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Tracy Courtney

Aggression VS Expression

There is a huge difference between aggression & expression, however, we have been conditioned to perceive behaviour as a personal attack. I have been asked to work with many horses who were labeled aggressive & it was very rare that I found a horse that was truly aggressive.

We need to step back without judgement & look at behaviours for what they truly are. In most cases, horses that rear are not charging or striking as so many believe. They are merely pawing at the air to help maintain balance while on two legs. We also need to step back to examine ourselves & root out the causes of our own perceptions & beliefs about how we perceive behaviour.

When we teach with patience & understanding, allow for choices & opinions, the expression & release of unbalanced emotions & help our horses work through their worries & fears, the true expressions & personality of the horse will begin to come through. 

Suddenly a historically frightened horse can adopt what we consider to be an attitude & become less cooperative. Some horses may begin to show this "attitude" by pinning their ears, head tossing, leaning on the rope, bolting, rearing, bucking or cocking a hip.

This should never be viewed as defiant, aggressive or naughty behaviour. These are merely expressions & an attempt at discussion from the true nature of our horses which have been suppressed until now. These expressions don't suddenly appear out of the blue as many have been led to believe. Horses have attempted to express these feelings many times previously but were shut down at lower levels of expression.

A horse that begins to obviously cock a hip for example, has previously shown one or more of the preliminary four steps that lead to a kick, but we didn't recognize or understand this expression for what it really was. When first beginning to emerge, these expressions are neutral in nature because they have yet to develop associations to them, which is completely dependent on how we choose to perceive & react to these expressions.

We must begin to observe, listen & allow the expression & release of these emotions without judgement or negative reactions, unless they are too close to us & could cause injury. Safety is always a priority & we can simply ask them to move away from us to express themselves. When they jump around & do silly things initially, just observe the behaviour & laugh at the show because they're either thinking they're just having fun or excited at the opportunity to finally b able to express themselves & that you're willing to listen.

What goes up must come down. It's a basic law of physics, but what if we were to apply this concept into how we perceive & work with our horses? Many have wondered why, after trying several ways to solve particular issues, they have been unsuccessful. One of the reasons is because we've been conditioned to focus on the escalation of the problem.

When a horse begins to exhibit unwanted behaviour, we automatically target the immediate physical aspect of the behaviour, during its escalation. We have not been taught to factor in the real root causes or to address it appropriately. If we were to throw a ball high into the air, would we have any control over it? Can we affect the velocity, distance or trajectory once it has been released? The only real control we can have over the ball after release is where & how it's going to land. We need to begin to look outside the box for deeper understandings, such as the inverse square law for new & deeper insights into the mental & emotional flow systems of horses. We don't want unwanted behaviour to continue too long without redirection & guidance but there is never a need to use force, fear, gadgets, lunging or anger.