Training Merry-Go-Round

What ‘Other Relationship?’

Our first step off our traditional ‘training merry-go-round’ would be acknowledging the tremendous difference between the normal intra-herd relationship and the Peer Attachment relationship (referred to by equine ethologists and research scientists as affiliated pairing, nonsexual bonding, peer attachment, mutually beneficial coalitions and preferred associates).

There are two very basic relationships a horse will experience in his natural environment (other than stallion/mare and mare/foal). One is the previously mentioned normal intra-herd relationship that utilizes intimidation, pressure, comfort/discomfort and/or physical punishment to establish and maintain an individual’s herd rank. This relationship typifies the basis of our past and present day ‘training formats.’ As such, it is the direct cause of those behavioral issues and ‘horse problems.’ Establishing and maintaining herd rank in the herd (especially an unrelated domesticated herd) is a potentially adversarial/confrontational, competitive relationship tempered only by the ‘coexistent need for family/herd harmony’ and a sense of security/belonging to insure the propagation of species. In domesticated herds, where current management and training practices have severely maligned the basic nature and culture of the Horse seemingly as much as is humanely possible, it is intensely magnified out of proportion. Though his logic and thinking may be a bit linear compared to our own, the horse is not a stupid animal. If we utilize the same basic interactions that horses use to establish a higher herd rank, they can only reciprocate in kind. Given to the myriad complexity of genetics and environmental factors, each horse will react differently to a challenge of his present herd rank. That is why there is no successful ‘cookie cutter’ training format that will function equally well with all horses.

But in the Peer Attachment relationship, there is no need or desire to use intimidation, pressure, discomfort or physical punishment as both horses have completely accepted the other’s herd rank. Contrary to the normal intra-herd relationship (a relationship that can be extremely competitive, confrontational and adversarial and especially so in domesticated herds) the Peer Attachment relationship is a very harmonious relationship. Extremely intense levels of reciprocal intimacy and trust reach seemingly intuitive levels of communication that form an inter-reliant co-dependency of two. It is so intense that they do not share these levels of intimacy, trust and communication with other horses in the herd. They literally become a’herd of two within the herd’ so-to-speak. This bonded Peer Attachment relationship is SO strong, and SO intimate, that severe separation anxiety issues become paramount when one horse dies or is permanently separated from his partner (also known as severe grief response).

All horses, regardless of age, gender or breed utilize the same basic protocols for acceptance to establish and share the Peer Attachment relationship. Contrary to popular beliefs held by those who use NH and/or traditional training formats, there IS one method, one singular format, one specific sequence of interactions that consistently ‘works with all horses.’ While the Horse can instantly recognize the ‘game of herd rank,’ he can just as easily recognize the offering and acceptance of true friendship (IF we use THEIR standards, protocols and perception of friendship).