Join Date: Sep 2014
Location: Kirkland, Arizona
• Horses: 0
Another quote from Lucy Rees in The Horse's Mind, page 168.
Attitudes: submission, obedience or responsiveness? When a horse 'does what he is told' we can look at it in different ways: we can say the horse submits to our will, that he is obedient to our commands, or that he responds to our signals. Each of those attitudes affects the way we go about riding or training.
The idea of submission, like the idea of dominance hierarchy based on aggression, leads to difficulty. It is not the way that horses naturally think in terms of friendship, kinship, and signals. It is in competition that they submit, by moving away from each other's threats. Is moving away, then, to be the basis of our coming together? Is threat to be the framework of our coming together? For many trainers and horses it unfortunately is, which makes the horses understandably eager to escape the process altogether. Faced with any such 'rebellion' the domineering trainer sees no option but to treat the horse more harshly, to increase his threats. Even when the idea succeeds it produces a truly broken horse, a dull-spirited beast with no interest in the world or his work, only in avoiding unpleasantness. If submission is thought about it all, it must be in terms of attention, not aggressive threats.
Obedience seems a better tack, for the trainer then thinks of reward as well as punishment and aversion. The horse is taught simply that if he obeys all will be well, and if he disobeys it will not. The disadvantage here is that the horse is left no space. Unable to think for himself, he becomes confused or agitated when faced with new problems. The trainer feels no compunction to take notice of the horse's signals. This one-sided process, a stream of commands, is more suited to motorcycles than to living animals, and again is not the way that horses naturally think.
Horses do think about responsiveness. They read each other's signals constantly, and they are very good at it. The trainer who thinks in terms of responsiveness is thrown back upon himself when the horse does not cooperate: he looks at the mistakes he may be making in his own signals, looks at the horse's signals too, and is more able to make the adjustments that are so necessary when dealing with such varied characters. He can pick up and develop the horse's ideas when he wants without seeing it as a breakdown in discipline. The horse, freed of the pressures of a bully or a sergeant-major, is interested in the problems facing her and is grateful for any suggestions that help her through them: she does not fight back, nor become an automaton, but uses her mind and indulges in one of her greatest talents, that of responding. The first two trainers would see such a horse as 'submissive' and 'obedient'; but she is likely to become more sensitive, more intelligent, and more interested in life if we adopt her attitude rather than forcing her against the grain to adopt an alien one.