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Tracy Courtney

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

We’ve all heard this quote & many others, but do we take the time to contemplate the things we say or the emotional attachments these thoughts & words can elicit? Why we have attachments to certain words or associative thoughts & the potential results of those attachments? As I was learning to understand horses at deeper levels, I recognized that one of the larger obstacles I had to overcome in myself, related directly to this phrase & I quite often see this once familiar goblin rearing its head in others.

When we’re immersed in the middle of a toxic environment, it’s impossible to see a light at the end of a tunnel. We’re filled with thoughts & emotions of fear, panic, anger, frustration, self-pity, sorrow, escape or any other number of negative associations. It’s impossible to visualize the external cause of these emotions in a positive light. We often resort to repeating scenarios, events, words & should-haves over & over in our minds & these thoughts/inner dialogue carry the emotional attachments to the ideas in our heads. In some cases, this can become paralyzing & lead to things such as depression, wanting to quit or run away, & in some it may lead to violence toward ourselves or others.

In the case of a relationship for example, if we’ve been deeply hurt by our significant other, can we ever look at them the same way again? If our spouse had cheated on us, what would we see every time we look at them? In just looking at them or in the mere anticipation of their arrival, we would automatically begin to recall events in all sensory aspects. These mental images/words will cause the same emotional & physical reactions that we felt initially, to be as raw & painful as they were when we first experienced them. This recall of past events can carry such an associated emotional charge as to cause physical symptoms such as vomiting.

At some point, I realized that I was having much more trouble working with my own horses then the countless other horses that belonged to clients. I realized that I had expected more of my horses than other horses. This led to pushing them harder & created some egoic impatience that I never expressed with other horses. I was prepared to give other horses all the time & leeway they needed to express & work through their emotional baggage but not my own horses. I expected them to understand things more quickly & grasp their related learning curves in a much shorter time frame. I was completely unaware that these silent, hidden motivations, that had developed into habits were playing a huge role in the problems I was experiencing with my own horses.

I also realized that pre-established negative thoughts, labels & their associative emotional attachments were playing a huge role in how the sessions progressed, which were actually established prior to even beginning to do anything with my horses. Although I had no direct intention or cognition that these programs were playing quietly in the background, they greatly influenced everything we did & caused what I perceived as problems right from the start. I spent a lot of time contemplating why my horses were so much more difficult to work with & from an initial standpoint, I automatically surmised that they were the problem.

I quite often hear people use habitual words in relation to their horses. They throw them out without blinking an eye & are often unaware that they’ve used them. I see the associated emotional attachments to these words immediately displayed in their body language. If we’re in the habit of saying our horse is stubborn, then we will carry & display that underlying, subtly overshadowing, belief into every single interaction with our horse & it will influence what we see & how we perceive our experiences. These associative thoughts have an influence on everything we do & our horses are the first ones to read it in our body language.

Instead of approaching our time together from the standpoint of happy anticipation out of feeling a sense of interest, I was allowing subtle, unrealized recall of past experience to create a dampening effect on my thoughts & emotions which translated into dictation, impatience, frustration, lack of self-confidence & force. Although these were not first & foremost in my mind, they were creating a more negative outlook to begin with than a positive one. Due to this, any time I felt I perceived the slightest indication of repeat past behaviour that wasn’t what I was looking for, I would habitually fall back into perceiving this behaviour as negative & would respond negatively. This would bring in a whole slew of past associations & corresponding emotions rushing forward, that further led to a deeper negative outlook.

Clinging to & carrying these past words & events, even at a dismissive level, will not only influence our present moments but create a bias that will not allow for new understanding. These cast a negative shadow over everything we do & cause us to automatically perceive events in a negative light. Whether they are directed at our horses or ourselves, such as feelings of inadequacy & incompetence, this becomes habitual. This is why I don’t go in with a plan & I tell people that I don’t need to know their horse’s history. This is also why I say, “don’t feed the story”. 

I approach all time spent with all horses from a fresh outlook & am interested in hearing what the horses have to say, not what I choose to think they’re going to tell me or allowing past influences to interfere with what’s happening now, in this moment. Are we willing to take the time to redirect our memories to focus on our thoughts of when we brought our horse home for the first time? To focus on how that made us feel & then carry that excitement, anticipation, awe, spontaneity & natural, open, non-contrived connection into every interaction with our horse? Or do we choose to remain in the same old non-conducive habits we have established since then because it’s easier than change?