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God forbid that I should go to any heaven in which there are no horses.
Quote Mark

R. B Cunningham Graham


Equine Respect


Next time you hear “your horse doesn’t respect you” perhaps you could ask what is their definition of respect?

Many people talk about horses respecting the handler and seems to me, as with all words in the English language, that "respect" has several meanings and the individual's interpretation of respect greatly changes the behaviour or actions which lead from giving respect.  My investigations into the Oxford Thesaurus led me to discover that respect of course, has several meanings: primarily, "the act of admiration for another – to hold one in high esteem; high regard or high opinion; popularity; recognition; veneration; awe; reverence; honour; praise or homage".  I am sure that most of us would respond instantly that we don't want our horses to "pay us homage"….or do we?  When people say “your horse doesn’t respect you” are they meaning the horse must see you as superior, as dominant, must they place you above themselves and act with admiration and homage to your position, or your leadership? 

There is alternative definition of respect: "He speaks to the old lady with respect" meaning due regard, consideration, thoughtfulness, attentiveness, politeness, courtesy, civility and deference.  There are other variations, but I think this second description certainly begins to define the respect that I personally wish to show an equine and, I hope, that the equine would choose to show me.  If we take this a step further, recognising that "respect" can become a verb - a "doing" word, a word that names actions, it can mean: to show regard for, to take into consideration, to take account of, make allowances for, observe, pay heed/attention to, bear in mind, be mindful of - this definition clarifies what I believe to be the correct use of the term "respect" in horsemanship. 


Perhaps, too often, when working with equines, the word "respect" is used with the following intentions, meaning: to comply with, to follow, to adhere to, conform from, act in accordance with, acquiesce to, consent to, yield to, submit to, defer to, bow to, obey.

Clearly, every individual has their own preferred definition for "respect".  We must define the words we use carefully in order to use the words correctly and to ensure that the actions that emanate from them are what we intend.  Having respect without requiring the equine to hold us in high esteem means that we treat the equine as a partner - to be listened to and treated with politeness and courtesy.  By acting with respect, not only towards the equine, but towards oneself, we can earn the respect of any person or any equine - by respecting ourselves we do not accept being treated as inferior or without worth, but rather with a gentle belief in an equal partnership in which both should consider each other for their mutual benefit. 

In practical terms, what I mean when I use "respect" in the training of an equine is that I would prefer them to act with politeness and consideration for the vulnerabilities and frailties of its human trainers.  However, the equine is not innately born with the ability to understand our weaknesses and only comes to learn them through consistent, quiet respectful handling that allows the equine to understand boundaries and behaviours that are acceptable/unacceptable for safety's sake. While setting these boundaries we must act with respect for the equine's position, their lack of knowledge on how to interact with a different species and their innate behaviours we see performed with other equines that when performed upon a human can be and dangerous or at least very painful. 

If we respect the equine's natural behaviour; if we understand the learning process; if we are consistent through our knowledge of the equine behaviour, then our own behaviour will become respectful.  This, in turn, will lead the equine to be considerate, careful and act with thoughtfulness around its human companion as this is the true nature of equines.

So, can you make an equine respect you?  Well, clearly, if you choose to define respect as: complying with, adhering to, yielding to, or submitting, then you can make an equine respect the trainer.  Sheer force, punishment, and determination can make almost any equine yield or act in accordance with its trainer's wishes.  However, if you wish to define respect in terms of: consideration, making allowances for, observing, paying attention to, bearing in mind, then perhaps it becomes more difficult to insist upon respect and it must indeed be earned.

So, I believe and perhaps you do to that you cannot make an equine respect you, you can only be the type of person a equine respects. 

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