Friday, April 18, 2014

React, Respond, or Retaliate - What Do They Mean and What's The Difference

In this topic I would like to explain my take and understanding of different responses we or our horses may have, what they mean, and why I feel it is important to know the difference. In each response we are communicating something. There is information there for us to figure out. There are other terms I could have used but I wanted 3 distinct categories. Be aware that in some cases we could have a little of all three or any two categories show up at the same time in our response to something. Knowing how to determine and analyze what you have will help you make better decisions.

The 3 categories I chose for this is like the title suggests. React, Respond, and Retaliate. Each term represents a different mental state. Your mental state and emotional status (or your horses) will determine the type of response. So in the same way, if we evaluate the type of response we are getting. We will know what kind of mental or emotional state we are dealing with. If we know this, it will help us make better decisions when it comes to trying to help.

Lets start by talking about the term React. If we react to something it ends up being more of a reflex type response. Usually something scares or startles us and we have a reaction. A nervous person or a nervous horse will tend to react to things. Examples of a reaction could be if we touch something hot enough to burn us we will react by pulling away. Also if we walk around a corner and we just about bump into someone we might instantly freeze or back up. A loud noise may startle us and we react by jumping or freezing up. Another could be a fear we have of something like a mouse, snake, spider, bee's or bat's that whenever we see one the fear takes over and does not allow us to think very clearly and we react in ways like, turning and running, climbing on a table, swatting and ducking. Sometimes bumping into things and just not thinking about anything we are doing till the threat is gone.

Many people who ride horses are Reactive riders. Meaning they sit on top of the horse and react to whatever the horse does. If the horse gets startled the person will tend to react by clamping or pulling on the reins. Another example of a Reactive rider is the person who may not be aware of their horses movement all that well. They sit on top of the horse and as long as they are going where they are supposed to they don't do anything. Most times they are oblivious to the horses mental or emotional status. So when the horse strays or changes speed the rider reacts with a correction as to say don't do that. The opposite of this type of rider would be the active rider. This will be covered below in the respond category.

This term is quite universal. Every type of a response means you respond in some way or another. As above states to React is to respond most often in a reflex like manner. The next topic Retaliate is to respond in objection. The term Respond means to answer or reply. I am talking about this category as a neutral response. One that is of making a conscious effort to understand and respond appropriately. The phrase,"How would you respond appropriately?" is a question asked of a lot of people. The effort to give thought into a decision to respond makes it a response in which we can learn, it can teach, and or make a positive outcome. Doing this will minimize disagreements or arguments. As the definition suggests to respond is also to reply. So when a question is raised we must make a conscious effort to reply. Your horse will ask you Questions every moment you are with them. If you listen to them and not just sit up on top of them you will have many opportunities to respond appropriately and reply to the many questions they raise. This here is an example of an Active Rider. Even on the ground, they listen and respond with conscious thought and effort put toward understanding the needs of their horse. All this is done with every step, every breath and every movement.

To retaliate is to respond with objection. It can be out of anger, stubbornness, or just plain disapproval. People and Horses retaliate physically and verbally for many different reasons. Sometimes they are sticking up for themselves. Other times they may just not want to do whatever is asked of them. When we get this type of response from someone or a horse we need to evaluate why they did it. Making sure not to make excuses for why but really look for the answer. We do not want to guess at this. If we just react to retaliation then we end up in a war. We need to think it through and figure it out so we can respond appropriately. This way we can learn, teach, and make a positive outcome instead of going into battle unnecessarily.

As I said above, we may have all or just a few of these in play at any one time. We need to take the time to evaluate who is doing it, what they are doing, when they are more likely to do it, where it might be likely to happen, why it happens, how it comes about and think about how to go about responding appropriately to make a difference. That was just a quick run down and another way to look at a previous Blog Topic called, " The Who What When Where Why and How of Horsemanship" You may enjoy reading this one as well. It can help you with your evaluation skills.

So in closing here I would like to say the middle of the road in terms of responses would be to respond in a logical and ethical manner. The times that we need to react quickly in response to something should be something we have planned out ahead of time. "A Conditioned Response" would be when a reflex like response is needed during certain times or conditions. We can train ourselves and our horses to respond in a certain way during these conditions. In this way, we or they, can respond appropriately with a proper reaction.  I have to say I enjoy the compliments I get on my horses. I hear people say, "they respond so well" This is do to me taking the time to respond appropriately to them and their needs, as well as teach them to think things out and respond appropriately instead of reacting mindlessly. I don't get any retaliation because they learn to appreciate me and want to do things with me and don't feel threatened in any way. I work with their fear and emotions in a way they learn to respond under pressure and not just react or retaliate. As we all know, no matter how good it is, there is always room for improvement. We should all strive to find the knowledge and understanding to do that.

I hope this all makes sense to everyone and you all enjoyed reading it. I want to thank you all for reading along. Please feel free to comment or ask questions. It may help expand all of our knowledge and understanding.


  1. Oh man...does this one hit home. As I read this I kept thinking "yes...I do that". I'm sad to say that I'd definitely classify myself as a reactive rider:( I tend to worry that my horse is going to take me by surprise and throw of one his bucking fits. I'm not exactly sure what always causes these but I'm sure my being a bit on edge isn't helping. I really need to become more "active" but in a constructive way.

    1. The majority of people are reactive riders. You can work on making the change to an active rider by consciously focusing on each step the horse takes. Also by being aware of your horses mental state and responding appropriately when necessary. If he is relaxed that is great. If he is alerted to something or tense and nervous ask him to relax. You can develop a cue to get him to relax or you can ask him to do simple things that get him to focus on you instead of being worried. If you do this all the time he will know you are connected and paying attention. This will get him to let go a little more and relax . But he has to know that you are aware and paying attention so he feels safe enough with you in charge. Responding to his emotional needs appropriately and in a timely manner will do just that.