"My Way or the Highway" Can Be Relationship Roadblocks

In the equine world, people often train horses based on ideas of obedience and compliance. In their eyes, horses must obey and blindly follow orders. I do want horses to follow my instructions, however how I wrap the package matters. Am I being a drill sergeant, a bully, or an unfeeling robot? These little compliance exercises teach us about the relationship we convey more than merely getting what we want.

My young 7-year old Holsteiner's name is Vertigo, named after my favorite Alfred Hitchcock film. I have been training him since he was 2-years old and he has certainly been teaching me just as much. Over these years, I developed an understanding of adaptable fun. If I ever became "all work" Vertigo would become disobedient and we would end up in a battle. He would be entertained with noncompliance and I would become hooked in frustration. Even the simplest tasks could become challenges - putting on his headstall, standing still while I saddle him, or even lunging in a specific direction. 

Fun is a huge motivator and relationship builder. In Vertigo's world, if I am going to climb in his back, we better be having fun. If I am asking him with fun in mind rather than telling him with a sharp tone, the outcome is always different. My frustration and attitude always play into the picture. If I am frustrated in other areas in my life and this comes out in how I communicate with him, this energy is what he will respond to, not merely my command.  

When forming a relationship with this horse, I wanted to teach him to cooperate with me. However, militant duty does not achieve this. The idea, "You MUST do what I say" is anti-cooperation and ironic virtues which directly oppose cooperation. The strange thing is, that when I adopted a more understanding and flexible approach, I actually would get my way more. When I portrayed that it doesn't always have to be my way and I don't always have to be right, Vertigo would actually do what I asked.

When I cooperated with Vertigo and changed my hard and fast rules, he also changed his compliance. When you are teaching lessons to animals or even children or other people, you are building a relationship. Doing what you ask out of strict rule-keeping and militant compliance is slavery. Doing what you ask because they like you and want to achieve a common goal is friendship. That feeling you share is the important aspect, not the outcome.


Vertigo is my buddy, our training is based on friendship rather than strict compliance. 

Vertigo is my buddy, our training is based on friendship rather than strict compliance.