Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Horse/Human relationship chart

Sunny has taken to more extreme measures to let me know he wants to go for a walk. Since I've been down with an aching back I haven't been able to take him out on our regular adventures. He's always been quite good at getting his intentions known but today he must have thought that I needed something more clear. He sat down next to me and put first one paw and then the other on the arm I had folded across my knees and then gave me the most pitiful "I NEED A WALK" face you've ever seen.

I know, I know too...

Mark Mottershead and I have been working on defining the different levels of how people relate with horses. What follows is a very rough draft but I thought it'd be nice to get feedback about what other people think of the specifics of this chart and the general value of having a chart like this. Most people will not fit solely in one category or another, but I think it's an interesting place to start creating a model. Oh, and for the record, now Alexander Nevzorov rides no longer than 5 minutes at a time.

No restraint* at any stage in training
Minimal (if any) riding (5 minutes maximum)
No use of pain or force


Short periods of riding (up to 20 minutes up to 2 times/week)
No bits
No spurs
Uses a combination of liberty and restraint*-based on-line (with a halter) training
Minimal use of pain or force (hitting, whipping, jerking a restrained horse)
No competition


Regular riding (typically over 20 minutes, more than 2-5 times/week)
May use bits
May use spurs
Most likely will spend more time using restraint*-based training than liberty training
May compete occasionally, but it is not the main focus of their relationship with a horse
May trailride


Regular riding (typically over 20 minutes, more than 3 times/week)
No aversion to using bits
No aversion to using spurs
Will likely rely on "gadgets" such as specialty bits, spurs, martingales, sidereins, etc. to achieve results
Will often use more restraint*-based training than liberty training
Likely to rely on pain or force (hitting, whipping, jerking a restrained horse) for results
Competition based training, result oriented

*Restraint: any form of restricting the horse's movement which is potentially painful, including halters, bridles, neckropes used higher than the lower half of the neck.
Neckropes used gently on the lower half of the horse's neck and not tied to inanimate objects are not considered restraint.
As a separate topic, I'd like to write a little about the difference between rope halters and webbed/flat nylon or leather halters. Rope halters made it big in the 90s when they started being marketed as standard equipment for "natural horsemanship" training. Let's look behind the marketing hype and see what they actually do from a horse's perspective.

First off, the main characteristic is that they are made of a thin rope or cord, typically about 1/4" thick, doubled in some places such as over the poll and nose. The halter is held together by knots and some designs have additional knots in the nosebone area.
Flat nylon and leather halters are typically constructed of 1" wide material without significant knots or bumps against the horse's face.
From here on out, it's simple physics. Smaller surface area = Greater force.

Sure, it may look like your horse prefers the light rope halter, but the moment it comes into action, whether by a human's pull, or the horse's pull when tied or he steps on the rope, the amount of force will be greatly multiplied. Maybe someone can help me out with the actual numbers, but let's think about the amount of force on the extremely sensitive poll area when two rounded 1/4" ropes dig in versus one 1" flat piece of leather or nylon. This isn't even taking into account the effect of the knots on certain delicate pressure points on a horses nasal bone.

It's no wonder horses seem to behave better in these halters, they are being subjected to significantly more pain. This is the same principle that makes stud chains effective. Their small size and bumpy profile guarantee that there is a smaller surface area and therefore the human can create greater pain with less force. In short, rope halters are a quick-fix substitute for a real relationship with your horse.

When I was looking at halters on Ebay I came across this classic description:
The rope is 1/4 " Thick, it's thick enough not to hurt your horse, but very durable and keeps them from leaning on it.
Well, why do you think the horse doesn't lean on it? Because it hurts!

Ok, now I'm really rolling. I used to be a "bit expert". I even produced a video called "Understanding Bits" and taught bitting clinics and wrote articles about bits. I'm going to indulge myself for a few moments and get this out of my system.

Here are two descriptions of bits currently for sale that make me cringe when I realize who must be reading and believing them. These are not relics from our ancient past, they are currently in production and use today:
...The small chain mouth conforms well to the bars and tongue making it comfortable for your horse to pack. This bit has light control and is excellent for training or relaxed pleasure riding...

Or how about this one...
...Distributes even pressure on nose, corners of mouth, bars, curb and poll. Excellent bit for a horse that needs a little more control in the turns.
The amount of misleading information about bits is mirrored throughout the other pieces of equipment that are typically found in any tackroom. But I'll stop myself here and get on to the day.

My dad called this morning. I felt like Julie from the movie Julie/Julia. He had read on my blog that I wasn't feeling well and had a painful back. It must be a sign of the times when your parents know about you more quickly from your blog than in real life! I'm not sure that that's a good thing. He was the first to correctly identify the mystery plant though. Goes to show that this acorn didn't fall far from the tree.

Speaking of the mystery plant, I haven't been down to photograph it recently, maybe...back willing...I'll take Sunny for a little stroll down there tomorrow.

In the meantime, here are the redbuds...

And the beautiful smooth, red wood of the manzanita...

And the first leaves on the persimmon tree...

So, what I'd like from you readers is comments or questions about the levels of horse/human relationship chart and of course, anything else you'd like to add to the discussion.


  1. I dunno. Seems like putting people in a box.

  2. Look at it this way. I nursed my kids until they were 3 or 4 years old. I never sent them to school - never really even made them do schoolwork at home if they didn't want to. We all slept in one big bed. I let them dress themselves every day in whatever mismatched weird outfits they felt like - to the point where they now look at photos of themselves back in the day and say, "Mom! What were you thinking??" I let them go outside naked in the snow and walk barefoot on city streets.

    I could categorize other parents:
    Level 1: Bottle-feed their kids; send them to daycare, etc. ....
    Level 2: Wean between 0 and 6 months, no daycare, but send them to pre-school....
    Level 3: Wean between 6 mos and a year - start school in kindergarten.
    Level 4 .... you get the picture.

    If I were to categorize my friends like that, it would be, well, awful.

  3. I'm curious as to what the intended purpose is for this chart?

  4. I was hoping this chart would have been more on the mental things.

    I have been grouping people in three groups, which are "traditional" (whips, spurs, do-as-I-say-or-else!), "natural horsemanship" (pretty words - ugly actions, Ms Parelli-style) and "Oneness, Kinship" which says it all, I guess.

    Maybe I'll do a blog entry on these 3 groups to point out the differences. It might be useful for me :)

  5. ps. someone in finnish horse site just claimed that rope halters are working by pressing acupuncture points in horses head and therefore relaxing the horse and also "giving endorphin rush" for horses.... How sad is that if someone believes it!

  6. I know. That's what they say about using a twitch too. Oh, and have you seen the Novell Headstall?

  7. Why do this? How is this proactive?

    I think when we begin to categorize (labeling, comparing, and judging) people, ideas, philosophies, we begin to separate into an "us/them," "mine/yours," "in group/out group," "best/worse," mentality that, frankly, hasn't worked to well historically - think of religions...different ideologies leading to extremists, leading to multiple miseries.

    I think each individual is on their own consciousness evolutionary trajectory and we are all best when open to learning from each other without judging, labeling, categorizing, or comparing.

    I am being "turned off" to many of the voices on the "Blue Tongue" Facebook because of the judgmental rants - I no longer hear proactive words of educational change.

  8. I think that the categories are interesting, but like you said people probably aren't going to fit into just one, especially all the time. Most people here seem to be much more interested in creating a positive relationship with their horse, and I think relationships are hard to put into categories. I know that over the course of my life I can see myself in each of those categories...except for the competition part as I never got into that, but I used to ride my horse on extremely long trail rides...which I used to call simply pleasure riding...oops:(

    What is most important for me is the education and community that we can create as it definitely can take support to continue on a path that so many people disagree with and don't want to understand.

  9. I don't see the value of placing people in categories. I think it separates and divides and implies a hierarchy. We are all on a journey, which we must take for ourselves and our horses in our present situation together. I love what you are sharing of your journey through this blog but putting categories in seems to me like standing outside the journey and judging and by doing so losing the connection with the present moment and with life in that moment.

  10. I agree with the other comments questioning the value of a chart or categories. As soon as I read it, I start to feel pressure about where I would fit in, and how I would get to the next level. Levels somehow feel too linear for this approach to horses. I imagine more of a cluster of circles with a common center being what Alexander does.

  11. Greetings, Stormy!
    I hope you are feeling much better and that you have been able to give Sunny a fantastic walk and go and visit with the horses.

    I wonder if maybe part of you physical slump is due to the stresses of recent events regarding relocating the horses left behind when their owner died? It obviously brought up a lot of deep feeling for issues that you maybe had not yet been exposed to?

    What I want to share today is inspired by your blog entries.

    I want to say that your post on "Gandhi and Horses" was profound, and I think quite "spot on". It prompted me to reach for a book in my home library which was received long ago in a box with many other donated books people often give us (those who know Kevin and I are huge bibliophiles), but one which--since I had already seen the movie--I had not yet read.

    The book is writen by Louis Fischer and the title is: "Gandhi His Life and Message to the World"

    I just read a "message" which I think might be helpful to you and Mark Mottershead as you try to find an effective way to bring your message of horse liberation to more people.

    Gandhi has just entered into his "fast to death" campaign designed to eradicate the caste system, specifically with regards to the "Untouchables" and the British governments feeble attempt to give them a vote, but on a separate level than other voters would get, which they considered to be better than no vote at all.

    "Gandhi was unmoved. He saw beyond legalisms and logic, [...], Given a separate electorate, Harijan candidates and elected legislators would stress what divided them from caste Hindus. A political party machine would arise with a vest interest in perpetuating the rift between castes and outcastes; its political ammunition would be Hindu injustice, very ample ammunition indeed. Such a setup clashed with Gandhi's basic principles: harmony in diversity; love despite differences. Divisions invite collisions; separation breeds hate and violence in thought and action."

    May you receive this message from the life of Gandhi as "medicine" to not only heal but to liberate.

    Thank you for your keeping up so well with your blog, you have a dedicated readership who are looking to you to brush away the debris covering the path ahead.

  12. Yes, I agree - that Ghandi post was very thought-provoking. It made me think about "turning the other cheek" in a new way - not like being passive and long-suffering, but showing courage, and showing the violent person that their violence is ineffective.

  13. I also agree with Lynne's sharing - seeing how hard it is for people I would like to think of as "reasonable men/women" as our Congress's struggles so to get beyond the partisan divides of their own creations. (At least I like to believe that those folks are striving to reach a meeting of the minds).

    I hope you are feeling better, much better by now - I can empathize with a painful back from first hand experience - tis no fun.

  14. The classification chart certainly touched a raw nerve. Casual writing and reading were momentarily replaced with an unsettling process - personal assessment

    Although you are saying fundamentally the same thing, Jen-Ska’s classification is in my view more effective. To establish a classification based on methods and the degrees of harshness using them is far less impacting than focusing directly on what generate such methods: Choice and responsibility.
    In addition, there are others factors that come into play besides training methods and using harsh aids: From the horses point, is living 22 hours a day in a stall and only being taken out to circle endlessly an arena, jump repeatedly the same obstacles with semi balanced riders bouncing on their back and balancing on their reins, more acceptable than whips or spurs or not being trained at Liberty?

    Perhaps it would be more effective to formulate a bill of rights for horses – it seems that all should start and end with the Horse.
    I believe that to change the status quo will require an organized effort(Dressage Disgrace is a fine example). It will not happen as implied by some, through personal evolution or a broad complacent tolerance. There is a right and there is a wrong, there is good and bad: it needs to be spelled out.

    Hopefully with the age of the internet, a long due re-evaluation of what a horse is will be broadcasted more broadly and rapidly…thanks to a new brand of leaders such as you and Mark and a growing numbers of voices.


  15. Yes, yes !! Helene - "just because you have the right to do something, doesn't make it the right thing to do." Re-evaluation - so important !! Stormy, Mark, Carolyn, and others, are wonderfully sane and compassionate and balanced voices FOR horses and the evolution of OUR souls !!

  16. evolution of our souls, that just sums it up nicely. It is exactly what is starting to happen when you take this path. Thanks CharlieHorse!