Force or Freedom?
Updated: Aug 10
What I believe in now is FREEDOM.
Horses aren't very bright. They aren't really interested in doing what we want. They don't really care if we push, pull, coerce and intimidate them. They are just horses. They are big and need to submit to us - otherwise they are dangerous. They need to know who's boss, otherwise they will do whatever they can to get their own way. It's okay to hit them, because they bite and kick at each other. If we don't tell them what to do and insist they comply they will refuse, resist, and eventually become aggressive. It's important to teach pushy or "dominant" horses a lesson that that behavior is not tolerated under any circumstances! Hogwash. I know there are those who read this first paragraph and agreed with every word. I was one of those people years ago. I had to BE THE LEADER and not let horses GET AWAY WITH ANYTHING. I had to DEMAND COMPLIANCE AND SUBMISSION. I don't believe that anymore. Now I hate seeing horses subjected to that type of handling or riding because I know it is neither accurate nor productive. What I believe in now is FREEDOM. Giving horses the freedom to figure out what we want and decide if they can or want to do it. Yeah, that's a pretty big can of worms I'm opening by suggesting that we give horses a choice. What would a horse do with the choice to interact with us or not? Say, "Hell no!" and go graze. Maybe, but I have found that once they feel as though they are being treated fairly and with respect, they are indeed quite eager to participate and voluntarily leave even scrumptious grass behind. Horses are complex creatures with a strong instinct to survive and protect themselves. They are also highly intelligent (in a different way than we are because their brain structure is different yet they are still quite capable of learning amazing and complicated behaviors and tasks). I also find horses to be incredibly curious (if their investigative behavior hasn't been repressed or they don't suppress it because of fear of unpleasant consequences), up for a challenge, and actually intrigued and motivated by the learning process itself. That means we have a lot to lose when we rely solely on force for communication. When we take away our horse's ability to say no we also take away his ability to say, "YES!" Can you imagine how phenomenal your horse would be if he was truly interested in giving you his all? What if he was eager to go to work and responded to your cues with enthusiasm? So, how do we "control" our horses and get what we want if they have the freedom to say no? With compassionate, clear, calm, communication. We guide them. We ask them to do what they CAN do. We carefully observe our horse and when they are struggling we step in and help. We say, "Hey! I see you're not understanding what I want, you're getting nervous, or you aren't physically up to this task so let's do something easier." We set our horse up for success!! Giving a horse freedom means we need to be FLEXIBLE and willing to back down and back off. We need to put our horse first and give him what HE needs in that moment. Otherwise we will find ourselves in force mode again. That is not easy for us as humans or as students of horse training philosophies that encourage us to be aggressive and forceful. It becomes even more difficult when we believe our horses are "benefiting" from that type of approach and responding satisfactorily. Unfortunately, if the horse could speak (and they do but it doesn't help if no one is listening) he'd say he's paying too high a price.