I have continued to think about what it means to establish boundaries. What I have come to realize is that many people espouse the importance of boundaries as a way to find their power and be assertive. However, setting boundaries and being assertive are two different skills.
To set a boundary means that you hold your ground to protect something such as a territory or resource. Boundaries are important protective forces. It is important to claim your own personal space and to use boundaries as a way to establish safety for others. For example, stopping a child from running into the road is an important boundary or protective force.
One skill to have with horses is to be able to ask them to move out of your space or to move away from a resource (like hay) so that you can safely feed and work with them. You should be able to communicate clearly about your boundaries.
In addition, you have to notice and respect your horse’s boundaries. If your horse becomes stiff, holds his breath, or shifts away from you as you approach, you are encroaching on his space in a disrespectful way. Can you stop and give space. Respecting his boundaries is just as important as him respecting yours. Just as you will allow a calm horse to stand closer to you than one who is acting up, your horse will invite you in when you are in an energetic state that is acceptable to him.
Where people sometimes get confused is that they think a boundary has to do with motivating the horse to do some desired action. This actually has to do with being assertive to motivate another to complete a desired goal. This is a separate skill altogether.
You can use your power to be assertive and motivate others to act. A good leader must know how to do this. What sometimes happens is that we get confused about how to direct our power. With horse training, we often use dominating or manipulative tactics to motivate the horse.
Asking a horse to get on the trailer, for example, is an act of motivation. You must find a way to assert your power and authority to motivate the horse to complete a goal that the horse is otherwise unmotivated to complete. This is not an act of setting boundaries. There is no protective force here. So saying that you have to establish a boundary with a horse who doesn’t want to load is incorrect.
In fact, what you have to do is establish your assertiveness. There are (at least) two ways to do that. One is to control the horse’s behavior and make a demand to get the horse to do what you desire. The other is to cooperate with the horse and make a request to work together toward a common goal.
It is much easier to use power over another and motivate through fear and manipulation than it is to have power with another and motivate through trust and cooperation. When we feel the need to control others is when we feel as though a boundary is crossed when they do not comply. If you are ineffective in motivating your horse to perform an action, it is not because they are pushing your boundaries, it is because you have not learned how to assert your power.
Remember that when you try to motivate a horse to act you are almost always pushing their boundaries to motivate them. If you push too hard, you will break the trust that you have between you. You have to find a way to work respectfully while standing in you power and being an effective, assertive leader.