Understanding the Reprimand in Training of Horses

(& the Term "Desensitizing Horses)

Similarly like the term "Desensitizing a Horse", the word reprimand in responding to horses is also fairly inaccurate and inappropriate. Though I use the word reprimand in some of my publications, I am using it more or less so the less aware person gets some understanding. For the same reason I have found it necessary to publish this article to prevent the common misunderstandings that may be caused when using these terms.

It would be fair to start with the fact that as much as there are no rewards in nature there is also no punishment, which is what the word "reprimand" may suggest to the greenhorn. In nature there are simply no things like "right" or "wrong", hence no judgment, and so no rewards or reprimand, or as some people often and unfortunately see the latter as punishment. Because many people have this misunderstanding they tend to "punish" the horse for something the animal did or did not do, which of course and unfortunately contributes to the unnecessary abuse of horses.

When it comes to training of animals, in this case horses, we are dealing with things like what is acceptable and what not, or what is approved of and what not. And so, we have the two main terms that should help in understanding when dealing with, and training, animals, which are acceptance and approval contrasted in the opposite in the words refusal and disapproval. Though these may seem to appear as the same there are fairly different in the awareness of horses.

When it comes to the word approval it is purely up to the horse what it approves of and what not, as opposed to the acceptance, which does not rest solely up to the horse but also very much on the person that wants the horse to accept something. It would be also helpful to clarify the word "acceptance" as "coming to terms" with something. It is here where we exploit the instinct of self-preservation in animals to have them do what we want from them, since the nature of life is about adapting to the environment in order to preserve itself.

To put things into more simplified perspective one could say that a horse does not approve of being ridden, and so we manipulate the animal's environment and its perception of it, as well as its instincts, while pursuing our agenda in actions so long until the horse accepts it. It is for this reason that we are speaking of "accepting" the riding aids, because without the horse coming to terms with the rider on top and the riding aids, the horse simply cannot be ridden, or in the least cannot respond to the riding aids as we would wish.

This brings me to the absurd terminology of "desensitizing a horse", which is something that some woman more likely came up with, and belongs to the younger generations of amateurs and greenhorns, who instead of acquiring knowledge invent total nonsense to which this term testifies. The absurdity of this term totally contradicts the term "responsiveness" of the horse to the rider. This was invented more likely by people that sat on a horse that may have been ridden for some time but did not accept the particular riding aid, like the leg aid, and when touched by the rider's leg the horse responded by bucking or running off. Now the pea brain came to conclusion that this animal was too "sensitive" to the leg aid and came up with the term desensitizing. Of course if you "desensitize" the horse regarding to some riding aid such horse will not be responsive, and so such idiots often end up using spurs, and if the horse does not accept the leg aid, well, they just sell the animal, often warning the buyer that the horse is very sensitive to legs, or some just say nothing.

Another nonsense invented more likely again by the new generation of women around horses is the "respect of space", which is absurd, because horses are not territorial, not to mention that their awareness of space is fairly limited, if it could be called that. And so when you hear someone saying things like, "the horse must respect my space", or "the horse has no respect for my space", he is simply talking out of his or her ass. It is never about some respect for place around horses, but rather it is about the respect for one another, which is often accompanied with approval or at least acceptance. If the horse pushes you over, or bumps you, it either did not see you or the animal simply has no respect for you. If it had to do with some respect of space then it could be said that the horse had no respect for the stall door that the animal hit when walking through it. And so it is not about the space but about respect, which is easily seen, by any perceptive horseman, in the mutual responses between the horse and the person.

You cannot make the horse approve of you, because the approval has to do with liking, but you can in time lead or train the horse to accept and come to terms with most of what you want if not beyond the bearing of the animal.

The word reprimand in the training of horses has to do more with disapproval on the part of the handler, rather than with punishment. Any person that punishes horses in one way or the other is nothing more than a crude person understanding nothing about the nature and the animals within, and I pity any animal that must live in the presence and care of such human being.

The disapproval can be expressed in many ways, and not necessarily with violence, though without the latter one will hardly achieve his goal, though they are silly fools "animal lovers" that preach otherwise. In nature violence rules, and if one has no stomach for it he or she will be perceived as weak and most animals are aware of it. In other words, we do not demonstrate our strength through violence, but rather through the willingness of it, which is found in one's heart in courage, constancy and endurance, of which most animals are aware almost instantly.

The most important aspect in training of animals like dogs and horses is in the speed of response, rather than in the strength of it. Hence it is the speed that gains you respect by the animal and not a brute strength, the latter they may fear, but in that one will hardly find the approval of the animal. And so we have the two main factors in training of horses, which are the responses of approval and disapproval and the speed in which they are executed.

When I was young I found the riding of horses exciting, often with pleasant and sometime unpleasant experiences. As the time went on I kept learning more and more, and that not because I wanted to, but rather out of necessity, since I've made my living for over 35 years by riding horses, and that not only in different countries but also in different parts of the equine industry.
As I was riding I have become more and more aware of my erring ways, as well as the burden that I have imposed on horses, and so at the end of those 35 years I have totally lost interest in riding horses, though I still find it to be the easier way to make a living than in shoeing horses, since the riding of horses is easier on the rider than on the horse, as opposed to shoeing that is much harder on the farrier than on the horse.
To shoe horses was not my choice, but rather the will of God, who took me off the top of the horse and put me literally under the animal to toil in its shit for almost 20 years. It is here where I have learned the most about the relations between human beings and nature, specifically horses. This also led to creating of my websites and publications, for if I would have kept riding for living, I would have never written any articles.
The fact that I had to raise 5 children caused me to give up riding, since the money in shoeing is not only better, but also the income is more steady and reliable, and most of all deserved, which at the end of the day of hard work lets one rest with clean conscience, as oppose to riding where it was hard to come by, the clean conscience.

The horse does not aprove of this anymore than I do, but we both have accepted it and came to terms with the burdens of our lives.
Such is life.
Be careful of what you are enjoying when working with horses, for misery and joy are on the opposites of the spectrum of life, and there is no harmony between these two. It is in the struggles of life, and not in pleasures, that horsemen and horses find the common place to relate, which in return gives both mutual contentment with one another.

As mentioned above, the disapproval responses by the handler or trainer can be expressed in many ways. Sometimes in just voice, light touch or slight motion, or in more advanced stage of association only in the "heart", or attitude if you will. And so the "reprimand", or disapproval, can be so refined that no one is aware but the horse, and of course the silly people came up with the absurd term "horse whisperer" when they saw a man dealing with horses in such way. And of course in the extremes one has to resort to some sort of violence, especially when it comes to the attitude of the horse. One must however first and for most become aware of the cause for the refusal by the horse or the cause for his lack of cooperation in his attitude, as in most cases horses have legitimate cause to refuse and not cooperate. In simple and more brutal words, the secret to training of horses is to know when to hit the horse if necessary and when not. I am emphasizing the word "know", because mistakes in this field are often irreparable in relating to one another, as there are no apologies in nature, let alone undoing what we have done. On the same note horses pretty much resent indecisive people, something to keep in mind, and when you find yourself thinking, it is who you are when with the horse, indecisive and irresponsive. You get no respect for that anywhere and with anything alive.

If you are afraid to make a mistake, you are a coward and the horse will see it. If you make a mistake the horse may or may not get past that, or you may fix it or not, and so one is wise to listen to horsemen in what not to do, lest he makes irreparable mistakes.

In conclusion I would like to point out that most actions of reprimand, or better said our disapproval, are preceded with some type of warning, or better said lower level of disapproval, except for direct aggression of the animal. It is similar as when horses pin their ears, which basically is their lower level of disapproval, or warning if you will, and if not respected they can respond violently. In such instances any decent horseman is aware of the attitude behind such behavior and he either approves of it or not, and then responds SUITABLY! The words "suitable" and "speedy" are the keywords in relating to, and in training of horses, as everything is about the "suitable, timely and speedy" response. And so the reprimand, or disapproval response, must come within a certain time table, (about one fifth of a second), fast enough and in sufficient strength. In other words, a horse did something I disapproved of, I responded and was back doing what I was doing and the horse remained calm, all transpired within the time you could say "one Mississippi", meaning that one second is way too slow for the response alone.

If you fear violence or do not have the stomach for it, stay away from nature, because there is no mercy and everything lives with the consequences of their actions, and where violence rules. Just like any horse is ready to deliver a violent response, so must be the horseman, which is found in the hearts of both, the man and the horse, and it is through the heart, not threats or intimidation, that MEN relate to nature and the animals within, and it is by the heart they are either accepted or rejected, approved of or disapproved, respected or not. What is in your heart?

Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek    March 26 2012