It’s been “forever” since I shared anything here on my blog, but lately my fingers have wanted to write a longer piece of text – and as we all know, longer pieces of text aren’t Instagrams strongest side. You see, for a while now I’ve been asked about my thoughts about respect. Between horse and human. And I cannot possibly put those words into a lengthy Instagram caption – because I don’t have enough space.
This magical word, respect, is thrown around like a jacket zipper in a washing machine. What does it mean? Well, that depends on who you are, and what equestrian communities you are a part of.
For many people, we only mention respect when there is a lack of it. Because, as many of us know, you really notice when a horse walks all over you and start pushing you around. This “lack of respect” creates a lot of anger in many equestrians, and I think we all know a horse that has taken a fair share of beating for acting “out of line”. Yes, I’m putting it in quotation marks, because I want to make it clear that these phrases are not something I use myself.
But what is respect? The true meaning? Well, let’s check the dictionary.
a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
example: “the director had a lot of respect for Douglas as an actor”
I believe respect has to be earned. Respect can also be lost. Maybe Douglas the actor had a nice shelf of awards, and had the perfect ability to connect with the character he was playing. Awesome. Maybe Douglas is an asshole too. Because of Douglas’ personality, the director have lost his respect for Douglas the actor. Tough luck, Douglas.
Moving away from Douglas the example, and back to horses; I see a few trends surrounding the phenomenon of respect. First, I’ve noticed that a well-behaved horse is rarely described as respectful. It will often be described as kind, bombproof, good with children and beginners, sweet, “broken” (gosh, that’s a post on its own, isn’t it?), maybe it has a good attitude too. Some communities call a good horse “finished”. Other’s will say it’s a good boy and state how well it performs in the arena.
Another trend I see, is how a lot of equestrians attempt to train respect into a horse, by making it fearful. The good old “behave, or else…!”. A good threat will fix it right up, won’t it? Well, from the way I am phrasing this you all will of course be able to guess where this is going – but do you really earn respect (the magical thing many are looking for) by making your horse afraid of what you can do to him… or would this threatening way of training make the horse lose respect for you?
I surely lose respect for a lot of people, based on how they train and communicate with their horses. But hey, what do I know. I’m not a horse.
There are a lot of other feelings you can train into your horse. Fear. Insecurity. You can teach your horse that you turn into a fiery rage monster when he walks into your personal space. So maybe he stops walking into your personal space. Did he stop because he gained an admiration for your abilities and qualities? Or did he stop, because he chose to distance himself from you?
We’re all fairly good at claiming that we must communicate with our horses. Have a dialogue. I hear lots of people talk about it, and I see quite a few people not follow through with it. A dialogue means that two are talking. To be able to talk together, they both must also listen.
And oh boy, are a lot of us equestrians really bad at listening at times. We get angry when a horse just waltz right into our personal space. Did we ever stop to ask him what he was doing there? Did he spook and come looking for reassurance? Did he get an idea, and tried to move you along? Did he want cuddles? Because a lot of us just waltz up to our horses, to cuddle, put on tack or just do whatever we please. Rarely do we ask if it’s okay.
And I’m not going to go on and on about consent and similar things. I know a lot of people are really tired of the word. But a no is a no, and if we suddenly find ourself with a horse that do not want to – we at least have to take a step back. What part of the dialogue did we miss? Was the horse not listening? Or was the horse talking, and were we not listening? Did we give him an answer to a question he wasn’t asking? Communication isn’t an exercise, or something when we can do when only we see fit.
A horse never stops communicating. With Brego, I at times have to ask him to stop talking, so I can get my questions in. The way I see it, everything we want our horse to do, is a question. Can you move over? Can you start walking? Yes he usually can. If he is busy yelling “HEY LOOK IT’S A COW! HELLO COW! MOOoOooOO!”, however, we might have to deal with the cow situation first. Yes, Brego, it’s a moo.
Brego is always aware of the situation around us. Most horses are, some more than others. Because of this, I think it is far more fair to say that what we ask for – on a daily basis – is not respect. We want attention. And focus.
Let us be honest; most of us do not think of “respect” as having our horses admiring us. We want the horse to be attentive, and have focus on us as humans. We want the horse to behave in the leadrope, and under saddle. That isn’t respect. That is the result of education. And what we need to teach a horse, is not respect. It’s attention, and focus.
But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we did indeed earn our horses respect? That the horse admired us for our abilities and qualities? Looked to us, to find solutions to his problems? Because we are the best at staying calm in stressing situations? Because we are the best at squishing bugs and scratching itches? Because we make him feel good? Because we have shown, and been able to communicate to them, that we hace a knack for figuring things out?
By all means, I do not mean that respect, focus, attention and education are not connected. They are. I just think many of us equestrians have lost a little bit of respect for what respect truly is.
And I think we owe it to ourselves and our horses, to take a little bit of a look at what we are doing and what we are really trying to achieve.