Concepts – an essay by Sabine Birmann

I often meet people who live or treat their horses a certain way based on a “concept.” Actually, if I think about it, most people do this. I had to ask myself: what does the word concept actually imply? What does it mean? The dictionary describes it as “an idea, a general notion, a plan or intention…a program for an idea or ideal.” We can come up with a concept, and we ourselves, and perhaps others as well, end up standing by this concept, no matter how grounded in reality or research it actually is. We use these concepts like guides – they help us decide how to act. Apparently, this gives us the comfort of thinking that we are doing the “right thing,” that we have a “plan.”

Is the “Being with horses” philosophy one of these concepts? Even people who have been students of this philosophy for a long time struggle to truly understand that “Being with horses”…is not a concept, nor a method. That it is not a plan or pattern we can just follow. And if there is something like a guide, it can only be our own awareness, and our desire to receive feedback that is unfiltered and honest. By accepting that feedback and trusting our awareness, we may then come to a realization, based on which we can adjust our actions for the sake of the horse.

Of course we can flirt with an idea, or even a plan, but neither can be rooted within a concept. We must be able to change, or discard either one depending on the situation. Without us even noticing, a concept can quickly become a self-designed prison within our own minds, as we cycle through the same thought process over and over again. We begin to make up reasons why something should be a certain way, our awareness becomes selective, and we become blind to the things that don’t fit into our concept.

Once we begin to observe and develop an awareness that notices the behaviour of the horse, the eye, the appearance, the facial expressions, and the presence of the horse – that’s when we have found our guide. This guide will tell you: “turn around, keep going, stop, sit down, ride the horse, walk the horse, let go, be more clear, more empathetic, more consistent, more sensitive, more understanding, more caring, more calmer, or more motivating.”

Likewise, in time we will be able to recognize if our horse really is too thin or too fat, if it coat is shiny or dull, if it is stiff or relaxed, tired or content, hungry or thirsty, too hot or too cold, happy or sad, stressed or calm or annoyed. This awareness develops from our ability to “be.” Because when we “are” with our horse, and our senses become sharper and more attuned over time, then we are eventually able to instinctually act based on what is happening in the here and now. We can make a change for the better within our present conceptions. Those who decide to do so will inevitably continue to develop themselves, because most of us have lost our awareness or have only minimally developed it.

Therefore, the first thing we teach during our seminars is to observe, to allow feelings to surface, and to let them go again if we happen to realize that they did not come from the horse, but were our projections onto it. 
The horses’ reaction is the best feedback we can get. By learning the horse’s body language, we are increasingly able to understand what it is saying, and also what we are saying, often without even realizing it. Communication, especially through body language, happens spontaneously and does not follow a concept. Even if all we do is stand or walk, our body position and presence already portrays a lot.

If communication is used to follow or enforce a specific concept or pattern, i.e. if I do or say this, the horse reacts in this or that specific way, then I am unable to have a real, spontaneous conversation with an equal partner. An authentic conversation turns into a back and forth that follows a rigid script. Thankfully, the horse will mirror this to us as well, using their facial expressions, their eyes, the position of their ears, their overall physical expression and behavior. A horse who simply does its job looks and behaves very different than a horse that is actively communicating.

A concept can become extremely limiting, because if we have a plan in mind about how something “should” be, we might miss the exception – we replace awareness with our beliefs. Our concepts fool us into thinking that there is a linear process to life – if I do this, then things will become better and better but life is more likely to follow the laws of quantum physics – “we can only make probability statements,” and just like all the different parts influence each other within the experiment, similar interactions can be observed on a larger scale throughout our entire lives. In regards to the horse, there are many factors and influences that cause it to react a certain way, that shapes its personality, its genetic predisposition, and its life circumstances.

“Being with horses”…should free us and make us more independent, but it is difficult for people to let go of old concepts, to discover their awareness, and to learn to trust it again. This is why we avoid descriptions like academy, school, or teaching facility. We don’t need to attend a specific place or school to learn how to “be” in the present. It happens outside in nature, in an arena, while we are just standing around, while riding, or while we are visiting our horse out in the field – just like someone who believes doesn’t need a church to do so.

When we allow ourselves to develop, through and alongside the horse, we will notice that it will affect our everyday life. We will have the best guides we could ask for – our awareness, our gut-feeling, and our logical mind. With a dash of honesty toward our reflection, even if it shows something other than what we want to see, we will always know where to go…

With Kind Regards,

Sabine Birmann