Have you ever heard a concept that really just ties EVERYTHING together?
This past September, I went to hear Don Miguel Ruiz Jr. (and his father via Skype) speak in Ashland, Oregon. I hadn’t been in NorCal very long, and I was really lost and trying to figure out where I fit in and what had really brought me here on this quest for sanctuary. The original “plan” wasn’t going smoothly, and a lot of internal questioning was beginning to take place. In other words — I was going through yet another upheaval and shift in my life, about to lead to massive growth.
Don Miguel Jr. spoke at great length that night about the concept of domestication. Not in the sense of how it directly pertains to animals, but what the action of domestication really does in our lives and what it really means for us as humans. This is the specific explanation, taken from the Toltec Spirit website: “Domestication”
“During our early life we began making agreements. Our parents rewarded us when we did what they wanted and they punished us when we didn’t. We also learned behaviors and habits in school, church, and from other adults and children on the playground. The tools of reward and punishment were often emotional and sometimes physical. The impact of other people’s opinions and reactions to us became a very strong force in the habits we created. In this process we created agreements in our mind of who we should be, what we shouldn’t be, who we were, and who we were not. Over time we learned to live our life based on the agreements in our own mind. We learned to live according to the agreements that came from the opinion of others. In this process of domestication it turns out that the choices we make and the life we live is more driven by the opinions we learned from others than one we would choose on our own.”
He went on to speak of how this idea of domestication is in direct opposition to the concepts of freedom and unconditional love. He does not say that domestication is abuse, that it is cruel, or that it is wrong. Simply stated — it is conditioning. Programming. Something destructive that keeps us from true freedom. Immediately, I thought of the horses, and how this spoke to our new understanding of them and the changes we have made in relating to and caring for them.
Domestic horses, in general, are only allowed to be a small part of who they really are. Let’s face it — they’re in our backyards because WE want them there, to do OUR bidding, not because they choose it. They are also no different biologically from their wild counterparts which actually explains why we are able to do what we do to them. Horses by their very nature are stoic as a means of survival. In the wild, showing pain or weakness will get you killed. So domesticated horses allow their freedom to be taken and they choose the best means for survival — and many times people misinterpret that willingness to participate and that compliance to our requests as love. In truth, it’s simply better than the alternative….for some anyway. The horses that refuse to give up their freedom are the ones ignorant people label in all sorts of ways and end up killing instead. This is such a commonly accepted practice, that it is even portrayed in film as the RIGHT thing to do, with all fingers pointing at “careless” owners rather than society having it wrong in the first place.
It’s so hard to explain in words to people how our own horses have become so different. It took time, but when we changed — they changed. They are no longer trained horses. They no longer feel obligated to us in any way, which has encouraged a freedom of expression in them like nothing I had ever experienced as a horse trainer. They CHOOSE to be with us, and it did not come easily. We had to really earn it this time, and for years, we truly believed we had excellent relationships with our horses. In some ways, it was rather easy — we just made a promise that we will never harm them again, and we kept it. They have become “undomesticated” and if not yet fully, are on their way to being physically, emotionally, and mentally healed. The result is a herd of horses that break all the rules of what most of us know horses to be and act like. There is peace and an ease of doing things now that never existed before — all without any ropes or any means to coerce them to do what we want. The things I have now experienced with this group of horses has made nearly everything I ever learned about behavior as a trainer completely false.
It’s something you almost have to experience for yourself to feel/see the difference. They know that all expectations of them have been removed. Their bodies are recovering from years of abuse from forced movement and riding. Their eyes have a presence and shine that can only be found in animals who know real freedom. Not freedom to roam wherever they want or do whatever they want, but complete freedom to be themselves in every way without ever being corrected or punished for it. If our horses say no, we say that’s ok, and we don’t ask them again and again until we get the answer we want. It’s a life changing concept. And it works in every relationship — human and non-human alike.
Our horses will never be wild. They are the next step in horse-human relationships — they have been undomesticated, and they still choose us. They are a model of unconditional love, and they are valued and respected teachers in our lives. As someone who has achieved every dream I ever had on the back of a horse, I can say with great confidence that I am far more fulfilled as a human through experiencing my horses internally than I ever was through their exterior. It’s harder, it takes great strength and courage, and it’s absolutely worth it.