Hello there. This is a very emotional subject for me, so I'm not sure I shouldn't just stay away. I feel like this because almost always when I have encountered people talking about being the alpha/leader/whatever term they chose, even when they had seemed kind, what it actually meant was they that they did some really harsh things, and saw every tiny move their horse made as them trying to be dominant, or "disrespectful" (
) ... when it is nothing of the kind. But I don't think that's what any of you do.
I am just going to put my thoughts down. I have written a LOT on this subject over the years, often when I was feeling very angry and upset (I don't mean I ever attacked anyone! A lot of what I have written I have never shown anyone, it was just for myself, to get my thoughts in order and so I could get it out and not yell at anyone), so I fear I might have a certain way of writing that sounds like I am saying "This is right and you are wrong" I've tried not to in writing this today, but if I do PLEASE don't take it that way, I know that's not what this forum is about, and besides I think you are all great
and agree with much of what has already been written here, even if I think of it in a different way to some of you.
I don't think we can be "equal" exactly, for the reasons other have already stated. I think I will just quote Romy's entire post here:
I do not think that my horses and I are equal. For one we are very different beings, so where will it lead us to wonder about equality? We do share certain characteristics and we differ from each other in others. Our rights and tasks are shared according to this.
One of the things we share is that we are living beings and with that, besides our basic needs (food etc.), we need a certain amount of agency. So I am very careful neither to take away too much of theirs nor to completely give away mine.
But there are many diffences between us as well. I try to incorporate them into our living together so that everyone decides according to what is beneficial for him (and us!) and according to his judging capacities. I do know more about the human-dominated environment we are living in, so I am responsible to watch for our safety. My horses do not know that it is dangerous to run around freely with all the streets and cars, so I keep them in a pasture unless I am with them.
They know more about their own feelings and capabilities, so they have a huge share in deciding about what we are doing together in our work and play. I do not know by myself what exercises they can/want to do at any given moment, so I make suggestions but the decision is theirs. We train at liberty (or with a lunge line around the neck when we are outside) and they can decide what they want to do and what they donÂ´t want.
And then there are things that we decide together or where we are taking turns, because each of us is capable of making good decisions about that â€“ like where to go on our walks.
I am not sure how much practical implications the question about being equal or not being equal has. For me the question is more how to make the best out of the life we have â€“ and that means that I donÂ´t ask myself that much if it is their or my right to decide about certain things, but to ask who can make the better decision in a given situation. We donÂ´t have the same knowledge, so we donÂ´t have the same rights. But, and thatÂ´s the important point for me, we both do have rights and spheres of competence. Maybe more because we are different than because we are equal.
Okay. Now for my own thoughts. I can go in with my horses, even when they are all together in a herd, even when we had more than 7 and they were all in a group, I don't have to have any sort of attitude. This is not just with these, but the same with other horses and herds I have got to know. I don't even have to be confident. Even if I'm feeling very anxious and scared of everything that day, at least one of them (usually Holly) will come up and be comforting. No one takes advantage of me not being confident, or anything else I might be feeling. This is even with horses who used to kick/bite/charge etc like Bonnie. (Of course, when I first get a new horse, I will not go in with them feeling less than calm and confident, because I have no idea what their experiences have been and how they might react to that.)
In fact, the only times I have ever been in REAL danger from dangerous horses attacking, WAS when I was thinking I should be dominant/leader, going towards them with an attitude, making them (even in a gentle way) do something, or driving them away when they charged. I have also had horses charge at me because of their extreme fear of humans, because they had been so terribly abused. I used to do the same thing Jess does, lift my energy/stand my ground. Then I would drive them away if that didn't stop them - with one mare I felt it was a life or death thing, (and not just a kick or strike, I felt she wanted to attack and attack until she stomped someone into the ground) her view of humans was that bad.
It 'worked' (some of the time), but it was just proving that yes, human approaching = bad things happening. We were getting trust in other areas, slowly, but that wasn't helping. Nor was it actually stopping the charging or threatening to kick for good.
An old, very very experienced horseman gave this advice, for the extremely dangerous mare: WALK AWAY. But surely, I thought, this would let her know she could push me around? Well, no. Not at all, because it was nothing to do with that. An old horseman of all people is not someone I would have expected to say, listen to the horse telling you she is not comfortable with you being there. Especially when she was telling it in such a violent way, old horsemen (most horse people!) in my experience tend to find even a much, much lower level of aggression completely unacceptable, whatever the reason. (And she was utterly terrifying and seriously dangerous. The look she would get in her eyes...
) So, okay, next time she charged me I walked away. And every time after that. (But there weren't many because I started walking away before she got to the point where she needed to charge me.) Said "okay" as I was leaving, and left. I didn't run away scared, I just left. Magic happened. But not really magic, just her finally realising all people were not evil and would listen to her! She became SO much easier to deal with and less dangerous. This has had the same effect with others. I know it is possible to stop them charging etc by driving them away very strongly, especially in a roundyard, but I do not want to do that. And I don't need to.
I don't think that thinking like this makes me someone the horses can't turn to for protection or guidance. Quite the opposite. They will call out and tell us if something is wrong, and take us and show us what it is. And if the neighbours are on their bikes or the dogs are there and Bonnie gets scared she will scream out for one of us to go and stand with her. Mum can call out to Holly (from in the house, and Holly is across the road!) that it's okay, if a cattle truck goes by or parks out the front at the neighbours' place (she is terrified of them) and she will calm down. All kinds of things like that. So we are definitely something to them, I just don't think it can be the same as a horse-horse relationship. It isn't.
I don't feel I have any position or rank in their herd. I'm not IN their herd. I'm a human. We are a certainly a family, of humans and horses, but I don't think it is a herd. Can, and will I, protect my own person (or someone else, or another horse if they are being badly bullied) if necessary? Yes. (But in a lot of situations, as above, even when it might seem to be the only option, often I have found it isn't the best thing to do at all.) Would I make a horse move out of the path of an oncoming truck, even if they didn't want to? Obviously. (If my human friend was standing in the middle of the road and for some reason oblivious to the danger, and wouldn't listen to me, I'd grab their arm and pull, or push them out of the way too!) Have I held onto the lead or halter while I/vet/someone else gave medical treatment the horse didn't want? Yep. (Though I do prefer to use positive reinforcment and them choose to stand for treats if at all possible.) But this is (I so agree with you Romy!) a situational thing.
I can't be alpha/leader/anything like that. They don't think I'm a horse, they don't treat me anything like another horse, and I don't attempt to treat them as if I am another horse. Just because they have rankings (even though they are far more flexible than people think, Jess reading about what you have witnessed with this, I have found the same, and talked to others and read studies that have found this to be true, also) in their own lives as horses --- I don't believe this means that in their interactions with *another species* - humans - there has to be a rank like that. I think they are smarter than that. We are horses and humans getting along together as best we can, and they know this. But I also don't think that makes us "equal" depending on your definition of that. As others have said, how can we be exactly "equal" when we are so different, and also, yes - I keep them confined and I CAN have the final say on things. But again, these are such human things, nothing to do with a herd rank.
I do feel it is far more like a family, we are a little human/equine family with relationships that are not quite like horse/horse or human/human relationships or communication, but our own. And, when I have to decide something for them, it is as if they're children, which I think is a quite a lot different to "I am the boss and am going to make you do this because I am the boss". Or maybe I see it that way because my mum always was A PARENT and didn't feel the need to do things to "show she was the boss" like some of my friends parents did (like saying no to something because they could, as a show of authority, rather than for a reason). That always confused and frustrated me. I might not have always AGREED with my mum's reasons for not letting me do something, or been very happy about it, but she did not do frustrating and confusing things to prove to me that she could. Anyway, I am rambling and going off track a bit here. Though I think it is similar - I will only insist on something with the horses when it is necessary. Not to prove anything.
I know a lot (most?) of you have come from NHE, I did not and I know next to nothing about it, so I'm sorry if what I'm saying is anything like what they say. (I think someone said that they think the same re: humans are not horses?) These are just my own beliefs. I have, of course, been ridiculed every other time I have written anything like this and shown it to anyone. Also the ever so patronising, "you are only young, (when I was around 17; I'm 22 now, but that's still young, so go ahead..) you will realise you are wrong one day, probably when you get badly hurt" etc. etc. But my horses are fine, I am still alive, and in fact feel safer and safer with them every day.
I'm sorry if I sound defensive. That's what it is - defending my own views, not attacking anyone or even trying to argue.
I'm just sharing my own personal thoughts and experiences, I hope that's clear. :sweat: OH and I'm VERY sorry for this being so long
if you have read all of this you deserve a medal.