Embodying the Metaphor of the Centaur

By Cheryl Cruttenden, Embodied Presence Facilitator

In the past, humans were deeply connected to their innate and nature based wisdom. Living in close connection to the land, to nature, the seasons and the animals, survival depended on paying attention to the shifts and changes of emotion and energy in both the internal body, and the external environment (like horses and other animals still do).

Due to this close connection with the natural world, our early ancestors no doubt would have been masters of body language with a huge degree of body-based (interoceptive) awareness.

They would have naturally experienced the ‘felt sense’ awareness of the shared field effect that is always present in all things, in particular with animals, and more specifically, in the equine learning field, between humans and horses.

The horse’s response to the mere presence or appearance of a human on those ancient steppes and the subsequent interaction would have begun the shaping of the first relationship between horses and humans. A close connection, or shared consciousness, would no doubt have been required for the very first horse-human encounters and beginning of domestication.

How Horse-Human Interactions Can Help 

Due to the rise of science, technology, and city-based living however, a disconnect gradually emerged and, for many, much of this innate wisdom has largely been conditioned out of people.

Along with the impact of living in a society that values knowledge and head-based education, the busy, noisy world that most live in keeps the nervous system activated and continuously primed for fight or flight. As a result, body-mind disconnect, stress, anxiety, and ill health is rife.

Creative Commons source http://www.lascaux.culture.fr/?lng=de#/fr/00.xml

A horse from the Lascaux caves made by the Cro-Magnon peoples at their hunting route in the Stone age.

Due to their fully-embodied, presence-based ways of being, and their huge heart and gut, horses hold many valuable lessons to share with humans about self-awareness, consciously re-connecting with the body, and coming back home to oneself for living a fully embodied life.

Horses and other animals embody and live this naturally, yet so much of your somatic intelligence operates unconsciously and, for many, it is something that has to be re-learned or ‘re-membered.’

It is this instinctual response and two-way herd field effect that Horse is acutely attuned to, that has provided the space for the field of equine learning and therapy to flourish.

All Change Begins in the Body

Relationships, meaning making, and decision making, whether it’s about your life, family, or to do with how you are being and what you are doing with your horses, all have their origin in the deeper, darker, more visceral regions of the multiple brains and body. For this reason, reconnecting and communicating with the body is the very first step to enhancing intuitive awareness.

Your body doesn’t stop at the skin either, neither does your mind.

Therefore, anything familiar that you pick up, whether it be a knife and fork, a rake and wheelbarrow, carrot stick, whip or a hairbrush, reins, or even the steering wheel and then the rest of the car that it is attached to – becomes an extension of you as a body brain.

This is because your head brain literally incorporates the item into its representation of your whole body (so yes a whip or carrot stick can be considered an extension of your arm) – in essence, it becomes as much a part of your body as the hand that holds it.

No wonder the myth of the Centaur – that mixing of horse and human, with the upper body of a human and the lower body of a horse – has captured the heart of those who seek deep and spiritual connection with horse.

The centaur figure is holistic, celebrating the oneness and complementariness of the human 

and equine natures, symbolically merging the physical aspects of being with the

mental and physical. (Attwood-Lawrence 1994. 66)

In this way, the human-horse relationship is a unique and powerful form of personal development due to the close embodied contact that arises, even more so when riding. Talented riders can be transformed by and into the horse’s body and due to the two way herd effect, the rider, or participants in the field of equine learning, of course also profoundly impact the Horse.

As far as the body brains are concerned, the horse and rider in a sense become one through this visceral body mind connection. Yet it’s not the physical sense of self that is shared, each does not actually morph into one and become the other, rather it is connecting while relating in a shared field of thoughts and energy. 

The Metaphor of the Centaur

Game (2001) explored this centaur metaphor to write: “Riding involves an imagining of the connections or seams between horse and rider and cosmos. And probably the most ubiquitous figure of this imagining is the centaur. There are an infinite number of possible monster forms, but the centaur is the one that really works: our bodies know the centaur, we can live the mixing of the centaur."

It’s felt that part of the power of engaging with horses is that our bodies in some way really do ‘know the centaur’ and not only can ‘live this mixing’ but crave this mixing with the horse’s ability to attune to the internal state of humans. They help in regulating the nervous system and have a way of revealing to us how we show up in the world, what is hidden or unconscious about ourselves.  With enhanced body-based awareness, we can learn to do this for ourselves, and we can attain more of the ‘freedom’ that animals enjoy.

In the work I do, I refer to this as becoming more ‘horse like’, which is closely linked to the concept of ‘becoming-animal’ that Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari develop in a number of their writings.

Whether you are aware of it or not, your body is an open system that 

connects with the energy and forces of others.

Becoming More Animal

‘Becoming-animal’ is “a movement in which a subject no longer occupies a realm of stability but rather is folded into a nomadic mode of existence in which one is always an anomaly, that is, inaccessible to any form of definition. It is a movement from body to flesh, where the one is a figure of unity and strength, while the other is in an interminable state of disarticulation or disfigurement (perhaps a reflection of the current state of much of humanity). It is not animal metamorphose as such, but an achievement of non-identity, which for Deleuze and Guattari is the condition of freedom (for animals as well as for the rest of us, whoever we are).”

You are deeply interconnected through your body with other people and horses, in fact through the morphic field, with the entire social and material world around you.

The neural network wiring of the body brains quite literally demonstrates that making sense of our circumstances is not simply limited to the head brain and that like horses, we have the capacity to tune into and interpret our environment more fully by accessing our extended neural pathways.

Your multiple brains and body, quite literally, reverberate with others on many levels, even cellular – your intelligence therefore extends throughout, around, and beyond your whole body, along with every other being whom you are ‘in touch’ with. Your intelligence and the impact of your energy and physiological state stretches out way way beyond what can be captured in a simple IQ test.

As a consequence, the horse-human ridden connection is rare, as it takes a great deal of skill and awareness. I first discovered the deeper felt sense of the meaning “where attention goes, energy and awareness flows” when I began Tai Chi over 33 years ago and this practice fits so beautifully when coaching with horses, whether mounted or on the ground.

Accessing the wisdom of the body is thus both an old and a new practice – my psychoeducational process and practice is founded in behavioural modelling, which is based on the latest neuroscience and bodymind-based research and yet much of the insight also relates to ancient philosophies and esoteric practices.

Being centered, with clear intention, gathering and directing your energy, whether on the ground or mounted, the horse becomes an extension of yourself. Participants in my program have described it as a state of ease and grace, while others comment that the flow state they experience is often one of the most blissful and deeply connected moments that they have ever experienced. While for most people this is an occasional experience, with mindful and conscious practice, it can become a way of being and doing that permeates your way of life as well as your horsemanship.

We simply have to re-learn how to do this.

Everyone has the ability to communicate with the body, yet the ease or difficulty of it depends on how much you have done this over your lifetime.

You may have always listened to your body and intuition and thus already built up a lot of neural networks in the body. But if you have lived a very head-based life, largely ignoring the wisdom of the body, you would have very little.

The great news is that due to neural plasticity, you can build these connections and grow the neural networks of the body brain through focused attention and easy-to-learn practices.

Practical embodied wisdom is the deepest, oldest, and most fundamental and important kind of intelligence. This is the whole foundation of your social and emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is an aspect of body intelligence; maths and other logical knowing is the development of body intelligence.

Thus there is great difference between full-body intelligence and simply being smart or clever from a purely head-based perspective. Intelligence is the result of the entire psychobiological system that is your body when it is able to come up with the answer that is right for you.

And the answer that you seek most often is the question that most people ask every single day.

“What is the best thing to do next?”

All you have to do to begin the process to your evolution so you can easily answer this question is join the pre-festival one-day workshop. With enhanced body-based awareness, you can begin to embrace the metaphor of the centaur.

Cheryl at EAGALA conference (c) Louise Campbell

Cheryl grew up with horses and has a background in outdoor experiential learning and education. She is certified and trained in various approaches to Equine Facilitated Learning including EAGALA. She is a Gawler trained Mindfulness Meditation teacher, multiple Brain Integration Techniques Coach & Trainer, a Values Based Executive Life Coach, Archetype Coach, and Tai Chi practitioner of over 30 years. She founded Windhorse Wisdom in Victoria, Australia.

Find out more about our presenters and what's in store for the 2020 festival program

  • January 15, 2018