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.