Dealing with anger for animals’ sake

In animal communication sessions, an animal will often show me an angry person in a current or past household.

It could be an abuser. It could be a situation that led to a person or animal living in fear, getting hurt or neglected, or losing their home. Maybe all of these.

It could also be someone who would never harm an animal or person, but is struggling with human stuff. Animals are naturally wary of angry people, though many wish they could help with whatever the problem is. Animals don’t understand the specifics, but they get the threat. Their humans mean the world to them.

What if we could harness our anger to recognize and solve problems rather than create more problems?

An essay I read in seminary, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love” (in Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics) made me think that might be possible. Theologian Beverly Wildung Harrison said anger is “better understood as a feeling-signal that all is not well in our relation to other persons or groups or to the world around us.” Though anger doesn’t automatically lead to wise or humane action, she added, it can help get us there.

That is, if we calm the heck down first and think it through (my addition).

Can we learn to deal with our anger without being jerks … or worse? Sometimes a pause of even a few seconds can buy life-changing time to respond rather than react. We may not be able to change the situation, but we can change the energy we send out. It matters, I promise.

Using anger constructively might seem too good to be true in an age of pointing fingers and putting up walls. However, this excellent Kiwanis Magazine story by my friend Julie Saetre is a deeper dive into not only why people are so angry these days. It walks us through coping with these disturbances in a way that might actually help. It’s well worth checking out … and trying out.

Also, please support those who work tirelessly (and often thanklessly) to help animals affected by abuse and neglect. Increasingly, domestic violence shelters are teaming up with humane societies so that people in abusive relationships can get themselves and their pets out of harm’s way.

We all owe it to the animals, one another, and ourselves to do better.

When a ‘problem horse’ isn’t the problem

Here’s Rosie on her recent 40-mile walk, with horse and human companions, from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to her home barn in Angola. Those are makeshift (diapers and duct tape) hoof boots on her front feet.

I was one of many professionals, volunteers and friends who worked with Rosie when, in July, she wouldn’t get on the trailer to go home. When I communicated with her about it, she showed me she wanted to go home, but the image I kept getting was one of a seriously stuck gear. The way a 12-15 year old rescue horse’s “gear” gets stuck is probably about the same way any of our gears get stuck: trauma, illness and factors only God knows.

If you can’t unstick a gear by the usual means, you have to figure something else out … maybe even something better. Rosie’s human was determined to find not only a fear-free, force-free solution but the larger lesson. As a therapy horse, Rosie has encountered humans with their own stuck gears. Like her, they’ve struggled with seemingly ordinary tasks and taken on the frustration and judgment of others.

To prepare Rosie, I continued our regular Reiki sessions, sharing a healing space with no expectation. Then I told her what was going to happen, visualizing the horses and humans and country roads, complete with rustling autumn leaves, and the barn and her friends back home.  

Though I wasn’t on the walk itself, I followed the live video updates on social media. As the group drew closer to home, a weary Rosie’s ears perked up and she ever so slightly picked up the pace. She knew where she was.

Was this the easiest solution? Of course not.

But aren’t we all, as Ram Dass said, just walking each other home?

Finding the try with horses and other animals

Four attentive horses
A thoroughbred, two Haflingers and a mustang walk into a bar … and chances are, Emmie (second from right) would get everyone home safely.

Reading the second, revised and updated edition of Mark Rashid’s Horses Never Lie: The Heart of Passive Leadership immediately brought Emmie to mind. This unassuming Haflinger stepped up — as she does for so many other duties as a therapy horse — as herd matriarch after the much-loved Lola passed three years ago. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Emmie and many of her herd mates for several years as an animal communicator and Let Animals Lead® animal Reiki practitioner.

Though she has her moments, Emmie is not one to nip, kick, shove, or use other aggressive tactics. Leading by example and not force is what makes her effective. Once I watched her stand quietly with Geronimo (at far right in the photo) after Geronimo’s behavior got him grounded, so to speak. I didn’t get the feeling Emmie was conveying either reproach or sympathy. Just standing nose to nose with him in the pasture helped him calm down and see how not to mess up.

Rashid, over years working at a ranch, discovered that mimicking just this sort of lead horse helped the humans gain the horses’ trust. “A horse that is extremely dependable and confident, one that the vast majority of horses will not only willingly choose to follow, but that they actually seek out,” he wrote in the introduction.

Key to this leadership is “finding the try,” which Rashid discovered as a youth working for an unnamed “old man” who turned out to be one of his greatest (human) teachers. After Rashid repeatedly tried and failed to teach a horse to back up, the old man taught him to notice the subtle ways the horse was actually trying to do what he wanted, and to respond in kind.

“There was a little brace here, a little give there, a slight jiggle of the bit, a tipping of her nose, a little bending at the poll — all within a few seconds,” Rashid recalled. Responding to these with released pressure, a pet on the neck or even just a pause led to more tries, and soon the horse was backing up with ease.

Fight with a horse and the horse will fight back, the old man advised, but “even during those fights, the horse is still trying to figure out what you want. The sad part is, because you’re so busy fighting with them, you’ll never feel those tries.”

It made me wonder how many times I’ve failed to notice someone trying to meet me halfway. Any of us can get so caught up in our own efforts that we don’t see how the other person, or animal, is actually trying to work with us.

It’s worth pausing and getting quiet enough to listen to the subtleties.

In his second-edition notes, Rashid wrote: “In the years since writing this book, and in particular this chapter, I have come to understand that a horse’s ‘try’ is very often even smaller than what I understood it to be back then!”