We all want to understand the things we love. For those who love horses, understanding comes through observation and interaction with a horse, by attending clinics and reading books and browsing web sites, and by listening to the counsel of friends who know horses. We gather information, and try to assemble it into some sensible pattern. We come to believe that we understand.
We don’t understand. Clinics, books, and web sites that focus on horses either get it wrong or get it right but misunderstand why. And so when we seek the counsel of friends who have read these same books, attended these clinics and browsed these web sites, we are no better off. Such a circular swirl of myths about horses produces a bowl of dogma from which we can’t expect to escape.
A common premise in natural horsemanship is that “horses need leadership.” This notion draws from the imagination, where we wonder what we would do if left on the plains with strangers. With humans, we imagine, someone would choose to become the leader, and would cheerfully make decisions for us. Governments would form, and we would submit.
Trainers seem to believe that horses are looking for leadership, that the way to have a good relation with a horse is to be that leader. “Leader” in this context is undefined, but could mean “boss” or “bully”.
What do horses want? herd, carrots and grass, in that order. Especially in comparison with ourselves, horses have simple desires. None of those desires seems to suit us. Horses don’t want to be ridden. They don’t want to tear around in the round pen. They don’t want to get on the trailer. And they often don’t want to go into the wash stall.
All of our activities with our horse are our idea. They are activities that serve our goals. They approximate what we want. Just because your horse is passive and is willing to cooperate, and doesn’t speak English, you should not assume that he finds your time together pleasing.