Since working with a young horse the last few days who is head shy, the horse squeezes his eyes and shies away when I try to halter him, rub his face, or scratch between his ears. I’ve been thinking about how many horse people are out there still hitting and slapping horses as a form of discipline.
Or what I would prefer to say, out of a form of frustration.
I can’t see any good coming out of slapping or hitting a horse. I have tapped horses on the butt to move away. I have never had to resort to hitting or slapping a horse around the head or face. I don’t consider myself a horse expert, but I do care deeply for horses. I’ve had several horses of my own and I work with horses almost everyday in my pet sitting business.
I work with horses everyday that I have not had a chance to establish a deep bond with yet. I have to halter them, feed them, grain them, apply medications, put on and take off fly masks and blankets, turn-out, lunge, and work around them.
I have never had to resort to hitting, slapping or any type of violence, ever.
I could see myself reacting in a split second by hitting back out of shock, pain, or fear if a horse tried to bite or kick me. I don’t remember ever having to go there, though.
So far, there have been warning signs way ahead of time and I’ve been able to leave the space to give the horse and me a break so that I could take a moment to figure out a different approach.
This morning I searched online about using hitting and slapping as a disciplinary measure with horses and I was extremely disappointed to find that this is still a very accepted practice. There must be other ways of communicating and working with horses without using any type of violence.
In the ten year span, I kept Reanna, my Holsteiner mare who passed away a couple of months ago, I never hit her once. She was a big girl. She was a bossy girl. She was impressive and intimidating size wise and still I never resorted to violence to deal with her. I remember one day a woman came out to visit us at my farm. Reanna pushed her in the chest and the woman slapped her across the face. I was shocked. I said “Reanna has never been hit before”. When Reanna did that to me. I walked away. She didn’t like not having attention and being ignored. As soon as she connected that I would not participate, play with her, groom her, and be affectionate with her if she was rough, she stopped this behavior.
I think our visitor reacted by slapping Reanna without thinking it through. I didn’t get upset with her, but Reanna did. I gave her the benefit of the doubt, that maybe she reacted out of surprise or shock.
Within minutes of the incident, I took our visitor on a tour of the pastures. Reanna was turned-out after the initial meeting in the area we were walking. Out of the corner, of my eye, I could see Reanna staring down the woman, pulling herself back, getting ready for a full speed gallop towards the lady. Before Reanna’s full on attack, I calmly looked over at the woman and told her it was time for us to leave the pasture. We left the area. I closed the gate behind us before Reanna got around the corner. The woman didn’t see what was about to happen. She left in one piece, thank god.
Reanna had not forgotten our visitor’s offense. She was like an elephant that way.
This morning I’ve been really sitting with this.
I think it’s really up to us as animal people, horse people to find non-violent ways of communicating with our horses. I think patience really is a virtue here. I understand horse trainers and many horse people are on tight time-frames. They need results. And sometimes they need them quick. A horse has to perform. A horse has to behave. A horse cannot be dangerous.
I’m just asking to take a step back. Take some more time. Try to figure out a different approach. Study non-violent training methods. Use your intuition. Listen to your horses.
There has got to be a way to be with horses without hitting or slapping them.
I know there is. Reanna taught me that.