Humans have been conditioned since childhood to avoid or suppress troublesome feelings and go on as if nothing is happening. But what do we do if we can’t actually hide our feelings and emotions? According to Linda Kohanov, author of several best selling books like: “Power of the Herd” and “Tao of Equus”, we can look to our horses for the answer. These highly sensitive animals use emotion as information. Rather than suppressing uncomfortable feelings or outlandishly expressing them, horses follow a simple four-point method that any human is smart enough to learn. They:

  • Feel the emotion in its purest form.
  • Get the message behind the emotion.
  • Change something in response to that message.
  • Go back to grazing. (Get back on task or back to enjoying life. Horses, in other words, don’t hang onto the story, endlessly ruminating over the details of uncomfortable situations

By collaborating with the nonverbal wisdom of emotion, horses conserve energy for true emergencies. Let’s look at the emotion of fear, nature’s warning system. At a distance, horses can sense whether a lion is on the prowl or simply passing through. In the former case, the herd races to safety without hesitation. In the latter, alert yet relatively relaxed horses will often continue grazing as the cat saunters through the field on his way to an afternoon nap. These animals don’t waste time fretting that they had to run from a predator, and they don’t stay up all night questioning why God invented lions in the first place.

Same with anger: Horses use this momentarily uncomfortable rise in energy to help them set boundaries. A stallion may get a little feisty and try to push his mares around. If they’re not in the mood for his shenanigans, they’ll pin their ears and warn him to back off. If he doesn’t listen, they’ll become more emphatic, kicking out and squealing if necessary. Yet when he finally gives them space, they’ll relax, joining him later for a nap under a favorite tree. These horses don’t need hours of counseling to work out their resentment and disappointment. Both offender and offended get the message behind the anger, change something in response, let the emotion go, and resume their enjoyment of life.

As it turns out, letting the emotion go is easier than you might expect. Contrary to popular belief, fear, frustration, and anger are actually quite reasonable if you know how to work with them. When you get the message behind these “negative” feelings, and change something in response, they dissipate on their own. Psychotherapy and sainthood are not prerequisites for emotional mastery. The average person can learn the necessary skills in a weekend, and life itself provides plenty of practice.

The problem is that most adults have been suppressing emotion for so long that these simple warnings have fused into monstrous complexes that truly are disturbing when they rear their ugly heads. We’ve grown up fearing feeling itself, and that is the root of our discontent.