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What the most dangerous horse can teach us about boundaries


It will come as a surprise to those of you who have never been around horses, but also for many of you have been for years to learn that one of the most dangerous horses out there is...the foal raised by human hands.


One of the most dangerous horses out there is...the foal raised by human hands.

There are multiple cases of foals being raised inside households with humans, most often because the mother died when giving birth. The types of people who take on the responsibility of raising a baby horse inside their house are usually great animal lovers and are doing what they think is the best, and sometimes the only, option for the helpless baby.


Yet, there are countless stories of these foals developing into extremely dangerous horses later on. One famous trainer, Monty Roberts, told us the story of a foal who was pretty much raised on film sets with people. He was like a big dog. And then, as an adult horse, he became so aggressive that his stable was entirely electrified so that he couldn’t jam his way out. In a TV documentary following the famous horse whisperer Buck Brannaman, the crew films a gorgeous but extremely aggressive horse brought by a lady who did not know what to with him. After a shocking scene where you see that horse launch onto one of the trainers and bite his head, Buck tells her that the best option is to put him down. When she tells him that she had raised him from birth after his mother died, Buck says he isn't surprised.


This doesn’t mean that every foal raised by humans turns into a monster but it happens often enough for us to identify a pattern.


In the case of human-raised foals turning into aggressive adult horses, a lack of clear and enforced boundaries meant that the horse never learned what is okay and what isn’t. This is usually manageable (and cute!) when they are small. It becomes unmanageable (and dangerous) when they reach adult size.



A cute video showing a playful foal. Now imagine him doing that with a human


As the owner of the dangerous horse watches, in tears, the poor thing being trailed away to his death, Buck Brannaman says “Humans failed that horse.”


Buck Brannaman says “Humans failed that horse.”

I apologise for starting on such a sad note, but I think there is a very important lesson for all of us, whether we are around horses or not:

>>> We have a responsibility towards others to establish, implement and communicate our boundaries.

In a world where it is frowned upon to express anger and most other negative emotions, many of us have lost, in the process, our ability to set up healthy boundaries. We tend to think that these things should be obvious to others and that, therefore, when others don’t honour our boundaries there is something wrong with them. We never question our own responsibility in the process.


In many spheres of life, there are legal, civic and cultural rules that guide our interactions. On the road, for example, there are clear rules as to what we can and cannot do. Similarly, we usually know how to behave in a social gathering, at a dinner table with friends etc.


Growing up in France, for instance, I know it is rude to reach across the table to grab the salt and that the right thing is to ask for someone to pass it to me. I also know it is rude to eat with my mouth open. With my Indian husband, I have learned that in some situations it is rude to talk while we eat and that telling someone they looked tanned - a huge compliments tin France - is a major insult in India. When I did, once, say something along these lines, I was told that it was not a nice thing to say. That boundary was established and I now know to respect it.


It gets much more complicated in the realm of emotions and close relationships where these rules that people tend to agree on don’t exist. Yet we act - and often really believe - that they do exist.

Each of us has learned emotional communication rules by observing, as children, how the adults closest to us do it. Since our family is our world when growing up, we have no real reason to think that other families would have different rules. We are also told as children to be nice, behave, and not create a fuss - all of which are important to be able to live together in society.


But many of us were not taught, because our parents were not taught either, that it is our responsibility as we become adults to let others know what our rules of engagement are. For instance, if someone we don’t know too well is talking to us and standing in a way that we feel is much to close, most of us would not be able to say something like “Excuse me, would you mind standing a little further away as I would feel more comfortable.” Similarly, if someone is saying something that hurts us, most of us would not be able to say “What you said hurt me.” Instead, we would remain silent and label that person as mean, socially awkward etc.


In emotional situations, we somehow feel that it should be obvious to the other what is okay and what isn’t. We never feel that it is our duty to help the other person know what our rules are, what our boundaries are, often until it is too late.


In emotional situations, we somehow feel that it should be obvious to the other what is okay and what isn’t.

This is even clearer in very close relationships, such as with a spouse, a parent, a sibling and a childhood best friend. The closer a person is to us, the more we expect them to know how to navigate us and the less we help them to. We believe that they ought to know, especially since they know us so well. And when they step over our boundaries, we become even more upset and less tolerant of their mistake.


But the truth is that, more often than not, they don’t know better. Not because they’re bad people who only care about themselves but because their own experience of boundaries is completely different. So if we don’t let people, especially our loved ones, know about our boundaries then it is our responsibility too when they fail to respect them.


We often hear, and personally know, some beautiful love, friendship, family stories that turn into horrendous hate sagas. And we often wonder how love can be so close to hate.


So if we don’t let people, especially our loved ones, know about our boundaries then it is our responsibility too when they fail to respect them.

In these moments I think back to the hand-raised foal, the foal who lost his mother at birth and was raised in a loving family of humans, only to turn into a “monster” later on.


If you, too, happen to have a foal-turned-monster in your environment, it might help to ask yourself about when and how you expressed and enforced your boundaries. Most people are good people and don’t deliberately want to hurt us or disrespect us, they just don’t know.


Let’s help each other to express our boundaries and rules so that we know each other better and know how to communicate, love and respect each other better.


Would you like to learn more about establishing and communicating boundaries? You can book a FREE discovery session with me here.



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