Recently, I was observing the handling of a few horses. I aim to observe through the lens of curiosity rather than judgment, though at times it’s certainly a challenge. There are many different approaches to horse training, everyone does it differently. My least favorite approach is domination, sometimes called “horse breaking” which happened to be what I was watching on this day.
As I observed this approach the trainer had chosen I reflected on what I knew of her – strong minded, strong willed, kind and recently out of an abusive relationship.
As the metal clip of the lead rope smashed into the bones under the horses face and the trainer hollered and railed at the horse for a minor misstep, I found myself pondering the irony; this woman too had been smashed in the face and made to cower, her spirit broken by the hands of another, yet here she was, doling out the same treatment to this horse.
Horses are large creatures, so it’s a common misconception that they don’t feel pain the same way we do, yet, a horse is so sensitive it can feel the touch of a fly land on his body. They bruise and bleed as we do.
Would the horse feel the throb of pain from the metal smacking into it’s chin or the sting from the whip on it’s rump long after the lesson was over? Probably. Worse than that, the horse will remember, just as we do, that those who cause us pain are not to be trusted.
In a similar way, when a person can’t get out of an abusive relationship, they modify their behavior to what causes the least pain & conflict; they keep their head down and “behave”.
If you have horses of your own, reflect for a moment; is that the kind of relationship you have with them? Do you demand their respect but give them none in return? Is your relationship based on fear of physical punishment?
Make no mistake, a horse trained by fear is not a horse you can trust with your life, and they surely don’t trust you with theirs.
On the flip side, Is Your Horse Abusing You?
As a trainer it’s not often that I encounter an “abusive” horse, but I’ve met a few.
These are horses who bite, strike, rear, step on you, shove into your space, or run you over because they’ve been taught, inadvertently, that that is how to get their way. Usually someone with good intentions but is uneducated in horses, or fearful, or lacking clear boundaries finds themselves with this type of horse. It’s often they’ve either inherited (bought) or created an insecure horse who looked to their human for safety and leadership and found them lacking, so they asserted themselves as leader by becoming a bully. It’s not the horses fault that circumstances led them here, but the behavior is still not acceptable.
I worked with one such horse who had his owner trained so well, that every time she asked him to do something and he blinked (not exaggerating) he’d get a treat, whether he did what was asked of him or not. This horse and horses like him, have no respect for personal space or boundaries and will run over their people when their backs are turned or when walking on a lead line, they’ll bite if they’re being ignored or they’re impatient or bored, sometimes even striking out with a front hoof or kicking out with a back hoof.
These “abusive” horses, are like giant children begging for structure. They need someone to step up, set some healthy boundaries, and build a partnership with them, where both parties have a voice and are respected, seen, and cared for.
If this sounds like your relationship with your horse, it’s time to step up into your power & begin setting boundaries. Your horse’s well-being depends on it.
Are you ready to stop spoiling or fearing your horse? Remember, no treats or scratches for bad behavior. Educate yourself on how to handle a horse without going to the other extreme of domination & abuse. It’s about creating a conversation and establishing trust & mutual respect. Your horse will appreciate you setting a personal space boundary, instead of allowing them to literally run you down and call the shots like an abusive lover.
In either situation, the best thing you can do is educate yourself on horses, read lots of books, watch videos, find what works for you and your horse, and if you’re clueless on where to begin, seek out a trainer to help you get on your feet & help you and your horse re-build your relationship.
Good Luck & Happy Trails!