Respect is probably the most misused word in horsemanship.  People use it all the time and mean so many different things by it that it becomes worse than useless.  It becomes confusing and misleading.  Kind of like the word love.  There all all kinds of love, some healthy and some unhealthy, likewise there all kinds of respect.

What many people mean when they say “That horse is disrespectful” is that the horse isinvading a person’s space.  Well a horse that like to be close might be being pushy or dominant but it might also be acting friendly affectionate or curious.  So having your horse coming into your space could be positive or negative and it could be a sign of disrespect or  a sign of trust.  Like many things in life – it just isn’t black and white.  If we are talking about respect we need to ask more questions.

Now let’s say that you think about it and decide that a horse is being pushy and dominant.  That is definitely not a good thing but what is the right way to deal with it.  Most people think the way to develop respect is by developing fear.  Well fear is one type of respect but it is not the only and for my money not the best form of respect.  With fear you get tightness, resistance, avoidance, dullness – you get the idea.  Nothing shuts off an organisms ability to think and reason like fear.

Frightened Horse

 If you want a horse that acts like a machine then maybe you will want to use fear as a motivator for obedience but it only goes so far.  You can get pretty good performance with fear but not brilliant performance.  The best performing horses I’ve seen look happy, and you don’t get happy anything with fear.

Have you ever respected someone without fearing them?   I’ll bet you have.  A favorite teacher maybe?  How about a good friend? 

If  someone comes at you with a weapon you will act respectful, for the sake of survival but is that respect permanent?  I don’t think so.  I would guess that if the weapon changed hands your respect would vanish like smoke and what would be left is hatred.  Is that the dynamic what you want with your horse? Fear based respect is the illusion but not the substance of respect. That is not what I want.

Real respect comes from positive attributes: trust, confidence, fairness, consistency, the list goes on.  Think about it  – is it better to pretend to your horse that you know what yoou are doing or to really know what you are doing? 

If you really know what you are doing you don’t have to become fearful to gain respect.

Horses are bigger stronger and faster than us so in a contest of physicality we lose every time.  But they don’t have our intellect and they naturally want to avoid conflict so it follows that we should focus on our superior attributes – intelligence and strong mindedness.  If you use proper technique ans a good plan there is no need to use intimidation or fear to gain respect and obedience.

If you read this far I hope you think it was worth it.  I’d love to hear your comments and questions.