Saturday, June 01, 2013

Emotional Intelligence

Working with horses has had a combined effect of both improving and muddling up my interactions with my fellow humans. This article discusses research showing a link between possible improvement to emotional intelligence and interaction with horses. This makes perfect sense to those of us who frequently wear eau de horse as our perfume of choice. Less obvious is the irritation we sometimes feel when our human interactions become exercises in uncovering the real meaning in that well-worded but obviously false statement.   

This is my inside expression when talking to some of my customers. 
"Well, that's a big stinky load of manure."
Horses mirror our moods and emotions. They do not care why we are exhibiting a particular flavor of attitude, but they will react to it and throw it back at us--sometimes in large and spectacular ways. Humans do this too, but often with a whole lot of other crap tossed in on top of it totally unrelated to the actual conversation. It's probably why horse people often get labeled as "blunt," among other less-flattering terms. 

You can't lie to horses and nuances are lost on them--they read intent and body language better then you do any day--so most of us have given up trying. This naturally bleeds over on occasion to our human interactions, though those on the other side do not always appreciate the less subtle approach some of us have adopted. And there are those people and situations requiring more nuance and delicate handling than a crop in the face--only figuratively, I swear--to remind them about personal space and respect.

On the plus side, tossing horse-references at non-horse people often distracts them from whatever idiotic drama they are planning. I had a customer--one who had been terrorizing the entire staff for several days--come up to me and say something about not really being scary to which I replied, "You're not scary, I ride Thoroughbreds." It took the next several sentences right clean out of her mouth which was quite delightful since most of them would surely have irritated me.

Thankfully for my sanity, and apparently my emotional intelligence, spending time with the much-easier to deal with and not particularly scary horses in my life keeps me on enough of an even keel that even the most aggravating human doesn't usually get to me. There are exceptions, but they disappear in my rear view mirror on the way to the barn and Calabar is quite good at reminding me just where my focus needs to be and it is most definitely not on the irritating customer.

If any one horse has taught me to be direct, clear and calm, it's Calabar. And if any horse has helped me be a better owner to Calabar, to tone down my energy and feed that calmness into any given situation, it's Dixie. If only Calabar could recognize her positive influence, he might not glare at her when he sees us together. 

Actually, he seems to have realized something lately. Or I am channeling calmness and confidence better thanks to my small part in helping Dixie survive her stall-rest without further injury--either physical or mental. She required stillness from her handlers to offset the energy rippling under her skin--energy trapped in a 12x12 box with nowhere to go except circling to stir up poop, hay and shavings, banging into walls or snaking a well-placed nip at an unsuspecting stall cleaner. She was not easy to handle inside or outside her stall which made it that much more important to remain relaxed and confident, not chastise her for being herself and simply give her a safe place to go with all that fire in her soul that made her the winning racehorse she was.

Dixie says this is way better than a stall.
And we did it--she is now the picture of a relaxed ranch horse, watching the happenings around her with a calm eye and getting ready to school us all on how to properly motivate a smart horse like her. 

Dixie the Neigh Savers model.
Through all of that, I've come out the other side a little more sure of my own abilities and a little less nervous about my own horse because Dixie helped me "get" him better. Working on my seat, riding with more symmetry (or as much as my crooked self can manage) is also helping, but the increased peace inside me seems to be translating to him the most. His eye is softer, his body more relaxed and he is asking me to do more each time we ride. Even at dinner time, even when he's hanging out with Forrest, he comes up to me ready to go ride.

Sorry, Forrest--Mom is here and it's time to go ride!
Oh, there is still much more work to be done--horsemanship is never be a finished work, always a work-in-progress and more to learn even with the horse you know best. 

1 comment:

Cheryl Ann said...

I was once surrounded by a pack of 4 coyotes during my morning walk. I thought, "Heck, I'm NOT afraid of YOU...I have 5 horses!" and they didn't bother me. And, this was around the time that two women were bitten by coyotes nearby! And, yes, now I don't let people bully or boss me around, either! :-)