Empathy and a horse called Milly!
Milly is a 15.1 Piebald cob. We don’t know much about Milly’s life, except that, at some point, she was bought from a home that hadn’t been too kind to her. Even though she wouldn’t ever intentionally hurt anyone, as a result of her early days, she still has a very strong flight reflex and goes into panic mode quite quickly in certain situations.
Originally, I started helping a friend bring her back into work after she had a foal. We would spend lots of time working with her from the ground, getting on and off and quietly walking around the arena.
Milly has taught me about the importance of empathy in developing a trusting relationship. Understanding what it might have been like for her and why she might behave a certain way has enabled me to adjust my behaviour – what I might do with some horses wouldn’t work for her. Keeping my behaviour consistent has allowed us to build up a level of trust and this has paid off to the point where we now we go exploring the countryside, not afraid of what we might come across as we know that we can overcome it together and even competing very low level dressage and show jumping.
However, the biggest win for me is seeing her let down her guard and be vulnerable. She wasn’t an affectionate horse, and just recently she has started to enjoy a little cuddle, although I’m not sure who enjoys it more, I’ll leave you to decide from the video below!
Empathy is critical to building interpersonal relationships and intimacy. Intimacy is a critical part of trustworthiness, as is reliability and consistency of behaviour.
Too many times in our lives we fail to truly understand other people, in fact we don’t even try, and what's worse is that this is more easily done in the home than the workplace. So next time you feel like you're about to flip your lid, take a moment to contemplate what the other person might be thinking and feeling and notice how it calms you down.
For a useful exercise, download the "just like me" activity from the free downloads page!