What’s in a name?



By Sue Palmer

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet


A recent discussion on the Ethical Horsemanship Association (EHA, http://www.ethicalhorsemanshipassociation.co.uk) page on FB (https://www.facebook.com/ethicalhorsemanshipassociation) got me thinking about whether or not EHA is the right name for our association, and whether we are portraying ourselves accurately. I’d be really interested in your thoughts on this – our mission is to help horses (and by default, their owners), and in order to do this, people need to understand what we’re offering at EHA. Plus, of course, what we’re offering needs to appeal to the people we reach – but that’s a separate discussion!


The discussion started by asking ‘What are your ethics?’.  This wasn’t a question I’d thought about before, because despite calling the association the ‘Ethical Horsemanship Association’, I hadn’t considered a set of ‘ethics’ that we follow.  Wikipedia defines ‘ethics’ as ‘a branch of philosophy that involves systematising, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics).  At EHA we encourage a supportive, encouraging environment, which in itself seems in opposition to that particular definition of ‘ethics’.  It’s true though that I do believe there is ‘right’ (working towards a better understanding of the horse) and ‘wrong’ (ignoring communication from the horse), and perhaps I should expand on this and state my views, and those of co-founders Simon and Lizzie.  What do you think – would it help you to understand more about what we believe is right or wrong?


However, the word we’ve used in our name is ‘Ethical’.  One dictionary definition of ‘ethical’ is ‘pertaining to or dealing with morals or the principles of morality; pertaining to right and wrong in conduct’ (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/ethical).  This, to me, is exactly what we are about at EHA – discussion and ongoing learning amongst like-minded people around morals in relation to horsemanship, and around what we as individuals feel is right or wrong in our conduct in relation to our horses.  The goal of EHA is to offer a friendly, non-judgemental environment in which to have these discussions and in which to experience the ongoing learning, through acceptance that we are all on different stages of our horsemanship journey, and that everyone has something to share that is of value to others, no matter what stage of the journey they are on.


Another point in the discussion on the EHA FB page (https://www.facebook.com/ethicalhorsemanshipassociation) was around the word ‘horsemanship’.  The suggestion was that ‘horsemanship’ may not be the best choice of word, since I had stated earlier in the conversation that EHA did not advocate a specific training technique or method.  This person felt that ‘horsemanship’ these days generally related to training horses, and therefore our name might be confusing to the general public.  I welcome the challenge to my thought process, but again I ultimately feel that we picked the right word.  I was brought up with the ‘Manual of Horsemanship’ (as I’m sure were many of you!), and ‘Horsemanship’ there is taken to mean all aspects of caring for horses, including training.


I really appreciate people who are willing to stand up for what they believe, and to have a civilized debate around a subject, and I’ve found it fascinating diving more deeply into explaining who and what EHA is.  We agonised for many months over what to call the organisation, before settling on Ethical Horsemanship Association. I listened to piles of audiobooks, we scoured the equestrian press, we canvassed opinion whenever we were in the company of anyone who would discuss the subject with us, and we finally settled on EHA.  We think we’ve got it right, we feel it accurately describes what we’re offering.  What do you think?  If you’d like to take a look so you can give us more accurate feedback, you can join us for a week for free at www.ethicalhorsemanshipassociation.co.uk.  Hope to see you there 🙂

2 thoughts on “What’s in a name?”

  1. A great point – what is ethical for one person my not be for another. Take vegetarianism as an example for some it is not ethical to eat animals, to others it is as long as the animals welfare in good.
    It is different for each of us, for one person it may be following a natural horsemanship program for another it may be only training using positive reinforcement. For others it may be a combined approach – so using all quadrants of operant conditioning, alongside classical conditioning.
    So for me personally to be ethical in my horsemanship is to cause no harm to the animal, so be very aware of the emotional impact any training has. So watching for frustration, anxiety and any indicators that tell me the horse is over his emotional threshold.
    The use of positive reinforcement as much as possible at any moment in time. There may be times when I have to use negative reinforcement in situations where I have not trained a satisfactory response, but the aversive stumuli need to be kept to a minimum. So some unforeseen veterinary procedures may need the horse to be restrained – however I can counter condition this to make it easier for the horse.
    The LIMA Principles are a useful bench mark.

  2. Thank you Gill for your comment 🙂 I completely agree with the ‘do no harm’ principle. What I have an ongoing struggle with, and a desire to continually learn, is what is ‘harm’, and how do we know that we are ‘doing no harm’? We know dramatically more nowadays about the behavioural, psychological and physical elements of both ourselves (humans) and the horses we love so much. Taken to the extreme, of course, owning horses full stop can be interpreted as ‘harm’, particularly in relation to riding them – I suspect the animal rights activists (as opposed to animal welfare) have some strong arguments here. We are all harmed as we go through life, to some degree or another, and I feel it’s unrealistic to believe that we can cause literally no harm to an animal (I have a similar discussion with owners when they come to me saying ‘I want to know that my horse isn’t in any discomfort’ – any older horse in work, and many who are not in work, will be in some level of discomfort, as are older people). I think to me, it is about minimising ‘harm’, and deciding what level of ‘harm’ is acceptable to you and to your horse – which can be an ever evolving decision. As usual, it comes down to the use of language, and how literally you take the words. I love a discussion that makes me think more deeply about what I am saying, and I know that I must continually develop the beliefs I have in relation to the evidence that appears, and the words I use to discuss my views with others. Again, thank you Gill, I look forward to more discussions in the future 🙂

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