Friday, April 17, 2009

Nothing Less Than This - Defined

(photo: Leslie Town)

"Nothing less than this" means that old perceptions of what I once thought was acceptable in horse/human relationships have no place in where I find myself today and I will accept interacting with horses only when it is something that they choose and not something I impose upon them. The interactions I described in yesterday's entry demonstrate this quite vividly.

Historically, horses have been hunted for food and domesticated for labor. We have forced them to carry us into war, to shoulder our burdens, to till our fields and participate in our concepts of sporting pleasure. To do all these things we have had to design and manufacture various means of restraint, some more torturous than others...all meant to suppress the horse's instinct and desires, and through mild irritation to intense pain convince him to bend to our will instead.

Leslie Town)

The controversial French écuyer, Francois Baucher (who I idolized for quite some time), in the nineteenth century defined horse training as ridding the horse of his "instinctive forces" and replacing them with "transmitted forces", the epitome of which was a horse who held himself in collection between the "weight of the reins and the breath of the boots", demonstrating exquisite lightness to the aids and reveling in the state of "liberty on parole".

Mistral and Zeus
(photo: Leslie Town)

When given the choice of positioning his body to balance in collection wherein the cessation of aids is granted and relief is found, or resisting the rider's directives which brings on the pulsated pressure of the bit and the punishment of the heels (with or without spurs), horses soon learn to choose the former.

In modern dressage, it is even worse, for there is no cessation of the aids, the horse is constantly pressed between bit and spur, and, unable to carry himself in collection due to these unrelenting pressures, he gives instead a false collection that some YouTube Olympic videos call "dancing" (take no note of the clenched jaw and wringing tail).

My history is in dressage, but it is little different with those who pursue various versions of Natural Horsemanship...the entire premise of training is based on finding a way to compel the horse to become "useful" to humans. Running a horse in a round pen until it stops resisting and gives up its independence is no different than putting pressure on a halter and lead rope until the horse softens and follows. If the horse says "no", he is sent back to running around the round pen or the lead rope is firmed up, wriggled, snapped, etc. until such time the horse finds the right answer of "yes". Relief and praise follow a "yes", added pressure is the human's response to a "no". The best of these trainers use so little pressure things progress with minimal resistance, while others are brutal and brusque giving a bad name to otherwise fairly gentle means of establishing a usable dialogue with horses.

(photo: Leslie Town)

All this so that we can "do" things with horses...ride them, drive them, breed them. Even new age equine psychotherapy centers on "using" the horse to heal emotional trauma in humans. I have come to ask myself, must we always "do" something with horses? Must we always "use" them? No one thinks to inquire of those who chose to have dogs in their lives what they "use" them for or what they "do" with them. I see no fault in horses and humans developing a means of mutually enjoying one another simply for the sake of companionship. And should such a companionship evolve into playing and training in ways that empower and encourage the horse (and human) to develop their minds and bodies in such a manner that creates something more artistically fulfilling than what can be achieved separate from each other, so much the better.Link
(photo: Leslie Town)

How timely that in Germany someone like Imke Spilker comes along and tells us that horses have a right to say "no".

In Russia, Alexander Nevzorov is saying the same thing.

In a recent interview with the online Horses For Life magazine, Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling relays, "For sure, my approach to the horses is a very simple thing. If the horse does not want me to jump on him and ride him, I will not do it. The horse has to come to me and say 'please ride me because I like it. I'm more fresh after the ride than before. I'm healthier, stronger, and prouder when you have been riding me than before." I would never do anything with the horse if the horse is suffering at all in any way and losing quality of life."

In sunny California, Carolyn Resnick tells the world that a horse should have the space and freedom to escape her influence if he needs to. She is looking to establish a spiritual bond, where a horse comes to be with her through a "magnetic heart connection". In a recent entry on her blog, Carolyn writes, "I want a horse to know that he can run away if he chooses and the reason I seek his company is because I like being with him, not that he needs to do something for me. I demonstrate to the horse that I will always respect his wishes and I will never enter his personal space without permission."

(photo: Leslie Town)

So this is where my journey with horses finds me now, accepting no less than this as the foundation for how I share my life with these fabulous beings. I'm thankful to those people who have already challenged traditional modes of horse/human interactions. In sharing their journeys publicly, they have opened a new world of beauty for me, and I hope that many more equestrians experience and embrace the feeling of "no less than this" for themselves.
Grazing Grullas
(photo: Leslie Town)

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