Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Anthropomorphism and spirituality in the horse world

I finished the book I wrote about earlier. It's rather a brave book to be published onto equestrian market which is often full of 'getting on with it' and 'you have to show him who is the boss' people. I must say, I also believe that horses need a firm leader and yes, many a times I told a rider 'you have to be more bossy with this horse as he is taking the Mickey!'.

Julie Dicker's book is a documentary written by one very unique woman who says she can talk to the animals. She says she can tell you what your horse thinks about you, your training methods, the shoes you put on him. She says she can tell you what exactly is wrong with your horse, what hurts him, why he is afraid of certain things, what was his past.
She can talk to the horses and she can heal them...
The book describes various situations where very sceptical horse people were converted to Julie's methods after seeing the woman healing their horses.

What do I think about it? I would love to be able to talk to the animals, that is for sure! I think I am also fairly spirituality friendly (please don't confuse this with religion, as in human-created-activity, friendly!) and very keen on intelligent/natural horsemanship (or common sense as some call it). I would really have to see Julie's methods working on my own horse to be convinced though. And even then, my rational part would probably try to dig deep for some scientific explanations of the healing.

There are many interesting concepts and observations in the book which can stir your thinking even if you are more of a all-things-scientific supporter.
I hear at various yards how people undermine those horse owners who anthropomorphise their horses. They say you shouldn't attribute human emotion like love, compassion, grief, hate or ability to reason to the horses (or any animals for that matter).
And yet...:

[Below fragment comes from Julie Dicker's book 'What Horses Say']:

" 'You mustn't let him get away with it', 'He is just playing you up', 'You have got to teach that horse a lesson', 'they've got to respect you!. All these well-worn remarks actually indicate that we're ascribing human emotions and thoughts to an animal. In other words, we are guilty of anthropomorphism. Negative anthropomorphism, that is. We're attributing the horse with undesirable human characteristics. "You've got to show him who is the boss". This suggests, given half a chance, the horse will run the show and take over our role as a leader. Indeed, he might, if we prove to be ineffective at the task. It also implies "he" has a mind; that "he" is capable of making choices and is equally capable of asserting which choice he wants to make. [...]. Nobody would deny that horses require and appreciate strong, clear leadership but that doesn't mean domination.[...] We are sometimes encouraged, if we are to behave like a 'proper' leader, to inflict some sort of punishment on the horse in order to 'teach him a lesson'. But, of course, the deed that we're so keen to correct, the act that "he mustn't get away with", is more often than not caused by fear, pain, or failure to understand what we want him to do. But the implication of "not letting him get away with it" is that the horse has given thought to its actions and is now deliberately trying to thwart us in every possible way it can.
"He is just playing you up" is another favourite, often used when a horse has successfully performed some operation umpteen times in a row and then declares it has had enough by saying so in the only way it can. Unfortunately, this declaration of independence can take the form of depositing the rider on the ground or simply standing stock still and refusing to budge in any direction.
However, "He is just playing you up", is another indication that we consider this to be deliberate, thought out action on the part of the horse; thereby implying not only does he have mind capable of reason but is also manipulative, rather than simply responding to discomfort, boredom, or plain misunderstanding as a result of the often confusing signals we're sending him.
Followers of the "you've got to show him who is the boss" school often advocate some form of punishment for many kinds of so-called equine misbehaviour, since it is believed this will then bring about the ultimate aim, namely that the horse will "respect you".
We're sanguine enough about attributing negative traits to the horse, like stubbornness, aggression, laziness, stupidity, a tendency to manipulate, all characteristics, alas, well known in the human race. In short, we are comfortable with negative anthropomorphism."

I enjoyed the book. It's unbelievable at places but there are things that make you think and wonder and look for more questions and more answers. Exactly what I think a good book should do.
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