The DIFFERENCE between Horses and Humans…


Why is emphasizing the differences between horses and humans so important to me? Isn’t it nicer, kinder of me to look for the similarities? Is not looking for similarities between us and horses making us respect them more? Understand them better? Being able to empathize with them better and therefor provide them with better welfare and happier lives?

I do not think so. Because who am I really empathizing with? The horse? Or myself?

Empathy is recognizing that we are similar, have similar emotions, share some experiences because we all are alive and have experiences… but empathy is also knowing that we all are unique. We have species-specific needs – and then we all have unique, individual needs, personal needs.

People like me, who did not feel I was (am still sometimes) not worthy of having my needs met (or even knew/know what my needs are). How much easier to focus on the horse. Asking myself, what does the horse need? Who is the horse? What can I do to better horse welfare?

Who am I really trying to save? It is like a saving of myself by proxy… Does it work? No. Because what I need, is not always what a horse need. We share some basics need on a very fundamental survival level. Food, water, shelter (humans… not so much horses), and a social context (which we are not always so good at providing horses with).

What we need we express through our behaviors.

And yes. Yes. Horses and humans are both mammals. We share a common mammalian central nervous system. But how each species uses that CSN differs. Add different senses, different bodies, different brains that goes with those bodies, different evolutionary niches, different species-specific needs that goes with those differences…

Nature – reuses… there is a limited amount of behaviors any species can display. Even if we look at it on a mammalian level. Some behaviors horses and humans display. Like yawning e.g. How many reasons can you come up with as to why a human yawn? Would there not be a many as to why a horse yawn? Would they all be the same? Would there be a total overlap to as why a horse yawns and why a human yawn? No.

Behavior is context dependent language, a behavior expresses something, an internal or external need. And language is complex. It builds on combinations of smaller units. Think about the human ability to make sounds. There is limited amount of sounds a human can do. All healthy babies all over the world are born with the same library of possible sounds. When they are 1-year old, they will have been socialized into dropping some sounds, they are simply not part of the language they hear in their environment. At 2 a child can say “ma” and mean a lot of different things, depending on what language s/he is learning (even within a language it can mean very different things – in Chinese it can mean horse, mother, quarreling, or mark a question – just depending on what tone you use when saying “ma”). So not even humans express the same things with the same kind of behaviors (here sound behaviors).

Are horses’ language as complex as humans are? We do not know. But we know from other species that use more sounds to express themselves that these sounds are ripe with meaning. My guess is that other ways of communication, more body-based languages are as ripe (communication with all kinds of senses also beyond the ones we as humans have and can perceive and give information trough). The language of odor is e.g. pretty unknow to humans (we do signal stuff with it, but mostly in very unaware way, which in a sense is language too – or at least communication (now I complicate things even more…)).

What does it mean to be a human? We humans love to sort, categorize, label. It is a human way of making the world more understandable. It is a species-specific need in us, that manifests in this way. Then we love to communicate what we find out; we love to share it. So we do, using our language.

This means we are busy putting labels on each other all the time. We call each other narcissists, empath, white, colored, man/woman, Hindu, Christian, American, Swedish, Adult, child, extrovert, introvert, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, thin, fat, ugly, beautiful… some of it we see as more objective “truths”, some of it some of us see more as a judgment… we label others, and we label ourselves. It is as if we define each other and ourselves, we will understand each other and ourselves better. Do we?

This is a human way of being, of functioning. Out of it we construct elaborate theories, religions, political ideologies, philosophies... We organize ourselves and put it all into systems.

And we very much use this way of being when we want to classify how people we meet are doing and coping mentally, cognitively, emotionally, and socially.

We keep on doing the sorting… this person is autistic, narcissistic, toxic, dissociative, anxious, depressed, schizophrenic, psychotic, anorexic, obsessive-compulsive, alexithymic, attention deficient, introverted, intelligent.

And then we apply that to all living beings around us, especially then ones close to us… like our dogs, cats and horses.

But can a horse be the above? Those labels have come out of studying humans (and I would argue they are somewhat obsolete even describing and defining humans…).

We take all our beautiful theories and apply them to the ones we have around us. We pick our favorite theories, concepts, constructs or come up with our own. And they can be great tools. To deepen our understanding through, by adding perspectives. But here is also a risk we only will se what we look for. How do we get around that? We can go out and look at horses and do our best to put all our theories and soon, into our back heads. So we can see as undistracted as possible. Will anyone ever be able to see perfectly clearly? No. We cannot. But by being aware of all that makes up the sum of being me, this particular individual of a human (and mammal, animal) – as good as I can, constantly striving to become more aware of myself – I see more and more of the one I meet. The less information I gather on this other – the more my marvelous mind will fill in, from previous experiences… this is yet another way we human function. We are fillers of gaps and pattern seekers. We do not like to not know…

I have learned the most when I meet very different opinions, thoughts and theories from my own. Sometimes I surprised (still surprise) myself with my defensiveness and almost felt a loss having to leave a theory, belief or thought construct behind.

I again and again am struck by our attraction as humans to put ourselves in the middle of everything. To be unique and superior to other animals, at the same time as we want to find similarities to calm us down and make us know that we belong? The struggle between our need to attach and our need for authenticity? (I wrote this and then went to look for one of Gabor Maté’s description of addiction… how fitting:

I too did spend a lot of time looking for similarities between horses and humans. I came out of my own need to feel I belong, to feel understood, feel close, that I am not so odd and strange. I felt rejected by humanity and sought to be understood and feel at home with horses instead. At the same time, I perpetuated a view on myself as a misfit and an outlier – making myself special, putting my own feelings in the center… This was (is) about

MY struggle of knowing I belong but allow myself to be me, without judging myself….

What I missed is what I take away from horses by sticking to my own needs, the lenses they created in me (I call it my trauma lens).

I did have the other view too. That I love horses, each individual horse, for the unique perspective they bring. For the unique and intriguing individual each of them is. But this perspective kept being muddled by me looking at horses through my trauma lens. What I am – is lucky to not have acquired is the lenses many traditional equestrians struggle with to see beyond. I was never a traditional equestrian. I was never taught I am here to dominate a horse. Or I went to riding schools that tried to teach me that – but I was too triggered by old traumas to be able to stay in those environments. So… well, while I was not conditioned into believing a bunch of stuff about horses, I still could not see them properly, due to my own background…. Which I could not see, because I was conditioned by that background to divide the world into victims and perpetrators… and my fear or becoming a perpetrator was bigger than my fear of remaining a victim.

My tendency has been to see horses as victims of humanity. Are they? Sometimes. But it was more about me having been a victim of humanity… and that I could not let go of, seeing myself as a victim… since then it meant I was a perpetrator (that was my unconscious and very limiting belief). When I limited by view on horses by holding on to old beliefs I was doing the opposite of what I was striving for, seeing the horse, so I could provide him/her with the best welfare I could come up with, adapted to his/her needs! Not my needs...

The “funny” thing was I could see this in other people that I met, that they really needed to save themselves and stop trying to save horses. So they could see clearer But I could not see it in myself. (every time I say this – people get mad at me – thinking I am not taking abuse towards horses seriously. I am taking that VERY seriously; it is just important to know what drives you as a person. I definitively want to work with supporting growth for traumatized beings, but if I do it out of a need of saving myself… well, then I am not really seeing the other, person or horse? Am I?) 

I find out that my views on horses, on beings in general, has not changed that much… only my view on myself, and that changes everything 😊. And I am getting better and better at holding many perspectives at the same time, not having to shift between them, without knowing that I am doing that.

Am I done? Absolutely not. I will never be done. I will have to keep on staying aware of my trauma lens (as well as other lenses I have acquired) – for the rest of my life. Which is a much easier job to do after I admitted I have them… But since I am less and less seeing myself as a victim, I am less and less seeing horses as victims... still being able to hold the truth that the world IS full of victims. Individual victims, not victims on a species level.

Once I got to see that it is all merely about perspectives. Some perspectives are more helpful in some circumstances. But staying open to other perspectives than my own, I have learned, is beneficial to me. And to the ones I am looking at.

My ambition is to see the horse as an individual, as to see any individual as a unique individual, including myself. As good as I can.

And – differences are why we want to interact with others. How fun would it be to interact with clones of yourself?

And I want to say… since I emphasize differences here. Similarities are important too. We relate easier to the ones that seems enough similar to us (and we have a tendency to fear novelty and the unknown). It is important to acknowledge what we belong to, the commonalities we share. We humans are all humans. As humans we belong in a greater context. In that context we have horses, other mammals, other animals, nature. We need to attach.

Differences are what makes life interesting – we need to be authentic.

But in reality… we are all the same…. (sorry for that somewhat abrupt spiritual-like ending… - for me that is not spirituality – it is simply how I see it. We are all living beings… depending on our environment, we are all part of this beautiful web of life, as unique little puzzle pieces).

Text and picture are copyright protected. ©Katarina Lundgren 2021


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Friday, 21 June 2024