The Language of the Heart Originally Published in Horse Directory, December 2011
by Tom Gumbrecht
During the holiday season, someone invariably brings up the old European legend that states that on Christmas Eve at midnight, our animals can speak in human voice. This quickly leads to amusing banter about what our horses would say to us. How we wish we knew what our horses were thinking about us!
But do we? Do we really need human language for such a conversation? We are all students of the Equus language. The very best of us become fluent in it. After quite a few years of study, much longer than it would take to get a Master’s Degree, I still only have what I would call a working knowledge of it. When we meet someone who is fluent, we have found a great horseman. When we meet someone who is not only fluent but can translate for us into human language, we have found a great trainer. Equus doesn’t always translate readily into human language, but the best trainers find the words in the same way an artist uses oil paint to capture the feeling of a magnificent vista. But the words of the trainer are just there to facilitate the real, nonverbal, horse-human connection. Equus is a language that words take away from, not add to. It is purity, simplicity, honesty, integrity. It is the language of the heart. And that is, quite possibly, what attracts us to our equine partners.
Honesty, in a word, defines the human-equine relationship. Honesty fosters trust, and trust is what we require in order to do what we do with our horses. Actions, not words, create it. People say, but horses do. We are what we do; what we say is how we want to appear. Horses don’t care how they appear. Sometimes when I come back from a solo trail ride I’m asked, “You went alone”? Trying to appear witty, sometimes I’ll reply, “Alone? No… I was with my horse!” But I mean it… the time spent with just horse and rider to me has been a priceless asset in my study of Equus. In those moments, words are a distraction… an interruption in the flow of messages between us. So, while I enjoy the companionship of a like minded rider, I also value, no, treasure those times when it’s just me and my horse. They are my language lessons.
It has been said that princes learn no art truly, but the art of horsemanship. The reason, the saying goes, is that the brave beast is no flatterer. He will throw a prince as soon as his groom. Truly, when we have earned the respect of a horse, we have really earned it. They have no ulterior motives. Their language doesn’t include flattery to entice getting what they want, coercion to force getting what they want, sarcasm to ridicule into getting what they want, courtesy to put a different spin on what they want, or withholding of truth to spare the other’s feelings. When we learn to speak Equus, our language is simpler: asking for what we want, observing the reply to the question, rephrasing the question when it’s necessary, and expressing when we are pleased with the effort. When failing to make myself understood, I need to change the way I’m asking. It’s such a simple rule if I can just remember it. The better we get at remembering that, I believe, the better horsemen we become.
So, what is it that makes our relationship with our horses so unique and compelling? Perhaps it is the opportunity to converse in the language of the heart. Because what comes from the heart, touches the heart.