Have you ever been in a relationship where you were so in tune with you knew what they were thinking before they did, you knew how they would move before they moved, where they reacted to your thought as soon as it formed in your mind, where you could swear you were two individuals in one body, where the lines between the two of you blurred and being together was the most important thing in the world?
I'm not talking about co-dependency. I'm talking about co-being.
There was an article published in the Social Anthropology journal about co-being. co-being is defined as a phenomenon that "may be unique between horses and riders, since both move as one and often physically change over the course of the relationship to conform to the other. Intense cooperation is also key."
So what they are talking about is becoming a Centaur, only with both a horse and a human head. Of becoming so close to your horse that the trust is absolute, that the rider both listens to and reacts to the horse's wants and desires, as much as the horse listens to and reacts to the rider's requests. I don't believe every rider out there achieves this state of co-being. And I suspect that not every horse has the personality or desire to achieve this state with it's rider. Some riders will always see horses as a means to an end, rather than an active partner in whatever they are shaping. Some horses will never get the opportunity to form such a bond with a specific rider, either because of their role in life (schooling horse, race horse) or because they never have a rider that meets their criteria.
According to the article, "Cooperation means attuning to each other. The rider is often in charge, expressing, through body kinetics, what he or she wants the horse to do, but unless the rider attunes to the horse's body and mind, the horse will not understand, and unless the horse attunes to the rider, the horse will not manage to perform the requirements of the rider."
It's that connection that reaches past the mechanics of dressage, or western pleasure or any other event we concoct to test our riding and our training. It's that connection that goes beyond training, or affection or goal-setting. It is created by mutual desire, mutual striving, and mutual respect.
"Co-being is, on the one hand, about moving together, but also about being together on the ground, communicating as individuals, and in order to communicate, a shared sense of the other must be in place."
Reminds me of the Little Prince . . . "What does that mean, tame? It is an act too often neglected. It means to establish ties. . . . if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . . "
But, I think it goes beyond taming. Or responsibility. Or love, even. It is an act of willingness to give openly of yourself to your equine partner, and to receive from your partner in equal measure. It goes beyond affection. Or admiration. There has to be a physical component to co-being.
According to the study, "This feeling is not just mental, as skilled riders grown new muscles in their legs, butts and other parts of their body to match the body of their particular horse. The horse, in turn, will exhibit physical changes in response to the shape, load and repeated motions of the rider."
So my feeling that my progress with Ashke will NOT be helped by allowing N or Cassandra to ride him in lieu of me is spot on. If I wish to achieve the relationship of co-being with my horse, I must be the one having the conversation with him. We will both change physically in response to each other. He and I need to figure out our language so we can communicate without words.
Again, "humans and horses co-create a language system by way of the body to facilitate the creation of shared meaning. Horses are very sensitive to touch, so when horse and rider are familiar with each other, an experienced rider need only to twitch a muscle to communicate desired direction on a trail."
I, by definition, can only co-create this language system with one horse. Maybe other people can, but I just don't think I could. I am a one-horse type of gal. It also means that it needs to be both directions. He needs to be a one-gal type of horse. I think that when I get the most frustrated with Ashke is when I stop listening to him. And when I stop asking. Asking is hard. We get focused on our goals or our "plan" and stop asking, at least I know I do, and start demanding performance instead. I need to listen better. Some things I need for us to do, because in the long run it will be good for both of us. These are the things I consider physical therapy. Transitions. Side-reins. Lessons. But even through those things, I need to listen to him. He is very clear in his communications and I need to trust that when he says I'm tired, he means he's tired, not that he's being lazy. He's going to have days when he just doesn't feel like doing it. Hell, I have those days at work, where I'm not as productive as I should be. Doesn't mean lazy, just means an off day.
Again, from the article, "Humans additionally change the way they talk in order to better communicate with their horses. The term motherese is used to refer to the way many humans talk to their horses. It is not baby talk, but a controlled and calming tone of voice. People use this language tone so as not to excite the horse. It is a kind of verbal stroking."
We have our own set of words that are designed by us to communicate calm, to effectively override a horse's sense of fight or flight, to trust that we know what we are doing and they can overcome their instincts in order to do what we ask them to do. Think about that. Think about the last time you, as a human, trusted someone else to tell you what to do, when it went against everything you believe or know as a human. I don't know about you, but I think the last time I trusted blindly I was about five. Even with J, it is compromise. But with our horse, our co-being, they learn to set aside what evolution has taught them about their world and trust in our decision making ability. To the point where they will kill themselves doing what we ask just because we ask it.
Again, "horse and its rider also become accustomed to each other's smells. Horses have adapted their ways of relating to other horses to the manner in which they respond to humans."
"Horses are highly social animals that use very fine body and facial movements to communicate with each other . . . wild equids are sensitive to changes in body posture of conspecifics (other horses) and also are sensitive to the behavior of other species that form mixed herds."
In other words, horses have learned through the 8000 year relationship humans have had with them, how to enhance their ability to understand us. They have made us part of their herd. This is why Natural Horsemanship emphasizes the idea of being a "good leader" for your horse. It only seems fair to reach out in equal measure, to make ourselves part of them.
Finally, one of the riders interviewed for the article says, "It's that connection that you start craving. Once you have it, you need more."
Just like any other relationship. You want more. You need more. This was the relationship I had with my mare when I was a teenager. We moved together beyond thought. I don't have this with Ashke yet. It is what I am striving for, what I ache for, what I want to create between us. Unfortunately, I am fearful of being hurt and so is he. We are both bringing baggage and damage with us into this relationship. I have faith that we will reach that point, however. That point where we connect beyond words, beyond goals, beyond our past. Where we are just being.