Friday, March 4, 2011

Horse Sense

I am getting bored with Natural Horsemanship, Thinking Riding, Horse Whispering and all the other commercial titles that are being sold to us to manage horses in the 21st century.

Look at it this way.

Horses are large, herbivorous quadrupeds who like to live in herds, and are domesticated by man.
Cows are also large, herbiviorous quadrupeds, ditto ditto.

Do we see gurus setting up seven-step programmes selling tips for Cow Whispering? Hm? Why not? The difference, as I see it, lies in the human perception of the two species. In the English-speaking world, we do not eat horse meat. We ennoble the horse. We publish anthropomorphic stories – books, films, cartoons – in which horses can not only talk, but detail their biographies and contribute to human business. Nobody makes films titled Black Mooey; National Big-Ears; Cowbiscuit, or My Mate Muckytail; or advertises tuition in Natural Cowmanship or Thinking Milking … We ignore the fact that horses, like cows, don’t work the way humans do.

The difficulty for horses is that the “me-and-my-horse” approach draws people into the equine relationship who may not have had any experience of handling large, herbivorous animals. We keep them and handle them to a very large extent as pets, rather than as working animals. We also try to do things with horses which will reflect upon ourselves and our abilities. Horses are thus an extension of the human personality, a delusion which I doubt they share.

When horses don’t respond to human behaviour in the way we, their owners, expect, we seek ways to solve the “problem” by changing the bitting, saddlery, shoeing, or feeding, by sending the horse to a trainer, or by adopting a fashionable training technique. Only very occasionally do we think of changing our own attitude! A well known bitmaker once said something like, “Of twenty bits I make, nineteen are for men’s heads and one for the horse’s.” I think this could well be said of all the alternatives to traditional horse management that are being sold to the horse-owning public.

Now before you rush to your keyboard and cry, “But you can’t want me to treat my horse the way they treat cows! Darling Dobbin is too precious to be killed and eaten!” let’s not be extreme. Just because I am cynical about New Horsemanship doesn't mean I am in favour of sending ANY animal thousands of miles, alive, in a crowded wagon without water, feed or rest. I’m all for improving the lot of the third-world horse. I’m not advocating or condoning cruelty, or decrying kindness. I do, however, think that for many “pet” horses the application of a little experience, common sense and observation would often be kinder and cheaper than So-and-So’s latest salesmanship.

Even the best new methods will not turn a horse into a dog or a cat or a substitute human.

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