Horsey Therapist

Friday, July 07, 2006


Harry Whitney has an unusual definition of abuse.

"Any time you leave a horse mentally confused, he feels abused."

We usually think about physical abuse and neglect. Hurting a horse with whip, spurs, rope, sticks, chains, gunshot... Or confining a horse where he can't get to food or water, shade or shelter.

But leaving a horse mentally confused? That opens up a whole new realm of what a horse experiences as abuse.

And it opens up a whole new realm of wondering how to define confusion.

I've had a few conversations with Harry about 'gray areas' and 'maybes'. I'm still coming to understand and accept that horses thrive on black and white. Clarity is essential for a horse's well being. If I ask a horse to go left and he questions me and I say, well, ok let's forget that and do something else, that confuses the horse. The horse wants clear boundaries, so if I ask for left, I have to mean left, and that will bring calmness to the horse once he lets go of his thought to go right.

I can't have a conversation full of 'maybes' and 'it depends' -- not with horses at least. It's a human thing to be uncertain like that. It's certainly a habit I have -- to change my mind in mid-sentence. It don't work around the horses.

Back to me -- it's all about me changing so I can have it truly be all about the horses. They can learn things in order to get along well in our human world. It is our responsibility to teach them how to get along, whether respecting fence or finding the water trough or walking where we request when being led someplace.

Sometimes the horse has an idea different from our idea. He is certain about wanting to act on his idea until we help him learn to let go of his own thought in order to go along with our thought. Harry talks often about helping the horse develop the habit of letting go of his thoughts. It is not the same as the horse being a mindless slave. It does mean a horse can be responsive and comfortable doing his job. Assuming us humans are clear and consistent in how we ask for things like forward, back, left, right, life up, life down, go and stop. They can learn how they are meant to respond to our array of body language requests.

Leaving a horse feeling uncertain about what is expected of him is abuse. A horse who gets excessively kicked or whipped on a consistent basis as part of specific activities might well feel fine deep inside because it is clear, the kicking or whipping is consistent and predictable. I am not advocating treating horses with unfair firmness. I am trying to make a point about how disturbing it is when we leave a horse not knowing what we meant or if we really meant it.

I'm not confident I presented this adequately here. I am confident that I have a greater clarity of understanding what Harry means, and I'm devoted to improving my consistency and becoming a better support to my horses. After all, if they are doing well, I'm doing well, and I have them because I want to get along and enjoy unmounted and mounted activities. So far I can see that the more consistent I am, the easier it is for us to get along together.


At 08 July, 2006 21:24, Blogger ZinniaZ said...

Interesting. I too have been thinking about what is abuse. One trainr (not of horses) defined it as any action that does not produce a result after three tries. To her, ineffective actions were abuse. Maybe that is the lack of clarity?

I agree with Harry. I saw a horse (not my own) confused recently and it was terrible.

My new horse, Willoughby, kept trying to give me the right answer during a session but it wasn't my right answer. I eventually had to stop asking because he was so certain he knew the answer and he kept giving it and it became painful to me/him. I had to just take the answer and figure out how to address this another day.


Post a Comment

<< Home