Nature Is Cruel, But We Don’t Have To Be

Sometimes people say things like “they kick and bite each other all the time! Nothing I do with my 140 lb body can hurt them.” Or, “I’m using the natural hierarchy by being alpha.” Let’s dissect some of that for a minute.

It’s completely natural for horses to kick and bite each other. It’s completely natural for this to happen when competing over resources, and it’s natural for these resources to be scarce. Nature lets horses starve to death slowly. It lets them get injured and die. Nature makes her share of flowers and she makes her share of toxins.

I once was with a woman in her field when a horse approached her too closely. Before I could even register what happened, she kicked it right in the chin. I asked her why she did that, and she said “I’m letting him know who’s boss!” If we decide to play that game, we have to understand the risk. If a horse kicks another, and the receiver of the kick retaliates, they have the same equipment to engage in that sort of competition. It’s true, that lady in her 110 lb body doesn’t pack nearly as much power as the horse. So, if he had decided to retaliate, she would have been in some big trouble. Training through domination works until it doesn’t – a lot of horses come to my barn because they have realized how strong they are, and how strong people are not.

Aside from the fact that domination in herd hierarchies have largely been debunked (you can read about that here ( ), a small person CAN cause pain to a horse. Look at the equipment we have to create fear, pain, and control. Chains, twitches, whips, bits, flags. Of course not all of these are bad and have to be used to create pain, but most training methods rely on some degree of fear or pain to keep control. So yes, the small old lady absolutely can cause pain, and can create learned helplessness, stress, and fear in her herd.

Lastly, we have big, supposedly superior human brains. We’ve studied horses, we understand their minds, and we can do better. We can train ethically for the same reason we wouldn’t let our horses starve or die of preventable diseases. Horses are extremely forgiving, willing creatures. Regardless of the fact that they can be deadly, they are largely peace seeking animals. They avoid conflict when possible. Horses that create or seek conflict are usually restricted for space, movement, resources, or have human problems. We can and should do better than to rely on fear or pain to work with horses. We have so much information at our fingertips, to not use it is simply not right.

“Nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be.” -Temple Grandin

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