"Natural" training methods can produce results so spectacular as to be an exhibitionist’s delight. It is not difficult to render the horse completely passive and, in order to impress, work him to the point where he is no longer actively cooperating and learning but passively allowing himself to be pushed about. This satisfies some, but increasingly those with a critical eye see a dullness, a lack of interest, in horses whose imprint, Parelli or round pen training has been overdone. In any kind of training, one of the most difficult sensibilities to acquire is that of knowing when to stop. [...] Although it has been shown that in horses a) under natural conditions dominance hierarchies are so poorly developed as to be invisible, needing artificially created competition to develop, and b) in partially managed groups, the leader and the dominant are not necessarily the same animal, there is a reluctance on the parts of both trainers and some scientists to aabandon human attitudes about dominance. We live in a highly competitive society, where power hierarchies, status struggles and so on are heavily emphasized. A truly cooperative, non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian social structure is inconceivable to many, although we see it on a smaller scale every day. Thus many round pen trainers believe that the technique is a psychological way of demonstrating dominance over the horse, who is driven away every time he does not comply with what is wanted, but then comes to us for leadership and submits to our control. In the light of the above this is muddled thinking, which results, as my friend Amy Coffman (a thoughtful and experienced watcher of American ‘natural’ trainers) has pointed out, in a punitive way of using the round pen: the horse is made to gallop about until he submits. I, too, have seen this aggressive attitude in some pupils who have learned from others. The only round pen trainer I know of who differentiates between the roles played by dominant and leader is Mark Rashid, who probably (I am guessing) has not read the scientific literature but is an acute and dispassionate observer. It is a curious state of affairs when those who know that dominant attitudes repel horses fail to grasp its true significance: that horses do not obey dominants. They avoid them.
EoR notes that Monty and his revivalist roadshow have returned to Perth this weekend ("Be amazed as Monty puts Equus to the ultimate test" - tickets are limited but were still available yesterday at $A113.65). He expects the true devotees to flock along to receive their annual dose of preaching and buying.