Animal Medicine: Developing Body Awareness


When it comes to body awareness, my horse Shadow was a genius. In this respect, he was the opposite of my conscious, cerebral self, which tends to be so inner directed and one-track minded that I can be oblivious to what’s going on in my body and the world around me. Have you ever known someone who can be feeling vaguely uncomfortable for hours before realizing she’s cold, or hungry, or has a headache? Or who can be standing directly in front of the object she’s looking for and simply not see it? That’s me. Or it was me before Shadow.
Lots of people are like this. The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Inventory says I’m a very strong intuitive, which means that my sensory awareness is equally weak. My desire to shed some light on this shadowy area of my being was one of the main reasons I bought Shadow, for I knew that training and learning to ride him well would be a demanding mental and physical challenge with the potential to bring more awareness and balance to my personality.
One day shortly after I bought him we spent about forty-five minutes in a large fenced arena doing ground exercises meant to generate mutual respect and bonding. When we were finished I took off his halter and let him loose to explore the arena on his own while I went over to the gate to talk to Sissy, the owner of the stable. As Shadow ambled away, the sky, which was gray when we started, grew more threatening, the wind picked up, and I heard rumblings of thunder in the distance. When I had bought Shadow he had a lumpy rash on his back which comes from rain that sits too long on the skin; so, as an inexperienced and over-protective new owner, I was more anxious than necessary about keeping him dry.
Suddenly I felt a rain drop. Startled and worried that a downpour would soon follow, I said to Sissy, “Oh, oh, I need to get Shadow,” and turned in his direction. From the far corner of the arena he lifted his head and pointed his ears at me. And then, to my astonishment, he walked directly toward me. When he reached my side he stood stock still and ducked his head to make it easier for me to put on his halter. I did, and we walked quietly to his stall.
I was stunned. I felt as if he had read my mind and for a moment was convinced I had a brilliant telepathic horse on my hands! Actually, as any horse owner knows, horses do at times appear to be extremely telepathic; but I don’t think this is the whole explanation for what he did. I think all our bonding activities that day had caused him to accept me as his leader — an alpha mare, if you will — and made him acutely sensitive to my every movement.
Even though he had his back turned to me and was nibbling at grass sprouting through the fence, this expert reader of body language was keeping an eye on me. When I reacted to the rain drop, my body must have changed from a posture that spoke of casual relaxation to one of alarmed alertness. Seeing that something was wrong, he was drawn to me in the same way a fearful child seeks the comfort of a trusted parent in a tense situation.
I’ll never be as aware of my body or physical matter as I am of my inner life. It’s just the way I’m made, and that’s okay with me. But thanks to Shadow, I’m much more conscious of my body’s messages to myself and others.  Unfortunately, I’m still a lousy finder!
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8 Responses

  1. Jean, thank you for sharing these thoughts – and in particular the moment (s) in the paddock. I ‘was there’ with you as the rain and thunder appeared. Next time I’ve been at the computer for an hour – and think it really was just 10 minutes, or wonder where I’ve put my mobile phone – I will think of you!
    …. from another ‘lousy finder’ … ; )

  2. Wonderful post! It takes me back to when I was the new owner of a previously mistreated 2 year old Tennessee Walker, named “Rambler’s Belle”. She taught me more about patience, trust, and love in a few months, than I had learned in my whole 16 years of life up to that time!
    Have a great day, Jeanie!
    Sent from my iPad

    1. Thank you Jeanne! I didn’t know you had a horse! I consider Shadow to be the best teacher I ever had; not in “intellectual” ways, but in personal, physical, human animal and relationship ways. He really helped me get out of my head like nothing else in my life has had the power to do. I still miss him.

  3. Hi Jeanie,
    That was a wonderful post! As an INFP it helps me to understand that I could probably do with developing my body awareness more, as I am certainly more tuned ‘in’ than ‘out’. Thank you for sharing this story. I had to smile when I read ‘Shadow’s’ name, it fits perfectly – pure animal medicine indeed!
    May I ask (only briefly), in what other ways could an INFP develop their body awareness if they didn’t ride and could these ways help ‘another strong intuitive’ to round out their personality more? Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Deborah. For me, a passionate horse lover, having a horse to train and ride was the best motivator I could think of to get me outside and physical and more attentive to my body and the world around me. What would work best for you would depend on your interests. Examples would be dancing, exercising, yoga, massage therapy, running, bicycling, swimming, hiking, gardening, mindfulness based meditation, cooking, and so on. Essentially, whatever draws your attention into the outer world and helps you be more observant of it. Most of us do lots of things like that anyway, so the point is just to do them more mindfully, with all your senses engaged instead of grudgingly or absent- mindedly. Best of luck to you.

  4. Hi Jeanie,
    I’ve just had one of those ‘aha’ moments as I love hiking, especially if mountains are involved and yet consciously i’ve never considered ‘why’ I love doing this. Hmm, it’s all been going on unconsciously I guess, as getting out into the world in this particular way, always comes as a welcome relief in my life. Thank you for helping me understand the ‘why’ so much more.

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