Friday, November 20, 2015


 I am reposting a blog I wrote in early 2013, after reading an article in the Social Anthropology journal. I have updated it, since it has been two years since I originally wrote out my thoughts. Still one of my favorite posts on this blog. And I added some pics to break up the text.

Have you ever been in a relationship where you were so in tune with your partner 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."

Co-being 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, desire or interest (due to abuse, distrust, training processes) to achieve this state with its 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.

I think CS and CO have become Co-Beings

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. It is born from a rider's desire to put ego aside and truly listen to their horse, and from the horse's desire to truly be a partner and willing participant with their rider.

I think Saiph and Gracie have it.

"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. It contains the intangible, unmeasurable, almost indefinable spark that exists between the horse and it's rider when they are really working as a team.

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."

If I wish to achieve the relationship of co-being with my horse, I must be the one having the conversation with him. I must be the one riding him. And riding him often. We need to have the physical connection in order to facilitate the change. We will both change physically in response to each other. He and I will need to figure out our language so we can communicate without words, which is going to look different from how other riders cue their horses.

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. It also requires that I allow him to have a say in what is going on. That doesn't mean he gets to give me the finger, but there are just some days when one or the other of us just isn't feeling it, and when that happens we need to do something else: pull out a couple of obstacles to give shape and form to our riding, or work on dressage stuff while riding on the trail.

I think that when I get the most frustrated with Ashke is when I have a goal to acheive (like practicing for an upcoming show) and he is not cooperating. That's when I stop listening, and then I stop asking. Asking is hard. We get focused on our goals or our "plan", stop asking, and start demanding performance instead. That's okay if that is your process, but I am so much less interested in getting a perfect sidepass, then I am in creating this unique bond with my horse. At those times, instead of pushing forward with my plan, I need to take a step back, work on the training pyramid, find rhythm or cadence and then move forward again from there. I also need to take it a little slower in my training sessions indoors, not pushing up to the harder stuff until he is truly warmed up. Since I ride indoors mostly when the weather is bad, wet or cold, he is going to be more stiff and may be experiencing some pain he doesn't necessarily have when it is warm. It's all about being willing to be a partner and not a boss. We are in this is together, whatever this is.

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."

"Good boy."



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 an adult 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, what earlier experiences have taught them and trust in our decision making ability, to the point where they will kill themselves doing what we ask just because we ask it. And we have to be worthy of that. We have to demonstrate every time we get on our horse that we have them in mind. We cannot fail them.

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 adapt their ability to understand us. They have made us part of their herd. It only seems fair to reach out in equal measure, to make ourselves part of them. We need to be part of their herd, to give and take, to connect, demand and submit, to compromise.

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 finally believe I have this with Ashke. There is no fear in what he might do; there is trust that he will do everything he can to keep us safe. It is not perfect yet, as seen when we are behind another horse on the trail, but it is what I am striving for, what I ache for, what I am creating between us. We have reached that point where we connect beyond words, beyond goals, beyond our past. Where we are just being.



  1. I think that is what frustrates me most about my riding post 2013. I had a good relationship with my horse and he is gone, I got another and its just not the same. I'm not keeping him so its not worth the bother. Treating him rightly and fair, and giving him love but the river just doesn't run as deep as it did before.

    1. I think you are still mourning Carlos and Ramone was never the right horse: too soon, not enough, just not the next one. I think it will come again, in an unlooked for place, when your heart has finally healed enough to let another one in. It will take a very special horse to fill that place for you again. Trust that it will happen when you are both ready.

  2. I loved this post so much. And I did a double-take when I saw the video of Gracie and me! It gave me the warm fuzzies to be seen as an example. <3 I remember reading your first post on co-being 2 years ago and it is so cool to read it again in the context of the present. You and Ashke are incredible, a force, and I continue to look forward to reading about your journey together. *hug*