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This has been one of the most difficult lessons. Down the years I had been taught that the object of interaction with a horse was to demand instant obedience in the manner that I required, and that this was the purpose of all training, an approach which fit the bossy part of my nature like a glove. Not much has changed since then, albeit that demanding and cajoling are now referred to as “asking” but perhaps I am yielding to cynicism.

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On the face of it, not too much effort is required to control a horse or even dominate them. You can use force or the threat of it. Alternatively, you might opt for bribery or trickery. You may even assign fancy names to these types of approaches, calling them positive or negative reinforcement, punishment, operant or classical conditioning, habituation or the like. Taking it further, you could even immerse yourself in detailed studies of the theories underlying these terms and attempt to apply them.

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Liberty with a human may be a traumatic experience for a horse that has been denied the opportunity to live as one. This is the very first thing that Pip showed me. I had taken her into a large jumping arena, just the two of us, on our first day together. When I removed all of the tack, she was seized by an overriding panic which caused her to frantically rush up and down the fence line. No contact with her was possible and hence no communication.

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Avoiding the boss mentality has really been a challenge to me. When I get an idea and am ready to implement it, I tend to want to act on it straightaway. It has to happen and it has to happen now. The fact that there is a live animal objecting to this, is not an issue to which I am really keen on devoting a lot of time and energy. This used to be my approach and it is something that Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling also recognised in me. How I have tried to deal with it is described below.

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In their own unique way horses “speak” and have been “speaking” to humans for centuries, yet most have chosen not to “listen” to them. Instead, humans have insisted on speaking rather than listening, on telling horses what to do or not to, how to do or not do it and when. And humans have done so not only with their voice but also with an array of metal, leather and plastic devices many of which would not look out of place in a sadomasochistic dungeon or a torture chamber of the Spanish Inquisition. Indeed, the devices which humans use on horses, such as bits, bridles, spurs, metal studs (a.k.a. “horseshoes”), restraints, leads, chains, whips and the like are so harsh as to have inspired an entire niche form of sexual BDSM practice known as “ponyplay”. And these humans do this, not because they are desperate to eke out a living, but largely for pleasure, status, profit or a combination of such pursuits. I used to be just such a human until ten years ago I chose to listen to horses speak. Continue Reading »

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