Why Are Horses Not Naughty?
WHY ARE HORSES NOT NAUGHTY?
There are quite a few myths out there in regard to horses being "Naughty”.
It is disturbing and quite common to see posts on social media asking for suggestions of what to do with their ‘horse from hell’. The kind of post that lays all of the blame smack bang at the horse’s feet - ‘My horse is a spoilt brat, constantly tries to get the better of me and is as naughty as possible. Spooks, bucks, takes off and does everything he can to scare me. I need someone to teach him a lesson.’ Or ‘my young horse is a real ##**! He throws his head around constantly when he doesn’t want to do something, but can be nice as pie when getting his own way. He is arrogant and knows he can get away with it. He knows what to do!! We’ve done this so many times before! I need someone to sort him out!’
Some posts list very imaginative ways that horses deliberately plot and plan to outwit their owner. After reading these gems of human understanding you would think that all horses were evil masterminds capable of overthrowing the human race if not kept in their place.
For a horse to be naughty this reasoning relies on –
1. The horse knowing exactly what the "rules” are and fully understanding the "task”.
2. Being able to perform the "task” without being hindered by fear, discomfort or pain.
3. They must be somehow positively motivated to carry out the task without the complications above.
Negative labels are a downward spiral
Negative labels such as lazy, stupid, arrogant and rude change the way that people respond to problem behaviours. If a person believes that the horse is acting in this way because he is being ‘deliberately difficult’ or ‘trying to scare them’ then they will act with negative emotions and defensiveness. They are more likely to be punishing and unforgiving of the horse’s behaviour, acting through anger and retaliation. These labels make allowances for heavy-handedness and justify taking negative emotional states out on the horse. After all, he knows what he was doing, right and deserves what he gets?
This labelling using human connotations is known as anthropomorphism, and it massively undermines our ability to understand horses. Describing a horse as lazy, bad mannered, rude or insinuating that he is deliberately undermining you are all examples of this. It deflects our perception of what is really going on with our horse’s behaviour, turning it into to something far removed from what is actually occurring.
It makes for sorry reading to see the comments and suggestions of things like ‘just work him through it” or ‘kick the horse harder in the ribs’ or "tie his head to his tail’ or one of my least favourite ‘there is no such thing as grass affecting horses’. These unhelpful and ill-informed solutions come from people who are unwilling or unaware of how horses think or that at a cellular level severe imbalances may be in play. There may not be, but it is worth considering.
Perception or Deception?
Horses are unable to speculate on another beings state of mind. They cannot form any kind of theories as to how their actions might change the beliefs and behaviour of others. They act in response to learnt experiences and what is making them feel better or worse at that time. It is therefore unreasonable and illogical for us to project human emotions onto our horses and expect that this is how they process the world.
Why are horses not "Naughty”?
Horses live in the moment.
I think this is one of the things that attracts us to them. They give us that feeling of togetherness and when they are "not with us”, we sure know about it. The true art of training horses is the point where the togetherness is effortless.
The definition for ‘naughtiness’ in the dictionary is: badly behaved, disobedient, failure or refusal to obey rules or someone in authority.
At the very least horses want peace.
This equates to them being free from hunger, conflict, confusion, pain or discomfort. In a herd or paddock setting they are geared by evolution to find peace as that is what enables them to survive. Conflict equals injury and death.
If a horse is feeling any discomfort, pain or confusion, it will make a choice as to how it reacts to its rider or handler. This can go in several directions depending on –
1. The degree of discomfort the horse is experiencing from the treatment by the rider or handler
2. The metabolic status of the horse. Is he high in potassium? Low in magnesium? Affected by mycotoxins? Too much feed in relation to exercise? All of these?
3. The degree of confusion in relation to the pressure and maybe the degree of pain being applied by the rider or handler.
Metabolic problems deserve particular consideration. They rendered the horse incapable of thinking clearly in the same way someone drunk or on drugs would not be capable of performing complicated tasks. Horses become irrational, illogical and possibly highly dangerous often in situations that they have known and been happy with for months or years.
When logic is applied to the situation of a "Naughty” horse and all of the above points are considered, it should be very obvious that horses do not suffer with naughtiness.
What they do suffer from is –
2. Discomfort or pain
3. Metabolic issues caused by a combination of grass related mineral imbalances, over-feeding, incorrect supplementation, mineral deficiencies, mycotoxicity.
4. A combination of all of these is the most common situation.
It takes a true horse person with genuine respect for their horse and NO ego to take a few steps back, stop blaming the horse and properly assess what is going on.