Here is a question from Loretta that was asked in a recent Horse Talk webinar at The Horse’s Advocate™. It was free and no one left the meeting during the first hour!
“I was wondering if there is a sure proof way to expose your horse to everything and keep him/her calm when doing so. Thanks”
I loved this question and may make a future Horse Talk webinar dedicated to this topic – “Who Is Responsible For Your Horse’s Behavior?”
I see this happen everywhere because we are now a reactive society. What I mean by this is that we react to stimuli all the time in every aspect of our lives. Advertisers depend on us not to think, but to react. Drive this car and you will become: envied, responsible, courageous, sexy, powerful, etc.
Look at our relationships starting as children. “Mommy, he pulled my hair!” Why tell Mommy? Tell the puller of the hair to knock it off. Later in our lives, we master our language to manipulate those around us. Using words as weapons more powerful than bullets, each of us have used words to create reactions from those around us. This applies to lying, cheating, conning, seducing, begging, preaching and pleading to name a few.
We use words and actions with ease, usually with actions learned from actors from the thousands of TV shows and movies we all have senselessly watched throughout our lives. It has become so rare to find someone who is really themselves and not a mix of actors from our past. From Beyoncé to John Wayne, we all pretend to be someone else in order to get something from someone else. In other words, we are all manipulators. Some of us are very good at this and achieve a lot of success, usually at the expense of others.
What does this have to do with the question Loretta asked? Let’s take a look.
My suggestion is that most of us have become manipulators because of the countless hours we have been exposed to professional manipulators in our lives. Actors on the screen, lyrics heard in songs, and articles written by agenda driven writers. Even a picture, when cropped just right, can tell 2 completely different stories. Manipulation is everywhere.
So what happens in a stall or a field with a horse? We try to manipulate the horse. How well is that working for you?
Horses have not been exposed to our style of learning things. Their rules of engagement are completely different from humans. If a colt gets fresh with a filly and nips her, does she go running to Mommy? Usually not. She settles it right then and there or she ends up lower on the pecking order of the herd.
Leadership v Dominance
How is the pecking order in a herd determined? Simply put, through leadership. However, many confuse the word leadership with dominance. They are not related at all, but often dominant bullies become the “leader” through strength and assertion. Depending on the strength of the following crowd, this dominant leader will last a long time (weak followers) or will quickly be relieved from the leadership position (strong followers challenge the position). The dynamic between the individuals in the herd is tense, uneasy, and quick to change with tension being common.
In Loretta’s question, is there leadership? Or is it a herd led by a poor leader? It is essential to understand one concept of life according to the horse. It is irrefutable that the horse includes the owner, the trainer, the vet, the farrier, and every other human that comes into its’ life as part of its’ herd. And in every herd, there is always a leader. Here is the catch – not every person or horse is a good leader. Let’s look at some definitions.
A good leader empowers those around them to do more than the followers think they can do. The good leader is clear in describing the end goal of a project (or a life or a relationship). The good leader is also willing to help those around them to not only be on board with the goal, but is willing to help them learn the skills necessary to play their part in achieving that goal. The goal is usually in the best interest of everyone involved and the leader gains something only when those around him also gain.
A bad leader dominates those around them and demands from them things they may be incapable of achieving. Rather than support them, they denigrate them through physical or mental means. While the bad leader may have a clear goal, it is usually self serving and doesn’t inspire those around him. Basically, he’s in it for himself and doesn’t care about those helping him.
There are four possible combinations of leadership between a horse and a human.
|Horse good leader / Human good leader |||Horse poor leader / Human good leader|
|Horse good leader / Human poor leader |||Horse poor leader / Human poor leader|
The horse is a good leader and the human is a poor leader: This combination has a lot of frustration for both parties because the good leader wants desperately to lead this human but the human isn’t listening. Bad leaders never listen or listen poorly. How frustrated do you become when those around you either don’t listen or dismiss what you have to say because it doesn’t fit their agenda. The horse usually loses in this combination and is called dangerous or unworkable. The horse fights back and the human gives up and gets rid of the horse.
The horse is a poor leader and the human is a good leader: This combination also leads to frustration depending on how good the human’s leadership abilities really are. The better they are, the better the relationship will be. This is the combination that causes the fighting between me and my associate as we fight over who gets to work on the stallion. Most stallions have some sort of leadership, good or bad, that exceeds most geldings and mares due to the testosterone hormone that just causes stallions to become more assertive. Leaders love assertive horses because there is a lot of communication exchanged which allows for easy engagement with tremendous success.
The horse is a good leader and so is the human: We all live for this relationship as long as both parties agree on the goal. If not, then there can be some tension. But I’ll give you all a hint here. Remember good leaders empower those around them, so as long as there is good communication, and there always is with good leaders, then compromises can be reached. When I work on a horse with good leadership, I often say to them, in plain English, that I respect them and that I only need a short time of cooperation to do this one thing. I am very clear on what I will be doing, the goal of this effort, and the benefits he will receive. Many owners are amazed as the usually fractious stallion just stands there while I float the teeth, then walks me to the door when done and thanks me for my time. It is really freaky, and addictive in becoming a better horseman.
The horse and human are both poor leaders: This combination leads to chaos and unpredictable behavior. It is the most common combination and is at the root of Loretta’s question. What would happen if the human improved their leadership in this combination? Simply put, the horse would look to her for direction when something new appears. But there really is something more to this and it really isn’t that simple.
Continued in part 2 next week….