Power and Responsibility
By Ren Hurst
Chapter 17 of Riding on the Power of Others: A Horsewoman’s Path to Unconditional Love
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“Power over others is weakness disguised as strength.”
Eckhart Tolle

One of the hardest obstacles for me to overcome in this journey has been listening to the people I admire most in my life when they’ve been in direct opposition to some of my ideas around these topics concerning horses. I owe some of these very people some major credit for helping me become the person I am today, and yet, at some point, their roles as teachers in certain areas of my life had to be let go, and I had to stand strong in my own truth, just as they taught me to do. One area in particular concerns the horse’s role in granting permission to be on their backs.

In my introduction to Chapter 14, you met Cisco, the very last horse I rode. I am certain, beyond any doubt, that he granted me permission to be on his back that day. However, it in no way felt like what he wanted for himself, and I had grown far too aware at that point to disregard such things. How often in our daily lives do we grant permission to others at our own expense? How often do we say yes to things we would really rather not do? As someone who spent most of her life just looking for the yes and not the reason behind it, I feel it is very important to discuss the issue of power and responsibility that I have learned from these horses.

When I was very young, I was placed in very damaging sexual situations by an older, and trusted,family member. Did I resist? No. Was I granting permission? It very likely could have been perceived that way because I went along willingly. Even if asked outright, I may have in my childlike mind granted permission to be involved because I simply did not know better. When a young woman says yes before she is ready, is she really OK with it? When someone who has not learned to set boundaries says yes in a situation that actually creates pain for them, does that make it OK? It’s a hard question to answer, but here are my thoughts on such things: If the person asking for something is being authentic in their request with no intention of causing harm, and they are granted permission, then they have met their responsibility in the situation. However, when the person asking permission knows of the harm that could be caused from their request, and they move forward anyway, then there is something to be concerned about. At times, I used to be such a person. I wanted what I wanted, and I placed all the responsibility on the other party to say yes or no regardless of whether or not I could feel something different from them. Sometimes I would do the worst thing I could have done, by pursuing the feeling of yes when the word was no, especially if I could tell someone was only saying no out of fear rather than their true desire, which I could feel in their energy and see in their body language thanks to all my experience as a “horse whisperer.” I look back now and think that made me a monster, but I’m learning to judge less and understand a little more and find compassion for myself and others like me.

The truth is, it’s a difficult topic to discuss and understand. Many of the people who were telling me it was OK to ride horses didn’t know the science showing the harm it caused to the animal. I did. So even though I was granted permission, knowing the harm I was causing made me responsible for making a better choice, one that considered the other party equally, despite what they were willing to allow. This also got me thinking about all the opinions I had heard of those who utilize animal communication in their work with horses. Many animal communicators or their clients had told me their horses enjoyed being ridden. I could not understand that for the longest time. I have thirteen horses in my pasture, and with the exception of Shai, not one of them is OK with the idea of being ridden after two years of total freedom; and I’ve tested that fully just to be absolutely sure. After spending a lot of time with our horses in a healed state, especially Shai, whom I had taken the time to educate and develop on an intellectual level, it became quite obvious what the answer was when I’d go out and be around other horses living the typical domesticated horse life. They were coming from an entirely different perspective. They generally had no idea what life outside of being ridden and trained looked like, much less that it was an option. They were absolutely in a state of learned helplessness, and if you have ever met a person in such a state, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Let’s just assume for the sake of argument that animal communication is possible and that these horses had really granted permission or admitted to enjoying being ridden. If I ask a child to make a decision, such as I was when presented with a harmful sexual encounter, would it be responsible of me to assume that the child knew what was best for them? If I ask something of someone who has been controlled for so long that they don’t even know what is best for them, should I take advantage of that? What makes us think that the average horse is able to answer such questions about riding from any sort of mature understanding? Most horses are conditioned beyond any hope of being able to confidently express how they really feel. Basically, they are brainwashed and fully indoctrinated into the cult of domestication.

This isn’t an issue of right and wrong but rather an issue of responsibility and using our power in a way that serves ourselves and those we care about. When one has power over another, which is always the case in riding horses, it is of extreme importance that such power comes with great responsibility. I have searched and searched for any reason that would make it OK for me to climb up on a horse’s back again and enjoy that sensation, and when I fully consider the horse, there is none. The horse does not benefit from my being atop his back, and I put him at great risk of harm even when it is done with total mastery, which is rare. This is an issue of taking a deep look at the things we do and being willing to question their validity in our moving toward the life and the world we hope to create. Do you want a better world? Are your actions in alignment with creating kindness, love, and understanding? If they aren’t, there is no hope for change unless you find the courage to face yourself and do something differently.

I think the event that really influenced my desire to look at domesticated animals differently was when I taught Shai colors for the first time. One of my NHE School lessons was to teach Shai different colors and objects and ask him to select the correct color and/or object requested. It took less than fifteen minutes for him to learn the difference between blue, purple, and red, and he never made one mistake. I taught him in the same way I might have taught a young human child. That experience, combined with the videos and material I had been studying of Alexander Nevzorov’s own horses with their Latin lessons, caused me to turn around, go in my bedroom, and debate whether or not I would ever come out again. Many times I peeked out my window to stare at this magnificently intelligent being, trapped in a pen so I could play with him and do with him as I pleased, as tears streamed down my face.

Having underestimated the intelligence level of animals for so long and at such great depth, when I was exposed to the truth of what they are really able to understand, being surrounded by them left me feeling like a slave owner. It’s no wonder we keep them stupid. Isn’t that exactly how we were able to control members of our own species for so long? One will never be able to understand the intellectual capability of another if they are only willing to weigh it against their own understanding of that individual. If we believe animals to be stupid, and we keep them under our control, they will be stupid unless we create an environment and situation where they can advance. I never did another lesson like that with Shai. It served me better to allow him to just be a horse after I realized what he had the potential to become. It took a lot for me to give up what he and I had created together, but when we moved to our little sanctuary in California, I had him gelded and gave him the opportunity to live with other horses for the very first time and be just like them. It took him a while to stop asking me for lessons, but eventually he settled in and became the most popular guy in the pasture. We still have something special, but it’s nothing like we used to have, and I wish everyone knew just what kind of actual commitment it would take to truly maintain such a relationship with a horse, especially a stallion. I doubt very many people would want it if they knew just how equal that horse would become.

When the documentary Blackfish came out in 2013, it was hard for me to watch—not because of the abuse featured in the film, but because I spent the entire film shaking my head and muttering, “How is this any different than what we do with horses?” I was absolutely thrilled to see the impact this movie made for killer whales kept in captivity, but I was frustrated that the world at large considers it completely acceptable to commit the exact same crimes against horses. For one, horses are no different biologically than their wild counterparts. Two, horses kill people every single day in response to the pain we inflict upon them. Three, I wish everyone knew the average lifespan of a domesticated horse compared to that of a healthy, wild one, just as the film made clear for orcas. We abuse horses in nearly everything we do with them, and because we have been doing it for so long and people love it so much, few seem to care. Oh, I forgot that billions of dollars are generated from our abuse of horses. Does this mean we should turn all the horses out into the wild? Of course not. It just means we could think about not using them for sport or breeding them to be our play things. Instead, maybe we could create sanctuaries, even in our own backyards, and start learning from them to create a better world and be happier, more whole beings ourselves.

I’ve had so many people want to discuss what I’m doing with horses and then challenge it by saying something along the lines of, “Oh, I could never stop riding; how would I make a living?” or “Do you have any idea how many people would be out of jobs if everyone quit riding horses?” I just look at them blankly as if they did not hear that I had already been down that road and chose something else, and I hadn’t died yet. I may not have a large human family, but I do have 25 animals to care for, and we do whatever we have to do to get by. If that means at the end of this year I have to go back to working in an office until I figure out the next step, then that’s what I will do. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said in The Little Prince, “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” I am taking my responsibility very seriously these days. More importantly, I’m taking the time to learn who I am without horses so that I can discover what it is I truly love to do, for myself. Maybe it will be writing. Maybe it will be something else. I don’t know, and I don’t care; but what I do care about are those I love, and I’m not willing to harm them any longer so that I can reap financial rewards from it.