Do Horses Seek Leaders or Rewarding Connections?

November 29, 2017

A recent article published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science suggests that the concept of human leadership equating to the hierarchy in a horse herd, which has become foundational in many training approaches, is unreliable and largely irrelevant. Instead, the researchers found that consistent reinforcement of desired behaviors had a much greater effect on horses’ responses than the application of dominance or leadership types of interventions.  Although the emerging language used in Natural Horsemanship training methods may sound kinder and gentler, the techniques employed still tend to be based on the use of power, domination and control, which ultimately removes the element of choice from the interaction and largely keeps a horse in his brainstem, where he is operating out of a survival, or fear response system.

The Natural Lifemanship approach to building relationships between horses and humans relies on the principles of pressure, or the raising and lowering of a calm, centered body energy, to invite connection as a choice coming from the horse’s neocortex.  The horse always has the option to ignore, resist, or cooperate with the request.  By creating a safe space for all of these responses, the horse learns to experience the positive benefits of being in a connected relationship with a human without fear or coercion.  Releasing pressure when the horse makes the choice to cooperate uses negative reinforcement (the removal of a stimulus) to encourage positive behaviors.   This lines up with what these researchers concluded after sifting through 100 scientific studies on horse behavior, where they found that “horses’ responses to training are more likely a result of reinforcement” rather than of humans taking a leadership role.  The researchers ask, “could horses be assigned a more active role during training or are they merely followers with little autonomy if concepts such as leadership are applied in a training context?” Natural Lifemanship practitioners are all about giving horses an “active role” in developing healthy relationships!

To read the article, “Leaders among horses:  Don’t count on humans being among them” go to https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2017/02/09/leaders-horses-humans/

To learn more about Natural Lifemanship go to www.naturallifemanship.com