It sounds simple and we know our attitude is vitally important on our horsemanship journey! Then, why, does it sometimes feel so hard to carry out the attitude of justice?
In my path of helping humans learn about natural horsemanship I am often repeating the need for the ‘attitude of justice’ while demonstrating a technique or concept with a horse. In answer to this statement about ‘justice’ I am greated by blank stares or nodding heads with little to no change to how the student is handling their own horse. What I have discovered is that this response comes from a core difference in belief on what “justice” and “natural” actually mean. So, I’ve looked up a simple and concise definition from Wikipedia to help us get on the same page:
Natural – “existing in or caused by nature, not made or caused by humankind.”
How interesting! . . . What does it mean to be natural? Often when people hear the words natural horsemanship they think, “oh good, I can think great thoughts about my horse and they will do what I want just because I am thinking it” or “I will never have to become effective to be understood and my horse will become a willing and safe partner”! Somehow when people first hear of ‘natural’ their minds travel down a thought pattern of believing that actions no longer have consequences. However, if you take the quote above and think about things in nature – things “not made or caused by humankind”. How many actions in nature do not have consequences?
If, for example, an ant colony gets lazy and decides not to go out to gather food, what happens to the colony? If a horse herd leader can’t outthink a predator, what happens to the survival of the herd? If the herd picks a leader that isn’t aware, effective, and smart, what happens to the herd?
Just for the sake of argument let’s say that same herd chooses to have no leader, in fact every horse is equal and has a chance to “voice their opinion”. Now imagine, this herd full of mares, foals, yearlings, and a stallion ranging all the horsenalities LBI, LBE, RBE and RBI. They are all eating grass happily enjoying their equal opinions and contributions. They hear a rustle in the trees. The LBI’s say, “oh it’s probably nothing, let’s wait and see what happens”. The RBI’s say “ “ (nothing – they have frozen for the moment). The LBE’s want to go check out what made the noise, maybe they can play with it and the RBE’s are running circles around the herd, they want to leave but don’t want to leave the herd. At this stage they agree to have a meeting to discuss what should be done about the rustle in the bushes and who’s opinion they should follow. After several minutes of deliberation they have come to the conclusion that they can not act on any ONE opinion and are better off not reacting at all so as not to offend the horses feelings that were voted down. So, at the end of a lengthy discussion they have chosen to do nothing. This time the rustle turns out to be a squirrel and everything is fine, but what about next time when it is an approaching group of wolves/lions? Will the herd loose a few members? Does this system really work in nature? Of course not! The herd needs a leader, right or wrong the herd can follow the leadership and have a better chance of survival. It makes sense if you think of nature. Nature has laid out a perfect system, one where without humankind intervening their feelings and opinions the species survives.
Now here’s the interesting part, somehow humans have decided that our way is better and that everything should adapt to suit what we ‘think’ is best. Some examples of this specifically in the horse world range from not allowing horses to interact with each other; so they won’t get hurt. To never allowing horses to experience consequences for acting inappropriately in the human environment, until they are so uncontrollable we have no choice but to put them down because they endangered themselves and others. Perhaps we should put children in a bubble wrap suit with an air purifier mask and have them walk around in a little bubble. This way they can’t get hurt, they won’t get any germs and the bubble will protect them from getting to close to other humans, just in case the other humans say something ‘mean’. Also, the bubble will protect the other children in case the perfect little angel is mad and feels like hitting or slapping someone. Sounds perfect doesn’t it? The funny thing is that to some humans this does sound perfect, this way we can control everything that happens to the individual and be sure no one is ever hurt, but is it natural? Is it natural to keep horses separate from their own species? Is it natural that their actions have no consequences in our human world, until it is too late (doing more later instead of less sooner)? Is it natural for humans to think we know more about what horses need then horses do?
To me the attitude of justice isn’t about punishment it’s about cause and effect. If you touch a hot stove - you get burnt. If you stick your hand in a fan blade - you get whacked. If you don’t look and pay attention to where you are going on uneven ground - you fall. Plain and simple – no emotion involved, it is just natural. It is the most natural part of learning. Cause and effect is how we learn. If you text while driving in traffic you could crash – simple, no emotion, if you choose one path/action there are reactions put into motion.
When I talk about being effective with horses and using the attitude of justice all I am saying is to be natural. Sounds simple, however, this doesn’t mean that it will be easy. Many humans get into habits of living and ways of acting that are supremely unnatural, this can cause the shift to becoming natural again challenging. To be successful this new and natural journey must be filled with thought, decision and purpose. One doesn’t just wake up and say “I’m natural” and then go about their day as usual. Becoming natural requires a conscious choice and many choices along the path until natural becomes our new way of being, of living, until it makes more sense than all the other ‘stuff’.
In the end studying natural horsemanship may be a different picture then some had originally envisioned but if you are dedicated to becoming truly natural, it is a never-ending journey worth taking! One filled with discovery, awareness and a feeling of peace to experience “existing in nature”. The horses give us a window with which to peer in to the world of natural. The love for the horse gives us the motivation to go against the flow and learn how to become natural. The attitude of justice is intrinsically natural horsemanship. If you can remember and internalize what natural truly is, your horsemanship journey will proceed with more smoothness and fewer stumbling blocks. So, if you endeavor to take the journey, keep ‘natural’ in mind and see what unfolds!