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Don Jessop

That's a big, bold thing to say. Of course there are stubborn horses in the world by the typical meaning of the word "stubborn." It's just that I don't adhere to that meaning because I don't think it's helpful.

"stubborn" - (according to most dictionaries)
Having or showing dogged determination not to change one's attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so.
So by that definition, horses can be stubborn. But what happens next? What happens to the person who labels the horse as "stubborn?" That's what's most interesting to me.

Typically, when a horse is labeled as stubborn, the owner of the horse reverts to inappropriate nagging, idol threats, and even worse, real consequences that can, if distributed in poor faith, lead to emotional or even physical damage.

I once watched a friend push his horse over a ditch before he had permission from the horse, claiming the whole time that the horse was being stubborn. The horse jumped the ditch and folded onto his knees on the other side, injuring himself and nearly injuring his rider. After the accident, my friend continued to explain how if the horse hadn't have been so stubborn, he wouldn't have made him do it with such force.

I know everyone has different definitions for everything so I don't pretend to put everyone in the same box as my friend from all those years ago. I merely use his story as an illustration for what can happen when we aren't careful with the words we use. Words matter, names matter, meaning matters. So when I catch myself saying my horse is "stubborn," (and, yes, it still happens to me) I immediately change my wordplay from stubborn to "confused."

The truth is, horses do try to please, at least they would prefer to try and please. When they seem to be acting stubborn, it's almost always because the are actually confused about what you want. And if they aren't confused about that, they are most certainly confused about "why" you want it.

The reason I use the word "confused" instead of "stubborn" is because it gives me pause. It helps me give the horse some grace. Maybe he truly doesn't know what I want. (Did you know that horses have the brain of a four year old child. Which means he doesn't "know" as much as you think, even if he's done it before. Ask a four year old to recite the alphabet. If she's done it enough times with enough positive association she may get it right, but if you add fear or distraction to the situation, she will almost certainly get it wrong.)

Naturally, it's quite possible that horses experience distraction, or fear, or even some kinds of pain. One horse I knew would buck every time my student asked for a canter. I gave her (my student) all the horse psychology I could to mitigate the problem, then finally, she took the horse to the vet and found some massive problems in the horses stifle and hocks. With treatment to those physical issues, the horse stopped bucking. Cool right? Viewing the horse as "stubborn" never would have led us to that conclusion. So words do matter. Check out this recent blog on wordplay to dig deeper.

So is "stubborn" a real thing? Sure it is. But is it a helpful thing to keep using? Hmm..... probably not with horses and training. I believe there are better words that put us in a better frame of mind and reference and allow us to problem solve in a more masterful way.

Hope this helps, love your comments. See you soon. Don

Don Jessop - Blog Welcome

Hi! I'm Don Jessop

With Mastery Horsemanship

I write to inspire, educate and encourage you on your horse and personal journey.

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