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Choosing peaceful horse handling

Updated: Sep 9, 2022

What if the whole equestrian world would choose for peace between horses and human? Would you choose to be peaceful with your horse? And what does that even mean?


Definition of peace

Peace (noun)


Peace is a stress-free state of security and calmness that comes when there’s no fighting or war, everything coexisting in perfect harmony and freedom.

Peaceful (adjective)

2: untroubled by conflict, agitation, or commotion : QUIET, TRANQUIL

According to the dictionary definitions of peace, peaceful horse handling would mean that the interaction between horses and humans would always be stress-free, calm and harmonious for both. That means there would be never yelling, anger, frustration and violence. And that’s always on the side of the human.

But wouldn’t there be moments where the horse “acts out”, gets dangerous or aggressive? Wouldn’t the horse break the peace?

Who broke the peace?

First of all, it’s not the horses that decided to get domesticated and live in small enclosed areas and be turned to a sport device for two legged creatures.

We have brought them here and we must consider the consequences of the behavior of a species that is denied his natural needs.

This makes it our responsibility to make sure a horse has no reason to act out or get dangerous.

An aggressive horse is always man made.

Secondly, what goes around comes around. Although horses are a different species and don’t have a prefrontal cortex like we do, they are capable of reading our body language and feeling our energy levels. They can smell our hormones and hear intention in our voices. So they “get” our meaning and can act accordingly: if we are frightening they can react frightened. If we are aggressive they can react aggressively. Even if we are different species, we all are mammals and nature intended for us to be able to interact. We are not isolated in our being.

Therefore, if the horse breaks the peace it was actually us who broke it first.

Is the horse sport peaceful?

When you watch the Grand Prix Dressage shows with its beautiful figures, the music and dressed up shiny horses doing their dances, you could think of it as harmonious and peaceful. It’s often said “the rider and the horse are forming a harmonious entity”.

Or the show jumping, where riders and horses just seem to fly over the poles with ease, powerful but calm.

Well, I believe this might be true for the experience of the rider and maybe, I admit, there can be moments where a horse feels this “flow” for a while. But getting there, being at these shows and participating in these high ranked shows is a different story that a lot of people either don’t know or don’t want to know.

Everything in the life of a sport horse, that is said to have value you can express in money, is decided, formed and forced by human hand. It starts with systemically choosing the right parents and inseminating the mare, often by a vet, not a real stallion in a natural setting.

The foal then is taken away by its mother pretty early. In a wild herd, foals stay a long time with their mother and family. Mares forever, they even can nurse up to 2 years old. Stallions until they get old enough to have his own mares.

Generally, all horses, if mare, stallion or foals and yearlings are held in boxes and let out in a small field once in a while. That is far away from the natural needs of a great plains flight animal.

The young horses are then ridden in around 2-3 years old and are ready to do “the work” when they’re at last 4 years old (the skeleton of a horse is fully developed at age 6-8.)

Then training is then continued throughout his life and health until hes not able to do the work anymore. Which is pretty early in the sport world.

And how do you teach a horse to be ridden and “do the work”?

In classical horse training this is a proces of negative reinforcement and punishment. And yes, that’s far away from the definition of peace.

For both, negative reinforcement and punishment, you create an uncomfortable experience to enforce or extinguish behavior. For example: pushing the horse with the heels in the belly is rather uncomfortable. If the horse moves, the pushing disappears, which teaches the horses that this was the right respons and he will remember that. But that also means, the rider has no other choice but to escalate this pushing if the horses doesn’t react. Pushing becomes kicking or hitting with a whip - and that is, in my understanding, simple violence.

Let’s point this out again:

Peace (noun)


Peace is a stress-free state of security and calmness that comes when there’s no fighting or war, everything coexisting in perfect harmony and freedom.

Are you seeing the professional or the pain of the horse?

Classical horse training and therefore the sport do not fit this definition. Therefor it is not peaceful. It is by definition violent and stressful for the other party.

And as long as the hobby rider take this as an example, neither recreational held horses can be at peace.

Can a horse life be peaceful then?

How could peaceful horse handling look like?

To be at peace is a choice you can make at every second in your life. You don’t need to prepare or qualify for this. You don’t need to explain or justify that decision for yourself or any other person. It doesn’t matter what you did before. Even your horse won’t need that because they are the most forgiving and the most thankful for this decision whenever you are ready to make it.

And the best part: you’ll get your share of peace with yourself as well.

Peaceful handling requires not much but the decency from us to let horses be horses and not wanting them to be anything else, like an athlete, a device, a partner or even a friend.

It is beautiful of course if the horse chooses to become the latter, but it shouldn’t be required in the first place.

Peace between horses and humans, to me, would look like this:

  • Small groups of horses that can live together on really big estates, roaming almost freely. Or big paddock paradises with high value enrichments. Not in stables, not in boxes, not in small pastures behind the house. Yes that’s triggering I get it. But that’s just simply where they come from and where they belong. Maybe it’s not convenient for us but that’s my point exactly. And maybe that means a lot of people can’t have horses then, including me. That’s the price you have to pay.

  • A horse chooses to become a friend and is willing to work by his own choice. His “no” is always valid.

  • A horse is not worked before age of 6 under the saddle.

  • Freedom based training with +R as the basis.

  • No bits, no spurs, no whips.

Of course the professional horse sector would change. How is hard to predict. But imagine a horse world where money isn’t the main driver. But health, happiness and harmony for the horses. If empathy would be celebrated instead of forced performance. If kindness and softness would be the role model for young riders

If children would learn horse language before they learn how to hold a whip.

And imagine, how much you yourself would grow. How deep you would get to know and feel yourself in order to know and feel your horse. How easily you would find this place of peace and happiness inside yourself because you are searching for it with your horse. And believe me, that’s probably the biggest underestimated skill of horses, not their ability to jump or dance, but to guide you to a fulfilled and vivid life.

A horse at peace and where it belongs | Photo by Flash Dantz on Unsplash

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