Saturday, September 8, 2007

"...trust no man in whose eyes you do not see yourself as an equal..."

"...and I whispered to the horse: trust no man in whose eyes you do not see yourself as an equal." -- Don Vincenzo Giobbe, circa 1700

An interesting quote. I liked it immediately...but spent a lot of time considering why: it seemed to make sense in my way of thinking, but I knew if I posted it on my chalkboard, it would spark some animated debate. So I contemplated. And now it's on the chalkboard.

I do see a horse as an equal. Absolutely. An equal in terms of being a sentient, feeling creature, with something valuable to offer the partnership I seek from him. A being with the right to have an opinion, the right to be comfortable, the right to be treated with respect and dignity. And an equal partner, with a role and a responsibility to the other partner. And what an amazing partner -- one nearly ten times our weight, with incredible speed, and exponentially stronger than we are. An equal -- a partner -- that should be treated with great thankfulness and respect.

Oh, but that's a rather abused and misdefined word -- RESPECT -- when used in relation to horses or horsemanship.

How many times have you heard someone say, in reference to a horse problem or "problem" horse, "he just needs to learn to respect you", or, "he doesn't respect you"??? What this usually translates to in the parlance of horse people is "he just needs to learn to FEAR you", or, "he doesn't FEAR you". But the dictionary definition of "RESPECT" draws no parallel to the idea of "FEAR". It reads:


"to consider worthy of high regard : esteem"


Ah, there. That makes more sense, now, doesn't it?? Most especially if you acknowledge that the horse can be a formidable adversary if he wants to be. That he could, with very little effort, squash you like a large bug with his piston-like hooved legs, or swing you like a ragdoll from his teeth. (Am I really supposed to believe I can intimidate this creature? We humans are a little full of ourselves, aren't we.)

Wouldn't it make more sense, and make for a much more rewarding partnership, if the horse considered you not fearsome, but instead worthy of high esteem?

The dictionary definition of RESPECT works both ways in good horsemanship. The respect I feel for horses is not about a fear for the damage they could do, but rather something close to awe that they defer to my judgement, that they bend to my will, that they WANT to be partners with me. For that, I hold these creatures, these equals of mine in a unique partnership, in VERY high esteem.