I've been watching The Dog Whisperer and listening to him explain to all the problem cases that their first mistake is humanizing their dogs. It makes me think about all the different ways I humanize Gazelle, and I wonder if it's a mistake?
I know she is not human and does not feel human emotions. She does not feel happiness, jealousy, frustration, or pity. She does not get angry or impatient. In fact, I think there are only three human emotions we could ever associate with any horse: fear, content, discontent. They're either fed and watered and comfortable (content), hungry and thirsty and uncomfortable (discontent), or fearful (do you really need the explanations?).
So am I wrong to tell my students that Gazelle is a "priss" and a "drama queen"? That she will only give them 4 chances before she categorizes them as an idiot and they may as well get off and start again some other day? Am I wrong to say that her favorite thing in the world is standing at the end of the arena listening to people talk? That she also likes "sitting at the cool lunch table" and "hanging out" with other horses (they stand in a group)? Is it a mistake to say that she has stipulations for trail riding: she has to be 2nd in line, the first horse is not allowed to dilly-dally, no one is allowed to go above a walk, no one is allowed to take pictures or stop to smell the roses.
I mean, I know what is happening for each and every humanization.
You get four chances. Gazelle is intelligent. I'm sure it's not literally four, but after a few failed attempts she becomes discontented with the situation and she starts acting out. I joke they may as well get off because it's really challenging to pull her out of the funk, and if they got her there in the first place then they obviously don't have the skill to snap her out of it. I don't say all that of course, but you get it.
Her favorite thing. Of course she doesn't have a favorite thing, nor does she "enjoy" it. But she gets affection when we stand around at one end of the arena and gab, and so she stands contentedly.
The cool lunch table. Gazelle doesn't have a clue about popularity. She's a herd animal, so she is more content to stay with the crowd.
The trail riding stipulations. I'm the one that has learned how to have an enjoyable trail ride, so I guess if we're being absolutely truthful, they're my stipulations. Trail rides go better for me if Gazelle can be second in line--that way she doesn't "make up boogeymen." When the first horse in line sees something (that would be ordinarily scary to Gazelle) and they don't spook, then Gazelle just follows suit and stays quiet. If the first horse has a naturally slower gait than Gazelle then she has to be constantly poked at and told to slow down, it creates a stimulant and causes her to act out. If people go above or below a walk it also creates a stimulant.
So what does it hurt that I explain things in humanistic terms? Hmm, there's a word for it but I can't think of it right now. Ah ha. I just looked it up. Anthropomorphic. Anyway. Does it hurt anything to explain it to my lessons anthropomorphically (not sure if that one's a word, but who cares)?
I think if I really believed it, then yes, it is harmful. But I try my hardest to make it clear to everyone that horses are NOT humans, so I think it's harmless.