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PostPosted: Tue Nov 12, 2013 3:02 pm 
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I just came across an interesting issue in another forum. People were discussing the aggressive behaviour of a mare and then someone said something along the lines of "Yes, but how would you feel if...?" And then others replied that you cannot compare horses to humans, only horses to horses, if at all, and even then only to very similar ones.

This made me wonder about the whole issue of comparisons. On the one hand, there is a lot of evidence suggesting that mental simulation - something like "imagining it was you", although often on a subconscious or merely bodily basis - is what enables the understanding of others and social interaction in the first place. Thus, I don't see how we could possibly relate to others without comparisons, at least on some level. Also, I feel that a big part of what makes the interaction between us (people at my pasture) and our horses so harmonious is exactly that we perceive a horse like "just a normal person". On this basis, we decide how to treat them, but this also bases our interaction largely on social comparison.

On the other hand, I can also see the danger of trying to map horse behaviour onto human behaviour, especially when talking about unwanted behaviour and then coming up with explanations along the lines of dominance or hidden motives. But does this mean that social comparisons should be avoided altogether? I am interested in is your opinions about comparisons between humans and horses. Do you think they are helpful or misleading? Under which circumstances? Or do you think there are certain types of comparisons that are more or less problematic than others? Any other thoughts? :f:


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 12, 2013 4:02 pm 

Joined: Sat Dec 17, 2011 2:46 pm
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Location: Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada
Oh I think my beliefs on this are similar to yours, Romy.

There's got to be a certain comparison, but without taking it too far.

I wonder if there could be some kind of a "rule" ;) - like when we humanize horses to justify punishment.... or when we humanize them to excuse/justify a certain "bad" behavior - well, likely those assumptions are wrong? - I say "we", but I mean "they" :D
I think this might solve a lot of the trouble people have with misunderstanding horses.... if they question "why" they are assigning human reasoning to a horse...just a thought...

On the other hand I understand how treating a horse like a human would benefit the feel and compassion for it. Except that the only person doing this truly, is you, Romy, and others at this forum.... I think we still need to understand that a horse is an animal and even though most of our horses have been deprived of many of the natural horse "personality shaping" experiences in their formative years, and instead have been changed by interaction with humans, they still are horses.

I love the idea of treating a horse as "another person"... :f: it's something I will definitely keep in mind in my interaction. Perhaps I can think of the horse more like my student..... with a different language.


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 13, 2013 3:06 pm 
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I think it's not really an issue of just comparing horses and humans. In principle, comparing is very valuable as it shows me the differences between us and hints to potential communication errors. The real question for me is though, how do I use that knowledge of our differences?

A common pitfall in any human-horse interaction is to anthropomorphise. That basically means that I ignore any conmparison and attribute human perception and thinking to the horse (e.g. hidden agendas or ulterior motives).

On the other hand, if I take the knowledge gained from comparison and try to empathically feel what it's like to be a horse with a different body, different perception and different mind - then I can gain valuable insight that will help any further communication. I frequently try to imagine what it's like to walk on four legs for example - it helps a lot in training ;)

Here's an article that might be interesting - it's about whether it's possible to feel what an animal feels.

And here's an interesting TED-Talk that's related in a way. It's Temple Grandin speaking about the perception of autistic persons, which she often compares to the perception of animals.

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 13, 2013 6:44 pm 
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Thank you, Zu and Volker! :)

Zu, I like your rule of "no comparison that leads to a disadvantage for the horse", and whereas I have never consciously thought about it in that way, I think this fits with the way the children and I do it. Usually our comparisons result in us seeing that the horse has a point after all. ;)

Volker wrote:
A common pitfall in any human-horse interaction is to anthropomorphise. That basically means that I ignore any conmparison and attribute human perception and thinking to the horse (e.g. hidden agendas or ulterior motives).


Okay, then I guess I have to rephrase my question, because indeed I did not mean to talk about a scientic or even thorough examination of similarities and differences - I guess we all agree that this is useful - but about those everyday comparisons. I also did not exactly mean to ask whether or to what degree it is objectively possible to find similarities in the thinking patterns of different species (which of course does not mean that we shouldn't discuss it here - it's a wonderful, interesting topic, just not the aim of my original post :)).

I guess the thing I meant would be perceived as anthromorphising by many people, or at least these are the concerns they usually have. I am just wondering whether this is such a problem, or in which cases it is a problem and in which cases it might even be helpful. Of course I do not know what Pia really thinks in situations when I tell the children that she is disappointed because we have left her alone, or jealous when we play with the boys instead. But does it matter? In any case, this raises the childrens' awareness of the fact that horses might have feelings that they can relate to, and makes them want to do something for Pia to make her feel better.

Oh, and I am aware that I am argueing for the opposite position of the one I often take when I say that I try not to interpret too much into my horses but instead just do what they ask. But as with many problems, I think there are good arguments for both sides and no correct solution, so I am just interested in your thoughts. :f:


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 13, 2013 7:57 pm 

Joined: Sat Dec 17, 2011 2:46 pm
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Location: Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada
Hmmm, interesting, and now I also feel free to contradict myself if need be :D

The (in my opinion) bad examples of anthropomorphism are: blanketing horses without the need to, keeping them confined and in solitude, feeding meals, or highly concentrated rations when they are not needed. - the things that we humans might appreciate as safety and warmth etc...

Also bad:
thinking that horses learn like humans do. Horses are very intelligent, but humans sometimes pre-suppose a learning ability to their horses without testing that the horse actually knows. And this is tragic, especially with R- methods... especially when the release doesn't really ever come...

I think good is: like you said Romy, looking for the feelings of joy, sadness, exuberance etc. The horse feels them in his own, horsey way, but they are similar enough to ours. Probably even more similar to children, with their "untainted" emotions...

I guess it really depends where the person is coming from. Just like with teaching riding, you can't have the same set of instructions for everyone. Everything depends on their starting point. Like giving directions for travel to a certain place - you would give very different direction depending on where the beginning of the journey is.
So I think that for some of us, thinking of horses as people might be good. For some of us, we maybe should think of them more as livestock.... And further complicating things - we are not all looking to "arrive in the same place"... :smile:

I think it's much more difficult to get the people who think of a horse as "a furry human" to see the other side of things. I think people who view horses as "just animals". well it wouldn't take much and you could show them a really perceptive horse, connected to a human, showing his feelings and responding to respect with respect.

But the other way, for people used to being around horses that are so "domesticated" that they have lost their true nature... I think you would have to take them to the wild herds. And not just for a day or two, but for seasons. And maybe that wouldn't be enough, some people are so disconnected from nature that to understand the horse is not possible without getting re-connected to nature...


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 20, 2013 12:15 pm 
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Romy wrote:
I guess the thing I meant would be perceived as anthromorphising by many people, or at least these are the concerns they usually have. I am just wondering whether this is such a problem, or in which cases it is a problem and in which cases it might even be helpful.
When I just think about what you describe, I'm afraid I still come to the same conclusion as in my previous post ;). I don't think that anthromorphising is the problem, but the consequences that arise from it.

I often anthromorphise in a way that I attribute certain human traits or believes to our horses. I also see them as equal members of our family, just as I see us as members of their herd. When I am at home, I imagine Mucki thinking of me, just as I am thinking of him.
For me, those human attributes I give to Mucki or Lily, are a manifestation of my affection, as the only way I can authentically relate to a horse is via my human system of values and emotions.
This whole way of relating to horses has its downside of course. Just as I can attribute positive traits to my horse, I can do so with negative ones. Like I could think that my horse has the hidden agenda of permanently questioning my role as leader.
Anthromorphising like that will likely result in distrust and even reprimanding actions.

So I think that comparing horses to humans is basically inevitable - the interesting question for me is what the consequences are in terms of actions taken as a result. And they are usually very similar to the individually learned human-human interaction, I believe...

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