There is so much talk in training circles of horses needing to have “respect” for us, this is a concept that relies on the idea that horses are capable of choosing to “disrespect” us in the first place. Just because we read a behaviour in a certain way doesn’t make it true.
Is he pulling to grass because he’s disrespectful or is he pulling to grass because grass is tasty/he’s hungry/every time he pulls and gets the grass it is self rewarding?
Is he refusing that jump to be disrespectful or is he worried about how it looks/isn’t confident he can clear it/has pain in his body?
Is he pinning his ears/nipping you because he’s disrespectful or is he trying to communicate pain/discomfort/worry/fear/stress?
Is he barging through you to be disrespectful or is he using brace in his body as a defence mechanism because he doesn’t feel good mentally/he doesn’t understand how to get the pressure to stop/he doesn’t feel good in his body and this is how he’s learnt to protect himself?
Does he only spook at that hedge when he’s heading away from home because he’s being disrespectful or does he feel more anxious heading away from the yard which in turn makes him feel edgier and more likely to spook at things?
It interesting that we go straight to thinking disrespect when a lot of these behaviours are uncomfortable for the horse too, such as pulling away through a bridle, why would a horse intentionally cause themselves pain and discomfort repeatedly just to get one over on us?
We can set boundaries with the intention of explaining to the horse what behaviour we would like from them, rather than the intention of “showing them who’s boss” or “sorting them out.” If you only look at these things as a behaviour to fix you end up putting a plaster over the “symptom” and completely missing the cause, this is how we end up with shut down horses.
Thinking of behaviours as disrespectful or rude immediately changes our emotion towards the horse, anger and frustration have no place in training and yet they are a natural reaction if you feel like someone is being rude to you. However, if you reframe it as “he’s having a hard time with this”, the emotion you feel towards the horse will be very different and actually help you to be more successful in your training.
Instead of thinking of respect towards humans, how about thinking of respect towards the horse as a sentient being with his own autonomy, feelings and emotions. Many horses are living in compromised bodies and not getting their needs met, if we can look at things differently and have a little empathy we can start to find a more peaceful way forward that feels better for everyone. 🐴
Pictured is the lovely Ed starting to feel more comfortable emotionally through thoughtful, gentle in hand training and in turn starting to feel more comfortable in his body too.