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A Horse's Sense of Space

Horses have a Sense of Space -- it is like a sixth sense -- that gives them a tremendous amount of awareness about everything around them -- the degree of safety, how fast they need to move, their connection to the herd -- so much information that helps them navigate their world. It is as if their sense of touch extended many feet around them.

In our crowded human world, our Sense of Space is often overwhelmed. This causes us to feel encroached upon so much that we try to shut down our normal Sense of Preferred Space. Many times strangers or objects are closer than we would like, and so our sense of space stimuli gets overloaded. This sensory system begins to shut down in an attempt to protect us from a sense of invasion.

Lucy, a shelter dog I had worked with on the day she was going home.

In the Human-Animal Connection, we have a saying that there is a perfect distance (or closeness) for any interaction. Some beings we want to be close to, and others we need more space between us. Animals are very attuned to this, and if given the freedom of choice, will always choose their preferred distance for that moment. If you share your life with animals, you have probably seen that sometimes they can't get close enough -- and then some minutes later, they are just as happy to walk away. It is important not to restrain them or try to keep them next to you, as they are doing exactly what they need to do to maintain their energetic equilibrium. They honor their choice without worrying about whether or not your feelings are hurt by their departure. And it is a good lesson for us not to think that if an animal moves away from us that we have done something wrong.

Since horses are prey animals, they are very attuned and authentic about when they want to approach you, and when they don't. And we humans need to learn to respect that choice without taking it personally. We could very much benefit from this truthful choosing to interact, or to connect -- or to maintain a sense of distance. If we humans paid more attention to this natural flow of desire -- attraction and repulsion -- so many interactions would feel better. The Human-Animal Connection's Principle # 21 The Sense of Towards & Away speaks to this and why we should honor our own intuition or gut sense. When we honor our true and natural impulses of Towards & Away, it leads us toward what is good for us, and away from what doesn't serve us.

In our workshop The Power of Presence we spend time observing horses and how they continually, gently navigate their sense of space. By simply noticing how they move among the herd, we begin to connect with our own innate wisdom, our own Sense of Space as a bodily sensation. We feel what it's like to move toward or away from something or someone. By paying attention, this guidance radar comes back online very quickly and we begin to regain a sense of trust in our own "human-horse senses."

One exercise we do in the Power of Presence workshop is to learn how to turn into our "human-horse channel" to allow us to enter their world with calmness, patience, gentleness, and peacefulness. The horses often respond instantly to this silent invitation to connect. Rather than reaching out to them, we allow them to approach us first. We are learning to observe their body language to see if they are seeking contact. We avoid the terrible temptation to just start stroking their faces, as many horses would consider this an impolite greeting from a stranger.

Instead, we welcome them with an "energy greeting of peacefulness" that they can choose to accept or not, or maybe accept later. We learn so much about our own state of mind by watching a horse's responses to us. They are sometimes more aware of our internal state than we are.

How Horses Show Us How to "Make" Space

In the Power of Presence workshop one exercise we do is sit in chairs among the horses, and still our bodies and our minds. And then just allow the horse to choose to engage or not. We observe how they want to play with space, to shorten or increase distance, to connect or not.

Giving the horses freedom of choice about whether or not to interact, or for how long, allows us to open space in our hearts and minds. To experience for ourselves the Power of simply being Present in their presence.

In a recent workshop, I asked a question and invited participants to fill in the verb -- how to horses (make) space? Do they "make" or create it? Or do they just live it as a fish does in water? Is it an inseparable field of experience they navigate through? I should make a T-Shirt "Horses Be Space" -- but I am not sure anyone would understand what I mean. Some of the words participants chose for how horses relate to space were a beautiful mosaic of meaning. The words they chose for how horses connect to space were:

Horses --




Exist in



Create Relationships

Show up


Give us



Come from

Care about


.....with Space

Each of these words (and I may have missed a few) expand our palette of painting with space. Sometimes we need to maneuver with space. Sometimes we need to demand space. Sometimes we need to occupy or sometimes give space. Each of these (and more) create the full experience of playing with horses and reclaiming our sense of space.

What would you like to make/allow more space for in your life?

A horse would love to inspire you.

Ralph, a former racehorse, using me as a scratching post.

Genie Joseph

Executive Director

The Human-Animal Connection

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