Updated: Aug 7
Are our horses' unwanted behaviors random acts of insurrection or cries for help?
It's interesting how quick we are to go to war with our horses when they dare to say "no" to us. Whether that is in the form of a sideways glance, intentional kick, you-can't-catch-me blow off, or refusal to respond to our cues, the general consensus in the horse world is...don't let them get away with THAT!!!
What Exactly Are They Getting Away With?
The fear is that if we don't hold our horses to a very high standard of obedience, they will run wild and disobey our every request. So, the theory goes, if a horse says no one time, there is a very strong possibility that "no" will become the only response you'll ever get.
Is that true? Do we need to compel our horses to do what we ask when we ask at all times?
The short answer is no. We do not. And here's why....
The Meaning Behind the Behavior
The question that is often ignored or lost in the battle that ensues between the horse who doesn't want to capitulate or chooses to defend himself (against what he perceives as a threat or other stressor) and the human who "won't submit to the whims of disobedient horse," is, "What is motivating this horse to behave this way?"
We can spend years discussing human psychology as to why this question is abandoned in favor of coercing and intimidating horses to bend to our will despite their pleas for us to stop. These pleas may look like aggression, resistance, or abject insanity, but they are the best the horse has in regard to expressing how they feel and being able to communicate with us.
What are We Missing
When a horse says no, and they do, there is ALWAYS a reason why - a perfectly valid one from the horse's point of view. Here are a few possible reasons for a horse to act out or refuse to comply: Pain, fear, anger, distraction, physical limitations, confusion, anxiety, depression. Any or all of these can be experienced by a horse at any one time.
Once we know that these very real very tangible emotions and physical conditions exist and that our horses have the ability to tell us when they are feeling them, their behaviors don't seem so random or defiant after all.
At What Cost
When we ignore our horses' reactions to what they are experiencing, or worse yet plow over them without consideration or empathy, we increase the probability of carrying out real harm. Psychological and physical damage can happen very quickly when a horse is pushed beyond it's limits.
Our sanctuary (Purejoyhorsehaven.org) is populated by horses that were unfairly, uncaringly, or unknowingly pressured into using their bodies in ways that caused significant to severe injury and pain. Their behaviors when they arrived demonstrated the intense emotional distress they experienced as well, both by being hurt and by being forced to figure out what they were supposed to do without preparation, understanding, or compassion.
The Solution is SIMPLE
The first step is to eradicate the idea that horses are our tools and are meant to do our bidding from the equine industry's lexicon. Next we need to see and VALUE horses for the intelligent, thoughtful, earnest creatures they are.
Every horse will happily do what we ask them to do with us and for us, as long as their minds and bodies are treated fairly and with respect. When we push our horses beyond their limits, we break their trust and their hearts. Instead let's elevate the purpose of our interactions with our horses. It will improve the quality of their lives and ours.