Whether or not you have pets or other animals in your life, you can learn much about yourself from how animals react to you, and you can learn much about others from how their pets react to others. Discover the many good reasons for having animals in your life and how they can contribute much to your physical and mental health.
Hi everyone. I’m Dr. Margaret Paul with the Inner Bonding podcast. And today I want to talk about how horses and dogs and cats and other animals can be a mirror for us. Since both Dr. Erika Chopich and I are animal lovers, I picked Erika’s brain about this topic.
“There’s an old saying that says if you want to know who someone is, look at their dog.” Erika said. I asked her to say more about that. “Well, if the dog is anxious and nervous, it’s likely that so is the person. If the dog has no affect and doesn’t come to you or want to interact with you, that might be telling you something about the owner. Often, they’re either harsh or they don’t connect to the dog and taught it not to connect. It tells you a little bit about who the owner is if the dog loves people and runs to people and wants to sit with somebody visiting in your home. There’s an openness that might from the owner, so you’re likely dealing with an open person. If a dog does run to somebody, they feel safe, they’re trusting, and that’s often coming from the owner. Sometimes it’s the breed, but it can also be coming from how they’re being treated by the owner. They might mirror the owner’s ability to connect. If the dog is aggressive, that too often comes from the owner. If the dog is very protective of the owner, that’s a sign of loyalty, which generally doesn’t come from an owner who’s closed in their heart. So, it’s often a mirror for the relationship and how open or closed that person’s heart is.”
“Of course,” I said, “it also depends on the breed and whether the animal was a rescue and had been abused.”
“Right” she said, “While we have seen amazing results with dogs, cats, and horses when they are in a loving home after being abused, this isn’t always the case. We have a rescue dog, Pippin, who has always been sweet but very was fearful of people coming to the house when we got him. Now he’s almost always very friendly, unless he picks up someone’s fear, and then he walks away. When someone comes in the house for the first time, Pippin will either run right up to them, instantly trusting them, and flip over and do his little ‘please scratch my chest,’ or he’ll actually slink away. It’s an act of submission when he shows his belly to you. He’s saying, ‘you’re safe so you can rub my belly.’ He can read them right away and decide whether this is somebody that’s good for him to be with or not.
“The same can be true of cats,” Erika went on to say. “Our cat, Magic, was feral when we got her, but now she wants petting and she purrs and rubs up against almost everyone who comes to the house. Aloof cats can reflect the breed, but they can also reflect an aloof owner. My sister’s cats would hide. They didn’t want to be petted and they didn’t want to interact, and my sister was very closed. But if somebody picks up a string and plays with Magic, she’s in love with them. My sister acted open, but she wasn’t open, and the animals can pick it up and they mirror it right back. Magic wants to go out in the barn with the barn crew to be with everybody. For a feral cat that’s a lot of healing and change. Look what happens when the UPS guy comes to our door! She runs to greet him and then jumps in his truck! She is not a feral cat anymore. She is a cat that loves and appreciates people.
“But I think that it really shows up even more with horses, which is what equine therapy is all about. Equine therapy starts when you put somebody in the round pen with a horse and say, ‘Without using the horse’s name, see if you get the horse to come to you.’ They might be scared, or they might pull on the horse for love, wanting the horse to love them to feel okay about themselves, or they might be controlling with the horse, and the horse will back right up the moment they do that. It’s in their energy. I’m telling them, ‘Don’t talk to the horse, use your energy to bring the horse to you,’ and that’s diagnostic. The moment I see how they are with the horse. I see their transference to the horse regarding one or both parents. Either they’re afraid that big looming animal is going to hurt them, or they don’t know how to connect, or they don’t know how to use their love to bring the horse to them, or if they’re very controlling people, the horse will back up, or the horse will come right to them because their energy is loving and open – again mirroring where the person is. So, it’s diagnostically invaluable to just put a person in a round pen and see what the human does. The horse knows what it’s doing, and generally the human doesn’t.
“So, the horse is mirroring the intention of the person immediately. The horse picks it up. Like when we’ve interviewed people to work in the barn and I take them out to meet the horses – I always do that because the horse is either going to reach out and touch that person or they’ll turn their head away or they’ll give them their butt. Animals mirror our intention. This tells me an enormous amount about whether I should hire this person. The horses always know. The horse reflects even more than a dog. They’re intensely sensitive, mirroring it right back at you. I’ve seen needy people reach for the horse’s face, essentially saying ‘love me love me,’ and the horse turns away. If your energy is saying to the horse, “You’re beautiful and I admire you and I respect what and who you are,’ the horse has a different experience and, if this horse has been loved by the owner, it will come right to you.
“It’s like that with people. You can bet that what’s going on in the round pen is what they’re doing in their relationships. It’s diagnostic in terms of who they’re choosing to be in the world.
“Horses are such natural healers. They can read you like a book. Even if you try to hide your feelings, they see right through you. They’ll figure out what it is you need and that’s what they’ll give you. I’ve seen it a million times in the barn. And the horse has an inner child, like when you see Obi (who is one of our American Miniatures) playing, or the pranks that Stryder (who was my horse who passed away) would play on me and laugh. You see it in Leia – that’s what happy buck is about. She’s playing and she’s happy and her inner child comes out. They have a deep capacity for love and being protective. It’s about a person’s ability to join that herd like I do when I lay in the grass with them. I become a horse and I meet them halfway and what I get in return is tenfold. It’s like in a relationship when you either meet somebody in an open way, or with your expectation of how they should be.
“When horses lower their head near you, they already trust. They already get you. It’s different with horses because they are prey and we’re predators. Dogs and cats are also predators, but the horse is different, and you have to be able to cross that barrier. You’re going to have a really bad relationship if you act like a predator with a horse. I don’t sneak up behind them. I talk to them when I approach them. I give them a horsey handshake, which is that I put my closed hand to their nose so they can smell me. I never act like a predator near horses because if you do, they’re going to turn around and walk away from you or trot away from you or buck away from you. They know the difference. The horse has been on the planet like 4,000,000 years longer than humans and they have evolved and grown into the modern horse by being savvy about what they sense. That’s how they’ve stayed alive so long on the planet. Their nonverbal communication is actually beyond ours. We can learn from them, and they can be great mirrors and healers to us when we meet them on that level that says I am not a predator.”
Erika went on to say that even people who don’t have any desire to own a horse or ride a horse can learn so much by attending a therapeutic equine course. Some of the horses at therapeutic equine centers are extroverts and they’ll come right to you and assess you, and some horses are introverts and take some time to know you. How the person handles this says a lot about the person. Does the person take it personally and feel rejected by the horse? If you put the person in the round pen and the horse doesn’t come to them, do they feel rejected, or get angry, or is the person saying I can’t do this, or are they just so shut down the horse can’t even connect to them? Or do they just respect that they need to take their time and that a well-trained horse won’t come into your personal space until they’re invited, and you invite them with your energy.”
A horse who isn’t that well trained might come into your space and be kind of curious, but also little bit skeptical about the whole thing, until you show them who you are. Are you a predator? Are you going to hurt me, or do you understand me? The quickest way to overcome that is to speak horse. I teach that in the barn. How you speak horse? First, I teach the horsey handshake so they can sniff you, like when two horses come together, they’ll sniff each other’s muzzle. I’m being a horse at that moment. I don’t reach for the face. I reach for the withers and scratch them on the withers because out in the pasture, two horses standing in opposite directions are reaching over and grooming each other on the withers. That’s how they greet and make friends and I want to be a horse, so I do that, and those little, tiny things I do tell the horse I’m not a predator, I’m like you, so we have a commonality from which to build the relationship.” Erika paused and I jumped in.
“That’s kind of like what a lot of people are trying to do with the issue of racism,’ I said, “really getting with who somebody is and joining them rather than deciding that this person is too different than me to get to really know them.”
“Right,” said Erika. And then she continued. “You can beat any animal into obedience, but you can’t have partnership that way. Just like with people, there’s a huge difference between obedience and partnership. The key is to never force a horse or any animal. I get them to want to do it with me. Don’t forget that the animals, unless they’ve been badly abused, are already spiritually connected and if you can kind of put that spirituality between you and the animal, that’s a commonality that helps increase the bond and the trust and the love. So, if a person can’t do that with their own dog, they’re probably a bad candidate for a relationship. We know people whose horses are aloof and won’t engage with you because their owners are disconnected, and we know of others whose horses immediately lean forward and perk their ears to connect to you. And if you look at these owners’ relationships, you can see this same thing reflected.
“Horses want the same thing we want in a relationship – trust and love and kindness – constant kindness without wanting anything in return or wanting to use my kindness to control somebody else. In a relationship, it’s about supporting what the other person’s goal is while also being kind to yourself.”
Erika went on to talk about when we were invited to swim with the show dolphins at marineland in Los Angeles. “We were told that they like to have their tongue scratched. The first thing we noticed when we got in the water is they were skeptical, like horses are skeptical. Then they swam right up to us and opened that big mouth up and all you could see was a big tongue and lots and lots of teeth, and what they were asking was, ‘Are you are you going to scratch my tongue? Are you going to trust me? Are you going to give to me?’ When you’re brave enough to put your hand in there and scratch the tongue, everything changes. They started bonding to us right away. Then the play came out and they were retrieving the ball for us and they took us for a ride on their dorsal fins one, in each hand, and then they did that amazing vortex. They gave us that gift of healing where we were in the swirling water in the vortex when they were in the diamond formation. And they kept swimming around and poking at our knees because they thought that was our sex organ. Their intention was to connect with us. If you carry that intention into your relationship and your partner has the same intention, you will have a successful relationship. The dolphins’ inner children came out immediately to play with us as soon as they trusted there was equality and partnership, that there was openness and courage on our part to reach in that mouth and scratch that tongue and stroke them and love on them. In the water they’re huge and powerful and they’re intimidating, and yet you have to come forward from your higher self so they can recognize it, and then the inner child came out.”
Erika went on to talk about dog training. “If you want to train a puppy, you will be much more successful if you come from your loving adult than from your wounded self. People who train with choke chains and things like that – that’s obedience training and it has nothing to do with partnership. People who train with the clicker, that’s behaviorism and still has nothing to do with partnership. If you train with the six steps of Inner Bonding – staying tuned in to yourself, your guidance and your puppy and training from love, you’ve got a partner for life.
“Then there are the people who have no personal boundaries and let their animals hurt them. They are indulging the animal’s wounded self. We can see this same lack of loving boundaries in their relationships and their parenting. Also, if a dog or cat is fat or unhealthy, then it’s likely that the owner is too. Many people don’t take loving care of themselves, and this is often reflected in how they take care of their animals,” Erika concluded.
I love picking Erika’s brain!
And now I want to say more about the gift of animals and what they add to our lives.
Anatole France said that, “Until a person has loved an animal a part of the soul remains unawakened.”
People who love animals know that there are many very good reasons to have animals in your life.
Animals who have been loved, love back in a pure and profound way – a way that awakens a part of your soul like nothing else can. When Pippin greets me after I’ve been gone a short time, I am overwhelmed with his wiggles and kisses! When I walk into our barn to feed the horses and they nicker to me, my heart melts. No walls, no manipulations. Just pure love. How can that not awaken a deep part of the soul?
Having this aspect of your soul awakened is just one aspect of why having animals in your life is profound. A few years back I read a great book called Zen Mind, Zen Horse, by Allan J. Hamilton, MD. Dr. Hamilton is a renowned brain surgeon, as well as a renowned horse trainer. He uses his experience with his horses as his spiritual path. As Erika talked about, horses help us to learn to be fully present, not only because they are fully present, but because they react negatively when we are in our head rather than in our heart. Dr. Hamilton stated that, “The quiet, gentle way of the horse encourages us to hear the music that follows after we learn to silence our ego’s voice.” He goes on to say that “The horse brings us its uncanny ability to peel our egos back, to strip the layers away like an onion, until we find ourselves awkwardly naked and vulnerable. But the horse also shows us the joy that comes from living with the bare truth of our selves. What a gift that is.” P. 287
One of the things I’ve learned to do when I’m being challenged with life is to turn to my animals. My highly sensitive system is easily jangled when a lot is coming at me at once, and my animals have been such a help with this. Cuddling Pippin, our soft and oh-so-sweet little Havanese, is a balm for my soul. His cuteness makes me smile and brings me back into the moment. Same with our cat, Magic, who talks to me and lets me know when she wants to be picked up or when she wants “noogies”: and ear and belly scratches. For many years, my animals have helped me get centered, connected and back into my joy. There is so much love and joy in dogs and cats and I absorb that when I hug them. What a gift!
There are good reasons that dogs and some other animals, such as miniature horses, are used therapeutically. Many dogs and horses, and some cats and other small animals, are very sensitive to our emotions. When they feel us hurting, they sweetly and gently come to comfort us. Many times, when I’ve been sad, Pippin has come and curled up next to me to give me his love and comfort. I find wrapping my arms around his little body and nuzzling in his soft coat to be very comforting and healing.
But it’s only in the last fifteen years, since I’ve had horses, that I’ve experienced what a horse can do for my soul.
When I’ve had a challenging day and my nerves feel a bit frayed, I go to our horse, Leia, and put my arms across her back while I lean into her big strong body. It may sound strange, but I bury my face in her coat and smell her.
The first time I did this with my first horse, Stryder, I was shocked at what happened. Instantly, my whole system calmed down. I’m not really sure why, but there is something about the energy and smell of a horse that calms my system more than anything else I’ve ever experienced. It’s not anything Stryder was doing – usually he was completely absorbed in eating and may not have even been aware of me at that moment. It was something about his being.
I know I’m not the only one who responds this way with horses. I shared my experience with friends and clients, and others who have horses, and they have said they have the same experience, and others who have visited us and our horses also had a similar experience. There is a peace that exudes from horses who are well-loved that is beyond description.
Many times, when I feel my body dysregulated for some reason, I go to the barn and lean against Leia’s big body, burying my face in her coat and smelling her wonderful horse smell. Immediately, I feel my whole body relax and regulate to her steady breathing. She stands perfectly still when I do this, knowing that I need her calmness and steadiness at that moment. Once I’ve breathed in her healing energy, I come around to her face and she gives me a big wet loving kiss!
Animals not only aid in emotional health, they also help with physical health.
In her excellent book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome,” Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride states that one of the top ten influences that boost health and immunity is “Contact with animals: horses, dogs, etc.”
We don’t generally think of having animals as a way of boosting immunity, but I can tell you from personal experience that they do. Animals help our immune system by exposing us to microbes that support our health.
Exposure to animals can bring in a variety of germs and bacteria that prompt the body’s natural immune system, strengthening our ability to protect against certain diseases. Children who grow up on farms rarely have the same allergies and illness problems that city kids have. That’s one reason Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride recommends pets among the 10 things that contribute to good health.
Another way our dog Pippin contributes to my health is that every morning – rain, snow, or sun – he looks at me with yearning eyes and puts a picture into my mind – a picture of our morning walk. So every morning, unless it’s raining or snowing hard, I walk Pippin up and down hills for half an hour. He happily pees, poops, and sniffs while I huff and puff, but I’m grateful that his longing eyes urge me to have my daily exercise. I just can’t let him down.
While animals do take time, money and care, they give back so much. If you don’t have a pet in your life, you might want to reconsider your choice. It could be great for your physical and mental health, and what could be better than all that love!
I hope you join me for me 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”
And you can learn so much about creating connection from my recent books: The Inner Bonding Workbook: Six Steps to Healing Yourself and Connecting With Your Divine Guidance, Diet for Divine Connection: Beyond Junk Foods and Junk Thoughts to At-Will Spiritual Connection, and 6 Steps to Total Self-Healing: The Inner Bonding Process.
And, of course, we have much to offer you at our website at https:www.innerbonding.com.
I’m sending you my love and my blessings.
©Dr. Margaret Paul, 2022