My contribution to the debate is: It doesn’t matter!
No, it doesn’t matter if you believe they do or believe that they don’t. And that, my friends, is the key to the whole debate. You see, that’s all we can do is “believe.” We can’t know.
To throw another cog in the wheel, we also can’t know how another person feels or doesn’t feel. And, there’s even times when we can’t know how we feel – or don’t.
What it all boils down to is our ability to communicate. To nail our own feelings down, we first have to let ourselves feel, then we have to categorize those feelings based on past feelings. The last thing we do is find the words to describe those feelings. Once we ‘label’ the feelings, we have a better handle on it all because that is an objective act, which means our brains have kicked in to give a bit of balance to it all. In the end, we are only describing feelings, not feeling the feelings.
Once the words are out of our mouths, even more of the actual subjective event is lost because understanding by another depends on their own frame of reference and how it effects this boiling-down process. Your friend listening to you might come close to believing he understands and can relate to what you are attempting to describe more so than a stranger because your friend is more likely to empathize with you.
The trick, then, is to adapt that process to communicating with a horse. Trust me, he is light-years ahead of you in attempting to understand and be understood by you – he doesn’t have the words to complicate the process. So, how do we catch up?
Some of the ways to get closer are common sense, and have to do with empathy. If someone walked up to you, threw a rope around your neck, buckled on this rain-stiff halter around your face then gave a good yank on the rope attached to it to get you to follow, what would you feel? What would you think? If that was me, I’d say, “Get the heck out of here, leave me alone, get this stiff, nasty, smelling thing off me and get out of my pasture before I chase you out!” (I don’t think I’d spare the 4-letter words in real life though.)
Or, what would you feel if someone came up to you with a steel bit, dug their fingernails into your gums to get you to open your mouth, then yanked and squished your ears underneath yet another stiff, smelly, uncomfortable piece of leather holding that bit in your mouth?
Or, think about how your back would feel if someone just threw a 50 pound saddle on your back hard, then tied it around your stomach with all the might he had to get it tightly strapped on?
Or, once that person is on your back, he took to digging his heels into your rib cage and yanked on the reins?
Or, once he’s done doing all these tortuous things to you, he just leads you back out without nary a word and turns you loose in your pasture again?
Yes, it’s common sense. Your mother always told you to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” right? Well, why wouldn’t that apply to how you treat animals too? A horse is not a thing. ‘Things’ are not alive. You can’t know how another feels, beit a horse or a person, but the more you work to relate, to empathize, to understand, you can come close enough to believe what another feels.
So, since you can only believe and not know, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is whether you try to know.
Get that through your head, leave some of your “asshole-ness” behind and you open the door to communicating; not only with your horse, but with other people as well.