What a Horse Can Teach you About Your Wife: Lessons from a Horse Whisperer

horse whisperer

 

If you can communicate with a horse, you can communicate with your wife. Learn how.

In my work with married men struggling with their relationship, I’ll use ANY tool I need to make a break-through. Sometimes my background in training horses comes in handy to create “Ah-ha” moments for my frustrated clients.

Understanding how horses think and feel while trying to communicate with them is not an easy task. That’s why horses are so commonly used to teach trust, leadership, respect, and empathy in dozens of ways. Just search on “Horse Therapy” to find out how traumatized and disabled people, disadvantaged kids, and even corporate managers develop communication and empathy skills through horses.

It can be very beneficial personally for men to learn about the bond that lures thousands of young girls and older women into the horse’s web of seduction. A woman’s ability to empathize with a horse’s vulnerability and acute awareness of how pressure is felt seems to come naturally to them.

If a man wants to actively and purposely begin to improve his relationship with his lady, there’ a lot he can learn from the horse’s secrets. Learning to communicate his intentions in the language that FEELS right to her can begin to unwind years of misunderstandings and feelings of disrespect and disapproval. In other words, he can learn to empathize with his wife. Lack of empathy is one of the most common complaints I hear from unhappy wives.

If you can grasp the skills of communicating effectively with a horse you can begin to understand your wife’s perspective and experience of trying to communicate with YOU.”

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A True Story at Every Ranch – Every Day

There’s a ranch hand working with a 3 year old horse in a round pen. The horse is new to the ranch and in its short life has learned to fear and distrust people. The ranch hand is being watched by the head horse trainer who has developed the reputation as one of those “natural horsemen” or “Whisperers”.
This is the 7th day in a row the young man has found himself with this horse in this pen for 2 hours trying to do ONE THING. All he wants is for the horse to trust him enough to quit running in circles, snorting, sneering, and kicking at him. Well, he also wants the horse to walk into the middle of the pen and stand quietly with him.

And he wants her to believe he won’t hurt her – that she is safe with him – that she will “join up” with him as calm, trusting horses are able to do. He wants to touch her without her getting wide-eyed and backing away. And, sometime soon, he wants to ride her and have her be ok with it – enjoy it even.

The Whisperer watches the young man mumble cuss words at the horse, swing his rope, wave his hat, and glare at her eyes as he chases her in circles. “Stupid horse”, the ranch hand thinks to himself.

The head trainer finally speaks.

◊♦◊

Sometimes a Guy Doesn’t Know What He Doesn’t Know

“What am I doing wrong?!” the young man asks.

“Well”, the trainer started, “It’ll take another 7 days to answer that question, so I won’t try. You’ll be better off knowing what that mare needs from you to trust you. I thought you might start to get it after a while, but it’s not uncommon to see guys just try the same old stuff with more gusto thinking she’ll come around.”

Putting a hand on the young man’s shoulder, he said, “Over the last few days I’ve watched how you are with her. You’re loud. You’re bossy. You act unsure of yourself. You yank on her halter. You wave your arms a lot. You act scared of her. She thinks you’re scared of her.”

He continued, “Let me explain what she needs and why. Knowing this will help you choose how to act better tomorrow. First and foremost, she needs to feel your respect. This is not the same as you saying you respect her. She will know based on how you act.
She can’t feel respect from you when you are unaware of how she receives your attempts to communicate. The horse is not a mind reader, but she can feel the PRESSURE of your intentions – good or bad. Everything you’ve communicated to her this week felt like control, disappointment, frustration, and demands. Your uncertainty with her reactions to you felt like distrust and fear. And the negative energy of your foul grumbling felt like disapproval. You say you want her to stand next to you, but she feels your urgency to get a saddle on her and ride. She is having a hard time just relaxing and being a horse in your presence.”
What’s REALLY Going on Here?

5087164599_a4a3bd4422_nA horse’s ability to trust, touch, respect, and enjoy the company of a person comes with conditions. With an ability to feel thes mallest fly land on their butt, they feel the intention and pressure from everything around them. They need to feel a calm confidence from people. They enjoy the predictability of an even-temper and purposeful assertiveness. They are literally attracted toward a person (or another horse) who creates feelings of safety, relaxation, and fun. Yep. Horses like fun.

They prefer to be “asked” or “invited” to do things for people with the smallest amount of pressure.Horse HATE excessive pressure. Although they will begrudgingly respond to it, they will always prefer the presence of the horse or person who can make them feel accepted and safe with the least amount of pressure. Horses become restless with excessive eye contact, an aggressive approach, and overly tentative behavior.

Oftentimes, the very best “release of pressure” to a horse is to simply back off. Give her space. Allow her the freedom she was born with. A lot of people crowd horses with touching, affection, and constant attention. It freaks them out. They need time away from the expectations of being perfect. This time and space allows them to reconnect with people more readily and willingly.
The person who can achieve this with a horse is able to form the partnership they seek. Some of the most amazing, mutually respectful relationships I’ve seen are between a person and a horse who seem to delight in doings things for each other just for the fun it.

◊♦◊

What’s in it for You?

It’s funny. Men who learn to work effectively with horses never question “what’s in it for them”. When they learn what’s really going on, it’s obvious why they need to be the one to initiate a better environment for the horse. However, men who struggle in their marriages are not so quick to understand. And I get it. Like their wives, these men have ALSO been experiencing some very real pain, disrespect, and distrust in their marriage. The decision to accept part of the responsibility for that reality is a tough one. But just like the young man in the story, continuing to operate the same way every day will always yield the same results. I encourage and lead men to choose a new way of operating – first for their OWN good – then for their marriage.

In my personal experience the process of learning this uncovered vulnerabilities of my own that have been hiding under “cow pies” for decades. I discovered a language that has helped me to be honest with myself and to better express my feelings with the woman in my life. If thinking of horses helps me understand what she needs, I’d like her to think of me as a Labrador Retriever. A few belly rubs and one “You’re such a good boy!” keeps me feeling safe and desired all day long.

 

Photo Credit: Flickr  [D]izkography

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About Steve Horsmon

Steve Horsmon is a Certified Professional Life Coach and owner of Goodguys2Greatmen Relationship Coaching in Livermore, Colorado. He has appeared on local television, blog radio, telesummits, and podcasts all related to maintaining healthy relationships. Steve provides intensely personal, action oriented coaching services for men and women. He hosts private retreats and workshops designed to illicit that lump in the throat which inspires commitment and action in his clients. He has written articles and guest blogs for numerous relationship and expert websites including his own blog. You can connect with him via  Facebook too.

Comments

  1. Hi Steve

    Good read :)

    ✺” Lack of empathy is one of the
    most common complaints I hear from unhappy wives……

    The horse is not a mind reader, but she can feel the PRESSURE of your intentions –
    good or bad. Everything you’ve communicated to her this week felt like control, disappointment, frustration, and demands. Your uncertainty with her reactions to you felt like distrust and fear. And the
    negative energy of your foul grumbling felt like disapproval. You say you want her to stand next to
    you, but she feels your urgency to get a saddle on her and ride. She is having a hard time just
    relaxing and being a horse in your presence.”

    Horse HATE excessive pressure”✺

    This is great Steve.
    And as a cat lover I start to think cats also are like this. A cat do anything you want from her ( him) out of love. Pressure and efforts to dominate the cat will only cause her to leave and look for a better home somewhere else.

    • Thanks, Iben. Glad you liked it.

      In all of our discussions here about defining masculinity, I’ve always felt it could be described as the FEELINGS created in other people by a man who has learned to empathize with them – in his own unique, confident, and manly way.

      I’d offer the SAME can be said about femininity – with her unique, confident, feminine energy.

      It’s caring about the environment you have the power to create for the horse – and everyone around you.

    • So I have to ask, Iben (and Steve):

      Exactly how are unhappy wives different than unhappy husbands, here? Do you think caring men are any less sensitive to negative pressure, withering disapproval, etc from their unconscious women partners?

      The real question is: What’s the point of the gender essentialism here? I’m calling SHENANIGANS.

      • Hi Paul,

        No shenanigans. I acknowledge and empathize with the pain a husband feels in a struggling relationship – boy do I empathize. I feel extremely close to the guys I work with because of it.

        The choices are clear in a struggling relationship:
        a. Nobody and nothing changes
        b. HE starts changing the environment
        c. SHE starts changing the environment
        d. They BOTH start changing the environment simultaneously

        I work with men. I encourage them to choose b. It has the highest likelihood of personal growth AND relationship success. Usually, choice c. will kick in – but sometimes not. Choice a is all too common. Choice d. is a miracle.

        Jumping to claims of gender essentialism, in my view, only serves to distract a person from making a choice in their relationship. They choose to try

      • Hi Paul
        You ask:
        ✺”Exactly how are unhappy wives different than unhappy husbands, here”✺
        That is a good question and as a woman I can not answer it. I have only been married once and never figured out what my husbands felt.

        He did not complain about my lack of empathy. He never said I nagged , was demanding or showed frustration or disappointment with him. All he said that he wanted more sex, and that he wanted me to show interest in his body. So he was the one that criticized , nagged , showed his disappointment and demanded more sex.
        So I turned of sexually. Pressure and criticism is not an aphrodisiac.

        To be as sensitive to her man as a horse whisperer is to his horse is that a good advice to a woman?

        Or shall we listen to the dog whisperer the sexy Cecar that say any woman that can control Rottweilers can also control a man?

        I do NOT want to control a man when I am a romantic relationship.

        Do men want us to creep under their skin, be sensitive to all their intents,thoughts ,feelings and understand their actions like we were mind readers ?
        Why do I doubt it?
        Actually I am not sure men will feel comfortable that way. Somehow I feel,they want space,and want to feel free to come and go just like a cat. And feel they have a secret life out there just like any cat.
        Good food,good sex, lots of love and a warm house to come home to.
        But I may be wrong.
        I tend to relate to men like I related to my father.

        If I had tried to understand my ex husband with the sensitivity of a horse whisperer then maybe I could understand what feelings hides behind a mans obsession with sex,and the ugly revenge he can take when he is sexually rejected.

        I am not sure.
        Anyway he is history.
        Will I try to be a horse whisperer with a new male companion I meet? Is that a good way to start a relationship ? It sounds like the way therapists behave with anxious patients.
        The problem is this. Can a horse whispering woman later show her real feelings , the strong ,wild ,intense feelings ? Or will then the male horse gallop away as fast as he can?

        • Hi Iben –

          Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I think you (perhaps inadvertantly) nailed the very problem I was pointing to. Let me explain.

          When we start out by gender essentializing – so (for example) he becomes the “horse whisperer” and she the “horse”, we’re playing right back into the old rigid roles that have defined male-female experience far too long and far too often. And that definition becomes, eventually, a prison.

          When both the man and the women realize that life and roles need to be fluid, that sometimes she needs to be the “horse whisperer” and he the “horse” – that each has the wild one inside, and the wounded child inside too, that empathy and respect and sensitivity are equally important – and (important for our generation in this transitional time) that both men and women are carrying around a LOT of useless cultural baggage around gender that is not essential (ie biological) but much more cultural –

          THEN, there’s a lot more opportunity for the relationship to fulfill it’s potential, as each becomes everything they want to/need to be in the container of that relationship.

          That’s why I’m not a big fan of gender essentializing advice like this. It reduces complex human beings to simple gender stereotypes, and assigns specific roles and responsibilities based on a person’s plumbing (ie man=horse whisperer, woman=horse).

          • Great point, Paul. I understand now what you meant and I agree with the shared responsibility of men and women. Remember, my “tool” for helping men is simply to get a glimpse into thoughts and feelings they do not understand and continually ACT in ways that aggravate them. I love to see women doing the same type of work for themselves and their men.

            The truth as of 2013 is that there are millions of unhappy wives who empathize with the life experience of the horse in ways their men do not understand. This is predominantly a female experience. The unhappy husbands I talk to have a different experience. (see my reply to Iben) If every wedding starting with the clarity and commitment to the great words you wrote, I’d have no unhappy men to talk to. Sometimes analogies facilitate breakthroughs – but are never an attempt to pigeon-hole or minimize.

            Thanks for the comment and joining the convo.

          • Hi Paul
            You are right.

        • Hi Iben,
          In a struggling relationship, the process of developing empathy is about trying to REALLY see or feel your partner’s experience as THEY see and feel it. Using horse or dog analogies to help is not about learning to control or manipulate, but learning to communicate to them your understanding of their needs.

          Once a person can feel empathy and understand those needs, they have the choice to meet them or not. Choosing not to will usually result in a horse or dog that runs away. And sometimes, that is the very best result. There are many times when a husband or wife must decide if the needs of the other cross a non-negotiable boundary for them. They may have been your experience.

          Forgetting the extremes, the most common needs I find in unhappy husbands with unhappy wives are:
          1. She will never initiate non-sexual or sexual physical affection
          2. She will never show me the appreciation I deserve for providing for the family or for being a good father.
          3. She will never SAY things to me to show her approval and respect for how hard I work.
          4. She makes everything else in her life more important than me.

          These common unmet needs are more typically associated with dogs. Sometimes overly needy dogs. Frequent physical touch, enthusiastic appreciation, time & attention, and generous words of affirmation are low on the horse’s list. But they are good indicators for most dogs and men that life is going pretty well at home.

          The biggest problem I see is that husbands and wives have a hard time truly empathizing with each other. My comment about “belly rubs” and being told “you’re such a good boy” gets to the core of what many men are starving for. It is much different than what most of their wives are starving for. * In a struggling marriage*, women will frequently withhold giving such gifts because they are hurting for their own reasons (belittlement, disapproval, criticism, etc). The men WANT to be in a loyal, committed, mutually satisfying marriage, but are being treated like a roommate or an annoying dog in the house. The women think their men are idiots for not seeing what is so obvious to her and all of her girlfriends.

          Divorce is eminent if neither partner works hard to empathize and change their behavior first. As you know, I always tell the men to go first. In my opinion, a good man will go first. In good time, he has a right to expect her to go second. The alternative is a decision to do nothing or turn the horse loose and find another. This is the choice of many men. I was one. Live and learn.

          • Hi Steve

            Keep up with the good work.
            Men come to you to save their marriages,or maybe find our when enough is enough.That is a good thing.
            For me it takes a lot of trust to enter marriage and have that as project throughout life.
            I speak of trust in myself and my capacity to love through hard times. Strangly enough I feel lots of men have love enough to last a lifetime, but I doubt I have love of the kind many men wants. Writing this opens my eyes !

            If I could see men as not stuck in gender roles sexually then I see things differently.

            I am one of the horses that run away, and now I aseek information of other alternative lifestyles to fulfill my needs. We live in interesting times.

  2. Aaron Anderson says:

    Great article, Steve! Your parallels between working with horses to gain their trust and gaining trust with your wife are spot on.

  3. FlyingKal says:

    Hi Steve,
    I understand what you’re trying to convey in this post, the importance of “non-pressurized” trust, empathy, etc. I really do.
    But, There is something that squeeks in it. I can’t really put my finger to it, but there’s one question that keeps popping up in my head:
    ” What interest would a horse (or a dog, for that matter…) have in the empathy and communication with the ranch hand/owner/guy, if it wasn’t fenced in to begin with?”

    Still, you’re doing a good job here,
    Best regards. /K

    • Hey FK,
      Interesting question!

      Metaphors can only work for so long, I suppose.

      Horses and dogs don’t have much of a sense of intentional reciprocation as would would hope for with a human partner. So the analogy breaks down there.

      However, the lesson is more about understanding what it takes to understand and achieve an emotional state (the environment) where a person (woman in this case) FEELS enough safety and respect to WANT to return her gifts. Make no mistake…women WANT to share their gifts with the right man and in the right environment.

      Men I work with (older married guys) are constantly confounded by WHY she is unable to feel attraction after years of subtle pressure. The horse thing connects with many of them.

  4. A’course…the big difference would be the fact that a human woman is capable of linguistic communication, and so relying on interpreting body language and what-not isn’t necessary.

    One would think it’d be easier/more natural to empathise with another human being capable of human speech, rather than a freaking horse.

    • Tom Brechlin says:

      As a side note, my facility has used Equine Therapy with some of the troubled adolescents we’ve worked with and have had great results. Many of these kids have trust issues where they are prone to emotional outbursts. I guess for some the idea of a human and a horse having therapeutic value may appear strange but it really isn’t and has been proven to be very effective

      • Nope, equine therapy doesn’t seem strange at all. Canine therapy is a big thing too. I’m all over the idea that sometimes what helps a broken person become less broken is to care for and train an animal.

        But this article isn’t about broken people re-learning how to interact with other living beings. This is apparently meant to be directed to everyday men…and it draws some pretty straight lines (and kinda messed up parallels) between women and horses. So just, no.

        • Heather, context is everything. Apparently you missed the first part?
          “In my work with married men struggling with their relationship, I’ll use ANY tool I need to make a break-through.”

          It’s about struggling relationships where (almost always) communication has broken down to the point to where words mean nothing. Showing understanding and respect through behavior is the only way out. “Linguistic” skills are withheld out of hurt and resentment. It’s unbelievably, everyday common in many marriages.

          The parallel is no more messed up than my willingness (and those of my clients) to be compared to a dog so their wife can empathize with how THEY want to feel appreciation and physical touch.

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