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Dealing with "no"

A recent social media post by Warwick Schiller, a horse trainer I highly respect, spoke about reasons why horses say "no".

My herd frequently say no to me, to each other and to clients. I thought the topic was worth exploring here. Here's the original post:

Someone asked a question on my Facebook group about a mare that pins her ears when asked to go some things on the ground. She thought her mare hates her. (Edited to add- this is not about ears. It could be about any no).

I thought my answer was worth sharing here.

“She doesn’t hate you but she does have some opinions about what you are asking her.

Now you need to decide if it’s HOW you are asking (meaning your application of the ask is causing the issue) you are asking, or WHAT you are asking (maybe they don’t feel safe enough to do what you are asking, could also indicate pain) or THAT you are asking (they don’t like the idea coming from you. This one is usually lack of relationship).

Once you figure that out , only then can we come up with a plan.

Solving problems isn’t hard, figuring out what’s causing the problem is the hard part, once you figure that out the doing is easy.”

Dainty, Jim and Squirrel are empowered horses that are free to express a no. This is important to know because not all horses feel they can express their true feelings and therefore don't give an honest reply.

"No is a perfectly acceptable answer."

Some horses they have learnt to be compliant for fear of punishment if they don't behave in a way that's pleasing to a human. Dainty, Jim and Squirrel are given as much voice as we're able, so "no's" very much feature in their repertoire, along with many other responses, not all of which we understand!

A source of growth

Getting a "no" from a horse can be very triggering for some people, and in the right environment also an enormous source of growth.

A "no" can bring up feelings of failure, rejection, self-loathing and anger for those that have not yet been able to work through such a response (which is most of us at some point). We tend to learn the meaning of "no" from our elders, so for children that's parents, teachers, guardians, elder siblings, characters in stories and films and older members of our community. What we learn when we are younger forms the framework of how we perceive "no" in our later years, until we consciously challenge it.

The horses often lie down as a way of saying "no"

We also understand "no" within our limited perspective of a child, which means "no's" are often perceived as a personal failing, rather than due to external reasons. This can result in feelings of intense shame, that are triggered each time some form of "no" happens again.

We may develop complex coping strategies to prevent ever receiving a "no" - this might be playing small and not trying new things, ending relationships early to avoid being rejected and people pleasing to keep people sweet. These are common strategies that almost everyone does to some lesser or greater extent, knowingly and unknowingly. They are also energetically very expensive, holding us back from achieving our potential, and experiencing life fully.

In my time with them, I have learnt that Dainty, Jim and Squirrel's "no's" (which include walking away, planting of feet and not moving or a defensive look) are for many reasons:

  • They want to do something different to what you want (need more connection, respect and trust)

  • They don't understand what you are asking/your instructions aren't clear (need more clarity and communication)

  • You're giving mixed messages (is your head, heart and gut aligned?)

  • They are physically unable/in physical, mental or spiritual pain/too big an ask (need to ask a more appropriate question)

  • They are afraid (need more connection, trust, support and encouragement).

Not a single one of those "no's" is ever because someone is "bad", "undeserving of love" or "unwanted" - despite them being common interpretations.

Ears back are a way of showing a "no"

Breaking down misconceptions about "no's" in life is a liberating process. It enables us to open ourselves up to new experiences and have deeper relationships.

The horses provide a safe space to experience a "no" and observe our habitual responses so we might choose new ones. Neutrality and curiosity are two great options. Getting really interested in what might be at play within ourselves and within the horse enables us to remain open. Openness enables us to make new choices and try new ways of being.

Trusting the horse's non-judgemental feedback we can extend our ability to receive a "no" and turn it into something constructive. This is a great skill to have in life, one that aids connection and progress, as well as fearlessness and problem solving. Those that benefit most from this are children - enabling them to grow up as compassionate and resilient people, parents - allowing them to address their child's needs more effectively and create a harmonious relationship, and employees - enabling better communication in the workplace and improving overall effectiveness and efficiency.

Hearing, responding and moving forwards as a result of a "no" is a great skill to gain. It also says that a congruent "no" is an acceptable answer give and to ask others to respect.

Where are you addressing this important topic in your life? How might the horses help you navigate your "no's" so you might live your life more authentically and in line with your wishes?

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