Leadership: same as dominance? and the importance of confidence
   

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Leadership: same as dominance? and the importance of confidence

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  • Importance of cofidence for leadership
  • Confidence dominant horse

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    05-23-2012, 10:02 AM
  #1
Foal
Leadership: same as dominance? and the importance of confidence

It's about 2.5 years ago now that I started seriously training my horse (and myself) after being forced into doing other things than riding (because of an injury). As a kid I had always read the Heartland series (Lauren Brooke) and dreamed of doing a join-up and having my horse follow me, or being able to ride bareback and bridleless. The first attempts at this were horrible, because I had no idea what I was doing. After all this time of learning and recently reading (even more) into the subject, there were a few things I realised about the relationship with your horse and the effect you have on each other, and I wanted to share my experiences and thoughts. Who knows, it might just help you along in your training and bond, the same way it did for me and my horse.

First off I want to start with a quote of an author, trainer and instructor, that struck me deeply:

'The golden rule of both horsemanship and the law has always been: never engage in an argument and push it to the point where someone has to win or lose - unless you are 100 percent sure you will win. Since horses are stronger than us and their primeval instinct for survival can be unpredictable, it is better never to enter an argument at all. If it does happen that you get your way, you may in the meantime lose friendship and trust. In all senses of the word, such victories can be costly. . . I believe we all need to remind ourselves again and again that horses have no way of speaking out except through body language and behavioural patterns. It is rare that I come accross a horse who actively intends to be difficult or naughty. The word 'no' is generally used by horses only as a small cri de coeur (an impassioned outcry). Some, of course, may use that word more than others and the reason could be anything from a badly fitting saddle to sore shins or rider posture. 'No' is a very protective response for horses who find their riders have asked too much too soon, feel their balance threathened, or are genuinely afraid of the unfamiliar. How sad therefore that some riders respond to this language by immediate punishment and the assumption that the horse has 'made up his mind' to disobey. When to ask, and how to ask, has to be the foundation of good schooling, yet too often these factors are overlooked in the rider's hurry to achieve.' (Sylvia Loch - Dressage in lightness)

In this case the author is talking specifically about dressage, but of course the message goes much further than that, it's about the horse and you, and how you interact, no matter the discipline or kind of work you do.

Now imagine, that you were standing in front of a line, and behind that line you are sure you are going to die, and there is someone standing next to you trying to convince you to step over it. Ask yourself who you would rather follow, someone who tries to push you over it, or someone who tells you it's okay and asks you to come with them and trust them?

That is the difference between leadership, and dominance. When you are working with your horse, do you tell, or ask? Why does your horse listen to you, because he is afraid of or unhappy with the consequences if he doesn't, or because he likes to be with you and trusts you to keep him safe and well, whatever you ask?

We have probably all once learned of the natural reactions of a horse. First, a horse will try to flee from anything that seems dangerous to him. If that isn't working out, he will fight it with all he has. Only at the last moment, when every effort to 'save' himself has turned out to be fruitless, a horse will give up, accept his fate and turn into himself, waiting to die. This is called the freeze reaction.

Now, say we were standing before a tarp your horse has never seen before. For all he knows, if he steps on it, he could fall through it, or it could bite his leg off. You walk towards it, your horse follows for two steps, then spooks and bolts backwards. Your first instinct is to hold on tight to the leadrope and keep your horse with you. Think again, what is that going to accomplish? At that moment, you aren't the trusted leader, you have become the thing that is making it impossible for him to get himself to safety. The next step, do you allow your horse to walk back a bit and slowly coach him back to the tarp, or do you slap him on his hindquarters to make sure he understands that he isn't supposed to bolt backwards? In the first scenario, your horse will eventually walk over that tarp, possibly having bolted a few more times, but then you convince him it's okay. In the second, the horse will freak and forget about the danger of the tarp. You are trying to make him walk to his death, and hurting him in the process, you are the danger now. He is going to fight you. Depending on the type of horse, he will keep fighting until you get tired and quit, or you will eventually 'win' and get him to walk over it. It might be a temporary victory, but did you really win? Does your horse trust you more? Will he walk over it quietly next time? Did you force obedience, being the 'dominant one', or have your horse follow the quiet, trustworthy and fearless leader you try to be for him?

Next, the importance of confidence. If you have done some 'scary work', or desensitizing, with a very spooky horse, you might have noticed that the horse will learn to trust you and follow you over obstacles after a while. Then you get up on him, and suddenly he balks and refuses. When you try to ride away from the barn alone, your horse tries to turn and run back. This is where confidence comes in. The horse might have learned to follow you, but he hasn't learned to tackle obstacles on his own. The moment you get up on his back, you are safe and sound up there, but the horse will be the one that gets eaten first. You can imagine a horse being forced into and through (scary) situations will not build confidence. Even if you don't use force with your horse, ever, he might trust you with his life, but up on his back you will not be there leading him. When you send him towards the very much feared tarp, he still has to step over it alone, and he won't without his confidence. A horse without confidence will never be a safe mount or a pleasure to ride, as you'll be too busy worrying about him running with you.

This is why being the leader isn't everything, and why force and dominance doesn't work. Once in a while, your horse has to be his own leader, make his own decisions and keep himself (and you) safe. Either blind trust or fearful obedience doesn't make for a safe and trustworthy horse. Be your horse's partner and friend, be the leader when you have to, and let him be the leader when he has to. That is what working together truly means, where you listen closely to each other, communicate quietly, and take turns of walking in front.
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    05-23-2012, 10:27 AM
  #2
Yearling
There are definitely two schools of thought on this issue. I'm expecting you will get some differing opinions. But I for one, find that what you wrote about is what works for me and my horse. It's a relationship I have with Spirit. When both our boundaries are tested, that relationship, that bond, is the most powerful tool in our training together. It's what gives me and Spirit our high, when we achieve in unity with each other.

Probably a lot of hog wash to some, but to me it is the ultimate joy in my horse ownership! We are buddies and we like to explore new things with the comfort, reliability, and courage of each other.

Good writing.
Jierda likes this.
     
    05-23-2012, 10:41 AM
  #3
Foal
My edit button disappeared? :/

Ah well, a side-note: that I let my horse be the leader sometimes doesn't mean I allow him to waltz right over me. Respect is still very important, in any relationship (human or animal), but it needs to be mutual. If my horse is going to try to push me aside, he will know that I don't appreciate him doing that, same as I will ask him to move away by simply pointing to the side, telling him with my voice, laying my hand on him, or other simple body language, and not by pushing, hitting or chasing him away (and even if there is some of that in a heated moment - like say the horse didn't pay attention and stepped on your toe - it won't be out of anger, it will be a reminder that 'hey, I'm here too, move your big foot off mine'). Not being dominant doesn't automatically mean being the submissive one. I will stand up to my horse, but it won't be fighting about what is going to happen, it's simply telling him where my boundaries lie, same as I allow him to do.
     
    05-24-2012, 09:38 AM
  #4
Super Moderator
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jierda    

This is why being the leader isn't everything, and why force and dominance doesn't work. Once in a while, your horse has to be his own leader, make his own decisions and keep himself (and you) safe. Either blind trust or fearful obedience doesn't make for a safe and trustworthy horse. Be your horse's partner and friend, be the leader when you have to, and let him be the leader when he has to. That is what working together truly means, where you listen closely to each other, communicate quietly, and take turns of walking in front.

It is always better to have a horse working with you because it wants to rather than having to dominate it.

On the other hand the horse that has been spoiled and allowed to be a barging monster that threatens the handler, is nappy (barn sour) and generally an ill mannered animal IS one that needs sorting out not by being 'nice' to it, but by proving to it that you do have the ability to make it think it is going to die.

These horses, once someone has taken the leadership role, is firm and fair, has the confidence and consistency to be a true leader, that horse will be a different animal and enjoy life a lot more.

It should be team work, and the leader should be able to assess the difference between a horse saying "I am not at all sure." and, "I am jolly well not going to do that."

Each circumstance should be treated differently.
     
    05-24-2012, 10:53 AM
  #5
Foal
There is the school of thought it goes like this with everything you do with your Horse, the rider has a thought. We communicate that thought by a "Suggest", "Ask", "Tell", "Promise", kind of a one two three four level of communication with your horse. I think was is missed the most, is when your horse is trying or attempting to follow the thought or figure out what it is your asking, is the relaxation on the pressure, or at least give them time to think. I know I get in a hurry and don't let my mare have the time to think about what I'm asking give her time to figure it out. When I do that I might gain the momentary victory over the scary object but my leadership suffers. When I am good about it, I don't nag, I make her stay on the task of figuring it out, and don't become a part of the problem by distracting her from what she is trying on. Its timing or fairness whatever but really helps move things forward to the goal of a trusted partnership.

I like how you explained working with your horse, very nice.
     
    05-24-2012, 11:06 AM
  #6
mls
Trained
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jierda    
Ah well, a side-note: that I let my horse be the leader sometimes doesn't mean I allow him to waltz right over me. Respect is still very important, in any relationship (human or animal), but it needs to be mutual.
I'm going to disagree. When I approach a horse I am always the leader. I work with horses I don't know and do not have time to form more than a cursory relationship with. (barn owner, trail companion, trainer, coach, vet tech).

Being the leader does not mean you do not allow input from the other party. It simply means you are ALWAYS the one in charge at the end of the day.
Foxhunter likes this.
     
    05-24-2012, 11:07 AM
  #7
Yearling
I agree with Sylvia Loch (one of my favourite trainers) that far too much equine behaviour simply gets categorised as "brattiness" without any attempt by rider/handler to understand equine psychology or physiology.
     
    05-24-2012, 11:33 AM
  #8
Foal
Quote:
Originally Posted by Foxhunter    
On the other hand the horse that has been spoiled and allowed to be a barging monster that threatens the handler, is nappy (barn sour) and generally an ill mannered animal IS one that needs sorting out not by being 'nice' to it, but by proving to it that you do have the ability to make it think it is going to die.

Each circumstance should be treated differently.
I think the question here is why the horse is ill-mannered. If it's barging, it's obviously lacking respect, and yes, you should stand up to that. A biting horse, though, why do they bite? Are they in pain, have they had bad experiences? A horse shouldn't be punished for simply defending itself. I never said I think only being nice is good. A horse is a horse and doesn't understand humans, therefore the human needs to be clear in what their boundaries are in a language that the horse understands. When respect is established, actual respect, without brute force or pain, then you can start working on an even relationship. To say you have to do that by making it think it's going to die.. Why would you? All you have to do is make it think that it's really easier to respect your boundaries and be fair to you, because then you will be fair to them. You don't need to make a horse fear you and for their survival for that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mls    
I'm going to disagree. When I approach a horse I am always the leader. I work with horses I don't know and do not have time to form more than a cursory relationship with. (barn owner, trail companion, trainer, coach, vet tech).

Being the leader does not mean you do not allow input from the other party. It simply means you are ALWAYS the one in charge at the end of the day.
I'm not really sure what's there to disagree with.. I simply described the way I think when working with my horse, a horse I've gotten to know well and that knows exactly what I like and don't like and respects that too. Of course with a horse I don't know, I will put respect as the number one priority, mainly for safety reasons (but still not use force or pain to get there).

As for that, of course, at the end of it, for instance in a dangerous situation, I do want my horse to listen to me perfectly, and he does. Only when I don't require anything of him, then he's allowed to do whatever he wants to, I don't need to control his every step. Allowing him his freedom when I can means he is responsive and trusting to me when it counts. I fully understand this is not something you can establish in the course of one day, but takes time and work.
     
    05-24-2012, 11:50 AM
  #9
Yearling
I think a lot of people approach horses in an antagonistic way and from what I have seen in a fair few riding schools, this is how they're taught. "If I don't MAKE him do it, he will misbehave." "Naughtiness" is perceived as the horse's default behaviour unless you make him do otherwise.

Obviously there will be exceptions to every generalisation, but I see most horses' default behaviour as cooperation and following the path of least resistance. Bucking off a rider, bolting, and so on take a lot of energy. If I see a horse putting that much energy into fighting his rider or handler, I think that something must have gone quite wrong in his training and he must feel somewhat threatened or that he has to fight. If cooperation becomes the path of least resistance, things will go relatively smoothly. It's along the lines of the NH mantra "make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard."

It's a vicious, or nor so vicious, cycle in both directions. If riding feels good, if it's a process of the horse learning to use his body better and feel strong (in a good way) and in balance, then you will have a happy, cooperative horse. In the last few years it has seemed as if for my horse, more dressage has become a reward for doing more dressage. The more uphill she gets, the better she feels in herself, and offers even more self-carriage. Conversely, if riding is tense, if the horse is inverted, on his forehand, having the rider hang off his face, then riding will be something that's increasingly unpleasant to the horse and it is unsurprising that he would be looking for ways out of it.
     
    05-24-2012, 03:17 PM
  #10
Super Moderator
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jierda    

'The golden rule of both horsemanship and the law has always been: never engage in an argument and push it to the point where someone has to win or lose - unless you are 100 percent sure you will win.
Agreed - there are times with extreme horses that you haveto set yourself up to win.

Since horses are stronger than us and their primeval instinct for survival can be unpredictable, it is better never to enter an argument at all. If it does happen that you get your way, you may in the meantime lose friendship and trust.
With extreme horses I do not care about their friendship, all I care about is their respect.


In all senses of the word, such victories can be costly. . . I believe we all need to remind ourselves again and again that horses have no way of speaking out except through body language and behavioural patterns. It is rare that I come accross a horse who actively intends to be difficult or naughty. The word 'no' is generally used by horses only as a small cri de coeur (an impassioned outcry). Some, of course, may use that word more than others and the reason could be anything from a badly fitting saddle to sore shins or rider posture. 'No' is a very protective response for horses who find their riders have asked too much too soon, feel their balance threathened, or are genuinely afraid of the unfamiliar.

Please note the "It is rare that I come accross a horse who actively intends to be difficult or naughty." This is true they are few and far between but do exist.


How sad therefore that some riders respond to this language by immediate punishment and the assumption that the horse has 'made up his mind' to disobey. When to ask, and how to ask, has to be the foundation of good schooling, yet too often these factors are overlooked in the rider's hurry to achieve.' (Sylvia Loch - Dressage in lightness)

I agree that a lot of people lack understanding and try to rush things to much or do not look for a reason as to why a horse is acting out of character.
There are horses out there that are extreme with the way they behave. Pain has to be ruled out but there are times when you have to set yourself up to win a battle.
     

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