I just found an interesting article about dominance/leadership by Lesley Skipper. It deals in an refreshing way with common myths and prejudices of dominant horses. It questions behavioral studies that led to the wide spread belief that hierarchical social structures dictate the social interactions of horses (and humans).http://homepage.ntlworld.com/zareeba/dominance.pdf
For some reason this topic popped up when I was browsing through the forum, and I discovered this link. Thank you so much for posting it!
For me personally, I don't mind using the word 'leadership', but to me it doesn't have a lot to do with dominance. It's neither a one way street, nor something that is a permanent fixture during a training session, and actually it's very situational.
This is how both leadership and dominance are defined in my head (still work in progress!)
- A leader leads, inspires, suggests movement, places a request (more or less convincing) - and it's up to the other to honor the request or not, if he wants to be led or not.
For example: I ask Speedy for the Spanish walk, he says yes or declines. Or Speedy doesn't want to train the piaffe but instead goes for the Spanish walk. It doesn't matter, it was just a suggestion.
Actually I think this is what makes humans so wonderful companions for horses; the fact we have so many ideas, inspiration, the way we manage to come up with new stuff to do every day. We are more than just a bag of foodrewards! For me leadership has everything to do with inspiration and admiration - and that goes both ways, because I'm absolutely in awe by the pony's and everything they think of!
- On the other hand, asserting ominance for me is about making a demand (fixed in time) - not accepting no for an answer, but also realising that the other might reply with a strong no as he will have an opinion about this too.
For example: When I'm walking along the street and I want him to stop, I will tell him to stop once and then I will cue him with the leadrope. And because I want him (and me) to be able to handle a No, I will also practise it occasionally when working at liberty in the arena, for example when I tell him not to graze. And when Speedy disagrees with me, he can run away, put his ears in his neck, refuse a question several times in a row, turn his butt towards me, walk away from me in the pasture.
If I were a horse, this part of the occasional dominant demands would be easier, as we could bicker/fight over a bit of grass and then go our own way and graze again. But I'm not a horse but a human and I can feel quite overwhelmed by all the horsepower around me, so I feel the need to have a very strict no-aggressive-horse-zone around me because I can't handle physical corrections and demands as another horse can.
That zone by the way is a circle with a radius of approximately my arm by the way, so nothing exiting. But it does complicate the balance in the relationship between human and horse (as opposed to horse-horse), and I guess that that's also where the obsession with dominance and leadership stems from: being afraid - and being afraid of the fact that 'when the horse knows you're afraid he will abuse his power againt you'.
But of course I'm no angel,
and I also place demands every once in a while simply because I want to. For example, I ride my bicycle for half and hour along a road that's not very safe to get to Speedy, Speedy is 24/7 out on the pasture but okay, the arena is overgrown with weeds and he wants to eat those too, so I let him stroll and eat for ten, twenty minutes - but then I'd really like to do some things together as well before I go and cycle back for half an hour...
I'm completely aware though that this would be different when Speedy would live right next to me. Blacky and Sjors live at my parents' place where I grew up and when they weren't interested, I would simply go back inside, but when I've 'invested'
so much into being able to enjoy our interaction, I would like to experience some interaction as well.
I guess this has happend 3 or four times, and the other time I just follow his example and simply lounge hang out with him, but this is an example where in our training my definition of 'leadership' (as in inspiring) is sometimes temporarily replaced by dominance (a demand). And not terribly proud of it, but so be it.