I’ve written before about Horse-led activities vs. Human-led activities when interacting with your horse. Horse-Led means that the horse determines the game, the length of the interaction, is able to disengage and leave, and overall provides the horse (within the bounds of safety) the right to dictate what he will allow.
While I had already started putting this into place in my training, and even more so after reading/viewing some of Carolyn Resnick’s work, I think Pignon in his book, provides the best concrete reasons why, when you can, having Horse-led activities boosts the horses’ confidence in his person. Pignon calls this the “reversal of roles.”
Here are some quotes from Gallop to Freedom, written by the husband and wife team of Cavalia – Frederick and Magali Pignon, which further illustrates the importance of having the horse select his own participation:
“Frederic allows the horse to choose to a certain extent what they want to do. The freedom of choice is part of his training philosophy.” p. 11
“…improvisation is important for keeping the horses in a relaxed and happy state.” p. 12
“Roles are reversed: the horse whispers in their ears. He becomes ‘the Whisperer.'” p. 21
Especially, for those shy, withdrawn or apathetic horses, allowing the horse more choice can encourage them to become expressive, extroverted, and involved in human training. This is something all to often ignored (such as Bertha in Ride the Right Horse) by people more driven to achieve the ends and not caring about the means.
No one, human or horse, can be joyful and creative, when in a gray world where everything is the same, day in and day out, and the individual has no input as to what happens to him. Actually, we have an instutition like that: prison.
“(After holding a few clinics)…he (Frederic) has become even more aware of the dangers of mindless repetitive training, where someone is blindly following a method…horses have been so stressed that they are numbed, “dumbed down”, and turned off like a light switch; they have only one desire to and that is to how to get to the end of whatever is demanded of them.” p. 19
Man as the Decider
On the opposite end of Horse-Led activities are those when humans’ become the Decider. Pignon’s word, in place of the more emotional word Leader, used in his book.
“Instead of substituing a new form of stress, as an enforcer, we should take on the role of decider.” p.31
“When a horse in the wild takes on the role of leader, he or she assumes the responsibility of protecting those who have accepted his leadership…’To whom much is given’, as the saying goes, ‘much is expected’… When things go wrong as a result of assuming this role it is not enough to say,’ I didn’t know.'” 31
Pignon, like Hempfling, clearly states that man has a responsiblity to the horse that is greater then the horses’ responsiblity to us. While some other trainers may bring this up, these two horsemen have been the only ones to impress me with how emphatic they state it and how consistent they are in returning to it as part of their philosophy.
I’ve heard the word Leader thrown about, especially in the Natural Horsemanship world, and it seems to many that this is just a license to get what they want from the horse. Seldom do these weekend clinicians with their traveling round pens, lecture their audience about how responsible we are when we take on that leadership.
We are the horses’ advocate and too many are forgetting it on their path to making a quick buck.