Science, horsemanship, eponta.tv - important questions and one answer!

Do you know Epona.tv?
They wrote an article dismissing the join-up as it is taught by Monty Roberts in a pretty poignant way and got a sharp commentary on it. Which lead to another article and a discussion about horsemanship and science in general
While I don‘t like the author‘s tone (sarcastic, ironic and omniscient), I think its topic is well worth the discussion: Are horsemanship methods valid that rely on the assumption that herds of horses are hierachically structured? Meaning that us humans can try to become the horse‘s leader as he is a natural follower? Or is it just plain nonsense as dominance and leadership are not natural to horses at all - and we only interpret the ressource driven behavior of our domestic herds (who gets to eat first) as dominance?


Who is the leader? Is there a leader at all? Photo: Nadja

Well, I‘ve challenged the idea of hierarchy and dominance, I‘ve read blogs and articles and discussions, and I guess I‘ve heard the major arguments. 
But I still stay convinced hierachy exists in a herd of horses. Not only because I‘ve seen behavior I‘d interpret as directing and dominant: a horse chasing another without gaining anything apart from space, a horse guarding a newby and slowly integrating him into the herd by controlling the movements of the others. But also because if there was no structure, there‘d be chaos. Maybe I think in human terms, but I cannot think of any other form than hierarchy when it comes to the internal structure of a herd. I don‘t believe that just everything falls smoothly into place, meaning every horse automatically has the position that fits the best. I believe that challenge, fight and anger are as part of the horseworld as peace, friendship and social instinct
One comment of the Epona blog post „Round and Round we go" I found particularly interesting. Viktória Kóňová does not share my opinion and interprets the role of the so called „lead mare“ like this: 

„The mare's role in the herd might be based on something entirely different than the dominance and leadership. It just might be her role - to look after the herd. Some other horse might be good at finding minerals. Yet other in driving the predators off... Horse herds have indeed very complex dynamics and describing it in simple terms of "alpha", "beta" and "omega" would be a huge simplification.“

That somehow stroke a chord with me. I guess, I'll have to ponder it for a while.

And while I find it still helpful, no necessary to adapt certain horse practices and behaviors to help them understand what we mean (like control our personal space and the horse‘s feet), another comment in the discussion draw my attention to the most important link in the relationship of horse and human: trust. Ana Maçanita expressed it beautifully

There is only one thing I have found that makes horses follow you no matter what: it is TRUST, same as with humans. And the only way to gain 100% trust is by acting like you deserve it. You never corner a horse, you never put him in harms way, you never panic, you always try to protect him and help and you keep your cool in "bitchy" situations. THAT is what will stick them to you! their first priority is always survival, and if they believe they are safer with you than anyone else or alone, then they'll stick by you. Not love, not food, not cuddling, but trust.“


For me, though I think I have established quite a clear communication with my project horse, after reading this, I feel guilty of not being a 100-percent reliable human. There are situations where I do not live up to my horse's needs - because I am scared too, I am unaware or distracted. 
So the future lesson for me: Don't focus too much on methods and techniques. They are good to establish communication. But become trustworthy. Than you have something you can actually communicate to the horse.

I‘d be happy to know what you think of this. Do the quotes have a similar impact on your thoughts than on mine? 

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