Updated: Jul 23, 2020
Has anyone ever told you your horse is spoiled? Are you afraid you are spoiling your horse by being "too kind," offering treats, or allowing your horse to make choices that may not be in line with your own plans?
These are questions that many of us horse owners ask ourselves. They fall under the categories of doing right by our horses, safety, and how we measure success. They are good questions to ask, and a valid discussion to have. Let's start with the definition of spoiled so we are all on the same page. I got this off the web: Spoiled:To impair the value or quality of. To damage irreparably; ruin; To impair the completeness, perfection, or unity of; flaw grievously Spoiling a horse sounds like a pretty bad thing according to the dictionary definition. I certainly don't want to ruin my horse or impair it's awesomeness in any way. I think it's very unclear as far as what it would take to truly ruin a horse or if that is even possible to do. Of course a horse can be harmed or seriously injured if one is careless, inconsiderate, or uneducated but for the purposes of this discussion let's stick with the run-of-the-mill concept of the "spoiled" horse. For sure I believe, no I KNOW, that treating a horse like a thoughtless, unfeeling, insensitive robot will spoil him. I work with horses who have been treated in this way every day. It is very difficult to convince them that not all human interactions are bad once they have been substantially convinced otherwise. Experiences that cause chronic stress and/or physical damage or discomfort will certainly impair the greatness and completeness of any horse. Feeding a horse by hand, asking it nicely to do something, giving it a scratch, talking sweetly to it (which I do on a regular basis thank you very much), and rewarding with treats is what many horse-people believe leads to a "spoiled" horse and consider such treatment poor horsemanship. As far as I know, none of these human-behaviors have ruined any horses that I am aware of in the past 35 years I've been working with and training them. Sure, they might be unclear about their boundaries or may say, "no thanks," when given a choice (Is that always a bad thing? I don't think so and will be a topic for a future blog), or they may be pushy, but they probably aren't afraid either. They are probably pretty happy to see the humans that care for them, and more likely willing to do what is asked. They might even be less reactive too, more comfortable expressing how they feel, and possibly handle stressful situations with greater ease because they have faith that their human will take care of them. There is also plenty of scientific evidence that rewarding a horse with something they like (food, scratches, grazing time, etc.) helps them learn faster, retain information better, and stay calmer, even during stressful situations. We work for a paycheck. Why shouldn't they? Again, I am not advocating for letting horses attacking us, being pushy, or acting out in any way that might be detrimental or unsafe for us or them. We all needs rules to live by and a horse that is unpredictable is also very dangerous. My point is that the term "spoiled" is bandied about and some people might find it worrying to hear it said about the way they handle their horses. I hope after reading you will think about the word differently and not worry about what other people say. It's your horse. If everything is okay to you, then everything is okay. Please don't let anyone tell you what you are doing is wrong. If you are struggling with your horse, or if you think you could be doing something that would improve his or her life, and help you have a more successful relationship, then by all means seek the information that will support those positive changes. If you and your horse are safe, you respect your horse's true nature and preserve his or her emotional stability and physical comfort/balance and well-being, you can't go wrong.