TODAY IS MY STEPFATHER’S BIRTHDAY…
Don't worry the post is horse related!
He’s been dead for almost 10 years and the last time I met him was over 25 years ago. Still, he is present in my life in a way I wish he weren’t. He was my main abuser and set the stage for much of the rest of the abuse I endured, until I was finally “let go of”.
I grew up not knowing anything but being a victim, or on occasions, a perpetrator, or an enabler. I didn’t know I had choices, in fact, I did not know what a choice was, I didn’t have a voice, I didn’t know how to use a voice, I had no idea about what it felt to be understood, seen, heard. I didn’t grow up to become an autonomous individual.
Growing up like I did has, of course, impacted my life in many different ways – one being, it formed my views on horses.
I grew up feeling inexplicably drawn to horses. I kept on getting back to them, I so wanted to learn to be with them, to learn to ride. But I could not stand being in the environment they existed in. All I saw was murky, dirty, small rooms with bars, ropes and ties, leather stuff. I was told to pull, push, kick. I was given a whip and told to be more decisive, harder, more authoritarian. When let out of their dirty small rooms people put all these leather and rope gadgets on them, pushed something into their mouths, then they mounted them, kicked them, and decided everything. Jump, run, turn, stand still, run…. And if they were lucky, they were let out in small outdoor area, with nothing but potentially a little grass, but mostly mud or sand – so they wouldn’t get too fat, surrounded by electricity or barb wire, or just plain fences.
On top of this – all the people talked about how much they loved horses and how everything they did, they did for the horses (most of them sounded like that). But, at the same time, the environment was oozing with fear and anxiety, human fear as well as fear in the horses.
My brain couldn’t sort this out.
What was I seeing?
On one hand – much of what goes on the horse industry – is not good for horses (or humans?)
On the other hand – how much of myself and my own abuse did I see in how horses were treated?
It took years for me to figure this out (and still working on it).
My intention in speaking up for equine welfare, teaching about it, learning more myself, all the time – I felt I did for a good cause and for good reasons. The more people would know about horses, the better the horses would be doing – right? It seemed logic to me. Obvious.
And that is partly true. I still believe that. Knowledge is important. When you know better, you do better.
But…. What about me? Why did I feel so drawn to horses? Why was it (is it) so easy for me to speak up about equine welfare issues? (or actually, it was not easy, but easier…).
How many of the women in the world, have at any point in their life been abused, harassed, been a victim to misogyny, sexism? (having lower wages then your male colleagues? been afraid when you walk home when it is dark outside? Been patronized when calling the tech support? Not gotten the job because you are in a childbearing age? Because you have small children? Been whistled after? Had your butt caressed (pinched, touched) without consent?
Why are there so many women in the horse world?
(Why are there so many women in the therapy world?)
Who are you tending to when you tend to your equines?
Who are you caring for, saving, rescuing, suffering with?
I know now why I felt affiliated with horses. They where these silent animals (the don’t even scream or sound much when in pain), who are made to constantly do things, they live in prison like places, they have no choices, no voice, no life – except boredom and fulfilling human wishes…
(I am being provocative on purpose… not saying this is the whole picture of being a horse in a human world… but bear with me…)
I wanted to make a difference for them. I wanted people to see what I saw. I wanted horses to be better understood. Seen. Heard. Respected for who and how they are. Have choices, live fulfilling lives.
I have been passionate about this mission. And I still am.
But… who am I doing it for? What is it that I really want people to see and understand?
How much am I myself guilty of turning the horse into a tool? Letting him be a voice for me?
My intentions were sincere, well-intended, and clear. My motivations not so much.
Does this take away from what I have accomplished, still work with?
No. I don’t think so.
How does it serve me to be aware of this?
Being aware of my own abuse history and how it has impacted me – helps me see the horses clearer. See his needs. Know when I speak for him, or for myself. Being aware also gives me choices. And it gives me the ability to communicate clearer about what is important to me. In the end this IS benefitting horses too.
Growing as humans, also as caretakers, owners, trainers, facilitators of EAP/L, riders etc – always starts with looking at ourselves. Honestly looking at ourselves. Asking ourselves, what are my lenses, my biases, my preconceived notions?
How much of what we do with our horses have more to do with us than our horses? What role are your horses filling in your life?
What kind of a horse person you are – becomes clearer to you if you put yourself in a wider context.
We can then ask ourselves all the hard questions… what is my need to take care of? Rescue? Control? Excel? Punish? Be respected? Be seen? Be loved?
Why is it seen as such a good thing to sacrifice everything you have, all your time, all your money, all your energy – on taking care of horses? You all know the funny cartoons, with a horse woman, with dirty clothes, straw in her hair? Hardly eating anything? But the horse is shiny, with a new blanket and expensive feed?
How funny is it? I mean, really?
People who do not take care of themselves, do not feed themselves, put all money, energy, and time into taking care of someone else?
What do we then expect the horse to give us back?
And still it IS important how we feed, house, care for our horses…
How do we compassionately look at our own motives of what we do and why we do what we do? How do we see our horses needs? But also, our own?
I am using myself as an example, because I think it is a very clean and clear example, still it took years for me to see what I was doing, what was motivating me. And even if I see it now – I still have to work on maintaining that awareness. I have to keep on asking myself what is motivating me when I want to or choose to do things. And even more. I need to be honest with myself when I answer my own questions. I might still end up doing the thing I set out to do, but having a clear motivation makes it more congruent. By “mixing up” my needs with my horses’ needs – actually turned out to be sorting things out instead. I thought I could not talk (or even think) about my own abuse and equine welfare in the same situation, that it would be confusing for both me and whoever might listen (including the horse). It turns out, it is the opposite.
For me – equine welfare and wellbeing – tending to our horses – is a lot about – looking at and tending to ourselves.
Text and pictures are copyright protected © Katarina Lundgren 2020
This is a great post Katarina, you make some very good points that certainly I relate to and I think I have observed in others in the horse world. You're right, the image of a woman neglecting herself and pouring all her love and care into a horse is not funny, but its a popular meme because its so common. And while the horse may be shiny and have a clean rug on, is it really in his/her interests to be on the receiving end of all that projected emotion? It's very generous of you to use yourself as an example, thank you for sharing this. I think we can all learn from it x