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”Establishing a Proper Relationship with Equine”

Part V: Respect

By Rick Harper


Respect is earned in small measures, or lost in bulk. If you have no consideration for your equine, you will need to practice one of two extremes. Simply allow your animal to totally disregard your expectations, or always demand perfection. Either way, you will quickly teach your equine that you are not worthy of any measure of his respect. If you choose to be demanding and overbearing you may gain responsiveness, but without respect. If you achieve responsiveness without consideration for you equine, they will always be looking for opportunities to escape. To achieve a true bond with your equine you must instill mutual respect. This is achieved through incorporating your equine’s willingness to participate. When respect and participation are part of the process your equine will enjoy the experience.

Another easy way of ensuring that you never gain the respect of your equine is to only give negative feedback, never positive. Many equestrian enthusiasts do this without thinking about it. Soon your animal is convinced that a correct response is not noteworthy, but a mistake will be dealt with swiftly and harshly. If you could put yourself in their hooves, you would understand how it feels to only receive negative feedback. This treatment results in an animal that has no self esteem, feels defeated and therefore is incapable of respecting another. On the other hand, if we teach our equine to have self respect by showing it to them, they will also learn to respect us.

Confidence must precede respect. Positive experiences and positive feedback instill confidence. According to some psychologists that train leadership development programs, people need at least four positive feedbacks to one negative in order to perform at their best on the job and be open to new experiences. Change is also very hard for equine as well as people to accept. Through building positive self image and confidence in our equine, they are more readily able to accept changes to their circumstances and/or environment. These changes are inevitable throughout their lives. The chances that they will always belong to the same person or live in the same location all of their life are remote. Our equine face the same challenges that we do. Don’t sell them short when it comes to understanding how they respond to these challenges.

Affection also must precede respect. Equine may respond positively to someone out of fear or out of a need that person can fill, but this is not respect, this is short lived need,. Equine can not dislike a person and at the same time have respect for them. However, if we have understanding, open communication, and confidence in another, it is only natural that this will lead to affection and respect. If you wish to gain the respect of your animal, learn to understand them, listen to them, and never demand more than they are capable of giving. It is your job to know what their capabilities are through patience and observance. When you do require something from your equine, patiently see it through until you are satisfied that he has at least attempted to comply, then reward the attempt. Perfection can always be attained through repetition and steady improvement. If your equine is prone to stubbornness, respect must be gained through patience and persistence. If you find that you are becoming frustrated in the process, realize that properly trained stubbornness will become a determining factor leading to success in whatever you attempt with your animal. Always finish each session on a positive note with something your equine can easily achieve. Let the session end before you or your animal’s frustration takes over. Allowing frustration to escalate will only set your animal’s progress back and diminish respect.

Incorrect responses should be counteracted with redirection. For example, if you are teaching your animal to side pass, start by applying the proper pressure and cues. Most likely, your equine’s first response will be to back up. Push him forward immediately, and ask again patiently. Counteract each wrong response and keep asking until an attempt is achieved, such as crossing over with either set of legs. Praise the horse, and then do something else that you both are proficient at. Improve on your accomplishment at a later time or on the next session.

Negative feedback should only be used when you are certain that your equine comprehends your request, has no apprehension, and is obviously refusing out of a desire to do something different or because he does not wish to comply even though he is comfortable and capable. Be careful! Do not be too quick to judge your animal’s response as defiant. A good session with your equine contains more positive than negative feedback and always ends with a sense of accomplishment. Sessions such as these will develop mutual respect for both equine and owner.

To summarize, if you want to gain the respect of your equine, you must first show respect for them. To show respect, you must demonstrate that you have a desire to understand them, be open to two way communication, and display confidence in yourself and your animal to achieve certain goals. You must ask only what your equine is capable of giving. You must patiently and persistently work with your animal until an attempt at compliance is achieved, then provide positive feedback. Praise, patience and persistence are keys to your success.

Rick Harper



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