Force Isn’t Safer

Aggression is frequently, I dare say, almost always correlated with fear. Fear of harm, something bad happening to you, or fear of losing something of value. Hmm… those sound familiar, something bad being added or something good being taken away… wait, I know, PUNISHMENT! Aggression is caused by fear of punishment (whether a natural consequence or intentional by another being).

So why do we often resort to punishment when things go bad? Funny enough, our circle is complete, FEAR!! When we humans are afraid, afraid of being harmed by our horse, shamed by our peers, or our horse being harmed (losing something valuable), we often resort to, you guessed it, aggression! Because we are afraid we feel the need for more physical control (control and fear are contradictory). We give ourselves a strong illusion of control by using forceful methods to manipulate our horse. This is reinforcing to us, the punisher, because it often works, at least in the immediate short term, to reduce our fear. Even though it almost always creates more problems in the long run.

When you see someone become aggressive with their horse, don’t get mad, get sad, because they are afraid and they don’t have the tools to handle their emotions and respond appropriately to the situation. My only two horses who have an ounce of aggression in them are my most frightened horses. One is a violent resource guarder, the other a history of abuse. Both only aggress when they are afraid for their safety or losing something they value. So before you raise your hand to the horse who is aggressing, stop and think, will punishment, the thing they are afraid of, reduce their fear? Not likely!

Instead we should aspire to bring comfort and a sense of safety to those who are afraid. Provide them with tools to feel in control, to feel their safety and their resources are not at risk. Allow them dignity as they overcome this difficult emotion, give them tools to express their fear without aggression, and give them comfort when they are afraid.

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