AMBER: That matches what I have felt and seen, as well. Can you talk about the cat example again, though? I have had the occasional animal say that they acted out because of their anger or frustration. It’s obvious that the animal is not cruel in response if he or she has been mistreated, but sometimes it seems very personal, like the animal is indeed out to “get” that specific person.
FIONA: Household pets are more likely to tend to those behaviors than horses, for they spend more company in the time of humans than horses do. They learn and acquire human attributes and tendencies, like jealousy, because they cannot escape from the emotional energy bands that would re-align them with their natural states. Furthermore, they tend more and more toward human behavior because they are trained and rewarded in a human system with human values and human desires, none of which are part of the innate instinct of the animal. It would perhaps sound harsh to say that you impose human characteristics on these animals, but it is not entirely untrue. As mentioned, these animals do not have the human capacity to cope with such extreme energies and personality traits as they develop through human contact, and therefore have little ability to manage their behaviors.
Think of a young toddler and his or her ability to manage emotions and experience the world. The toddler is not “bad” because he or she cannot manage or handle the emotions at an early age. Even if you cannot understand the stress that causes him or her to lash out, she is assuredly under it. Again, the environment and relationship to family or handlers plays a significant role in the behavior of the toddler as well as the cat, for both are likely to lash out at individuals who cause them stress or unwanted emotion. Both also lack the ability to take responsibility and control for their state of being when they have been triggered by a stress. In time, the toddler can learn self-conduct, but the animal, as we discussed, can only do so within the limits of avoiding greater threats to his or her survival. That is why you can teach a horse to tolerate pain because of a fear for greater repercussions, but you cannot teach him that he is safe when he feels threatened, or to like something he does not enjoy.
AMBER: I guess this raises a larger question of what we consider to be a jerk. Many people believe that any unwanted behavior, like bucking or scratching a human or peeing on the carpet makes an animal a jerk, but you’re saying that the animal has no inherent personality traits like this; they are only reactions. It’s my thought that most people take such behaviors so personally because they have to deal with it or are harmed by it.
FIONA: Is the cat a jerk for reacting emotionally to an environmental stress, like a young child might do, even if that stress is a person? The reaction may seem personal because it’s directed toward one person, but it is no more personal than an ill-fitting saddle: at the root is a source of pain and discomfort to which the animal reacts. The horse may respond by bucking the rider off, even angrily if he has reached a breaking point emotionally, but the pain is the cause of stress and not the human involved. The horse may be wary of that human due to association with stress or pain, which is frequently where humans misinterpret the animal’s antics as a personal attack. However, the reaction itself is not personal even if the emotions surrounding the actions are highly charged. So yes, a cat or another animal could “act out in anger” toward a specific human being, even repeatedly, but this is not due to the ill-nature of the animal or the person in question. He’s not a jerk by personality, he’s just stressed.
Indeed, most of the unwanted behaviors in animals are a direct result of human interactions with them. What you dislike and term a jerk is simply due to the conditioning humans subjected the animal to. So if you must believe animals “are jerks,” know that they are made that way, not born that way, due to the pressures, stress, and traumas of a life in confinement with people who do not honor their needs or instincts and treat then such that they are highly stressed and reactive. Such feelings of vulnerability and threat in his environment will cause the animal to act out to deal with the emotional responses within him. It’s not because the cat, in his small cat brain, has some sociopathic personality or passive aggressive behaviors to want to hurt you because that’s just who he is; it’s distinctly NOT who he is.
The fact that he’s so far from his innate nature should be an indicator to evaluate the animal’s lifestyle and dynamics to help restore him to balance, to do what he is unable to do for himself. While the cat’s reactions to humans/stress may be that of a jerk, and in time those reactions may come to dominate the human’s experience of the cat, he is not and never has been an inherently bad animal. For argument’s sake, I suppose you could call an animal a jerk once he becomes completely consumed by stress into unwanted behaviors. The trouble with that statement is that it implies the cat had some intrinsic motivation to become a jerk because he was some sort of bad egg. In different circumstances, that same cat would have been a peach.
AMBER: It is easy to think that the humans are the real jerks, and that the cat is being contorted out of its good temper, but it’s not quite so simple. Is the cat a victim in this circumstance?
FIONA: No, but neither is the person with the floor getting peed on. Both are simply having their reactions.
AMBER: My version is that as cognitive, thoughtful beings, it’s our responsibility to step up to the plate and change, because the cat has no reason to and less capacity. We are the ones who have a problem with the behavior, so we have to be the ones to change. The cat may not like you or trust you but judging you he is not; he just exists with what you are and takes care of himself accordingly. We are the ones who pass judgement. For animals it is much simpler. “Avoid predators, they can kill you.” Not, “that leopard sure is a jerk!” Because they are incapable of making that judgement, animals are incapable of embodying it and becoming a jerk. That projection is on us.
FIONA: I quite agree, but it is a harsh judgment of yourselves. After all, you, too have instincts. Fortunately, you have the capacity to change what you are programmed to do and rise above it. We encourage you to use this gift and be more than what came before you. See animals for our true nature and you will finally be aligned with yours.
Have you ever wanted to ask a horse how they feel about a particular subject? Now’s your chance! Hear about horse-keeping and equestrian subjects straight from the horse’s mouth. These segments are conducted interview-style between Amber and equine advice extraordinaire Fiona, or a guest horse. Have a question or a topic you’d like to know about? Leave a comment here or on Facebook or Twitter with under #askahorse.