I was listening to a podcast the other day, where Mosie Trewett of Liberty Horsemanship and Jess Roberts of Harmonized Horsemanship were talking about their relationships with their horses and how they’ve evolved as their approaches to horsemanship evolved.
Relationships are relationships, and their comparison of a horse-human relationship with a human-human relationship was really interesting to me. You can click here to hear their conversation.
I looked up the definition, and a toxic relationship is characterized by behaviours on the part of the toxic partner that are emotionally and, not infrequently, physically damaging to their partner. A toxic relationship is characterized by insecurity, self-centeredness, dominance, control.
I thought it was interesting that the definition of “toxic relationship” used two of the words that are endemic in justifying “old school” approaches to horsemanship: dominance and control.
I think it’s clear that if the human is the dominating partner in a toxic relationship, then it’s probably not a very rewarding one for the horse to be in.
But what was really interesting to me was that Jess also made the point that as she gave her horses a voice in their training, she traveled to the far other side of the spectrum, where the toxic relationship had shifted, and she wasn’t giving HERSELF a voice in the partnership. Now the horse made all the choices, and if the horse didn’t want to play then they didn’t, and she wondered what she was doing wrong that her horse wasn’t choosing to engage with her.
It was a super interesting conversation about balance – of course you don’t want to be the toxic, dominating, controlling one in the relationship, but it’s also not going to be a rewarding relationship for either of you if you give your horse all the control.
In a good relationship, both partners have a voice and feel like they’re being heard. Neither calls all the shots, without listening and understanding the other’s point of view.
The other interesting part of the conversation for me was about forgiving each other. I’m pretty good at forgiving the horse when they have a bad day, and horses are inherently forgiving and willing to give us another chance. The part I struggle with is remembering to forgive myself!
A lot of this is pretty abstract, but thinking about the sort of relationship we want to have with our horses can help inform the training decisions we make.