• VOLUME 53 • © HORSES For LIFE™ Magazine
Preview from the upcoming book
Of Life and Horses - Cooperation through Communication
Ann Nyberg Bradley
Of Life and Horses: The Nature of the Horse
Dominance & Submission
Or A Gauge for Success
As humans with egos, we are in love with the concept of superiority and/or dominance over others. It reinforces our sense of self in what we perceive to be an empowering manner. We like to be in control of everyone and everything – including our children, pets, and horses. The issue of dominance and its flip side, submission, is important in dealing with horses because they are large and pose a bigger potential threat than our small animals, but sometimes we address dominance over a horse in a counter-productive manner.
We think of dominance in human terms, humans being predatory in nature.
In that sense, we think of dominance as our ability to restrain or control the flight of a horse, but horses view dominance in the opposite way to us.
What we perceive as our dominance and the horse’s submission, to the horse’s way of thinking is actually the prey giving up in the clutches of the predator.
To avoid the predator/prey conflict, the way we obtain authority and establish our dominance in our interactions with horses is worth thoughtful consideration.
While horses can be very rough with one another if need be - for example, we’ve all seen a horse turn around and kick another horse with both hind feet to make him move - that doesn’t mean we should use similar tactics.
I differentiate between command and demand. The difference may be one of semantics, but I believe the feeling behind the difference is important. Command, to me, means I fully expect something, though it’s not an absolute in the moment. It’s the sense that I know ultimately I will prevail, but it may or may not occur this moment, or even today.
I think of command as coming from an inner conviction.
Demand means insistence by any means, and it means NOW. I like the saying ‘Speak softly but carry a big stick’. The big stick is one’s underlying intentions and expectations - those need to be rock solid. Then we can use smaller, quieter physical actions in our interaction. In that sense, I think of command as coming from the inside, and demand referring to bigger physical actions, or existing on the outside. We are less likely to trigger resistance or opposition in our horses if we command vs. demand.
Horses are designed to live in a hierarchical society and submission is a necessary ingredient. The question is in how it is obtained. Submission is an internal state of being.
A horse is submissive to a human because he thinks he is.
Does he think that because his dominant behaviors are punished? or because he has been brought to that state of being through a more subtle approach?
For example: Dominance to a horse is about who moves whose feet, and you can move a horse’s feet in a very subtle manner and still get the point across. I see owners grooming their horses, and the horse swings his rear end around and the owner moves out of the way. They do little things like that 15 times before they get to the mounting block and then wonder why their horse is not submissive when they ride him. The reason is because they showed him 15 times from the stall to the mounting block that he was dominant over them. Every time the horse moved into the human’s space, and the human stepped away, the horse’s dominance was reinforced.