Bonding...Is It Possible?
By Don Blazer
People and horses don’t “bond in friendship”; all respect emanates from fear; rendering a horse “helpless” is more effective than punishment by pain, and horses don’t understand the “withholding” concept.
Do those ideas make you uncomfortable? If they do, you definitely need to study herd life and equine behavior modification. If they don’t, you’re probably a professional, making your living with horses.
Bonding, as so many are so fond of “saying and doing,” is really “shackles, imprisonment and captivity” for horses. The concept of friendship doesn’t exist between horse and human…not as humans would like it to be.
Of course your horse “nickers” to you when you arrive at the barn…he’s going to get fed. (If not fed, a treat—he’s going to get out of the stall (confinement) and he may even get groomed…a feeling he likes.) When he “nickers,” he’s saying “come to me…get over here…I’ve been waiting to get fed, get a treat, get out of this stall for hours.”
He is not saying, “I love you…hi, my friend; gosh, you’re looking good today.”
As much as you’d love to think this lifelong friend will sulk and feel terrible for years if sold and sent to a new home, the truth is the sulking and unhappiness will last until he gets his next meal, if he sulks at all. Did you ever stop to think he might be overjoyed to not get kissed on the nose anymore?
Even in the herd, few horses make “friends.” The ones that do will often pick one “buddy” to groom occasionally and stand next to in the shade of a tree. That’s about the extent of horse friendship….after that, it’s every horse for himself. (Stallions will protect a band of mares and mares will protect foals…to a degree. Horses always want to be with other horses; it’s the herd instinct and the herd instinct is “protection”, not friendship.)
For horses, respect emanates from fear. The first fear they have is being driven from the herd; not being accepted by the herd. (You’ll find this is very similar to human fears and the development of respect.) The second fear is the fear of pain. In the herd, when a horse misbehaves, he gets a kick or a bite; he quickly learns to respect another’s space and position in the herd. The pain is what behaviorist call a “re-inforcer”, and the horse learns that the behavior immediately before the pain was “not acceptable.”
The same pain discipline is used by horsemen when they want to tell a horse a certain behavior or action is not acceptable. The horse takes an inappropriate action or fails to respond in a certain way and the horse is disciplined.
The pain discipline works and the fear of receiving it creates respect, but not as effectively as “rendering a horse helpless.” If you are dealing with a difficult horse, rendering him helpless immediately effects respect and eventually receptiveness to learning.
An example is the throwing of a horse to the ground—often done by “horse whispers.” Or the tying of a horse’s head to his tail. The horse suffers no pain unless he struggles, and he learns he can eliminate the pain by calm compliance. Other forms of restraint also work…such as tying a horse’s front leg up, or hobbling both hind legs.
When a horse is helpless, he becomes very receptive to learning.
And if you think you can influence a horse by “withholding” his treat or kisses or affection, you really have a lot to learn about horses and why they want to please you. And they do want to please you…they, like humans, seek acceptance and praise from those they respect. But unlike humans, you can’t “withhold”, because horses have no recognition of the concept.
Do all these uncomfortable ideas mean you can’t love and enjoy your horse? Of course, not!
I love and enjoy my horse. I love and enjoy my horse knowing that we don’t have any bond, that “withholding” means nothing, and that I’m going to discipline any bad behavior.
I think she respects that!