Respect the Horse

We civilized people hit horses.  We kick horses.  We shoot horses and slaughter horses and eat horses.  We push them around with helicopters and ATVs and trucks and other horses and bags on sticks.  We “send them away” and haul them around.  Even people who like horses, heck, even people who claim to love horses do things to horses that they would not do to other animals, such as ride them.

I am not saying all of these things constitute abuse.  But some of them do consistute punishment.  Punishment includes verbal reprimands (“No!,” “Quit!,” and “Hey, Butthead!” are used a lot) and physical “correction” (hitting, slapping, kicking, whipping, spurring).  Punishment is big in the horse world, even in some of the “natural” or “gentle” approaches.  Few people in the horse world–including some so-called “horse whisperers”–will say it is never the right thing to use physical force to “correct” a horse.  Many  top trainers and clinicians kick, hit and whip horses as a practice.  The “gentler” among them use force as a “last resort,” but speaking from the other side, if someone is reserving force against me to use “as a last resort,” I think I am going to know it.  It is called the threat of violence.

Most people who use physical force or threat defend the practice by pointing to the way horses treat other horses, the need for the human to be safe or the “thick musculature” of horses.  I am not talking about using an elbow or a finger or the end of a crop to protect your own space.  Everyone has a right to their own space, including horses, yes, including horses.  You respect mine and I respect yours.  Here is where mine is.

But when you are “training” a horse as in asking them to perform something or do something for you, using physical force to get compliance is morally wrong and practically ineffective.  I have never seen horses respond well to being hit, whipped or kicked, even as I am being instructed (ordered) by trainers to hit, whip or kick them.  I will carry a dressage whip when I ride other people’s horses if I am asked to do so, but I will not touch a horse with a whip anymore.  I have done it.  I feel like crap about having done it and I just plain don’t think it works.  Of course I don’t believe I am capable of physically damaging a 1000 pound animal with a tiny crop, but it does sting and does nothing for respect.  I could do a lot of damage to a horse with a chain and without too much effort.  But the question for me is how could you respect anyone who needs to use a tool, violence or threats to get you to agree?


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