nor our horses exist in a vacuum. If other people or situations leave us frazzled, frustrated, or overwhelmed, chances are we can’t inter-be with our horses in a positive way. They will, in turn, become just as frazzled, which will only frustrate us more. Inter-being means that everything we feel, say, and do has a ripple effect. If an argument with my significant other makes me angry, chances are I arrive at the barn in an unbalanced emotional state. If I then yell at my farrier, chances are he will not be as happy and calm in his work with my horse as he otherwise would. The horses he shoes will become stressed and tense, which will show in their work under saddle later that day. My clients will notice and blame themselves, or me, before they go home and spread their unhappiness to their families. My farrier may, if I really let him have an earful, go on to his next job at another barn and arrive there in a low mood, continuing the cycle.
Calm and kindness radiate outward, from one horse-human encounter to another, from one part of our lives to the next. But so does unkindness and tension, between horses, between people, between private and public spaces. Even in times of social distancing, we do not live in isolation. We inter-are. This is not some vague, esoteric concept. Inter-being has concrete implications for horse people.
For example, I cringe at the hierarchy in many stables, where the owners and trainers claim they want what is best for their horses, yet seem to believe they inhabit a separate universe from their grooms and barn workers. The people who keep these barns and the horses in them sparkling clean get little compensation or recognition for all they do, which leads to burnout and high turnover. Early in my horse career, I mucked stalls for sub-minimum wage, slept in tack rooms, worked seven days a week, and rode the second string of horses after all my other jobs were done. I remember feeling invisible, exhausted, powerless, and depressed. I am sure the horses I took care of paid for my unhealthy emotional state. If we truly want what’s best for our horses, we will treat anyone who feeds, grooms, or cleans stalls with the same consideration and respect we give any other horse professional. Why would we not value such important work?
The lines dividing experts from novices, professionals from amateurs, show riders from trail riders, or western riders from dressage riders are also a lot less clear-cut than most of us think they are. We tend to focus on what divides us, which leads us to make snide remarks about each other, but ultimately we are all trying to build good relationships with our horses. We can try to pretend we’re separate, which makes us judgmental and ultimately miserable. Or we can embrace our inter-being, which will allow us to look for what we share, rather than for what we don’t. Rather than tear each other down, we can build each other up. My current working student may know less than I do about dressage, but she is an endurance rider who can teach me a lot about her corner of the equestrian universe if I let her. For example, I have been much more consistent about getting on and off the horses from both sides since we’ve been riding together.
We all know that hurrying, stressing, raised voices, or unkindness of any sort have no place around horses. We know that a moment of anger can undo months or years of good training. But if we are aware of our inter-being, we will be less inclined to blame and judge. Rather than pointing our fingers and rolling our eyes, we will try to create positive ripple effects. Everyone involved in our horses’ lives should treat them with respect and kindness, which becomes a lot easier if we treat each other that way, too.
Ride happy, because the happiness will spread to others,