One of the first things that I teach clients in a session of Equine Facilitated Learning is the importance of setting a boundary when the horse approaches them, to keep themselves safe. The next is the equal importance of respecting the boundaries and personal space of the horse.
Why set and respect boundaries?
In my view, being able to set a boundary and respect the personal space of the other is one of the essential components of having a mutually respectful relationship.
The purpose of setting a boundary is to take of yourself and clearly communicate to others what feels physically, emotionally and intellectually comfortable for you. At the most basic physical level this allows you to be calm, present and engaged with the one who is approaching and interacting with you. Giving others the personal space they need helps them to feel respected and forms the foundation of relationship.
“I was blaming him for overstepping my boundary rather than taking responsibility for my own personal space.”
If we set healthy boundaries it not only protects our safety, but also allows our minds to work more effectively, so that we can focus and hear what the other is saying. It improves our ability to learn and comprehend.
If we are not able to set a boundary our anger may escalate and can lead to aggressive behaviour which we may direct at the person overstepping our boundary, deflect on to an innocent bystander. Alternatively, we may suppress our anger as a non-violent coping strategy.
What stops you from setting a boundary?
There are many possible reasons that we have not developed a healthy way of setting boundaries to protect and respect ourselves, or of respecting the personal space of others.
Here are some causes of our challenges with setting and respecting boundaries. As children:
- We learned to override our need to set a boundary in order to please others.
- Our boundaries were not respected and so we didn’t learn that we could set a boundary.
- The boundaries set with us were inconsistent and/or incongruent.
- Harsh treatment (mentally, physically or emotionally) caused us to put up walls.
- Our boundaries were protected for us, so we didn’t learn to set them for ourselves.
- Our parents/early caregivers set a poor example of healthy boundary setting and that’s what we accepted as normal.
What can be learned from setting healthy boundaries with a horse
Whether my clients have had previous experience with horses or not they often learn something new from the way in which they learn to set boundaries and respect the personal space of the horse. Usually this gives them profound insight about their ability to set and respect boundaries in other relationships in their lives.
I focus on how to set a boundary, how to increase intention and energy progressively if the horse does not respect the initial effort and how to give the horse immediate positive feedback once their boundary has been respected.
It’s then equally important to notice the reactions of the horse when being approached and to stop, pause, soften and respect the horse before moving closer.
My personal learning about boundaries
I’d had horses my whole life and didn’t realise that I had a problem with setting healthy boundaries until I bought Jack. I intuitively set clear and consistent boundaries with most horses, but there were a few I’d had problems with over the years, and those were the ones who did not respect me. Always wanting to deal with these horses in a calm and compassionate way I would NOT increase the intensity of my anger progressively and did not act until I felt threatened and then I’d act quickly and often aggressively for fear of being hurt!
When Jack arrived, he was very polite, but after a few months I realised that he was often in my personal space – in fact it was almost as if he didn’t know where his body ended! Later, I learned that he had a neurological problem and was unable to consistently place his limbs where he wanted to. However, it was also true that he did not respect my space!
The longer I did NOT set clear and consistent boundaries with him the more confused and unsure he became, and we began to lose respect and trust for each other, and our relationship was affected.
Through Equine Facilitated Learning I learned:
- To identify my mental and emotional blocks. My mental block was: “Jack is 6 years old and should know better”. I was blaming him for overstepping my boundary rather than taking responsibility for my own personal space. My emotional block was that I didn’t want to get angry because I might upset him and ruin our relationship! (Oh the irony!)
- How to raise my energy progressively, when the initial boundary was NOT respected (rather than going from 1 to 10!).
- To give immediate positive feedback when my boundary was respected.
- To be flexible and set appropriate boundaries in each moment.
- The importance of setting boundaries to create a healthy relationship build on respect.
This is what one of my clients had to say about their learning about boundaries:
“I found working with Rosie particularly useful and beneficial when it comes to working with emotions and boundaries. She does lots of practical exercises to explore the whole issue of boundaries – one’s own and other peoples’ – which enables you to know when these boundaries have been crossed or threatened. With this information and insight, I have found increasing ways to protect myself and know when I need to firm up my boundaries and respect the boundaries of others.”
So, how good is your boundary setting?
What holds you back from setting consistent and clear boundaries?
What have you learned from this blog that can make a difference to your relationships?
Try it out and let me know what benefits you notice!
These are some of the benefits that I have experienced from setting boundaries in personal and professional relationships?
My learning with Jack not only transformed my relationship with him, but also my personal and professional relationships.
The benefits have been life changing, some of which are:
- A reduction of overwhelm in my life.
- A greater ability to focus, hear and engage with people.
- More loving relationships with my family and friends.
- Greater confidence in my ability to socialise, both in personal and business settings.