You make a lot of assumptions to further your thoughts, at times.
I guess my overaching question, is why the concept of leadership and respect is so felt to be such a necessity in interpreting horse/human interactions- it seems to me to say more about us, and our need for hierachical structures, than about how horses see us.
Incorrect. Not to be mean, but you must not have trained that many horses if you don't think leadership and respect play a role in horses. Have you ever been around a horse that has a scared owner? The horses become neurotic, aggressive, and pushy. They will take a leadership role if the human will not.
That alone proves that it is not our need to place these animals' roles in our brains, but that these animals have very specific relationships in where one horse is the leader, and the other is not. This does not mean the dominant horse is the alpha over all the horses, just that is a leader over one horse, at one specific time.
Have you ever worked with stallions? They too, will let you know that if you want to play 'friends' that they have no interest in blurry leadership lines. You must be the alpha, or you are not. Period. And if you've ever been around a stallion that thinks he's the alpha, that is a very, very dangerous thing.
I like natural horsemanship up until the point where people try to argue that the horses are like equals. Two things happen at that point--they are delusional about their horse relationship, or they have a one way ticket to the ER when they get hurt.
Respect is something different. Respect is when you can walk out into a pasture with food, and not have horses fighting amongst you. My colt and two geldings will not kick, bite, rear, etc. when I am out with them, with no lead ropes/etc. They ALL respect that I am dominant over them and will kick their little butts if they act stupid. ;)
The fact that even quiet, soft and "respectful" horses on the ground may still revert to extreme anti-predator behaviours (bucking) when ridden suggests that there may be no "ethological" (innate horse behaviour) relevance to being ridden
Really, it suggests that? The problem with that conclusion is that horses buck for MANY reasons, and you really might not know which one of those reasons is the cause. Pain is a big one; too much energy; too much sugar; ill fitting tack; poor rider; spooking. The problem with that conclusion is that there are far too many variables to bucking to even begin to say that. Respectful horses on the ground, without any of the problems mentioned above, are respectful horses under saddle. That's why SO MANY natural horsemanship programs start with a lot of groundwork for horses that have problems under saddle.
Can we really be sure that a horse can apply the body language, sights, smells etc of horse to horse relationships (which they are evolved to understand and respond to), to two legged humans who routinely expose them to situations that no other horse would ever expect of another horse (having a predator sit calmly on their backs).
Why not? Have you ever round penned a horse for the first time in its life? You'd be surprised at how much body language a horse reads. Put a scared, slouched shouldered person in with a lazy horse and it won't canter no matter how much that person tries. Put a dominant figure in there, and you'll watch that horse fly--without being hit by the whip, of course. I've seen these things happen.
Being dominant and submissive are the way the animal kingdom works. By earning respect and being a leader, it doesn't mean you have to be aggressive and mean--although horses can and WILL respect those things. It typically just means you have to outsmart them, and prove that you are safe to be around.
Dressage in Jeans
- My blog with dressage tips for happy, relaxed horses, specifically for those who ride dressage in western saddles, no saddles, cowboy boots, or jeans. ;) Also now with cute pygmy goat pictures! :P