Fear and Trust

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You can never rely on a horse that is educated by fear. There will always be something that he fears more than you. But, when he trusts you, he will ask you what to do when he is afraid.    Antoine du Pluvinel

Antoine du Pluvinel was one of the earliest dressage trainers in seventeenth century France. Pluvinel is perhaps most well known for his kind, humane methods for  training horses. Unlike his Italian teacher Pignatelli, who often used harsh methods to gain obedience from the horse, Pluvinel used praise, careful use of aids, and softer bits to get the horse to work with him. His theories include that the horse must take pleasure in work, due to gentle, understanding riding, and that such a horse will move much more gracefully if he enjoys being ridden.

This humane approach is equally applicable to horses who work in equine-facilitated therapy settings. I believe that the horse is always given a choice about whether to do client work. This ensures that the horse has enough emotional energy to work with the human, avoiding burn-out. By respecting the autonomy of the horse to be supportive with the human client, a relationship of trust is built between the horse and the humans they encounter.

The same is true of humans – that if fear is used to coerce human beings in the short term, then resentment and passive aggression will usually be triggered even if those emotions lie dormant for fear of reprisals if they were expressed.

In the equine work, usually the horses show the people that it is OK to acknowledge difficult emotions that may have been suppressed for quite some time. If the human trusts the horse and the facilitator and also their own self, then the client can start to overcome long-standing fears and difficulties by knowing their own true values and feelings.

Much is written in the management world about authentic leadership. Horses, and trusting partnerships with horses, show us how to do it.