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Tracy Courtney

Inclusive or Exclusive?

Ultimately, we all want to become closer & more connected with our horses, so we practice the latest & greatest techniques because somebody told us these will help us accomplish our dreams. Where do we base the choices we make for these decisions? Who has decided that one person or method is better than another? Why do we believe the particular method we're attracted to is superior or inferior to others? Have we ever stopped to analyze the methods we choose to adhere to vehemently & what they may actually be teaching us & our horses?


If we analyze just what we can visually distinguish through the interactions of herd dynamics in the pasture, what is common? The majority of the day is spent quietly grazing close together. There will be short periods of play time & sometimes a horse will be reprimanded, but overall things are generally quiet & relaxed. Horses will move slowly around the pasture as a group, staying in close proximity to each other.


If we examine how a horse reprimands another horse more closely, we will observe that the offending horse is always offered choices to change their behaviour. If the horse chooses to continue & ignore the opportunity to change, the horse will be driven away from the group or horse being offended. As soon as the offending horse chooses to make an attitude adjustment, the conflict is over & the horse is allowed to return to the group.


If we analyze these practices a little more closely, we see that during the absence of conflict, the body language remains soft & relaxed. Unless there is an object of particular visual interest, the head & neck will remain parallel, below or only slightly above the height of the withers. All muscles & appendages are soft & relaxed. These horse move with a slow & steady gait & cadence.


If we analyze the body language during conflict, all muscles & appendages will become stiff & rigid. The head will raise well above the withers. Movement will become fast, uneven & erratic. This is indicative of adrenaline flowing through the body in preparation for instinctual fight or flight processes, caused by stress, anxiety & fear.


If we compare this to how we commonly interact with our horses, what might we find? What do many of the methods we believe in so dogmatically, offer in comparison? Are the common practices like lunging, round penning & consecutive steps inclusive or exclusive? Are we asking our horses to be in close proximity with us most of the time or are we consistently driving them away from us? Are we unintentionally reprimanding our horses continuously? Do we take the time to offer our horses choices & opinions through discussion or only offer the choice to say yes or no? Do we take the time to observe our horse's body language to understand whether we are  causing them to enter this fight or flight state?


What does your horse's body language say to you during your training time? Knowledge is not about knowing everything, it's the ability to challenge everything we know. 

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