I’ve been sitting on this post for a while as it may make me somewhat unpopular. But what the hell, here goes!
I am, as is everyone else in the horsey world, surrounded by riders, handlers and their horse’s problems. “My horse does this, should I get such and such a bit / saddle/ gadget (insert here whatever is the flavour du jour)?” “How can I get my horse to do so-and-so?” “How can I stop my horse from doing such-and-such?” “Why does my horse…” I can’t seem to make my horse…” “My horse“…seems to always be at fault. As riders and equestrians we will tell anyone and everyone who is willing to listen, that it is about the partnership we have with our horses; it’s all about the relationship. So doesn’t it seem somewhat unfair that one partner should take all the blame for when things are not going as planned?
Fair enough. If your saddle or your bridle or your bit doesn’t actually fit you horse and cause it discomfort, by all means, change it. Make sure teeth, feet, muscles and bones are healthy. And then, I am sorry to say. Learn to ride and learn to train your horse! Apart from physical discomfort, problems and issues arise through human error.
When something isn’t going to plan, how many of us grab first, the nearest stronger bit, or fancy gadget to coerce the horse into doing what we want it to. We do not stop to consider what we as riders or handlers are doing to have caused the problem in the first place. It may not be something you yourself did…it may be something someone else did to or around your horse that is making it behave in a certain manner. Horses are clever. We know this! So much of their behaviour is learnt behaviour. And horses learn new behaviours quickly.
So when your horse is not doing what you want, stop to consider WHY. When the brakes don’t work as they should, don’t automatically reach for the stronger bit. Find out why your your horse is not responding to the “stop” aid. When your horse’s head is in the air, for the sake of all that is horsey, don’t grab whatever fancy new gadget you can find in the tack shop. Just stop and think. WHY is the horse not putting its head where it should be? Fix THAT and you fix your problem. When your horse is shaking its head – have you tried keeping your hands quiet? When your horse is unbalanced on one rein, have you had your seat checked to see that you are straight? I could go on and on…but you get my drift. I may sound like some tyrannical purist when it comes to training and schooling, but honestly, when the root of the problem has not been fixed, you are just slapping a band-aid onto the bleeding gash and hoping no-one would notice. When are you crossing the line between an equal partnership to coercion?
Your horse, although a sentient and intelligent being, I grant you, really, and I mean REALLY doesn’t care about reaching the next level of competition, or bringing home the prizes and the glory. Of course he is happy when you are happy, he lives to be in harmony with you and that is probably the only reason horses tolerate the totally unnatural things we ask them to do in the first place. That little fact, so often overseen by people – that they are by nature herd animals and it is in their utmost best interest to stay within the herd and for everyone to be happy and harmonious. Horses adapt their behaviour to their surroundings and their surroundings include us. We shape (however unknowingly) how they behave with every single interaction we have with them. Every single time you work with your horse, whether it is grooming session, or simply a visit to the field to feed it carrots they learn something. Every. Single. Time. And really, it is up to you whether what they are learning is good or bad.
I find it shocking and sad how many people work with horses every day, ride and handle horses for years, without ever really thinking about how and why they do things. They have been taught to do things in a certain way and they continue to do it in that way because of their distorted view of the horse itself. There is of course those on the other side of the coin too: those that over- “huminify” (I think I may have just made that word up, but the correct term is anthropomophy) their horses and expect them to think and react as people. Yes, they are beings in their own right, but they are not people. That is my whole point. They are horses. They think like horses and they behave like horses.
Because it is we who are intruding in their lives, asking them to do more than walk around and find food, it is also up to us to make sure we understand their behaviour; the reasons why they may act in a certain manner, and then to act accordingly. With the wealth of knowlege available to our modern society, there is no excuse to plead ignorance!