Emotions are information
To horses, emotion is simply information. In studying with Linda Kohanov I have learned many things about how the horses use this valuable information. Because horses are preyed upon in nature, these sensitive, mindful creatures have maintained a highly developed ability to respond to subtle changes in stance, muscle tension, breathing and hence the general arousal level of other horses as well as predators, an ability they easily transfer to human beings.
Linda Kohanov refers to emotions as “the sixth sense” without any intimation of supernatural processes. Linda also believes emotion was unjustifiably denied existence as a sense because its organ is the entire body. It’s also possible that emotion was denied as a sense because our culture, for one reason or other, has emphasized the suppression of the emotions.
Recent work by Candace Pert, Ph. D. and other researchers active in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, show that the molecules carrying emotional information (called neuropeptides) are not only generated by the brain, but by sites throughout the body, most dramatically in the heart and the gut. When people have “gut feelings”, they are not speaking metaphorically. Compared to human beings, however, horses are emotional prodigies.
In order to survive horses have to be sensitive to emotional energy and the intention behind it. Horses, zebras and other large prey animals will often graze unconcerned as a lion who has just eaten a big meal walks right through their pasture. When that same predator is looking for supper, the herd will scatter from a sizeable distance. The experience of living with human beings has given them even more sophisticated emotional skills.
People say “the horse can smell fear”, but it’s much more subtle and complicated than that. The body language of someone who is “putting on a happy face” is incongruent with the rise in blood pressure, muscle tension and the emotional energy transmitted involuntarily by the individual who is actually afraid, frustrated or angry. Horses often mirror the precise emotion being suppressed and then calm down the moment the handler simply acknowledges that feeling in himself—-even if the emotion is still there. The emotion doesn’t have to change in order for the horse to calm down. You just need to make in conscious. The moment the mask is removed and genuine feelings expressed the horse will respond with a relaxed demeanour of licking licks and chewing.
So with this information brought forward it becomes critical for us as humans to identify what emotion we are feeling and acknowledge it. Karla McLaren calls it “emotional agility”. This term refers to the ability to use emotion as information without getting caught in the vicious cycle of suppressing or expressing emotion without getting the message and making a change in response to the message.
Linda Kohanov created the Emotional Message Chart which I then designed to fit in your pocket so that you can practice identifying fourteen emotions and the messages and questions attached to each one. Like any new habit you want to establish in your life it requires commitment and application. If we begin to understand and practice our new found emotional agility we will see a change in ourselves and how we interact with the world on a daily basis. Subtle changes sometimes create dramatic results. Watch and see!