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"Establishing a Proper Relationship with Equine"
Part II: Understanding
By Rick Harper






Understanding is the foundation for building proper relationships. If two individuals have no understanding of one another, every aspect of their relationship will be flawed. While man and animal can never completely understand each other, the more we learn about equine and the more we teach them about us, the stronger our partnership can become. This foundation is the cornerstone of Relationship Based Horsemanship. But what exactly do we mean by the word understanding? The dictionary definitions that apply to these concepts are as follows:

Understand: to be thoroughly familiar with; apprehend clearly the character, nature, or subtleties of

Understanding: a state of cooperative or mutually tolerant relation

To achieve an understanding of equine we must study, listen, and try to gain an insight into their thought processes and behaviors. We must also be willing to see each equine uniquely and throw out all of the pre-conceived notions, old adages, and misunderstandings that have been suggested and taught to us. Building a proper relationship with an individual animal requires an open mind and flexible thinking.

Their has been extensive study and emphasis on how equine relate to each other in the natural world. This knowledge has been useful in helping us to understand their behavior, and if you have not taken the time to study this material, you should. A potential problem with the application of this knowledge is that we tend to interpret the relationship between equine and man in the same terms, especially if we place too much emphasis on domination. The relationship between man and equine should be different than the relationship of the animals in a herd. Equine need to be taught to understand that mankind is different from other animals and that their interaction with people should also be different. People working with equine should teach them the difference between dominance and leadership, and should replace the dominating aspects of the relationship with proper leadership skills. Xenophen stated that good horsemanship should be more a matter of coaxing rather than the use of harsh methods. With some equine harsh methods are futile, and with most equine they are unnecessary.

One of the biggest obstacles in developing understanding of equine is that people think in different terms. This is especially true since the beginning industrial revolution. The machine age has conditioned human thinking to push button reasoning. If we push the on button, the machine starts, if we push the off button, the machine stops. If the machine does not start when we push the on button, it must be broken and needs repair. Unfortunately, all too often we apply this same reasoning to our horsemanship skills. Live beings, human or otherwise, are not machines. When we push buttons on living creatures we do not always get a predictable response. This does not mean that the animal is broken, yet many people seem disappointed when their equine does not respond immediately like their car or bike. When equine do not respond as we want them to, it should not be compared to a mechanical problem. It is rather the result of miscommunication or a symptom of a problem in the relationship. We will discuss this further in each of the following articles. For now, realize that the animal you are dealing with is not a machine; it has fears, thoughts, and emotions that determine its responses. The interaction between you and your equine constitutes a relationship, whether you realize it or not. Also, your equine does not live in a mechanized world, and therefore is not conditioned to push button reasoning.

Another difference in the way that we think compared to an equine centers around the concept of time. It seems as though more and more the human existence is dependent upon a watch, a calendar, and a Palm Pilot. We often live our lives according to our view of time management and multitasking, going down our to do list completing each task as rapidly as possible. Of course the list always grows faster than we can complete the tasks, so we live in an endless struggle to meet impossible deadlines. Our focus is generally on the completion of the tasks, with little regard for the steps involved or the enjoyment of the moment. Equine, on the other hand, have no watch or calendar, and no to do list. Their concept of time revolves around their immediate need, which may be eating, drinking, socializing, or resting. While we are viewing The accomplishment of a goal with our equine as a task to be completed, our animal is considering the same experience as an interaction with us. Their mind is on the here and now, and their focus is on each step along the way.

Finally, as stated before, each equine is unique. This means that each relationship between a person and an animal is also unique. This is why no one method or set of techniques is always successful. True horsemanship requires learning the skills of “reading” the equine you are working with and developing communication, confidence, respect, and trust between you and the animal. The techniques are merely tools for the development of a relationship and should be flexible and changeable to adjust to each unique situation you are involved in. We can never gain a complete understanding of any other individual. We can, however, gain a partial and increasing understanding of the equine we work with by seeing the uniqueness of each one and by being attentive to what the animal is trying to communicate to us. Once the animal realizes that you have a desire to understand it, you will notice the beginning of a proper relationship and the atmosphere will be set for developing true and honest communication, which will be the topic for part III of this series.

Practical application of the concepts in this article
If you wish to maximize your enjoyment and success in working with your animal, try the following:

1) Remove your watch and hide it somewhere
2) Forget everything on your to do list except the goals pertaining to your animal
3) Throw out all pre-conceived notions and ideas
4) Join your animal in the here and now
5) Focus on each moment and each step as you go, not the completion of the task
6) See your animal as a unique individual with intelligence and emotion
7) Consider your interaction with your animal as a relationship
8) Replace dominance with leadership
9) Strive to gain an understanding of your animal
10) Create an atmosphere allowing for open communication

Rick Harper



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