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Boundaries - Tricky business

My horse triggers an old, habitual way of thinking and feeling in me, not enough.

Horses establish clear boundaries with each other. They regularly and decisively enforce these limits. For humans, boundaries can be complex and problematic. Everything about human relationships is more complicated than it is with horses.

As an animal lover, my natural inclination is to cuddle with them and love them to pieces.

Many people struggle with setting and maintaining personal boundaries. I am one of those people. If you lack self-esteem, you won't be good at establishing or enforcing your limits.

For years people walked on me, and I believed I deserved this treatment. I put up with a lot of bad behavior simply because I was scared they would leave me if I stood up for myself. I was deathly afraid of being rejected. My belief was "having someone is better than having no one," regardless of the consequences.

Over the years, my self-esteem has grown. I not only like myself, but I also love myself. The result is that I no longer tolerate abuse from people in my life.

It's taken me years to recognize what isn't acceptable and when to say 'no.' I still have people in my life that don't respect my 'no.' I find this frustrating, but I also find it hard to hold my ground. Working with my horse has taught me about boundaries as no human could.

Horses are herd animals. There is a hierarchy, the alpha horse, and every position in between down to the lowest-ranked horse. Being a leader of a group comes with perks and responsibilities. The number one horse can have whatever food and water it wants. It also gets to choose who it mates with, but it is also responsible for leading the group and keeping them out of trouble.

Horses use body language to communicate. They typically are fair with their communication, starting with something as subtle as a flick of an ear and working up through a series of stronger warnings if the other horse does not back off. When this is the case, things can escalate quickly to bites and kicks. Horses often test their place in the herd to determine if the leader is still up to the task. This process is how the group stays strong, safe, and functional.

When I decided to own a horse, I became part of a herd. By default, I said "yes" to following the herd's rules and communicating in a language I did not speak.

Words don't mean much to a horse; body language means everything.

Humans aren't particularly astute at reading human body language, much less equine. As such, it's easy for misunderstandings to happen in the horse-human partnership.

My horse frequently tests herd members. This behavior makes for an interesting dynamic in our relationship. From my perspective, I need to be the leader. If I'm not alpha, I do not have his trust or respect.

My lack of experience, combined with Rudy's propensity to test, resulted in me being inconsistent and unclear with the boundaries between us. My success under saddle has been hit and miss. At times, he has had "my number," and I've been forced or opted to take a break to regain my confidence.

Meanwhile, I've watched more experienced, confident people work with him successfully over the years with only minor hiccups. They all agree he can be tricky at times; he's a horse that demands the human to work with him versus dictate. He also needs a rider that is sure of themselves to help him be confident.

With each challenge and setback, I've emerged as a better partner for him. However, it hasn't been easy, and, at times, it has brought up in me an old pattern of thinking and believing that "I'm not good enough."

When this happens, I need to remember to pause and question this thought. Is this true or an outdated, false notion that causes me pain? It usually takes time to shake off this feeling and replace it with the truth.

I am enough, but I will make mistakes, especially as I challenge myself with new endeavors. Mistakes and missteps are how we learn. Success does not come in a straight line or all at once. All I can do is keep showing up and continue pushing myself to do and be my best.

Rudy doesn't see me as deficient in any way. He is quick to forgive and move on. He is right to challenge me when I am unsure or inconsistent. His communication is forcing me to look at myself and evaluate outdated modes of thinking. Over time, this process has made me a better person and a better herd mate.

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