Respect is a hot topic in horse training. It’s easy to accuse a horse of being disrespectful and it is often attached as a kind of label on that horse. While there are times horses act in ways that could be described this way, what I have been wondering lately is this – how do we really know whether a horse is being “disrespectful”?
We may give a list of signs, such as coming too close to us, ignoring us when we are making a request, or trying to pull on the lead rope and reins and just plain run away. Or we may say it’s just a feeling we get, that we just know the respect isn’t there.
Many cases of “disrespect” in horses can be the result of a horse that very simply doesn’t know what he is supposed to do. We often put unreasonable expectations on horses – thinking they should just know what we want, without really stopping to consider if they truly understand what we’re asking them for.
I think we also need to be wary of those feelings we get, those times where we think we just know something. It’s not that we shouldn’t be aware of what we feel, but if we consider how our brains work and what triggers those feelings, we realize that many of our thoughts are formed unconsciously and we perceive the world around us today through the lens of what we have experienced in the past.
Unless we work to consciously change our thought patterns, we will continue to think, act, and make assumptions and decisions according to what we are taught, what we are used to seeing and doing, and how we are used to feeling about things every day.
Bringing this back to the discussion of respect, consider how different human cultures around the world show respect. One of the most obvious ways of non-verbal communication that humans have between each other is through eye contact. Here in the United States, it is considered rude if a person fails to make eye contact when meeting another person or during a conversation. In other cultures, especially some Asian cultures, it can be just the opposite and steady eye contact with a person of authority would be considered very disrespectful.
In other words, if I were to travel to Asia without having this knowledge, I might get the feeling that the people there were not only disinterested in what I had to say but also quite rude. However, this feeling would simply be a result of my own internal programming and expectations of eye contact to signify interest and respect, not a fair judgment of the people I was meeting there.
Where I am going with this is that I believe we do the same thing with our horses. We have our own human notions of what respect means and what it should look like, and those expectations probably vary a bit for each of us.
In the end, I believe we should become as aware as we possibly can about our own internal programming and expectations of others – people and horses. Before putting a label or judgment on another, it would be of greater benefit for us to consider other drives for their behavior (do they even understand us, are we being consistent, is the request clear, are they simply scared, upset, bothered, etc.) as well as re-assessing our own thoughts and feelings on that behavior.
What are your thoughts?
See you in the comments,