You Think Your Horse Has Free Choice?

You think your horse lives a life filled with freedom of choice? In the stable or paddocks that they cannot leave. With herd-mates they did not choose. Having (usually) one source of water given to them. Even spending time with you.

Modern day domestic horses have very little in the way of free choice. It mostly comes down to things like “stand over here inside the paddock/stable, as opposed to any other spot.” Or how about this one: walk, trot, canter, or gallop somewhere. Or stand still. Fight or flight. Make it difficult for your human to ride you, or don’t make a fuss.

When we take our horse out of their space (in the paddock or stable) to the arena to accomplish our goals, we are the ones making the choices. We say where to go, how fast, when to stop, when to go again.

It is not within the nature of the average horse to put up a fight. They may resist us, or find small ways to avoid pressure, but at the end of the day it is exceptionally rare to come across a horse that will fight you tooth and nail against everything. Think for a moment on how many horses will absolutely not give up when they get sent to a “breaking-in facility” that practices harsh approaches like tying down the horses. Most horses submit and allow whatever humans decide to do, to be done.

We have the tendency to believe that we give our horses the sweet life. We put rugs on them to protect them from the various different elements so that they look great. We clip off their winter coats so that they look shiny at shows. We feed them soy or grain based feeds so that they keep their condition. We keep them in stables so that they don’t hurt themselves. We keep them in small, manicured paddocks so that they don’t hurt themselves. We exercise them regularly since they don’t get to move around as much as they should (in part), but mostly because we have goals we want to reach, and we need them to carry us to those goals. We force them into small, confined spaces to transport them to different places – removing them from their friends and forcing them to start over at some completely new place with completely different horses (if we let them be around other horses in a herd-environment at all). We hit them with sticks when we want them to move faster, or differently. We put things on their faces or in their mouths to control them more easily. And, and, and…

Even though we determine every aspect of our horses’ lives, and even though we often do things that contradict their natures, or that actually harm or traumatise them, they are still willing to forgive us and change with us. When we start to change our approach, so do they.

We each have the ability to give our horses more choices – if not in their location and diet, at least in how we work with them. We have the ability to allow them to express what they think of our requests. We have the ability to show them how to do things in different ways that encourage learning and understanding. We have the ability to have mutually enjoyable and fulfilling relationships and exercises with our equine friends.

We are the ones who must make these choices, for them and for ourselves.