Beyond Natural Horsemanship – The next step to successful training through Compassion, Wisdom, Skill and Trust
I must admit I have become dismayed by the so-called “natural horsemanship” craze. There is truly little that is really natural about the way we humans are keeping and training our horses. Domesticated horses do not live a natural life in any way. From natural hoof care to natural supplements, to natural training techniques, on and on, the term “natural” is used to market products and methods that are in no way natural. Perhaps they are trying to replicate a natural way of doing something, but they mostly do not take into serious consideration the unnatural way and unnatural environments in which these horses are living out their lives.
While natural horsemanship, made popular by good trainers such as Monty Roberts and Pat Parelli, have certainly done much to improve how we are interacting with our horses worldwide (I teach in about six different countries a year and have seen many good changes come about), our self-serving human egos still tend to guide how we ultimately handle equine health issues, challenges with our horses, and how we maintain them in stables, barns and most often small areas.
When things go smoothly it is easy to be kind, gentle and “natural.” But when we encounter problems with our horses our tendency is still to become angry, frustrated and immediately move into force, blame, extreme and inappropriate methods of treatment and more pressure towards our horses to make them comply and obey. Humans still tend to rush to judge a horse as bad, stubborn and deliberately trying to go against their wishes. How sad a commentary it is on us that the horse, always innately innocent, is so often misunderstood and erroneously judged in a negative manner. It is true there are more enlightened humans interacting with horses now than ever before. But, it is still not enough. There is way too much abuse and misunderstanding of the true nature of horses. It is for these reasons I am striving to move beyond the now so-called natural horsemanship paradigms (of which there is great misconception) and into compassionate, wisdom ” and trust-based philosophies and methods about training, caring for and simply being with our horses.
Let’s first have a look at compassion as an element in successful training and interaction with horses. The following is reprinted in its exact form from the online Wikipedia Encyclopedia:
“Compassion is a profound human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering. It is often, though not inevitably, the key component in what manifests in the social context as altruism. In ethical terms, the various expressions down the ages of the so-called Golden Rule embody by implication the principle of compassion: Do to others as you would have done to you. Ranked a great virtue in numerous philosophies, compassion is considered in all the major religious traditions as among the greatest of virtues.”
Without going into Buddhist philosophies which have compassion as a major component, or other religions which also expound on compassion, it is easily seen that a desire to help others is a major element of compassion. As horses are a prey animal, eaten by a variety of predators and prone to fearful flight or fight, fear is a major ingredient in the life of a horse. I absolutely believe that fear is a form of suffering and pain.
For a little while, let’s pretend that all horses are children under the age of eight. On a rare occasion one of these children causes the death or serious injury of another individual. The question then becomes how to deal with the child that caused the tragedy? Should he/she be tried as an adult with the possibility of facing the death penalty? Should he/she be deemed impossible to rehabilitate, locked away forever, and never be able to rejoin society? Perhaps they should be starved, tortured, whipped, or have some other punishment dished out to teach them a lesson. Is that eight-year-old to be judged as a “bad seed” and inherently evil? I simply cannot accept that way of dealing with a tragic incident caused by a child. Nor can I accept that way of dealing with a horse who is displaying behavior that is dangerous, aggressive, or any behavior we humans would rather not have.
Fear, I believe, is the basis of all unwanted behavior from a horse, and fear is a cause of suffering. I truly hold the paradigm that all horses are as innocent as children and do not deserve punishment. What they do deserve is, first and foremost, our compassion. This means our willingness to attempt to alleviate their suffering, their pain, their fear. If we humans can approach all horses with this willingness to help end their suffering through understanding, knowledge and kindness, perhaps all interaction with horses could become opportunities to assist in the elimination of their fear. Additionally, this would instill in the horse the trust that the human with them has the real intention to offer kindness and help and engender feelings of confidence in their own survival. Furthermore, the horse needs to feel that we are worthy of their trust and worthy to be accepted as their trusted and good leaders.
To be continued …
You may contact Franklin Levinson at http://www.wayofthehorse.org.
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