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About Respects and Leadership when working with horses

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

The outdated theory that doesn't go away - one of the toughest subjects in horse training


When someone has formed a view based on feelings, it is almost impossible to convince them otherwise, even when presented with irrefutable evidence. This behavior is not unique to natural horsemanship enthusiasts and many other horse folk. This goes some way to explain why it’s so hard to win people over to an different and evidence based way of thinking. Many people swear by scientific evidence in other areas, just not when it comes to horses.


About "Respect": A horse does not "respect" us in the true meaning of the word. This word, respect, goes way back to anthropomorphism. When you think about it, it is one of the biggest barriers to clear thinking when working with horses. And the very reason many horses fail in training.


First, let's explore the concept and define what the concept itself, RESPECT, actually means:

Source: Wikipedia

Respect: 1 a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

2 due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.


Horses don't do things for humans because they sense a strong human leadership or because they are respectful. They do things as a result of reinforcement of certain responses. As an example, a horse doesn't refuse to load into a trailer because it's doesn't trust or respect you. It refuses because it's training of the Go response in hand is not deep enough to go where ever you point him.


As another example, when a horse is barging onto your space, pushing onto you or stepping on your toes, don't interpret this as " lack of respect" or "pecking order dominance" but instead, think of it as series of incorrect learned responses.


So, when talking about respect associated in horse training, think again - are you simply referring to obedience that occurs after training good basic responses, instead? It is more helpful for riders to focus on how the horse learns rather than seeking respect from the horse.


Optimal horse welfare and most effective training come from a place of being able to understand issues such as lack of basic training of learned responses. Obedience is the outcome of good, clear and consistent training of the basic responses. An obedient horse will appear to be respectful. It would make sense to say that "respectful" horses, are simply just obedient. Therefore, the anthropomorphic beliefs of "respect" should be abandoned and not attempted to be trained as a standalone event.


- Lisa Croft, Equine Awareness -


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