There is a lot of talk about leadership in natural horsemanship circles and of course this has trickled into the great horse world. So we might say, that in working with horses we are supposed to have this thing called “leadership” but what is that?
There seems to be some confusion about what one means by the term leadership. It is not so much a disagreement of words among trainers. The idea of leadership is a rock hard/solid cliché in the horse world but what is being taken for leadership is not leadership at all.
What is being called leadership, in the majority of cases, is plain and simple, aggression. This power play that we watch employed in horse training and general horse handling is simply aggression and aggression is not the same as leadership.
Genuine leadership with our horses is not about power but connection and it seems we are heavy on the aggression and we seem short on connection.
Connection comes through a friendly and gentle state. There is a sense of kindness and lightness to everything. Of course, the problem is fear. We are so afraid of kindness. We see the horse as a creature who lays in wait to attack at the first sign of weakness but that describes the human issue more than the horse’s problem.
For us to find how to connect and harness the power of gentleness we must find in ourselves a discipline of kindness through patience. Horses survive through their connection with the herd and our leadership skills knows how to join the horse in this. So when we undertake a discipline of kind and gentle means at the inception that we must find patience. Patience means not resisting the nature of reality but it also means that we have to step aside from our aggressive attitudes to see what is real or not.
Dressage starts with what we have and we all bring something of who and what we are to dressage. The horse gets us, whether for good or ill. How kind, how fine, how light, how open and more, we are who we are and this is what we add to our dressage.
In this “who we are” that we bring is uniquely real but each of us wraps a story around this. All too often it is only our story we see and we are so immersed in aggression we are incapable of “hearing” any other story line. There is always good under who we are and finding true leadership is being unafraid of being gentle.