Ranching Blog: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Ranching Blog: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

It’s true for starting colts, it’s true for interacting with each other.


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By Jenn Zeller

As I sit here on a rather blustery January afternoon, I can’t help but think about respect. It’s likely on my mind for a couple reasons: 

  • First, because I’ve been handling some of my young horses, including a couple coming 3-year-old fillies I have raised – one was orphaned at 3 months old and is now missing her right eye due to an injury;
  • Second, the current state of our nation. Sadly, it’s lacking in respect all around. Or at least it seems that way. I ponder why that is, but I’ll get back to that.

 When we start a colt, or handle any horse really, we teach it that we’ll respect them if they respect us. They’ll find peace in being with us. It begins by teaching them that we’re a solid fixture in their life. 

You won’t see a horse running into a fence post, barn or other solid inanimate object unless it’s chased and there’s no other option; on the contrary, you see them respect that boundary. The same goes with us – we are a solid immovable fixture in a horse’s world, or at least that’s how we want to be seen.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the horse is allowed to react to whatever obstacle or scary thing we place into its environment. The horse is entitled to that. What the horse is not entitled to do is tune us out, run us over or, to put it in terms a lot of us can understand – no temper tantrums allowed! The horse is to look to us for leadership and our job is to be solid, steady, unwavering and kind.

Our job as horsemen is to respect and empathize with the horse. What is the horse thinking? What is it feeling? Our job is to help the horse find a place of comfort and peace – not focusing on what the horse feels is troubling, only focusing on what the horse does right and reward the goodness when we see it. We are teaching the horse to compromise and rewarding positivity. 

If you’ve ever handled a horse that has holes in its training – maybe it bucks, kicks, or spit the bit and run off, that horse has never learned to compromise or respect you as its leader. Likely, it’s because whoever handled that horse only focused on what the horse did wrong or didn’t know how to help the horse through its uncertainty. As a result, the horse has only learned to be negative – to survive in our world, and it’ll do whatever it thinks it needs to do to make that happen.

It would be really easy for me to make excuses for “Belle,” my orphaned, one-eyed filly. She didn’t have her mother after just 3.5 months of life. One might argue she never learned how to be a horse because her mother wasn’t around to help her. Trust me, that’s not the case. She’s just like her mama! And now, because she’s missing an eye, one might say that she’s a lost cause and I’ll have to give up my dreams for her, or even make excuses for why she won’t be able to do her job. I won’t. I’ll treat her like I would any other horse and help her more on that right side, if she needs it.

I’ll respect her for what she is – a horse, and I’ll expect the same from her. We may not always agree, but we’ll find common ground while we focus on the positive.

Our job as humans is to approach humanity in the same way we’d approach the horse, though, that’s likely more difficult to do. Today, our world is highly focused on the negative. I could go on, but I won’t. I don’t like to focus on the negative. 

Some may say we had this massive lack of disrespect brewing for years. I’d say we need to seek common ground. We all live in the freest country in the world. We’re all humans with a life to live. We can respectfully protest and march for our causes and should be able to stay friends and agree to disagree. Most of us would just like a good economy, plentiful jobs and the freedom to think and do for ourselves.  

As humans, we are responsible for each and every choice we make – the same thing we try to teach the horse. We also know we can be empathetic and be kind to people with whom we don’t agree. In other words, have some respect. 

After all, we’d do the same or better for a horse.

Jenn Zeller is an aspiring horseman, photographer, freelance writer, barrel racer and collector of horses and chickens. She resides in South Dakota on the DX Ranch, a third-generation cattle ranch where the family raises Angus and Brangus cows, as well as Quarter Horses. Contact her at jennifer@thesouthdakotacowgirl.com.