The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Dominance Revisited

I've been looking back over old posts. Seems I used to fret over the concept and practice of "dominance" a lot. We've all read about herd hierarchy, alpha horses, speaking a language horses can understand, the horse respects the one who can move its feet, and so forth. The technique of "join-up," I believe is predicated on the practice of asserting one's place as a higher-ranking herd member.  On the one hand, Imke Spilker was leading me away from dominance, and on the other hand, received wisdom, and Klaus, were leading me back towards it, or towards a version of it.

There's been a good bit of water under the bridge since I first started blogging, and somehow I don't worry about dominance any more. For one thing, I met someone (now a friend) who actually spent time at Klaus's estate in Denmark, and she assured me that - no - we don't have to be Klaus. Au contraire. We have to be ourselves. For another thing, I've tried at least to take Imke's advice to allow the horse to be my teacher, and the horse doesn't seem to be super-impressed by any displays of dominance I can muster. And I'll admit it does take a bit of mustering on my part. 

I'm not much of a leader, or a boss. But on the other hand I'm definitely not a doormat. And somewhere in learning that about myself, I discovered that the horse doesn't need me to be a Klaus, or a fake horse, or a herd leader, or anything at all except myself.

I believe horses understand very well that human beings are not the same thing as a horse. That we have our own way of doing things. That we cannot be herded and dominated, but at the same time, we can be trusted to suggest things that are worth listening to for their own sake. Not because the safety of the herd is at stake, not because the food supply is being safeguarded, not because the strongest is the best one to breed the mare - we act for our own reasons that have nothing to do with hierarchy. Reasons that the horse is happy to consider. We think the horse is purely pragmatic and that we must talk to it in a mechanistic language of survival, but the horse is idealistic and delights in a world beyond that of daily necessity.

I think of George and Bridget, who jockey for position in their little herd, George always vigilant that Bridget shouldn't topple him from his position as first-in-line-for-good-things. When they were turned loose together the other day in the round pen, the place where non-survival values predominate, they beat their swords into ploughshares and stood together quietly and amicably for the very first time.

Not being dominant doesn't mean being dominated. A lesson that the whole world needs to learn. I think more and more of us are catching on - it's the zeitgeist. There's a good book by Mark Rashid called Horses Never Lie: The Heart of Passive Leadership which talks about the way a non-dominant horse can win the respect and cooperation of a dominant one. And I just finished a book called It's for the Horses by Dutch Henry, a book which made me happy, as it's the first time I've read a book by a man which goes as far as I would hope in its advocacy for non-coercive human/horse relationships.

In the horse world, respect is often thought to be the flip side of dominance - the one dominated respects the one who dominates. Why would horses be so different from us? I certainly don't respect a person who tries to dominate me, but rather the person who is polite, considerate, and respectFUL. Someone like George in fact.

And for this episode's pictographic content, here is Bridget on the trail with me on board, following our little buddy on his trusty steed:

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