“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the ways its animals are treated.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
When I was learning to ride horseback in the 1930’s and 40’s, the basic principles we were taught were things like, “Don’t be a passenger, be the boss;” “Don’t let him get away with that!” “Horses are stupid;” and, “You have to fall off three times before you can call yourself a good rider.”
All of which are based on a confrontational relationship, with the horse as rebellious, stupid slave, and the human as the necessarily aggressive master.
Since then, the approach to handling and riding horses has been gradually undergoing a change. The Dorrances, Tom and Bill, were among the very earliest proponents of a more horse-centered approach, teaching that you should listen to what the horse is telling you, and help him to understand you as you work to understand him. The ‘Horse Whisperer’ opened up this concept to the general public.
I myself began working in this direction in the 1970’s, when I accidentally discovered that it was much more effective, and benefited not only the horse, but the rider and the instructor as well. Gradually, through Centered Riding and the American Riding Instructors Association, I met instructors who were moving in the same direction and connected me with other sources.
When I published my first book, ‘What Your Horse Wants You to Know’, in 2003, only about half a dozen well-known trainers were teaching this way. As an appendix to my newest book, ‘The Gentle Art of Horseback Riding’ (out this spring), I asked my e-group for suggestions of clinicians and authors who followed this philosophy. They came up with 35 major websites! If you multiply that by the number of followers each of these clinicians and authors must have to be successful, it becomes apparent that a large portion of the horse industry is following this line of thought.
So what? Who cares what the horse industry is doing? It’s a tiny little group statistically. But look at it in a different way. All these people have gone from an aggressive, bullying way of working with the horse to a collaborative, cooperative approach. Why? Because it works better! It’s safer for everyone, the horse learns faster, everybody makes fewer mistakes, and everybody has a lot more fun in the process.
Is it too much to hope that some, if not most of these people will start applying the same principles to other humans as well? It’s interesting to note that the biographies of the Dorrances emphasize what gentle, kindly men they were. And this from a society—cowboys of the old west—that has a reputation, deserved or not, of being aggressive and settling their arguments with a six-shooter!
If they can change, and with modern communication their methods can slowly change an industry, how much farther can it go? There are people all over the world using a positive approach to deal with all kinds of animals, and inevitably with people as well. Who knows, perhaps in time the world itself can change!
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
~ Margaret Mead