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Collaborative Horsemanship Is Being Both a Leader & a Teammate

I got a lot of responses from the blog post I wrote last week about spurs. I had written about how I responsibly and mindfully use spurs in my training. Most of the feedback was good, but some of it, I think, was a little misguided. The one comment that sticks out in my mind, I believe to be a heartfelt response from what the person thought was best for the horse.

I often compare working with horses to raising children, with the primary principle they both share being that can't always be their best friend and that sometimes you have to be firm enough to get across that you mean business.

What I mean by business is that both the child and the horse have to understand that when you ask for something, you will follow through with what it takes to get it. Horses, like children, are living, breathing, thinking creatures that are constantly both consciously and subconsciously analyzing their environment and those in it. If they perceive you as someone not to be taken seriously, stemming from an inability to follow through with your directions, then they'll feel that all of your directions are more of a suggestion than a demand.

If this is how you interact with your child or your horse, they will become sullen and contemptuous because they perceive that you are doing is constantly nagging but not following through until you get the change you are looking for.

I’ll give you an example. You tell your children that 8PM is bedtime, but at 8PM they plead with you to stay up a little later because there's a show on TV that they just have to see. After a great deal of pleading, you give into them, telling them that this is a one-time deal, and they tell you are a great parent, and they love you dearly. Now that's all fine and dandy, but the next night comes around, and it becomes bedtime...

Your youngsters try you again and again, and why not? It worked the first time! "Please can we stay up!" they say. Well, now you need to be firmer than you would have needed to be initially because you have taught them that all your rules are not absolute, and they are up for debate.

Does this sound familiar? Your horse is the same, they are constantly checking you out to see if you are someone who needs to be taken seriously. If you are not consistent in your interactions, they will constantly challenge you. Horses are herd animals, and they always want and need a leader. That leader can be you, and your horse is absolutely fine with that, but you have to step up and show yourself to be a leader.

Consistency is everything in your method and your temperament. If you let things slide in how your horse acts when you are asking for something 'till you get to the point that you can't take it anymore and you lose your temper and overcorrect your horse by using way too much pressure, then you do the both of you a disservice. This teaches your horse that you are someone not to be trusted, and they need to fear you.

You never want your horse to respond to you out of fear. What you strive for is respect, and this is achieved by being consistent and even-tempered. This, I believe, is true with both children and horses. It's a challenge never to let your emotions, or maybe better said your temper, take control of you. If I feel this happening, I will put the horse on the hot walker for a while to give both him and myself a break.

When I come back later with a fresh perspective, I find more often than not, we are both in a better frame of mind to come together and collaborate again. This is one reason why I like to refer to my horsemanship methods as “collaborative horsemanship.”

So getting back to last week's letter about using sours, they can be tools that are both helpful as well as abusive, depending on the individual using them. On the right feet, they can back up what you have been asking for in a calm, consistent manner that feels like a poke, and not a punch. And on the wrong feet, well, we know they can hurt the horse, and cause fear and distress. But rather than paint the use of them in poor lighting, I believe that education on how to use them properly is what's most important. We can compare spurs to vehicles. Should we ban or discourage people from driving because some people won’t use their vehicles responsibly or safely? Well, no. But the information on how to drive safely and properly is abundant.

As in many cases, unfortunately, the people who most need this education are likely to be the least likely to seek it out. All we can do is try and keep putting it out there.

Thanks for the feedback, CCU crew!

Happy trails!

-- KJS



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