Teaching with Empathy

Horses can’t speak or cry out in pain, so they get abused daily. How do you know if something is abusive? Would you be ok with the same method being used on a child; or on yourself? If no, then it’s very likely abuse. And much horse abuse is commonly accepted.

So often I hear people make excuses for their training methods by saying “it can’t possibly hurt him, he’s 1200 lbs!” “I didn’t hit him, he ran into the whip.” “He needs to learn respect.”

I haven’t hit anyone in my years of teaching, and I’ve had many students who were blatantly disrespecting their horses change their behavior with better understanding. I’m not advocating against setting boundaries with a horse and staying safe. There are times where corrections are necessary, but I find the more I learn how better preparation and better timing can eliminate the majority of corrections I used to think were necessary.

I’ve yet to hit, whip, or yank on a student of mine, and I’m having a hard time understanding how that would help them be in a frame of mind to learn. I’ve never tied a student into a position while teaching them better posture. I haven’t taken out more severe tools when they weren’t listening and I can’t imagine the public being ok with me doing any of these things that we so regularly do to horses. So why do we accept it in training?

We go through great lengths to keep them comfortable- fluffy pads, blankets, fly spray, brushing boots. We know they are bothered by the discomfort of something as small as a fly, and then plow into their mouths with dead equipment like side reins, or spur relentlessly as if they have no sensitivity. Horses can and do feel pain, even though they are large, and we are small.

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