Through the years I have been inspired by many horse people, some well known and some just “average” people. My desire to be a better horse person has also been inspired by a young person who wasn’t involved in horses at all. She lived life with many health challenges but did so with an uncommon joy and positive outlook. Her motto in life was “Kindness Matters”. She showed me that the essence of all things good (like happiness, peace and laughter) came not with WHAT we do but HOW we do things. Through kindness in her day to day actions she brought a vibrancy that motivated others.
Remembering that motto when I work with my horses is like a key that opens doors in building a partnership with them. I have on occasion seen people interact with my horses who are impatient,frustrated and punitive in their responses to undesirable behavior by the horse. It seems to me that those undesirable behaviors only increased in frequency and intensity as a result. I have also seen other people interact with my horses who can set clear boundaries or expectations of behavior but with patience, tolerance and encouragement which then snowballs into more and more desirable responses and positive motivation by the horse. Acting with kindness seems to be an investment in future behaviour.
In his book, “David and Goliath”, Malcolm Gladwell explores the relationship between those in a position of power and those without. Although he is examining human relationships in a political sense, the analogy to the horse human relationship is an easy parallel to draw. In 1970 , Leites and Wolf published the paper “Rebellion and Authority: An Analytical Essay on Insurgent Conflicts”. It basically outlines that those in power don’t have to worry about how the powerless feel about their enforcement as long as the enforcement is severe enough to make the powerless reconsider any further acts of defiance. This belief system explain why some humans feel that punitive measures are useful in horsemanship. I’ve heard the remark after a horse receives a physical punishment for an undesired behavior, “well, he won’t try that again!” History in human conflict proved that this viewpoint had flaws and limitations, just as most horse people will relate a story of a horse that simply will not respond to punitive measures. A new “Principal of Legitimacy” has emerged to promote peace in conflict. Gladwell summarizes this as,”When those in power want obedience from those without, it matters primarily how the powerful choose to behave. Peacefulness exists when those asked to obey feel that they have a voice, the authority must be predictable and the authority must be fair.”. I have found that allowing my horses to explore their options in response to requests, to be consistent in my expectations of their behaviors and to be fair in my attempts to teach them results in a far more peaceful relationship.
Simply, even in horsemanship, Kindness Matters.
One of my favourite horsemanship authors is Mark Rashid, who has also made the connection that Kindness Matters. “it is my belief that becoming aware of how we participate in the world on a daily basis and how we perform our everyday, mundane (and or not so mundane) throughout the day all add to our ability or inability to ultimately develop the kind of awareness and sensitivity it takes to be really good at working with horses….it doesn’t begin with working with our horse. It begins by doing all those everyday things with as much feel and awareness as we possibly can, and then bringing that awareness to our horse.”. I feel the awareness and sensitivity Mark talks about are found within kindness.
I think my friend discovered at a very young age that infusing kindness in how she went about her day to day actions was more important than simply getting them done and embraced it on such a deep level. She has inspired me to find a deeper understanding of it in life and with my horses. She recently lost her battle with her health challenges, but she has inspired many to carry on with her motto “Kindness Matters” and I humbly ask you also to consider how it may apply to you and your horsemanship.