Zorita and her 2009 filly, Segura
In today's journal entry, I'm addressing a comment left by June regarding the concept of honoring the horse's "no".
Another question/comment - both Lynne and Imke seem to take the horse's "no" as absolute, or am I wrong? Whereas KFH will argue back - there's a nice sequence of photos in "What Horses Reveal" where KFH is riding without tack in the middle of a huge open area, and the horse doesn't want to go over a ditch. But Klaus says, "yes, we are going to." The horses is annoyed, saying no - and of course, without tack, is at liberty to do whatever he pleases. But in the end Klaus prevails in the "discussion." I think he calls it a "gentlemen's disagreement."
Whenever we are engaged in a relationship with another being there may arise occasions when one or the other may have different ideas about how a given situation should proceed. In my opinion, disagreements can be handled a number of ways depending on how each individual feels within the situation they are facing and how resolutions are presented.
A dictator obviously responds much differently than a friend when a request is met with resistance. A dictator meeting with resistance aggressively uses whatever means is necessary to gain a "yes". You could say in that instance the "yes" is absolute--it is the only answer the dictator will accept and any discussion of the matter is forbidden. When friends encounter a similar resistance to a request (depending on the content of the situation), to accept a "no" as unquestionablly absolute would also mean any discussion of the matter is forbidden. Both scenarios to me reflect a stifled relationship, something less than ideal, where one individual's "voice" is absolute and the other has no option but to accept what is given. Such a situation demonstrates inequality in the relationship, each demonstrating inflexibility and neither is the type of relationship that I feel is healthy or mutually beneficial.
My personal feeling is that I very much doubt Imke accepts a horse's "no" as absolute in every situation...and I certainly do not. Every time we encounter a situation where resistance arises, the content of the moment is variable and absolutes have no place in resolving things. Only a perception centered on kindness and nurturing which facilitates discussion allows both individuals in the relationship to fully understand the dialogue they are having. It is not about absolute authority or unquestionable obedience. It is not about using physical pain or mental intimidation to enforce our will over another.
While many people want horses to respond without questioning why, like pressing the button on the dashboard of an automobile, I want more from a relationship with a horse than reliable, half-hearted obedience. I feel this way about all my relationships, and it is very important to me to know that whomever I am interacting with is responding freely and participating because it is a mutually enjoyable affair. This applies not just to the other individual in the relationship but applies to me as well. A great deal of inquiring into my feelings and those of another means that lots of discussion is encouraged so that we each are fully aware of what "yes" or "no" mean in any given situation.
Tobacco (a.k.a. Mugs)
Just yesterday, one of my canine companions (Tobacco) provided a good example of how I use a nurturing perception and discussion to come to a full understanding of whether "no" is, indeed the final and absolute answer to an offer I made.
There have been occasions where each of our four dogs did something to make one of the horses uncomfortable and so were aggressively chased. While Shelagh, Maeb and Ganja will still mingle with the horses but keep themselves extra vigilant to how the horses are responding to their presence, Tobacco avoids them at all costs. Oftentimes this means that Tobacco will say "no" to going for a walk with the rest of us, or if while out on a walk with the rest of us should we come upon the horses, he will turn around right then and there and run back home.
Tobacco is amazingly perceptive and he knows that when the horses are eating they will not be looking to make sport of chasing him and he will walk right by them as we leave to go hiking, or he will use an alternate route to get through the fence of the yard so he can accompany the rest of us on a hike. If, as it sometimes happens, all routes leaving the yard are flanked with horses, Tobacco will not come for a walk no matter how much discussion takes place and certainly when he is that committed to saying "no" I accept it with no hard feelings between us, for he has convinced me he truly is not willing. I would cast a pallor on our relationship if in such a situation I got out his collar and lead and dragged him along--he would not think me a worthy leader and he certainly would question our friendship.
Yesterday was a beautiful pre-spring day, with lots of sun, temps just warm enough to initiate a little melting, and being my day off, I felt a nice long hike was in order. Tobacco thought so too, and engaged along with the other dogs in great leaps of anticipation as I began to put on boots and outerwear. When I opened the door and we all excitedly tumbled out, Tobacco quickly noticed that Altamiro and his family were all milling around the gate. There would be no getting through that way. He then looked at the hole through the fence to the east and noted that Mistral's group were all standing by that opening and he would not be able to get to the open fields that way either. So even before I got the door closed he slipped back into the house and said, "No, I don't want to go!"
But I just knew he really wanted to go...I knew his "No" was not absolute, even though he delivered it pretty emphatically.
So we had a discussion.
I cajoled him and told him I just knew we could find a way by the horses, "Please, Tobacco, come with us, it will be fun and you know it will be fun!" He still said "No! I cannot go." But even as he relayed this he remained in the doorway instead of wandering back to his bed in the other room. This told me he actually was willing to discuss things further.
I knew he would be a little sad to be left behind today, he just needed more encouragement. "C'mon Tobacco. You can do it! We'll climb over the fence to the north, I'll help you."
I was pressuring him, I know I was, because he began whimpering and dancing in place--but I knew his "no" wasn't absolute--nor did he want me to accept it as absolute. I knew Tobacco really wanted to come with us--so I kept up the pressure because it was the type of nurturing, supportive pressuring that helps one make a breakthrough through a difficulty that is holding them back from a good experience. "C'mon Tobacco, we'll do it together. I know we can make it over that fence! Let's go!" And after those encouraging words Tobacco said, "Yes! Let's go!"
Before I could even get the door closed and walk over to the north fence, he was already there, checking his options, and in one deft, confident move, he lept up onto the top rail of that fence and then sprung off it in full gallop to the north, leaving the rest of us to find our own way over the fence! We had a marvelous hike that day!
Where Mistral is standing looking at me is the place in the fence where yesterday Tobacco jumped so he could go for a hike with me and the other pups. (The horses were not in this exact location at that time.)
I cannot speak for how Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling carried out his discussion with Janosch as he convinced the horse to walk into the ditch. He called it quarreling, but I feel it was something similar to the exchange Tobacco and I had...that it was based on a nurturing perception of the situation. Since Klaus was riding in the big wide open completely free of tack, Janosch could easily have made his "no" definitive by dumping his rider and running away. Instead he remained in the discussion with Klaus and a breakthrough to something better ensued. Klaus may have projected to Janosch, "You must do this because I say so", or he may have projected "Please, my good friend, I insist, because I know you can do it and it will be good to have this experience." I'm inclined to think the later was the case, because somehow I don't imagine a strong character like Janosch would accept being dictated to.
In Empowered Horses, Imke Spilker wrote about a situation where she proposed something new for her horse Toppur to try to which she said:
"Toppur retreats in response to my actions and refuses to comply with my request." --Empowered Horses pg. 96
We all recognize that Toppur had said no. Did Imke take it as absolute?
She does not, rather she first apologizes for unintentionally confusing him and for causing him to resist and question her reasons for the request she had made. (Empowered Horses pg.83)
Shall she accept his "no" and leave matters there, or might she not use the opportunity to explain herself better and make the request from a new place of understanding?
"The more independent our horse is the more quickly he will question the purpose of the work. Our answer to his question is crucial, because with it we set the course of our relationship. 'Because I say so.' This answer, emphatically given to the horse, reveals the two-legged dictator. So, all that went before is really just a prelude to this. Even the answer, 'Because there is a barrel standing there,' or, 'Because there is a tire on the ground,' does not change the dictatorial drift. It merely defers the more concrete answer, 'And I want you to go around this barrel.' Despite everything, horses can--perhaps after a period of hesitation--decide to go along with their person's new idea, even if there are many reasons not to. It is one of the wonders I wish to tell you about in this book. Despite everything, horses will go along with us, all on their own, of their own free will, just because we do not obstinately try to force them. I do not have to assert my will, but nevertheless, my horse complies. That is a great gift. The answer that I give Toppur in this instance is, 'Because I think it is important, and because I would very much like it.' Instead of using pressure or exercising power I do exactly the opposite. I ask my horse to simply try it." --Imke Spilker /Empowered Horses pg.96
And Toppur agrees to give it a try. Had he still resisted following Imke's idea, if he was still somewhat open, my sense is she would have likely found a different way of presenting her request that he would feel able to comply with, but ultimately she would have honored "no" if Toppur insisted (and likely she would have apologized to him once again).
In sharing with us the manner in which Kirsten asks Kim to leave his pasture mates and join her for some playtime in arena, Imke gives us another example regarding how she regards the horse's "no".
"What would have happened had Kim turned away, if he had signaled, 'No, thank you?' What would Kirsten do? She would, one more time, clearly invite him to join her, perhaps also letting him know that it meant a lot to her. But, what if Kim still did not want to come, if he had even walked away? Kirsten would respect his position, take away the halter, say her goodbyes with a treat, and leave him in his pasture because his hunger is greater than his desire to join her." --Imke Spilker / Empowered Horses pg. 35
This has been a rather long answer to June's question and probably the short answer is simply to say that I take my horse's "no" as absolute only if I am convinced he feels absolutely committed to saying "no".