Though small and adorable, Oliver can be quite rude!

Respect is a word I find thrown around a lot in horse training and Natural Horsemanship. I find that it seems to always be in favor of the horse respecting the person. But respect in my opinion, is a two way street for all beings.

I was working with a horse today. The horse was very defensive of it’s space even from a distance. I was with the horse at liberty. I was working in a way to let the horse know I wanted to be clear where it was comfortable with me and how close. This horse gave me a lot of clear communication. I was very interested in building trust and curiosity with the horse so I was very attentive and respectful of the “Nos” I was getting. Those Nos are so important when working with a horse. They are not there to push through or pressure around. They are to be looked at and asked “why is that no there?” Once you understand the no it can actually be one of your most powerful tools to build a friendship with a horse.

I have a way of categorizing whether behavior is disrespectful or not. It’s very simple. If a horse has no idea how I like to be treated because he has never been around me and he does something I don’t care for, It is my responsibility to ask the horse nicely if they could do something else (or re-pattern the behavior). If I ask nicely 3 times and they still insist on the behavior. I then consider it rude and disrespectful. Why 3 times? Because in my experience with training and teaching, 3 times is enough times to establish a fairly clear understanding of a request or new information. Not perfect, just understanding. I feel this way about any animal or person for that matter.

More often then not I feel like the horses get disrespected more then we do. Some horses just take it and some horses will retaliate. So my next question when a horse seems to be “disrespectful” is “how did he get this way?” Does he have a good reason to be this way or is he a bit like a child that hasn’t been given healthy boundaries. Again, that behavior is there for a reason.

People are often unintentionally and unconsciously disrespectful of horses. Horses are amazingly patient, compassionate and tolerant animals. I believe it is because they feel our intention and know we are not trying to purposefully do them harm. This is one of the qualities I love about them. I find it interesting and a shame, that when a horse is trying to let you know he would like to be treated differently in a more opinionated way, people often say that horse is naughty, mean or disrespectful. We need to stop and listen more at these times before we make a snap judgement.

So next time you are with your horse, pay close attention to your interactions and the no and yes and don’t judge just gather information about your horse. Then decide what is the best way to proceed with trust and friendship in mind. Oats for thought…
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