Thoughts about Respect and Horse Training
There is a lot of talk about RESPECT in the horse world. Mainly, that the horse needs to respect the human. For many, respect is the magic ingredient that makes everything else possible. If you have the horse’s respect, then communication and training comes easily. A great deal of training techniques focus on getting or earning the horse’s respect.
Personally, I place a lot of emphasis on respect, too, but on the respect that I have for the horse. It is my starting point in any training, every day. Respect for the horse’s body, conformation, abilities, state of mind, temperament, needs, talents, preferences, fears.
I look at the being in front of me and try to understand where he is coming from and what motivates him. As a rider and trainer, I have the duty to educate myself on all matters relating to training, keeping and care. Sometimes I learn things that are not comfortable for myself and I have to rethink or change my approach. To look for the mistake at the horse’s end is easy; to look for it in yourself can be very difficult. But it is the right place to start.
Let’s take Weto, for example. Weto was labled dominant and pushy by one (not very good 😉 ) horsemanship trainer, because he had a tendency to walk into people and was very agressive towards other horses. With the “usual” exercises, he tried to get some “respect” into Weto. My approach with him was different: I asked myself, what does he need from me so he can be a polite and confident horse? When he pushed on me, I quietly backed him up. Every time, very consequently, without much fuss. When he crowded me while leading, then I just showed him what a good distance for both of us is. Weto just needed to know what the rules are and that they are in place every day. Today he is one of the politest horses you will meet, very careful and considerate.
We also thought about the paddock situation. One year ago, Weto was able to join a group of about 10 horses on a very large paddock. There were concerns that he might kill every horse in the group sooner or later, or at least that we might be asked by the other horse owners to pay the vet bills. None of that happened, of course. It became obvious that Weto just needs a lot of space and feels very crowded on a small paddock, which expresses itself in aggression. Now he is a great herd leader and develops deeper and deeper friendships with the others.
In the training he always gives his best, every single day. The more you listen to him, the more he opens up to you. All he asks is that you explain to him what you want, give him time to respond, and appreciate his effort.
Weto is no exception here. Horses go out of their way to cooperate with us if we give them the benefit of the doubt. So next time you think your horse needs to respect you more, why not start with a little more respect yourself and see what happens. You might be positively surprised.