15 June 2010

Sympathy and your horse or pony's behaviour

I so often hear horrific stories about a horse and its past mistreatment and it's good that a new owner can tell me the history of a horse, as I need as much information as possible in order to devise a re-training programme. However, the most important information I inevitably get from the new owner is that because of the horses history, he/she has been treating the horse with extra kindness and sympathy.

This is very admirable BUT in most cases can inadvertently create behavioural issues.

Horses need EMPATHY far more than they need SYMPATHY.

Oxford Dictionary
Empathy = identifying yourself mentally with another person and understanding him or her.
Sympathy = a feeling of pity or tenderness towards someone who is hurt, sad or in trouble.

By understanding your horse and how he/she would behave within a herd we can help them overcome their past in a far better way than we can by going softly softly. In nature, softness equals weakness and your horse or pony will probably feel the need to take charge. As I'm sure we all know, when a horse or pony takes charge and behaves like our leader all sorts of issues arise (some quite painfully).

In human life isn't it much better to work for a boss who is confident, firm but fair with a smidgen of consideration? It's the same for your horse, watch a few herds and you'll see that NO herd leader is weak and watery. Some might bully their way to the top but the rest of the herd goes along with it begrudgingly, whereas a happy herd will be led by a horse that is confident, firm but fair.

Lets assume a horse has in the past had a beating with a broom (it happens). A sympathetic owner would 'make allowances' if the horse shied whenever he/she saw a broom. An empathetic owner would show understanding by carefully and gradually teaching the horse that a broom is no longer something to fear. Which approach do you think is better for the horse?

No comments: