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“Establishing a Proper Relationship with Equine”

Part I: The Basics

by Rick Harper

The concept of establishing a relationship with equine is becoming a common theme among equine enthusiasts and professionals. The word “relationship” is appearing in respect to training methodology around the world. So far, most of the emphasis on defining a proper relationship with equine concentrates on the knowledge we now have of equine behavior, specifically as it relates to the social structure and characteristics of equine in a herd environment. This, of course, is not all bad. The question is, can the relationship between man and equine be improved by defining the relationship in terms that go beyond the behavioral study of how equine relate among themselves? Should the relationship between equine and man be a study in and of itself? We should find a word for this study; maybe we could call it HORSEMANSHIP. So, let us start by defining horsemanship. You know, now that we look at it in this respect, there was a book written around 400 BC about horsemanship.

During this six part series of articles on “Establishing a Proper Relationship with Equine” we will set out to define what a “proper relationship” consists of and explore how we can apply these basic principals to our relationship with equine. This first article shall lay out the groundwork for building a proper relationship and consider and attempt to define horsemanship. The basic building blocks of a proper relationship are as follows:






The first thing we need to know about the building blocks of a proper relationship is that the blocks are worked through according to a hierarchy. Although we may work at all of the principals simultaneously, we must concentrate on the foundation block of the pyramid first. Understanding is the most important element to a proper relationship. Without understanding we may think that we have communication, but later find that each of the individuals’ own interpretation of that communication left them each on a totally different page. This is because each of us has our own philosophy on life. Our own point of view of the world around us is partially blurred from past experiences and the associated emotional baggage that we carry, as well as from our own immediate needs and desires. Although equine think totally different than we do, they are no different from us in this regard. A horse will try to communicate its whole life story as we work with it and relate to it. Unfortunately, most humans never even pick up on the communication.

In the next article, Part II: Understanding we will focus on developing an understanding with equine and teaching equine to understand us. For now, let us say that even though attaining an understanding of another being is difficult, it is a crucial part of developing a relationship and should be the building block that we focus on first. Without understanding, communication is muddled and confidence, respect, and trust are strained.

Now let us explore the concept of horsemanship. Through observing some people as they work with and compete on horses, it sometimes appears that the definition of horsemanship can be summed up in one phrase: “watch what I can do with this horse!” Too often, if the horse is less than perfect then the solution is to find a better horse. Indeed, the definition of horsemanship found in most dictionaries does not differ much from this summation: horsemanship - the management of horses; equestrian skill. Where is the horse in this definition? Assuming that the word horsemanship was originally used to describe the relationship between man and horse, the horse should be considered equally in the definition of horsemanship. Now consider the definition of relationship: relationship- the state of being mutually interested or involved. In looking back at the history of horsemanship, starting with Xenophon in 400 BC, It seems as though the study of the horseman is going strong today, but the study of horsemanship as it applies to the relationship between horse and man is declining and at best lacking. At the same time, the behavioral studies of the human race is making great strides. There is hope on the horizon, however, as more and more people are gaining interest in redefining their association with equine, and as more is being said about the relationship aspects of horse training.


This brings us to the discussion as to whether or not equine are even capable of having an advanced relationship with people. Recent research proves that horses have intelligence sufficient enough to allow for reasoning and even for reaching logical conclusions based on given circumstances. We also know that horses are very socially inclined. If we limit ourselves to thinking that equine can only relate to us in the same way that they relate to one another, and place an over emphasis on dominating the horse we work with, then that is all we will ever achieve; domination. In a proper horse-man relationship, the person must be the one in charge if equestrian activity is to be safe. The way in which we manifest our leadership role in our relationships will determine the overall potential we have to achieve greater goals and performance with our equine. Our goal must be to build a relationship with equine that encourages them to learn and achieve success. There is nothing more satisfying than to see a troubled horse come around and become an enthusiastic achiever that strives for his handlers appreciation. A proper relationship with your horse is beneficial to both you and your horse. A struggling relationship is stressful for everyone involved. If you want to have success in your equestrian activities, you must believe in yourself and your horse. This is a necessary component of leadership skills.

It is said all too often that horses are stupid, lazy creatures that would not be capable of achieving anything if we did not make them work and obey. It is sad that people with this attitude have not been around the same horses that many of us have come to love and enjoy. We all too often label another being as stupid simply because we do not understand why they behave the way they do. Generally speaking, the horse knows why it does what it does. If we as humans can not or will not take the time to gain a better understanding of equine and learn why they behave as they do, then which of us is truly stupid and lazy? Improvements can also be made by studying how horse and man may communicate more effectively. Part II: Understanding will explore in depth the challenge of reaching a better understanding with equine.

Rick Harper



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