The horses, my teachers

Kairos and the discovery of slowness

What we can learn from horses about ourselves and our lives

Kairos is a five year old Trakehner gelding and one of my private horses. I bought and raised him 3 years ago. Kairos is a very sensitive horse.

It is a so-called Aufsetzkopper. Biting is a type of stereotyped behavior that is always associated with compensation. Either compensation for trauma or long-term stress. You can think of it as a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

There is a misconception that horses would copy such behavior. However, they only do this if their stress level is just as high as that of their role model. This type of hospitalism only occurs in captivity in stalls.

Kairos was separated from his mother

According to the breeder, Kairos started doing this every six months. He has spent the summers on pasture and the winters in a large exercise box with company and daily exercise. I assume that he has not coped with the separation from his mother.

The changeover to open stables has reduced his chopping behaviour, but he still uses it to relax. Koppen has become a loyal friend to him.

Horses that seek such a balance are usually particularly sensitive. This high sensitivity means that they feel and perceive much more than other characters. They are constantly busy checking the surroundings so that they can escape if the worst comes to the worst. This creates a certain basic tension and basic uncertainty.

In addition, of course, there is the Trakehner factor. Angry gossips say that the Trakehners are all special.

A horse with a lot of energy

Well then, my dear Kairos definitely had the energy level of a Duracell rabbit. Once switched on, he showed a kind of blind activism.

This was expressed, for example, when we wanted to have a relaxing walk. Well, I wished for the relaxed walk. Kairos probably just wanted to get it over with quickly and was goose-stepping.

He also suffered from “assisted dementia”, which means I had to ask for a slower pace per kilometer what felt like a hundred times.

challenge ‘lunge’

It was similar when lunging. Once turned on, it spun around me for so long and so fast it made me dizzy. Of course I wasn’t happy with that. I wished for a “togetherness”. By this I mean a common flow of movement, synchronicity, mutual respect and appreciation and, above all, trust.

The reality was I had now spent about a year managing him. I tried to recondition his behavior with positive and negative reinforcement. This allowed me to control him, but we didn’t get “real” rest with this type of training.

My wish was to take our relationship to a new level. One of my characteristics is that once I understand something, I go my own way.

The new realization that Kairos gives me

I looked forward to a new lesson in knowledge from my friend and teacher Kairos. When I start a project like this, I always do some self-reflection first, because it is well known that horses reflect us. Every issue and every behavior that the horse shows always has something to do with ourselves. The horse resonates with us or some aspect of us.

In which moments was I the Duracell Bunny? I occupied myself mentally with my own basic energy. I watched myself. When was I relaxed, when in tension.

After some time I realized the following:
I find life very exciting. New projects excite me. I can’t say no to that. Unfortunately, this tendency also causes me to become tense and overwhelmed when I am busy.

What I have in common with my horse

Thank God I recognize the signs in myself and then pull the brakes. If I continued to practice this, burnout would only be a matter of time. But just like Kairos, I seem to be “helping demented” because it happens to me over and over again.

Then I have to keep telling myself: slow down. Once this parallel between Kairos and myself had become clear to me, the change process began. It was clear to me that I first had to solve my own issue in order to be able to really connect with the horse.

A mindfulness exercise with horses

I had the idea for a mindfulness exercise with the horse. Lunging reminded me of my own hamster wheel. Here I wanted to observe and experiment with how Kairos and I could find peace together.

My first idea was to only lunge him at a walk and wait until he showed the typical signs of relaxation (unscrewing, willingness to stretch, swinging back). Only then, and only then, would I want to trott him up.

Oh my god, that was a tough time for me. It was almost unbearable for me to stand in the middle and do nothing. Just waiting and lowering my energy, still staying in the here and now. It was horrifying, but I pulled through.

After an hour he snorted and his step calmed down. The steps grew longer. I noticed that I could feel this wonderfully on the lunge. When he was tense the lunge moved a lot more than when he was calming down. I tested this with my eyes closed.

Switching signals – signs of body language

I was in the midst of “feeling”. I used all my senses. I could observe switching signals. By switching signals I understand signs of body language that signal to me that Kairos is entering a different level of tension.

These signs can be:
Chew, wink, yawn, bow your head, and so on. In addition, these signs indicate that other brain regions are being activated, such as the frontal cortex. This is responsible for learning.

So when a horse comes out of a state of tension into a more relaxed state, it is more able to perceive and process my cues. In a tense state, it can do this much worse or not at all.

So that was the “help dementia”. Do you know it yourself? All you have to do is try to solve a math problem in an excited state. Or to change behavior patterns in a situation where you are overwhelmed. Difficult requirement.

What are the switching signals in humans?

Observe it in yourselves, we are not that dissimilar to the horses there. Then I recognized the parallel to the horse again.

I always like to use the scaling for clarity, on a scale of 1-10, 1 is totally relaxed, 10 is panicked. While it took Kairos an hour to go from an energy level of 5 to a 2, it took me the same amount of time to fully settle into the “here and now.”

I was calm and connected to myself and ready to perceive and feel Kairos and the surrounding area in a completely nonjudgmental way. Interesting!

I also realized that it was my responsibility to create such an atmosphere, so that Kairos and myself would be able to work and learn. Should it be that easy?

Experiments with mindfulness in everyday life

In the weeks that followed, I experimented with this idea with Kairos, but also in everyday life. I have had wonderful experiences. Whenever I feel a tension in myself, I see what I need to lower it again.

These can be very different measures, such as breathing consciously for 2 minutes. Or a little break, listening to a song, talking to a friend.

If I feel the tension and take care of myself in a timely manner, the tension will disappear in no time. The longer I endure the tension, the longer it takes to release it.

In the meantime, Kairos and I have made quite a bit of progress in our lunging mindfulness exercise. We’re just practicing changing tempi through energy build-up and drain-down. We don’t need much longer to get into a “togetherness”.

When we’re both connected, it’s like magic. It’s a beautiful feeling. The more often I feel it, the less I am satisfied with a “side by side”.

I create contexts with a certain stress level. There I practice creating a space for Kairos in which he can come to rest. Without coercion and without management.

In the video: Kairos and I practicing

In the video you can see us practicing. Let yourself be inspired and go on a journey together with your horse. Get to know each other in a new way and enjoy the process.