Saturday, 14 June 2014

What's in a name?

Currently reading an interesting article by Dr. Karen Overall about the need for precision in terminology relating to behavioural problems in animals. A couple of good quotes:

"The vast majority of clients and veterinarians, wittingly or not, engage in a terminology and thought process rooted in an adversarial relationship with the animals who share their lives. Physical pain is deemed as 'real', afflicting innocent patients; behavioural pain is often thought to be someone's fault or the result of a deeply flawed character"

"If what we call something affects the way we think about it, then what we call it is essential; yet we in behaviour have been incredibly careless and in so being, have done harm"

In the horse world, there are the obvious labels that are very unhelpful - the term 'stable vice' is still used and places the blame squarely on the horse. Describing a horse as 'dominant' likewise implies to most of us that the horse is at fault.

Even the common use of 'evasion' in riding. One dictionary definition of evasion reads 'trickery, cunning, or deception used to dodge a question, duty, etc' - no doubt where the blame lies when your horse 'evades'then!

Even the more subtle language like 'my horse is making me do all the work' - a comment made by a very tired rider who was working very hard while her horse trotted very, very slowly. Understandable, but is the situation really all the fault and responsibility of the horse? Did he phone her first thing and beg to be taken out and trotted round in circles for an hour? Is he actively encouraging her to keep kicking him at every stride, thereby wickedly tiring her out? Hmm...

Is there any practical use to these ramblings? Maybe... notice the way you think and talk about your horse, especially when things aren't going quite as you would wish. You may spot one or two wee words or phrases that place blame or imply a deeply flawed character! I still catch myself doing it at times. Then change the words, and it may well change your attitude, which might just change your relationship with your horse, and can certainly make you better at resolving problems. 

Tigger meeting the resident stallion at his new home. Inconvenient behaviour when you want to ride him, but no point in blaming anyone - he's just being a horse :-)

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