When it comes to horses, what does it mean? I looked it up, but it wasn't until I reached the fourth use of "respect" as a noun that I found anything remotely applicable: ...deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment.
But what, really, does any of that mean for a horse? I'm asking because I'm thinking about it.
The horse must respect the handler, the rider, stand for the farrier, stand for the vet... "Respect" is a human definition of a human value, something humans feel entitled to demand. I don't know if horses comprehend anything close to what we mean when we talk about respect. Perhaps they mirror something like respect in how they seem to manage herd dynamics. Perhaps it is "respect" that keeps one horse moving out of the way of another, but what if it is just fear? Perhaps it is "respect" that brings a horse to obey a rider, but what if it is just learned helplessness, the horse on auto-pilot, only and always seeking the path of least resistance?
The difference between fear and respect (and whether there is any) is what I'm chewing on right now. The topic of respect has recently appeared in some of the horse blogs I follow. It's also been a subject of sorts at the new barn and come up in regard to Scout. I don't have peace with this topic. That's because I haven't yet gripped it at a primal level, as though it were an impulse of instinct. Understanding things at the gut level is what makes them become bedrock for me, turns them into actual knowledge that I can apply. I'm not there with "respect" yet. Respect was nothing I grew up with, unless it lurked behind its heavier handed cousin, fear, so I don't have an inherent default setting in me that's about respect.
Stay out of my space, don't barge, don't bite, don't kick, stand quietly, lead calmly, listen to my aids, wait for my cues... I understand what people mean when they are speaking about the need for respect from their horses. I mean I understand the word. I didn't really have to look it up. Still, a word is just where we park an idea, a concept, or a notion; that's all. Communication begins as accord is reached, when the speaker and listener more or less agree on the meaning of a particular word. Accord can't really happen that way between a horse and its handler, can it? Not in so many words.
People will say that it happens in other ways. And it does; I know that. But the fine line is what I'm wondering about now. If "respect," for humans, is just fear managed and done up right, with civility and social grace, how is it any different for horses? Both constructs are about consequences, the whole respect-me-or-else thing. Obey me or else. My way or the highway. Right now I'm wondering what choice the horse ever has.
Another blogger, June, asked me the other day, "Well, what does Scout want?" What a tough question. I addressed it once before, here, but it was a joking kind of thing, even if accurate. When I began to think about June's question, blam! I ran right into this "respect" question.