Where does one begin to describe some of the interesting “just so stories” used to describe human-horse interactions? From horses trying to play herd games with humans, trying to move our feet, or win over some spirited ritual over a resource such as water or food.
Before going any further, for those not familiar with the great writer Rudyard Kipling and his equally famous “Just So Stories,” these are a series of stories in which Kipling gives imaginative explanations related to why something is the way it is, especially in regards to animals.
Most of what I would call “just so stories” in horsemanship are based in some way or other on horses allegedly trying to establish some sort of rank over the humans that interact with them, although not limited to these confabulations.
That is where Peter Pan horsemanship comes into play. I have witnessed, heard and watched several excellent horsemen demonstrating their talent with horses, although I may not always agree with their ways, they sure do know how to move horses. Having said this, my neurons go haywire when they try to explain why horses behave the way they do, or why the horsemen do what they do, or advise others to do the same.
Relax, Peter Pan Horsemanship is not another method, it is a call to attention to some horsemen who unknowingly use “just so” stories to explain their craftiness with horses, an appeal to critical thinking if you will.
Most of these “just so stories” are based on naturalistic fallacies: This is the way that it happens in nature and therefore it must be right.
Why would any good horseman need to justify his experience in this way is beyond me. Plus, most of these methods are not actually based on studies of free-living or feral horses, they are “just so” stories, invented by people with vivid imaginations.
Peter Pan type horsemanship is responsible for encouraging people to attain “Alpha,” “Dominant,” or “Lead Mare” status in a supposed herd of two. However, as most may already know these social outcomes are in fact contextual, if at all existent.
In regards to Alphas in wolf packs he studied, L. David Mech had this to say:
“Such a designation emphasizes not the animal’s dominant status, which is trivial information, but its role as pack progenitor, which is critical information.” Read the full article Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs or alternately you can watch this video:
Roger Abrantes clarifies and defines Dominant behavior as follows:
“Dominant behavior is situational, individual and resource related. One individual displaying dominant behavior in one specific situation does not necessarily show it on another occasion toward another individual, or toward the same individual in another situation.” Read the full article Dominance—Making Sense of the Nonsense
The idea of the lead mare has not been found to hold true in many populations studied. You can read the most recent paper Movement initiation in groups of feral horses by Konstanze Krueger et al. (2014).
Imagine a horseman who works brilliantly with horses both on the ground and ridden, wooing the crowd with flashy skills, but the minute he opens his mouth, he blurts out gospel and fairy tales in what I call the Peter Pan Effect. He may start moving the horse aptly around an arena, and everything looks good, kicking up very little dust as Ray Hunt would say.
Because the work is well done and adapted to the individual horse, anything the horseman says may be taken literally by all that watch and listen. Although I must say that few methods are in reality adapted for individual horses, but instead are vast generalizations.
So if the horse is moved around with grace and training progresses, one explains what one believes to be the reasons behind one’s ability.
After all, we can only rely on what we know to explain what we observe, and knowledge in some cases at least regarding behavior is pretty limited in the horse world.
One could say: I am the Alpha or dominant individual, the lead mare, or alternately: the horse understands because I am moving his feet and this is what other horses naturally do. Replace these musings with I do this to horses because Peter Pan told me too, or because Tinker Bell or even Captain Hook, appeared to me in a dream and told me this was the way, and little would really change in the interaction.
As far as we know, and I stand to be corrected, horses are not intent to move other horse’s feet. No seriously….how can we ever know that the horse actually attempts to move feet; it could be a flea or tick on the back of the other horse that is being targeted, or an ear for that matter?
What bogus subjective rubbish!!!
It really would not matter much if it did not cloud our understanding of equine behavior, or undermine the many serious studies undertaken on horse behavior and learning theory that are readily available for those that care to consider looking into things with more depth.
So, for the sake of understanding horses for what they really are: what natural selection including man’s hand in artificial selection has favored them to be, please consider that there are simpler explanations at hand supported in some way or other by a scientific view. One should be careful not to fall prey to the many forms of Peter Pan Horsemanship that abound.