Horses understand discipline, they have to. Since the day they were born, they were taught the rules of herd life, and breaking those rules resulted in being disciplined by a member of that herd. In the beginning the discipline is simply being expelled from the safety of the herd for a short period of time. As the foal matures it is expected to remain respectful of the horses above it in the pecking order, and it it doesn't it will be punished by whatever means the higher ranking horse sees fit. I have never personally seen one horse that just beat on another for no reason. I'm not saying that it doesn't happen, just that I've never seen it. I have read about and heard about horses that could not be turned out with other horses because of aggression issues though. This however is not the norm, or horses would not be herd animals.
I think of abuse as excessive force administered for extended periods of time. I think of discipline as anything that happens within 3 seconds of the unwanted behavior, that lasts no longer than 3 seconds, and utilized anything that you currently have on your person. Short of keeping an arsenal with you at all times, you can not physically abuse a horse within those three rules. If you stay within those rules, you can not physically abuse a horse with anything short of carrying a gun with you at all times. Even following my rules, there are some people that would consider it as abuse because I struck the horse with anything to begin with. There is really nothing that I can do about how someone else views what I do as a whole, just like they can not do anything about how I view what they do with their horses. But that is a completely different story anyway, so I shall move on.
Again discipline is something that horses understand, if you do this I will do that. Just for a simple example; if you come into my space without being invited, I will make you leave. Abuse is completely foreign to them. Like, if you come into my space without being invited, I will tie you up and hit you with a whip until you no longer think about doing that. See the difference? Now, granted those are overly simplified examples, but they get the point across.
I also mentioned that discipline can cross the line into abuse, and it usually happens when our frustration grows and grows, because of what ever reason. This to me, is the only time that it is acceptable to just walk away for a little while (just make sure to leave your horse in a safe situation) and calm down, because chances are, if you are frustrated your horse is confused. Take a break, long enough for you to collect your wits about you, and try again. This time in smaller steps, and as soon as the horse does anything right, end on a good note and stop for the day. That is how to avoid discipline becoming abuse.
Training horses can be simple or as frustrating as we make it, add in the pressure of someone else watching and judging every little move that you make, and it can be overwhelming. Do what works for you and your horse and let the other people do the same. Unless they ask for your help directly, or you ask for theirs, there is no reason to worry about someone else thinks. Even with that being said, if you see someone truly abusing a horse, please turn them into the proper authorities, as no horse deserves that.
Good luck, happy trails, stay safe, and God less you and yours.
Until next time,