Horses have opinions about how their people handle and ride them.


Unfortunately many people think that horses have absolutely no RIGHT to have an opinion about anything a human does.  Whenever a horse has the courage (or sheer desperation) to protest its treatment people talk about resistances, stubborness, balkiness, bad attitudes, etc., etc., etc..  Since horses are obviously "inferior" to humans in wisdom and knowledge, horse were never granted the right to comment on human actions.  Horses are never listened to when they actively disprove someone's prize theory.  What does a horse know?


In Western cultures (Europe and Americas) from the start of educated riding (riding that people put some thought into) people have come up with fashions that please them, either because they supposedly make the horse easier to ride and control or because the people thought that they made the horse more beautiful.  Who doesn't like to look at a high headed, arched neck, high tailed, high stepping prancing horse?  While the excited horses may be prettier to look at they are harder to control and harder to ride. People also used horses in dangerous jobs like bull fighting, war and lion hunting.  So humans, in their infinite God given wisdom, decided that it was proper to subjugate their horses just enough so that they were rideable or driveable while keeping the animated gaits and super agility.  It never occured to these humans that the horses might be physically or mentally uncomfortable fulfilling their human's needs or fantasies, or that the humans were causing direct physical harm to the horses.  After all, if a human thought it up it MUST be better for the horse than anything a horse would do on its own.


Whether through fear of physical safety, or a search for an alternative to the springy and jolting movement of the horse (springing up and jolting down), or the desire to quickly make a horse suitable for a job, people have come up with solutions to their (people's) discomforts that also fulfilled the people's desires for the type of horse wanted.  No one seemed to care that the horses most definitely did not agree with what people wanted.  I know, most horses would probably prefer living wild, but due to the spread of humans over the earth this is just not possible for most horses, if horses were not domesticated they would probably be extinct or an endangered species.  But even if horses are dependent on domestication for survival as a species this has not changed the "soul" of the horses or their opinions on the treatment given to them by humans.  Horses can be compelled to obey us, horses can be trained to promptly obey us, and with good, skilled horsemen horses may enjoy obeying their handler, but any time we force or train a horse to do something in the face of the horse's opposition we risk physically harming the horse.  


Horses have a REASON whenever they resist us.  Usually it is pain, whether the pain comes from a physical hurt, from the riding or handling itself, from physical damage from the methods used in training, or it can even be from restricted airways when we insist that the horse carry its head and neck in certain ways (partial strangulation.)  Equine objections can also come when the horse just does not feel well enough to comply with our demands.  I personally think that all these objections are valid and that a good horseman (which can be different from being a good rider) will listen to his or her horse and thus improve his/her riding and handling.  Historically sensitive good horsemen have been a rare breed.  Ones that give the horse the right to object to their treatment have been even rarer.


When I started riding the philosophy of most the books I read and most the horsepeople I knew was that humans had the right to demand the horse do something and the right to punish the horse, even an untrained horse, if the horse did not promptly and properly obey their demands.  The more the horse did not obey a demand the severer the punishment.  Many of these people seemed to think that any untrained horse was capable of understanding any human demand with NO training.  The better horsemen realized that a horse needed training to understand a demand, but even they recommended escalating physical punishment for ANY signs of disobedience once the horse was trained.  Only open signs of severe lameness or physical collapse excused disobedience.  Otherwise the rider or handler was told to never let the horse win a fight (ie. disobey) for fear that the horse would loose all respect for the human.  This comes from ALL schools or horsemanship, the horse MUST obey every demand from a human, it did not matter that the horse hurt, could not breathe well, or did not understand the human.  In modern times horsemen finally realized that early lameness could cause disobedience and a vet check was recommended before applying punishment (I assume the horseman waited until the next disobedience.)  The good horsemen also started preaching the need for training if one wanted an obedient horse.


As far as I can tell Federico Caprilli was the first educated horseman who actually "asked" the horses their preferences for being riden.  Through observation and experimentation he developed the beginning of the Forward Seat.  What he developed had no collection unless the horse did it on its own, and he reduced the aids to the minimum, always aiming to not interfere with the movement of an obedient horse.  Caprilli gave up the pretty, prancing and arched neck horse for one that looked plain and boring.  In return he got calm, free striding horses who could gallop and jump well and have a chance to stay sound enough to use as cavalry horses even in wartime conditions.  Littauer writes of how, in WW1, the Russian cavalry dropped collected riding in wartime conditions (and these Russian officers were trained by Fillis himself), and copied the snaffle, loose rein riding of their Cossack regiments.  But even Caprilli and Littauer insisted on equine obedience in all conditions, and since they were cavalry officers I can't really blame them.  In the noise and confusion of battle you NEED an horse that obeys you!


But we in the West (Europe and the Americas) no longer use horse cavalries in war.  Most of us have no NEED of a horse that obeys instantly every demand no matter how ridiculous, except for competition (or for the very few harness horses on the road.)  So why are horsepeople still insisting on prompt and perfect obedience to every human demand?  Look at dressage, the early masters did not use letters in their maneges.  They liked prompt obedience, but when a horse does an air above the ground often the horse has to get its body in the right posture before he can do it, which means that the horse's obedience was not immediate and often not in exactly the right place.  Wise horsemen accepted this.  But the airs above the ground went out of fashion, cavalries started doing mass maneuvers and parades in front of their rulers, and the letters got put up in the arenas.  Now if a horse does not obey immediately and in exactly the right place the horse is not good enough to win a competition.  This fact of life is entirely due to modern riding conditions in competition, not to "classical" dressage.


So why are so many modern horsepeople so insistent that their horses obey them immediately in non-emergency situations (and horses can tell the difference) no matter what the horse says about its physical condition, its rider's abilities, and the long term damage that was caused by training?  Outside of competition why is it important for every horse to stop exactly on C?  Why are amateur riders encouraged to torture their horses every time the horse does not obey or understand the rider's demands?  Why do people think it is their right to torture their horses for any perceived disobedience?  

Horses resist because of pain, because of not understanding what the rider wants, and because most people do not ride well enough to give the right aids at the right time with the right intensity.  Until they give up horses often resist vigorously.  Is your horse shaking its head, kicking out, refusing to go straight or any other sign of resistance and your vet can't find anything?  Is your coach yelling at you to MAKE your horse do something?  


Maybe you are trying to ride beyond your current capability.  Maybe the horse is hurting, uncomfortable, or too tired to do what you want.  With my handicaps I often get resistances from the horses I ride.  When I do I back off, because after over 40 years of riding I have learned that the horses' opinions of my riding and/or their physical condition are often right.  Now I will even disobey my riding teacher in a lesson when the horse objects to my actions, and I get the horse back to a state of willing cooperation before trying again.  Every time I ignore the horse's opinion I may "win" the fight, but I have lost the war of earning my horse's respect, the respect of a thinking individual (the horse) for a person who is worth obeying when all hell is breaking loose.  Horses want leaders.  They do not want torturers and they do not particularly like people who brainwash them instead of engaging their minds to get willing cooperation.


Horses want to be listened to just as much as humans do.


Even if you have trained your horse to give up and go exactly like you want it to you can establish a partnership of mutual respect by listening to your horse and loosening those reins!  If your coach tells you to put your horse in bondage (side reins, draw reins, bearing reins, tight nosebands, etc., etc., etc.,) do your self and your horse a favor and find another coach.  Yeah your horse may obey you, until it faces something totally horrible and does not listen to you as it madly runs away.  Same for behind the vertical, super low head carriages, insistance on constant collection and any number of things we demand of our horses.  If you show, well, try to be as humane as the class requirements allow.  Realize you may be physically harming your horse to win (this goes for all show classes in all different types of riding or other forms of exhibition).  ASK for your horse's opinion, allow the horse to criticize you, most of the time a horse will obey a properly timed humane command with no problem.  99% or more of the time you spend with your horse you DON'T have to hurt him to be safe and have an obedient horse.  The horse understands an occasional wallop especially if you also shout, and that often does not cause resentment if the horse respects the person.  NO HORSE LIKES CONSTANT TORTURE OR CONSTRAINT.  The brave horses rebel and sometimes severely injure or kill people, "normal" horses just give in and give a grudging performance, and the good horses try and try and try to please their humans no matter what, until they finally give up or break down.  


Your horse's opinions about your riding, driving, training or handling are valid. 


When your horse is resisting or disobeying you it is usually because he hurts, he is sick, he does not understand you, and/or you are not riding or training well.  Horses are herd animals, and herd animals prefer to obey their leaders when they understand what you are asking for.


In times of excitement horses can understand an occasional wallop, but constant walloping and constant nagging provoke resistance until you break your horse's will, then he does his best to adapt.


Listen to your horse.  Your horse can turn you into a very good rider and a very good horseman.  It is in your horse's best interest to make you a good rider and good horsemen, good riders and good horsemen do not torture or physically harm their horses.  The horses usually WANT to tell you how to do things in a humane and effective manner, life is SO much more comfortable for them that way. 


Ideally, with just about any horse and a good horseman, it ends up that the horse is training his rider just as much as his rider is training him.


Listen to your horse.

Listen to your horse.

Listen to your horse.

And have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran



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