It’s Not About Respect

Horse people talk a lot about “respect.” The idea that’s usually shared is that if your horse respects you, then they’ll do what you want them to and you won’t have any trouble with them.

But that doesn’t make sense.

Horses don’t have the pre-frontal cortex to understand the concept of respect, and even if they did, “respecting” you wouldn’t make them magically able to understand cues that you haven’t taught them.

Your horse does the things you want them to because they’ve been trained to do it. And they don’t, because they haven’t yet.

All the talk about “respect” just predisposes us to unfair punishment by assigning malicious intent to our horse’s behaviour, and overshadows the importance of actually training our horse so they understand what we’re asking them to do.

When someone has a young horse who is showing unwanted or dangerous behaviours, they’re often told to turn them out with other horses, so they can “learn some respect.”

It’s good advice, and will likely solve the problem, but it’s the wrong reason.

Horses are herd animals. Their mental wellbeing relies on being part of herd, and being able to express their natural behaviours with others of their own species.

When a horse doesn’t have that herd environment, that’s when we see a lot of young horses attempting to play horse games with their humans, or other stress related behaviours which aren’t fun for the human.

Again, it’s nothing to do with “respect.”

After all, we humans are the ones with the pre-frontal cortex that came up with the whole concept of respect.

That means it’s our job to respect our horses enough to teach them what we need them to know with kindness, and give them a life that allows them the friends, forage and freedom to express natural behaviours that they need to thrive.


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