You may remember my friend the natural horsemanship trainer from this post. For this friend of mine, the equality between man and horse is paramount. It’s no surprise that one of her favorite quotes is from Don Vincenzo Giobbe, c. 1700:
…and I whispered to the horse, “Trust no man in whose eye you do not see yourself reflected as an equal.”
In the politics of horsemanship, that’s democracy at its purest.
One might think that all natural horsemanship trainers, at least those known for their kindness, gentleness, respect and trust-based techniques, would see the relationship between themselves and the horse in the same light.
And yes, I know that the phrase “natural horsemanship” holds as much meaning as “natural flavoring” — the chemical concoction remotely derived from something natural, but still made artificially. Nevertheless, it’s generally acknowledged that Buck Brannaman is the real deal.
Interestingly enough, at the clinic I attended earlier this month, Buck framed his relationship with his horses in a very different political context than the one belonging to my friend the natural horsemanship trainer. He said,
“Politically, the relationship between me and my horse is a dictatorship. On a good day, it’s an enlightened monarchy. It’s never a democracy.”
I had to chuckle when I heard that, since I grew up in a household where my parents told us we were privileged to live in what they called a “benevolent monarchy.”
I’ve been out of my parents’ house for quite a long while now, and one of the benefits of aging is that we get to map how our perspectives change over time (and sometimes, change back). My political viewpoint has changed, in terms of horses (and government, but I’m not going to get into that).
For a long time, I wanted my relationship with horses to be based on equality. But my equality was modeled on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where “some animals are more equal than others.” The 50:50 relationship I wanted with my horses was 51:49, in my favor.
I wasn’t conscious of my perspective shifting until I heard Buck talking about his own outlook at the clinic. I realized that I agree with him, as politically incorrect as he sounds (especially, I’m sure, to some of his most ardent fans).
I want the horse on my side (and I’m on the horse’s side) as I always have, but I no longer think we have to be equals to do that. Perhaps it’s because, after all these years of being humbled by horses, I finally have more to teach at least most horses than they have to teach me, though there are still some ready to show me where I’m ignorant or deficient.
I say that readily, since it doesn’t bother me at all. I know that what one horse teaches me, many horses will benefit from. So discovering my weaknesses has an upside, and I don’t take it personally, even if it is personal. My ego was kicked out of the barn a long time ago. It required multiple eviction notices. But I’m glad it’s gone. Because it gums up the works with horses.
I see myself as a leader and a teacher, but in my heart I am a best friend and one that’s open to the lessons horses still have to teach me. It’s up to me alone to hold myself to that standard every time I’m with a horse, but I don’t expect my horses to live according to the same standards. I know I have to earn their trust and the right to be their leader.
And that sounds more like a democratic election than anything else.
So, like everything with horses, it’s not so simple after all.
Where do you fall — or perhaps a better word would be “fit” — in horsemanship’s political spectrum?