There are some riders and trainers who I have a lot of respect for. I hold them in high regard. I admire them. I also have “respect” for an electric fence. Does this mean that I admire the fence or think highly of it? No. I don’t respect the fence in that aspect, it is more a healthy dose of fear than it is actually respect. Is it really respect that we want with our horses or is it a certain level of fear?
Let’s be honest. We all know that horses aren’t capable of respect as it’s defined. Respect is to admire someone or something deeply as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements. Horses can’t/don’t admire us because of our ability to chase them around a pen or move their feet forwards, backwards, left, and right! I think deep down, we are aware of this fact. The truth is respect has been redefined. Respect has been used in place of the word fear because it has a nicer tone.
Fear means to be afraid of someone or something as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening. So, do I admire the electric fence, or am I afraid of it as likely to be painful? Definitely the latter! I don’t respect the electric fence, I fear it. Likewise, our horses don’t respect us, they fear us.
We say things like, “I want my horse to respect my personal space.” Are we saying I want my horse to admire my personal space or do we really mean we want the horse to be afraid of entering our personal space as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening? “I want my horse to respect the bit.” Do you want your horse to admire the bit? Or do want your horse to fear it?
Unfortunately, fear fits the description of what we want much better than respect. But respect just sounds so much nicer! When a horse moves away when we swing a stick at him, some count it as respect, but again, it is not the horse’s admiration of our ability to swing the stick that is causing the response or “respectful” behavior. It is the horse’s fear of the stick. Respectful means showing deference or respect. Fearful means feeling afraid, showing fear or anxiety. Is the horse showing deference when he moves away from us when we swing a stick? Or is he showing fear? He’s showing fear by moving away.
You may have heard before that the horse's brain is not capable of respect. If we are being real, it’s not respect that many are after anyway. What some want is for the horse to be a little bit afraid. And its well known that horses are capable of fear. So, are you actually gaining your horse’s respect or are you really just putting some fear in him?
I’m not here to convict or convert. I just want to bring some honesty to horse training since there seems to be quite a bit of sugar coating going on. Whatever you do with your horse is up to you, I just want you to have the truth. It's yours to do what you want with.
1/16/2020 11:56:09 pm
I agree with you, that fear is what horses feel, not respect. I have a very problematic older mare with food aggression which makes feeding her or even being near her where hay is is very dangerous for me. I gave her and another gelding to some people when we sold our farm and in one year they starved my gelding to death and when we found out I asked to get my mare back which was on the brink of dying from starvation too. Since then I’ve been dealing with extreme food aggression. Charges at me and rears in my face with ears pinned and teeth barred. She is the same with other horses so is separated. Has all she can eat hay 24/7 and mash with vit/min fed in bucket. Plenty of fresh water which is shared at fence with my other mare but the cranky one chases her away from water if she sees her come to drink. This mare now has her own water trough so she can drink whenever she wants, but still goes to shared trough when safe. I’ve had my old mare back 3 years and she gets the best of care at my own peril. She has as treated for ulcers but nothing changed. Constantly protecting her resources. She’s great for trimmer but will not tolerate a trainer with lunge line or any tack anymore. She’s pretty good at liberty but does the wild thing when a line gets attached. I think she has learned she can’t trust humans from whatever she experienced for the year she was at this other place. She is scary to deal with but I don’t yell at her or ever hit her. I job st protect myself by holding up my manure fork to keep her from attacking me. She’s also a cribber and I have to tell others at the barn I board at to ignore this behaviour but they think they need to yell at her or swat at her as if that was ever going to stop her. Everyone is afraid of her so they don’t usually go to the end of the barn where her walk-in-out stall is. I’ve been trying treat reinforcement for good behaviour so if she’s not cribbing when I walk by I give her a treat. I’m 73 and facing my fears every day when I take care of her. Some people think I should put her down for everyones safety. One trainer said she’s a nice horse on the ground when he did an assessment on her behaviour in an arena and just said leave her alone when she’s eating.
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Chrissy Johnson shares her personal experiences and lessons learned training horses with reward based methods.