Updated: Apr 17
Sadly I cannot tell you how many times I saw someone being aggressive and just plain old mean with their horse. In my first few years of riding I had many instructors who would say, "Be More Aggressive!" I would cringe and just feel down right awful if I tried to do what they said. It was all because I knew deep down that this way of riding/training, was not going to get me to that deep and magical relationship I always dreamed of having with a horse.
It took me years and many different trainers for me to understand the correct way of being assertive without using anger. Sometimes anger due to frustration would slip in and my horse would let me know right away that that was not going to fly! But it took those fails for me to see how fine of line there is between assertiveness and aggression.
Okay this is such a common example I am sure you have been asked and you will know the answer to immediately! But would you rather work for a boss who is always upset, angry, does not listen to you and let's out all their emotions on you? Or would you rather work for someone who is sure of themselves and your work and is supporting you in the best way possible? Yeah I am sure you picked the second boss!
No one wants to work for someone who makes life miserable! And this is exactly the same thing your horse is thinking! Why would a horse listen to someone who is aggressive, not listening to them and making part of their day crappy?
Now this is an important point I want you to remember whenever you are with a horse!
Horses are mirrors of ourselves and they never lie!
If you throw aggression and anger at a horse they will try to throw it back at you causing a dangerous situation. Or if your aggression is just so overwhelming you could have a horse try to run away or shut down and go catatonic which is very dangerous, since you do not know if or when they will explode!
Aggression and anger have no place around horses! It will cause a ton of behavioral issues and will NEVER give you the magical relationship I know you want!
My definition of assertiveness in regards to working with horses is: being confident and self-assured without the use of anger or aggression to get the horse to complete a task.
Seems pretty straight forward and easy, right?! Well those two descriptions confident and self-assured trip up everyone including me at different points on our journey! We can become unconfident when asking a horse to do a task we ourselves are not confident doing yet, like a bigger jump or a flying lead change. Our self-assured selves can become unsure when a horse is very afraid of something or if we have no idea how to fix an issue.
When we become unsure and/or unconfident we need to reach out to others to help support us on our journey with our horse. Otherwise aggression and anger can start to creep in.
If you notice anger/aggression start to creep in when you are playing with your horse, stop your horse!
Let them rest and give yourself that moment to release your anger.
Ask yourself, "Why am I getting angry?" Maybe you know the answer already, great!
Now ask yourself, "Why is THIS getting me angry?"
Find the answer and then ask, "What can I do to fix/change this situation/issue?"
AND then follow whatever your answer is, only if you do not feel anger/aggressive! If you still feel those negative emotions, give yourself a few more moments to let it go!
Practice this whenever you feel anger/aggressiveness start to take over in your sessions. The more you practice this, the more it will become a natural response when things are not going right! And you can use this outside of the arena in your daily life too!
Lastly I want to give you a personal story I saw at a barn I boarded my horse at. This story will show you how a horse will mirror your emotions and if you see something like this at your barn I hope you will step in like I did. Their real names will not be given for their privacy. I will call the owner M and the horse Treat.
It was a brisk rainy day during the fall. I pulled into the barn and saw M riding Treat in the arena. Treat seemed very energized and looky. M was forcing him to focus and had the reins tight. As I got my stuff together for my horse, I heard Treat spook a little and then M complaining and kicking him harshly forward.
I got my horse in and started brushing her. I saw M end her riding and get off Treat. I could not see exactly what Treat did but whatever it was it made M angry and she started to slap his face and back him up. I watched as she took him out the ring and started to untack. I hoped that was the last of what I was going to see but of course nope.
As I started to play with my horse I heard a whole ruckus and Treat went flying out the back of the barn with half of his tack still on. M started muttering loudly and went to get him, but of course M could not catch him because of her anger. He did not have any trust in her and did not see her as a safe leader.
I walked out with my horse behind me a little ways and Treat came right on over to me. I grabbed onto his halter and waited while M came over. She muttered something angrily and pulled Treat back in to the barn.
I hoped that was the final thing but nope! Not even a few minutes later and the sounds of ruckus, M angry, and Treat running back out the barn happened. M was able to get him into an enclosed area but he was literally running circles around her. I really wanted her to learn a lesson and to just walk away from him for a few minutes. But nope she kept trying to corner him or grab him and Treat was having none of it. I waited a couple of minutes but I did not like how sweaty he was getting or how M was still chasing him.
I ran back out and got Treat again. I said to M, "Let me walk him around for a bit to cool off and so you can rest." M allowed it and I was able to calm Treat down while my horse moseyed around us. After a few minutes I gave Treat back to M and she put him back out. M barely said a word to me and I could tell she was still angry and upset. I still hope that maybe M learned something that day but I am not sure she was open to that.
Please do step in and help a horse if you see their owner is angry and letting it out on them.
And if you are having issues getting your assertiveness without aggression, please do reach out to me.