Nowhere To Hide: Reflections in the Round

Jul 19, 2023

Nowhere to Hide

By Victoria Williams

If you've worked with Josh and me at some point, you may have already heard one of us say, 'in the round pen, there are no dead ends or corners to get stuck in or hide.' The same can be true at the end of a longeline or leadrope, or a square or rectangular pen pen, so if you don’t have a round pen, it’s ok! The point is that you are working in a space in which the horse is traveling or orbiting around you.

The continuous shape holds enormous potential for understanding how our movement, body language, boundaries and energy translates to our horses and it is a space where we can get creative and playful with connection, and free choice.

Whatsmore, in the round, there is no place for our human-y limiting beliefs to hide; all of our stuff will be exposed to our horses, on full display, in all of its glory. Gulp! That can be a little scary. And, also awesome, because it is that salience that allows us to tune in and be fully present, every breath, every step, every second. That presence is really all our horses ever ask of us. It is ground zero for all communication between horses and humans.

This process is possible in part, because of the horse's abundance of mirror neurons. These are specialized cells in the brain, we have them too, that many scientists believe help us empathize with other sentient beings. Mirror neurons, also known as empathy neurons, fire when we see others behave in ways that we can empathize with. We may not have had lived the same circumstances, but the emotions absolutely resonate. It's thought that mirror neurons allow us to vicariously experience the sensations someone else is feeling as they experience them. It’s why we cry in sad movies or feel embarrassed for someone who has just tripped in front of a crowd.

Many scientists believe this is a brain mechanism that could explain how sentient beings are able to intuit the thoughts others think or the emotions they feel. Cut to horses - if that’s the case, and knowing that horses possess billions of these specialized cells - millions more than we humans do, it could help explain why horses are especially adept at building relationships with each other and with people.

Part of the magic of the round pen is that it creates space for that mirroring process to unfold. Our horses mirror back to us our own emotions and energy: the good, the bad, perhaps the repressed, or even the confusing, which may feel hard, or even painful sometimes.

It’s worth it though because again, it’s within that awareness, that profound self-realization and transformation can happen. Within the hard stuff is where the magic will occur. One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle says, “There is no glory except straight through your story. Feel it all.”

That brings us to another phenomenon of connection between horses and humans. The Institute of Heart Math, specializing in electromagnetic field research conducted a study on the two-way electromagnetic link between horses' and humans' hearts. The study compared the human heart's electromagnetic field, which projects up to 10 feet, to the horse’s electromagnetic field, which radiates over 50 feet. Our respective fields allow horses and humans to feel each other from the distance of our combined, connected fields.

The research describes the horse’s heart pattern, called a coherent heart rate pattern, as fundamentally and regularly associated with feelings of joy, happiness, and peacefulness. Because horses naturally have this type of heart rhythm, and horses' field is so large, when humans enter into horses' energy fields, humans will start feeling calmer, more relaxed, and happier. Josh and I call this the "Horse Field."

The electromagnetic field could also explain why horses in turn feed off the energy of humans and why it’s so important for us to be aware of our own emotions when we are with horses. Horses feel their emotions, in the moment, fully, and completely, without shame or resistance. After the experience of the emotion has run its course, like the most enlightened Zen master, horses let it go.

Horses are drawn to us when our bodies are aligned with our emotions especially when we are vulnerable and grounded in who we really are, no masks, no filters, no armor, just present and real. That’s whom horses want to partner with. We can’t show up for our horses if we are avoiding our own essential truths just because they are uncomfortable.

Once we get real, the round pen or longeline creates space for connection with horses; we can hone our communication skills. We can be immersed in horse culture and language, which is the language of the nervous system, the heart and the soul.