what horses teach us about boundaries
Do you respond to emails after work?
How much are you willing to share with your family about your relationship with your partner?
If a friend asks to borrow your car, would you say “yes”?
These are all different situations, but they all share one thing - they all put our personal boundaries to the test.
Boundaries are present in many facets of life and in all kinds of relationships. From how we invest our time, energy, and emotions, to how we share our resources, these invisible lines help us establish our identity and personal space, providing us with a sense of safety and mutual respect integral to our well-being. And as we navigate life, it’s not only our boundaries that we consider but that of others too. It’s deciding whether to knock first before entering a room or if a handshake is more appropriate than a hug. Understanding boundaries means recognizing the importance of being mindful of others, and at the same time, being mindful of our own needs.
When considering the set of questions from earlier, some of us may have had a definitive answer, a solid “yes” or “no,” and some of us may have responded with “it depends.” Boundaries often fall somewhere between loose and rigid. We might make adjustments depending on the circumstance. For example, we might make an exception to our “no work after hours” policy if there is an emergency that needs our attention. This flexibility is essential as we encounter different people and situations in life. However, our sense of safety and peace of mind could become compromised if we are unclear about where to draw the line.
Working with horses provides gentle opportunities to strengthen our boundary-setting skills. As horses are members of a herd, it is in their nature to tune in to their boundaries and the boundaries set around them as this helps maintain the collective good within the herd. In the absence of clarity from us, a horse might come into our personal space causing us to move or shift our balance. But when we are present and align our behavior with our intention to hold our space, the horse will respond cooperatively to what we are communicating as they are able to read our body language.
Being able to set boundaries with such a majestic, large animal can be empowering and can make the process of setting boundaries in our day-to-day life less intimidating, especially in those times when it’s difficult to say “no.” Interacting with a horse also teaches us to slow down, check in with ourselves and notice what feels safe and what doesn’t.
Likewise, horses can help us learn to be more perceptive of others' boundaries. One way that they set their boundaries is by moving away or turning away their head. While there are many reasons why horses might do this, one possible reason is that they do not sense trust or respect from the people around them. While we may not necessarily verbally ask for permission to interact, horses can certainly understand our intent and if it's coming from a place of respect and authenticity by paying attention to our behavior, tone of voice, and facial expressions - making sure that all of these are congruent. In this process, not only do we learn how to be more aware of boundaries, but we are also able to improve our level of self-awareness.
At Equinimity, we are incredibly grateful to work with horses as they help our community experience a sense of calm, safety, and vulnerability as we learn about ourselves and relating with one another. In our program, Equine Assisted Somatic Experiencing (EASE), we explore how to set healthy boundaries as part of our personal growth and development alongside the heart-centered presence of horses to facilitate deep healing.
Setting healthy boundaries is crucial to our well-being and in all aspects of life. It gives us the freedom to express what is right, what is good, and what is true for us. It also helps us to connect and understand one another as we learn, appreciate and respect the boundaries they have set for themselves.
To learn more about our Equine Assisted Somatic Experiencing (EASE) program, please contact us at EquinimityTucson@gmail.com