Much of modern day horsemanship has moved from the concept of “breaking” a horse in to the more gentle approach of “gentling” or “horse whispering”. When we love and respect our 4-legged friends, we don’t want to get physical with them, but I believe there are times we must!
A horse is by instinct a herd animal, which means they have a hierarchy. They are led by the strongest male and the wisest female. The survival of the herd can depend upon order and leadership.
If you have ever watched horses out in the paddock, the strongest member, either physically or emotionally, rules at dinnertime to take the lion’s share of the food. In nature, keeping up their strength helps them to maintain their position.
When you ride your horse, particularly on your own, there are times when someone needs to be the leader. If it’s not you, they will take that role as a matter of instinct, sometimes to your detriment.
Let’s say you want to ride through a puddle. If your horse doesn’t feel threatened, he may walk through cautiously. But if he feels threatened, even if you don’t think he should, the necessity for a leader will begin. If you have had this “discussion” before, asserting your leadership may only take a reminder, but if the leadership issue has not been resolved, you could have a battle on your hands.
In this situation, the winner is not necessarily the strongest; it can be the most cunning or persistent. In the paddock, it could be the nimble little pony that spins around and kicks with gay abandon. In the wild, it will generally be the strongest stallion who may have to threaten, stamp, chase, bite, kick or even fight other members of his herd for their own good. If he has to get physical, he will if previous steps have been unsuccessful. If the leader is not strong, the whole herd will be weakened.
When push comes to shove, one of you must be the leader. Far too many riders give up too early; before establishing any clear leadership and as in nature, the partnership can be weakened by this. As riders, we want the horse to have its own will and personality, but there are times we must also stand our ground and get physical about getting our way.
I am definitely not condoning unreasonable physical means or making a riders loss of temper OK, but if requests have not been heard, there are times when you may need to exert your dominance.