‘Natural’ Horsemanship? Maybe, Maybe not….

In the normal intra-herd relationship, herd rank is a survival aspect of herd dynamics. Intimidation, pressure, discomfort, and if needed, physical punishment are used to establish and maintain the highest herd rank possible. Our present day natural horsemanship trainers predicate their basic training format on the documented empirical studies of highly accredited equine research scientists and ethologists that confirm this facet of herd dynamics. And that is well and good, as far as it goes. For we cannot incorporate successful new innovations if we do not base our decisions on the unbiased studies of the primary model we are working with first. However, empirical observations and studies of both feral and unrelated domesticated herds reveal the dominance/submission of ‘herd rank’ interactives can be extremely adversarial and confrontational. By basing the focal point of their horsemanship on the empirical confirmation of this type of relationship, they create an atmosphere of conflict and in the process, an adversarial relationship that is not conducive to a truly intimate, harmonious partnership.

Ironically, establishing this problematic relationship is self-serving because the more ‘problems’ created by initiating an adversarial, confrontational relationship, the more revenue producing solutions they can offer to solve the problems their methods created in the first place.

Tire manufacturers do not spread nails on our streets to sell more tires.

Doctors and nurses do not go around spreading diseases so that they can later ‘cure them.’

Yet horse trainers perpetrate a basic perception and methodology that guarantees a future need for their ‘expertise.’

True, they no longer tie small wild animals to their tails or pierce their rectums with hot irons as basic training formats.

But unfortunately, (other than that) as far as the Horse is concerned, nothing very substantial has changed in their relationship with humans or the human perception of preliminary ‘horse training.’

The old saying goes, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, chances are it’s a duck.” We can paint the duck pretty colors, exclaim it is an exotic rare breed and give it a scientific designation, but no matter WHAT we do, it is STILL a duck.

We can righteously defend our present day ‘training formats’ with some level of moral justification by pointing out that they are not as abusive as those used previously. But that is similar to shooting someone in the toe instead of in the head so we can rationalize by stating that is better because it ‘hurts less’ than if we had shot him in the head.

If we use the interactives of a training method that duplicate the dominance/submission of establishing herd rank in the normal intra-herd relationship, the horse will most assuredly reciprocate in kind. Which in turn means that when we ride, we are betting our life on the level of submission and depth of fear imprint we have made on our horse. While there are those who thrive on the ‘adrenalin rush’ of challenging the gamble of the unknown, many of us would prefer the confident feeling of enjoying a deeper level of trust and stability with the entity who is carrying us (and ultimately responsible for our safety and welfare).

We have been on this ‘catch 22’ merry-go-round for 6,000 years. It is well past time we got off and matured as a species to use a completely DIFFERENT paradigm. Like any stereotypical human fallibility, this cannot be accomplished until we first admit the possible error of our ways.

More food for thought…

Petroski asked, “Could Montgomery Ward’s 131 different designs of a pocket knife be said to be the result of discovering 131 different new ways of cutting?”

Well, of course not! They are simply 131 different designs of a pocket knife that all ‘cut the same way’ (just as our present day ‘training formats’ are variations of the same basic ‘animal training format’).

Are any of our present day ‘training formats’ REALLY different? One only has to peruse an equine Internet group list or equine related magazine to find that as far as the Horse is concerned, they are all perceived as basically the same.

Conclusion: We will continue to have ‘bad behavior/horse problems’ forever if we continue to use same perception and basic format for ‘training’ a horse that has been used for 6,000 years. The developmental pattern of (often times unintended) consequences will NEVER change until we gain and utilize a complete understanding of equine relational, cognitive and motivational processes and use them to both our own and the horse’s best advantage (for the good of both).