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.
Respect can be defined as “a feeling of deep admiration or deference for something that is good, valuable or important and that is elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” I can drive a car, type, and stand on one foot. Does my horse appreciate me for these talents? Does he deeply admire me for my ability to play the violin? Does he defer to me because I was an Eagle Scout or have a Ph.D.? I don’t think so.
Does a horse respect anything? What does your horse deeply admire? What abilities, qualities, or achievements has he noticed in his colleagues?
These are easy questions with hard answers…
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”.