“My horse sleeps better at night in a barn because he feels safe, my horse comes to me in the field because he loves me, my horse won't take its medicine just to spite me.” We can’t help but love our equine friends because of their social nature, but can we be accused of the dangerous behavior of Anthropomorphism?

The term anthropomorphism refers to the attribution of human characteristics--such as complex human emotions, thoughts, intentions, motives, language, and cognitive abilities--to animals or objects. With horses, people show anthropomorphism at all levels. Humans seem to have an innate capacity to project human characteristics in this way. We also tend to romanticize about horses’ interactions with us. Since they are always in a state of learning and adjusting to each rider, it is important to remember not to apply anthropomorphic thinking to horses since they do not think anything like we do. Therefore, punishing them for errors is not clearly understood by them. Horses think in terms of self-preservation with a social hierarchy to govern them. It is our job to think like a horse not theirs to think like us.

So what is the danger in anthropomorphic thinking? To properly gain long-term respect and trust requires a proper balance of training, discipline, and rewarding the horse’s willingness to try. Knowing how to do this is the key to transforming a problem horse into a dream horse. To get good results, a horseman needs to know what methods to employ and how to apply them properly. This process is not immensely complicated or too difficult to learn. Imagine being in a foreign country, simple things like getting a drink of water or finding the bathroom is a major undertaking. It is not the responsibility of the local people to understand you and what you want. You need to understand that language before you undertake the task. If you cannot communicate, how are you to get your task completed? If riding and handling horses is about trust, confidence, and leadership, how can you get along safely without getting you or the horse frustrated?

Humans are complex creatures; horses are not. The danger lies in misunderstanding the nature of the horse. There is no success in handling a horse without its respect. This is an important point to understand and remember. If your horse is difficult or exhibits any of the following problems - rears, kicks, bites, is barn sour, is herd bound, has bad ground manners, is heavy in the mouth - there is a lack of respect. This is a natural situation as it is instinct based not emotional like humans and related to dominant or submissive behavior when relating to other animals. Your horse needs you to be a firm leader for their protection. You, as leader, are required to keep the two of you safe. You also must gain their respect, trust, and willingness to please you - as is the norm in a herd.

The question is how to become a leader and gain that respect without projecting our human tendency of anthropomorphism. Simply put, we need to gain control of their feet through ground and saddle maneuvers that will lead to controlling impulsion and direction. Under saddle, these maneuvers would include: counter-bending, side-passing, hunches-in, shoulders-in, leg-yields, half-pass, backing in circles. On the ground we gain respect by establishing a clear personal boundary by: disengaging hips, backing, moving shoulders, and good advanced leading techniques. Remember that you are dealing with an instinctual not an emotional animal that has a herd type mentality. The immediate herd is simply the two of you.

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