Thanks for being so patient while I have been away – I have been busy thinking about the questions you sent me before the holidays, and taking care of family commitments — and am ready to hit the blogging trail again!
Here is one question that caught my attention:
“I have been told that I need to be the dominant one in the horse-human relationship – but it doesn’t feel right – what are your thoughts?”
I am sure I can come up with a really long article on dominance and so on – some of you may recall my earlier posts about how to be a leader without being confrontational, so you can probably guess the direction my thoughts are going in…
An interesting thing is to ask ourselves about the difference between leadership – and dominance.
To me, a leader is someone I CHOOSE to follow – a dominant person is someone I HAVE to follow….
Some time ago I read a lot of Mark Rashid’s books – they are great for anyone who likes horse stories – and in one he explores the difference between an “alpha” horse who bosses everyone around – ie is dominant – and the Passive leader – the horse the others choose to follow because they have good ideas, not because they are aggressive…..
The reason I chose this particular photo for this question is it shows three horses happily sharing hay – even though there is a hierarchy, these horses work and live together harmoniously most of the time….
In humans, dominant behaviour is usually displayed when people are worried, insecure about their position, or frightened. We often recognise this – and when we see someone posturing and appearing dominant and aggressive, we find it easy to say “ah, they are insecure”. With people who display dominance, it is often the somewhat counterintuitive response of reinforcing their power, boosting their self esteem that gets them to a place where they can feel secure, relax and be themselves.
In humans, the desire for dominance over the horse also comes from fear: if we don’t feel in control, if we are scared, don’t feel safe – then we feel the need to dominate, overpower and overwhelm the horse so WE feel safe.
And the most likely response of the horse? Well some horses will just sigh, and get on with things, accepting their lot in life. Others, the ones I get to see, will see the over assertiveness and feel they have to protect themselves, they become defensive – start appearing dominant themselves as the strike out first to keep themselves safe and secure from the attempted dominance – and a vicious spiral begins.
Many of the horses I am asked to see to help with “dominance” and “aggression” issues – are, in fact, just like the dominant, aggressive people: fundamentally insecure and worried.
Building a relationship with them where they don’t NEED to act that way turns out to be the key to changing their behaviour. The key to them seeing us as leaders worthy of following, and so whether we are dominant becomes meaningless. It’s whether we are someone our horse sees as intelligent, and worthy of following that is the main thing.
When we are with our horses, almost all our desire for dominance comes from fear. Frustration comes from a lack of control – and if we are not “in control” most of us feel unsafe, and so are tempted to act in a dominant way to make ourselves feel safe again.
If we feel safe, then we can feel confident – we don’t NEED to be dominant when the horse chooses not to do what we think we are asking them to do. When we feel safe and confident, we can laugh instead of being upset, we can smile and wonder how we can ask the question in a different way….
We start thinking about how we can set ourselves up for success, and make every interaction a positive one for our horse AND ourselves.
And we start having fun with our horses again.
When our horses have confidence in themselves, and in us; when we have confidence in our horses – and ourselves – well then the whole issue of dominance falls away, it’s not necessary anymore – dominance is, in fact, irrelevant.
I am not sure if this answers the question – but these are my thoughts….
What do you all think?
Yours, in confidence