DON’T EVER MOVE YOUR FEET!
Have you been told that too? That whatever you do – never let yourself “be moved” by a horse? That if the horse is the one “making” you move – you have lost the “feet-game”. Which would mean he is the boss and you are the follower… or at least it would imply that you are a very weak “leader”.
I was told that. In the beginning of my career as a horse owner. This is me with my very first own horse, Lafayette – a brilliant horse who let me get to know and learn so much about myself (and horses 😊)
So. I am standing very close to him, just having put on his halter, then he swings his head – and I do what I am told, I do not move my feet… I actually look down and check them (like you never know… they might have moved??). So this is me – not wanting the horse in my face, but believing I cannot move my feet to fix that. Also being me, not trying to move his head… but instead choose to lean backwards. So happy I got this on picture!
I remember feeling really silly doing this. I could not understand the reason for it. Supposedly, if I moved my feet, if my horse made me do that – I let him walk all over me. It meant he disrespected me. And that he was the leader. I was also supposed to move him around a lot – to assert leadership.
I did give this up all of this rather quickly. Despite being told by many horse professionals I needed to maintain it. I couldn’t’. Firstly, if not scared, I seldom do as I am told (especially if it does not make sense). Secondly, I did not really ever believe in leaders and followers. I don’t “do” hierarchies myself (voluntarily), and I never saw one in a horse herd. In my opinion, hierarchies are a human construct and concept. We humans invented it to manage bigger groups than approximately 150 people (beyond that number, we cannot maintain individual relationships) – the source of all titles, status etc that you cannot see on a being’s size, age, gender etc). So we engage in metaphorically moving each other’s feet – to set the status between each other. This can equally much take place as a fistfight as a comparison of salaries or titles, most expensive car, or most successful children (husband, dog…). Basically, anything that can be competed over and compared.
From the beginning hierarchies were invented and established as a care taking strategy. It meant it was, e.g., easy to decide who needed to eat first, without knowing that individual. He or she could just wear a mark – that would either tell he was a hunter, or a sick person, or a nursing mother. Then of course it got out of hand, and we started to misuse hierarchies, so not only the ones that needed food first got it, but the one who felt more entitled…
Horses do not engage in that stuff. They do treat each other differently due to age, size, gender… - it is a family system. A group system. A care-taking system. Where everyone is useful. But of course – when we humans put together groups where the individuals themselves do not choose which group to belong to – we messed this up, and what we see among horses can look like what we see in human hierarchies run amok… they will not compete over silly stuff as badges, stripes, and car brands, but resources. If resources are scarce, and space limited. There will be conflict. In the same way as we humans create conflict in our hierarchical societies. Following on true or imaginary scarcity.
But – if I moved your feet – did you lose? Was me moving your feet an attempt to “win”? Only if you believe in status and hierarchies. I don’t. And I don’t believe in leaders or followers. And I refuse to take on either label. I don’t intentionally engage in moving other’s feet, unless they are family, (I carried my children a lot when they were small and asked for it. I helped my mother-in-law to get where she wanted, since she had poor walking abilities and wanted help.
Did I lose if you made me move my feet? No. But it could be that I am not happy with you moving my feet. I like to move my feet myself. As a healthy adult, with thinking capabilities, I like to be in charge of my own feet. I do apricate help when injured and sick, if needed. Sometimes I do ask for guidance and input, but I like to do the actual moving myself.
How can we learn to move WITH? Not lead movement and not follow (or be dragged)? I love to experiment with that with my horses. But mostly without a halter and a lead rope. As soon as I put on a halter (the horse’s portable fence) and attach a lead rope, I alter our relationship, and I do no longer feel in connection with the horse. I do feel a connection to the lead rope… If I ignore that the rope is there, it usually works, but takes energy. And then the rope seems unnecessary in the first place? I understand that it can be a security, a safety thing. And a way to fast get a horse moved to where you want it to be. Horses get used to it too. Once they have learned (by us manipulating them and fooling them into believing they have no power over a halter and a rope) – they will accept that when the halter is on – you decide where you two will go. (Until the day he pulls the rope and discover that he is physically much stronger than you). The lead rope itself does not mean connection to me. To me, it represents “power over”. And removed choice and agency.
Usually when a horse pulls his rope – I let go of him. I am not interested in fights. I do lead horses in halters and ropes, but it is not my favorite. As I am not a leash person with my dogs either. I like mental connections. When I walked my dogs – if I let go of the mental connection, my dogs could possibly take off. We were no longer walking WITH each other.
I did learn how to do all the horsemanship moves to make a horse move. I have used them. I hate to use them.
When I work – I have one “safety rule” I apply to myself and any human who comes here. I say, “If you at any time feel unsafe – move to a place where you feel safe”. If people get stuck or “freeze” – I remind them of this “rule”.
It can be used in other settings as well “if you at any time feel un-productive where you are, move to somewhere where you feel productive (literally or figuratively speaking).
It is about your ability to move yourself. And it is not so much a rule as it is a suggestion to a solution (or mindset). I like when people can try it out for themselves. If they do not like it – it is a choice to not use it. I would never enforce a rule (but then I might not let them into my horses…).
To tell someone to NOT move their feet is basically, as I see it, to tell them to get stuck, to “freeze” themselves. I am a terribly stubborn person, but that is not how I use it, by refusing to move.
I also believe in the connection between agile feet and an agile mind.
Obviously, there are situations where you do better if you stand still. Sometimes there is so much movement around you, that standing still for overview is a better option, either to not contribute to more movement (potentially escalating into chaos), or to gain a better overview, get yourself a better plan, before you move, or to be more easily found.
And sometimes I do move to get away from something I need to stay and deal with. I am then prematurely moving to avoid or flee… Often though, there will be options to return.
The important thing is to remember that YOU decide when and to where you move your feet, and at what speed.
And secondly – do not decide over when someone else is to move their feet (unless they are to be run over by a truck or something).
This is part of any being’s agency. The ability to own your own moving of your feet (translate that to also be true to your mind).
To be able to own your own moving – you need to be in your own body. And you need to be in your own mind – there needs to be a connection between your body and mind – you need to be the whole of you.
Owning your own moving of your feet – sounds like a really simple thing. It is not. I will practice that for the rest of my life. As I will practice to not interfere with other’s moving of their feet.
I love when I feel I am in a voluntary synchrony with someone else. But it takes trust. I do not move well in synchrony when I am scared – because then, I am not in my body, or mind… (so it would apply to a conversation also e.g.)
Do you trust your horse – does your horse trust you? Do you move in synchrony? Each of you responsible for your own movement – then following each other’s? Or are you adapting to his movements, without ownership of your own, or demand adaptations to yours, without letting the horse own his movements?
Owning your own movement of your feet (and mind) – is the first step to be able to move together. Do you practice it? To be in your own movements?
I love experiential learning!
Another day I will tell you about how this horse “hated” to run behind any running/jogging human, or how he got scared of being lose in the riding arena without his halter on, and other interesting stuff...
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