FT does not force a horse into submission. Instead, it uses the horse’s own values and standards of Equine Friendship to create a much different type of relationship.
This produces safer and more enjoyable interactions on the ground (as well as mounted interactions) for both horse and human. It also prevents many problems from ever arising that are caused by using traditional training formats that regard the horse as simply an animal to be forced into submission. Instead, it imprints the equine concept of friendship on the deepest instinctual levels possible.
Both FT philosophy and the hands on interactions of that philosophy are completely different from any other type of training format ever used. FT does not use a round pen or any type of restriction. Nor are any special “aids” or clickers used to transform your horse into a happy, eager, working/playing partner.
In the normal herd relationship, a horse establishes and maintains his herd rank by using intimidation, pressure, comfort/discomfort, force and ultimately, physical punishment. Does that sound familiar? It should, because those are exactly the same methods traditional training formats use to “train a horse.” The only real difference between them is the expertise of sales and marketing specialists to promote and sell a particular form of “training.”
If we take a close look at those normal herd relationships, we find that there is only a grudging tolerance/acceptance of the other horses in the herd. But beyond the need for the security that being with the herd provides, there are no real emotional ties whatsoever. There is also a fluctuating degree of respect for those of higher herd rank and certainly no “love lost between them.” When a horse’s warning or “bluff” to another horse is answered with equal intimidation, pressure and comfort/discomfort, the result is often a violent physical confrontation (physical punishment.) This is done to “teach the challenging horse a lesson” (an axiom of traditional training.) Thus the underlying determination of a horse’s herd rank at any given moment is his ability to deliver enough physical punishment to maintain that herd rank. When illness, injury or old age diminishes that ability, he will promptly lose his herd rank to others who were previously beneath him in herd rank but are now much stronger and more powerful. There are numerous daily confrontations probing, testing and mildly challenging those of higher herd rank. Many of them are very minute and nearly undetectable to the novice equine observer. There is also a constant need of those with higher herd rank to make certain that those of lower herd rank “know their place” (another axiom of traditional training.)
FT removes intimidation, pressure, comfort/discomfort and physical violence from the equation (and the apprehension of indirect force caused by the use of restriction as well.)
It would take no great leap of faith to see why, after six thousand years of practice, we still have so many “problems” with horses. The horse easily identifies our traditional training formats that use intimidation, pressure, comfort/discomfort, force and/or physical punishment with his own method of establishing his herd rank in the herd. One only has to glance at any Internet equine chat room, email list or equine periodical to find the multitude of “problems” created by this type of relationship. It is also the reason that no singular training format “works” with all horses. How many times have we heard the expression that someone had to “take a little of this and a little of that” when training a horse? Considering the extreme individuality of horses, and the type of relationship they created by using traditional training formats, that could only be expected.
But there is another type of relationship that we have paid no attention to because we have been so deeply engrossed in devising better methods of “training.” Equine friendship (commonly referred to as horse buddies) is a very special relationship between two horses. It is so special, they do not share this level of intimacy with any other horses in the herd. In this relationship, intimidation, pressure, force, comfort/discomfort and physical punishment are never needed or used. Both horses completely accept the herd rank of their trusted friend. The higher ranked horse never worries that his lower ranked friend might challenge him or take advantage of their trust and friendship. The lower ranked horse never worries that his higher ranked friend will take advantage of him or hurt him.
In short, it is the exact opposite of the normal herd relationship (and that of traditional training) in that it is a very trusting, codependent, harmonious partnership shared only between two horses. But these intimate equine friendships do not just “happen.” They evolve over a period of time in very specific, sequential stages. By duplicating those same steps and situational environment, anyone can enjoy the benefits of that same intimate relationship with any horse, regardless of their age, gender or previous life experiences.
Thus, if there is any real choice in the matter, it is not one of picking any particular “training format” but rather choosing the type of relationship one cares to share with their horse (and the consequences or benefits of that relationship.) Horses are much more intelligent then people give them credit for being. But their perception of the world and “way of going” is much different from ours. They are mentally, emotionally and instinctively governed to only being able to see the world on their terms using their value system. Thus optimum results can easily be attained if we work with those instincts to the best of our advantage instead of against them.
Ultimately, it is our responsibility to alter how we present ourselves to the horse that will enable him to see us as more than “just another horse in the herd of a higher rank.” Creating that “herd of two within the herd” bonding partnership gives the horse the opportunity to truly be “all that he can be” for us. To do otherwise, leaves him no option regardless of how hard we otherwise try to befriend him because we have previously established the wrong type of relationship.
By first winning his heart, anyone can experience the ultimate safety, joy and contentment of riding with a happy, trusted friend (instead of an animal that was simply forced into submission.) The choice is ours to make and ours alone, not the horse’s. He can only judge us by our actions and interactions with him. And he can only make that judgment using his standards and values. We would benefit greatly from exploring the tremendous benefits of recognizing the Horse as a sentient being with mental, emotional and instinctual needs far different from our own.
“Life is a matter of choices,” and living with the rewards and consequences of those choices.
The mounted relationship we share with our horse can never be greater than the relationship we share with him on the ground. Truly, there is much to be gained by seriously contemplating the significance of that “other half” of Milton’s forewarning,
“Those who overcome by force, overcome but half their foe.”
Creating Equine Funktionslust is not an event, It is a very rewarding way of life.