Pretty much everyone I know who has wanted to do some form of horsemanship has come up against the question of how to get the horse to do what they want. I know I spent a looooong time in this partial uncertainty of how to develop a partnership with my horse, without dominating or controlling him. When I first started learning about horsemanship it was very much within the category of “natural horsemanship” – which was all about becoming the leader through being willing to follow through in your ‘asks’. I learned how to stand my ground and push past the point of only ever wanting to be nice to my horse. However, part of the nature in which I was working with my horse at that time sacrificed partnership and friendship for obedience, and that was part of why I changed my approach to working with horses.
I’m not saying that all natural horsemanship is the same – what I have learned is that any kind of approach or philosophy can be abused or twisted – it’s always about who we are within what we are doing that will determine the nature and outcomes of our approach. Every philosophy and discipline has those rare Master Horsepeople – this alone indicates that the discipline/philosophy is not the only determining factor of how good someone is with horses or how well they do.
When I first started learning about horsemanship, all I wanted to do was to be my horse’s friend. I didn’t want to “make” him do anything. I just wanted to stand in the shade with him and bask in his presence. However, I also wanted to be able to ride off into the sunset – on purpose. My purpose, not his. It took time for me to recognise that while we are both independent individuals, I stand within the position of visionary / goal setter / leader in our partnership. If I left that up to him, we’d just be out grazing in the field all day.
What I also came to realise is that in developing a partnership, we may both need to face some resistance within ourselves. Neither of us might always feel like working on something, so there is that element of sometimes having to almost force myself or the horse into doing something together. What also made a difference for me was that within everything I do with my horse, my main objective must include the betterment of the horse in one way or another – either physical strengthening or emotional and mental strengthening and stimulation.
What I saw developing over time was that within our partnership, we were both enjoying our time together more and more. I was helping my horse to feel proud, strong and confident in himself, and he was allowing me to enjoy that journey with him.
I do not dominate him, yet I am firm within what I ask. If I see he is struggling to understand, I will not force him to complete the task – I will find a different way to show him the exercise. If he is refusing my requests, I will not blame him for being naughty – I will first check myself to see if my communication is clear, and then I will check if there is anything going on with him that might be causing his behaviour. I do not control his actions, I guide him with the goal of creating a dance of harmony together.
All of this took me years to develop within myself. I made many mistakes in order to find this path, and I am sure I will make many more on our journey together. I know that no matter what, I will always embrace learning and growth.