Dictatorship Versus Leadership in Horse Training

By Jock Ruddock

Photo by Jacki Ziegler

The world of horsemanship and horse training has over the past few years developed its own language. One of the more prominent words that stand out is ‘Leadership’. As a bodyworker who often has to pick up the pieces and help fix the problems of the horse who has been displaying what the owner describes as ‘leadership issues’, I often ask myself the question, “Does this owner really know what the word means?”

Perhaps the owner or the trainer is confusing the word Leadership with Dictatorship.

To really understand this concept we must visually transpose a couple of horses into two societies where one is ruled by a leader, and where one is ruled by a dictator, then study the differences between the two. Recent political changes in the international world may help us to clearly picture, compare and understand more positively the devastating effect bad leadership, i.e. dictatorship, can have on the horse.

DOMINANCE Demanding respect and obedience no matter what
INSENSITIVITY Lack of consideration for the horse's physical and emotional state
COERCION Forcing the horse to achieve your goals
TERRORIZING Making the horse go through a barrier by introducing greater fear
AGGRESSION Using aggression, or even anger, rather than calm assertiveness
TRAUMA Injuring (intentionally or unintentionally) the entire horse - mind as well as body
OVERPOWERING Driving unfeelingly through the barrier to achieve your own goal
REPRESSION Smothering or dampening the horse’s natural personality
STRESSING Putting the horse under excessive stress by continuous repetition
HARASSMENT Persistently annoying the horse to the point of panic
IGNORANCE Lack of education and feeling regarding any problem the horse may have which is preventing you achieving your goal
PRESSURING Not accepting the facts as presented by the horse; continuing to push to achieve the goal demanded by you


We have all seen horses being led by dictatorship. They are the ones whose tails are wringing, or who have a sour look on their face, unhappy eyes and ears, heads pulling away as you go to touch them. These are the horses whose movement is much less smooth than it could be - a horse who does not like to be touched by human hand, whose eyes never leave you or soften when you are around; a horse who is reserved about trusting and always asking questions the wrong way - instead of asking you, “What can we do together?" asks, “What do I have to do to get rid of you?”

 A horse who finds himself in this sort of relationship can react in many ways. He can choose to begrudgingly comply with or submit to your demands, giving up hope for any incentive to do so, until he finally just gives up. He can rebel by not performing to his highest level and then - depending upon his character - can even become, when least expected, explosive to the point of being dangerous.

LEADING Taking the horse, via understanding, to the sharing of mutual goals
EDIFICATION Being an uplifting influence on the mind of the horse to attain goals
AWARENESS Always being conscious of the horse’s communications to you, and how the horse is perceiving your communications to him
DEDICATION Making your horse’s well being and quality of life the first priority
ENTHUSIASM Honoring, respecting and rewarding each stage of achievement      
RESPECT Achieving and maintaining mutual respect
SENSIBILITY Being aware of the strengths and limitations of the horse as well as your own
HARMONY Working in synchronicity at all levels with your equine partner
INTERDEPENDENCE Establishing reliance upon each other to achieve your mutual goal
PREPARATION Making sure your horse is physically and emotionally able to achieve the tasks you both are ultimately working towards            

This is the horse who looks content in his work. The horse and his human partner appear to be a team. This is the horse who is willing, who in fact wants to do what you ask, and is ultimately eager to get there even before you ask. As the leader, it’s your job to present what you desire in a way that he will understand without coercion.

By keeping the points of leadership front and center in all your interactions with the horse, you will be a leader, not a dictator. When this ultimately happens, your horse will benefit in many ways - including his response to equine bodywork. Equine bodywork can bring a whole new [healthy dimension] to horses' lives when I, my students and other equine body workers no longer have to first pick up the pieces of so many physically and emotionally damaged horses as a result of misunderstanding what two simple words mean.  Hoofprint

About the author:

Jock Ruddock, who pioneered The Equine Touch, and his veterinarian wife, Ivana Ruddock, have turned the Equine Touch into a discipline that is now recognized and applauded by all who see or use it, including veterinarians throughout Europe. The Equine Touch, a rebalancing, retraining, and some would say healing modality for the horse, is a non-diagnostic, non-invasive, energy and connective soft-tissue discipline which works at a complete holistic level; that is, it addresses the equine as a whole. For more information, visit www.theequinetouch.com.