At our very first acquaintenceship with the horse, he was regarded as a source of food. In fact, for many thousands of years, he was our major food supply. In the ensuing milleniums of our relationship with him, he has been regarded as a simple beast of burden to be "trained" like a circus animal to respond to our wishes and commands.
But the horse is much more, physically, emotionally and spirtually, He is a living, breathing thinking, feeling being, whose life is governed by instincts far different from our own.
Instinct: an inborn tendency or response of a given species to act in ways that are essential to its preservation.
The horse’s actions and reactions to the world are based on his survival. He has no choice in making those actions and reactions because they are instinctive. A good comparison is when something unexpectedly threatens hitting our eye. Our instinctive reaction is to "blink" and protect the eye. We cannot stop that reaction any more then the horse can stop his instinctive fear/flight response.
Bound by those instincts, he is mentally and emotionally like a small child that can never "grow up," as our human children are normally expected to. If we are the one’s restricting his freedom to "train" him to aid us in our endeavors, we assume the authority of control over him. That authority entails responsibility. That responsibility is to understand how he percives both his world, and ours, as best we can.
A good example is comparing the horse’s instictive fear/flight reaction to a small child that has a severe phobia (an irrational fear) of clowns. Anyone that would spank that child for screaming and running away from a clown suddenely rushing at him unexpectedly, would be regarded as an abusive person that lacked compassion and understanding.
Yet the horse does not share this same privilege when he instinctively reacts to what he believes is a life threatening situation.
Tremendous amounts of time and effort have been devoted to understanding the horse’s physiology, (his anatomy, bodily functions and physical needs.) But very little, if any, effort has ever been devoted to the psychology of the horse, (his instincts, emotions and mental processes that govern every second of his life.)
Your relationship with your horse is the product, the sum total of four basic things. (1.) His instincts and emotions, (2.) His basic origin and genetics, (3.) His previous life experiences with other humans, (4.) His life experiences with you. We have no control over his instincts or the basic origin of his breed. We have no control over how others have treated him before he came to us. But we can nullify those previous negative experiences he has had with other humans and rebuild the trust that was broken (or never established in the first place.) And we have control over the type and level of relationship we form with him.
Traditionally, "horse training" requires first catching the horse and restraining him in either a round pen or with a halter and lunge line. Then, intimidation, comfort/discomfort and often varying degrees of physical punishment are used to "train" the horse to respond to certain signals or cues given by the trainer.
In that scenario, the horse learns that he has no choice but to obey his human captor whenever he is trapped and restrained, or suffer the consequences. If this type of format is used initially to form a relationship with him, the horse’s perception of that relationship is one of a slave and master or a dictatorship. This is not how two horses create that special bond they share with no other horses in the herd. Regardless of what is in your heart, or how much you respect, appreciate and love your horse, he can only judge you by your actions. Your entire relationship with him will be based on your initial interactions with him.
But what if our initial relationship was one that, in HIS judgment, was regarded as one of friendship, instead of a dictatorship? And what, if any, would be the advantages of a friendship? First, let’s clarify the word "friend."
Friend: A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts. A person with whom one is allied with in a common struggle or cause; a comrade.
(There doesn’t seem to be anything confrontational, unreliable or aggressive in that definition.)
Now let’s apply it to your relationship with your horse.
Friend: A horse whom one knows, likes, and trusts. A horse with whom one is allied with in a common struggle or cause; a comrade.
This is where it starts to get a little paradoxical. How can you feel allied in a common struggle with your horse, how can you regard him as a comrade and friend, if he justifiably resists your every effort in a dictatorial relationship type of relationship?
Reversing the situation seems to make it even more illogical.
Friend: A person whom the horse knows, likes, and trusts. A person with whom the horse is allied with in a common struggle or cause; a comrade.
If we use a restrictive, dictatorial method to form that initial relationship with our horse, it is very difficult for him to develop any real level of friendship or comradeship, or be allied with us in a common struggle or goal.
If we want our horse "working with us" in complete harmony, totally committed to achieving a common goal, we are going to have to enlist his friendship.
To accomplish that, we are going to have to learn how he perceives and consummates a friendship in his world.