Where it all starts…
You have all heard it, “modern vs classical” or even something along the lines of “one formula fits all vs doing whats best for the individual horse”. No matter whether you do dressage, eventing, or ranch work, i feel there is always some kind of one versus another. Sometimes it a matter of opinion, or a matter of what work for each rider.
The other day I was watching a popular instructional youtube series for riding horses, personally I liked them a lot because they started out with really great exercises for jumping and flat work. Though the other day, I realized they were getting more into “training” videos – such as how to load your horse, what to do if your horse doesn’t stand at the mounting block, even for riders subjects of improving your seat at the sit trot ect…. Honestly I was not impressed! I felt a lot of their techniques opposite of what I teach, and what I found works for me and my students! I thought, this is where a lot of people are going to get frustrated, because these tools won’t work for everyone’s personal situation. They are not right, but they are certainly not wrong either. Everyone only knows what they know, what works for them, and whats been proven to work repeatedly. How is it though that we know what we are doing is going to work for anyone besides just us?
If it works, it works
So if something isn’t right or wrong, and it works that means just keep doing it right? Wrong, but not many people take a step back to evaluate what they are doing. Students get a little more leeway in my mind since they are “still learning”, BUT a self proclaimed trainer is putting out their that the tools and techniques work on any horse or rider, which is not always the case. If that was the case we wouldn’t have any horses that are deemed “dangerous” and they wouldn’t be taking the blame for poor training and un-educated riders wouldn’t be putting their horses through hell trying to force them along.
I heard recently on a facebook post, that someone knew of a western pleasure person who tied their horses heads high in a stall for hours, only so that when they take them down to ride they drop their heads in that nice low frame. Now in my opinion, that is absolutely cruel and extremely unreasonable, yet there are people out there who do it. Yet the same could be said for a lot of disciplines with “behind closed doors” shortcuts to attaining their goals (rolkur or hyper-flexion per say, can easily be reached with using draw reins inappropriately, not that its the best option for the animal but some are not thinking that way!). Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter, what they do works for them, so they keep doing it. I say if they were invested in the quality of life for their animals, they would find a different way to get the desired results….why don’t they? Maybe fear of something else not getting the desired result, being scorned for doing something different, god forbid they don’t win that show or get that ribbon!!!. There are many different options out there, my goal is to find the ones that get me the results I want, with no expense to my horses mental or physical well being.
Stepping outside the box
If I told you to speak to me in latin, you might give me a hairy eyeball look followed by silence….if you don’t know it that’s ok, but why have all these languages out there and only know how to speak one?? Doesn’t make you wrong or right, but you continue speaking it because it’s what you know, and your very comfortable when you know something for certain. What if I told you though that latin was the universal language? Would you try to learn it? Or would you stick to your comfort zone? If you only knew a couple words would you stop and say, “yeah im good with that, I know the basics to get me by”. Truth is that theory is a lot like our modern day horsemanship. We have all these different styles, and yet no matter who you go up to, it changes slightly for everyone. There is no “universal language” for horsemanship, people do what works for them, or what they have seen works for others. There is little to no understanding, yet they saw that it seemed to work, so they copied it. To me that’s kind of like carrying on a long sentence in a different language and having no idea what your actually saying…sounds ridiculous right? Yet I see so many out there who are sort of doing that, they tug and kick and command there horses here, there and everywhere, but really have no understanding of the conversation they are carrying on with the horse….If there is even a conversation at all. I think a lot of horse people don’t even really know what the horses are saying, or they interpret things in a “non-horse” sense by making the animal too human or putting too much emotion onto the horse. If you don’t speak the language of the horse, learn that first, small steps at a time, don’t try to force a conversation in a language you don’t speak. Just because you can imitate it, doesn’t mean you should.
Just becuase you can doesn’t mean you should
The phrase is not only simple, but self explanatory. If you can do it, does not mean you should. Example: I just bought a 3 year old horse who has superb grand prix jumping bloodlines, he can jump 5ft – Does not mean get on the horse and aim him at the highest jump. People forget horses are very capable animals, they are amazing in the fact that given the right tools and guidance, they can accomplish just about anything. You have to understand that unlocking that potential is a specific combination for each horse, if you don’t have the correct combination, your physically and mentally putting your horse at risk. Just like us, horses need to understand as well, we typically call this the “foundation work”. Problem is we skim this work to progress quicker. To give a better idea of that would be “my horse can walk trot canter and he jumped a 18 inch crossrail, he jumped it pretty big so I think I will give that 3 foot fence a go, he SHOULD be able to jump it no problem”. So he crashes through it, and now his confidence is busted, or maybe he stops and throws you, now he is left without guidance and confused and your in the dirt. I once saw the quote “practice doesn’t make perfect – perfect practice makes perfect”, its not just about I can canter, it’s HOW do you canter? It’s not I can jump 5ft, it’s HOW you jump 5ft. Don’t just do something for the heck of it, because even if you get really good at making it work without a good solid foundation, you will spend your life forcing tasks onto horses, and having to do a heck of a lot more than you should have to to compensate for both you and the horse.
Never stop growing
So if your thinking, how do I know if I am communicating clearly with my horse? How do I know if I am doing things that work, but are not the best option for my horse? How do I know if I a doing things just because I can? Well a good start is you have to begin viewing the world with an open mind. Take off the lenses of opinion and see things for what they are! Or in some sense put yourself into the animals position, it’s one thing to scold for inappropriate behavior, it’s another to be left standing uncomfortably for hours just for a certain frame. How would your take be on what you are currently doing with your horse? How does it compare to everyone else?? Not just the people you look up to but when I say everyone I mean everyone. So what your an eventer, if Guy McLean (if you don’t know him look him up) can run through a successful dressage test bareback with a neck rope, and your thinking of advancing to a bigger bit because your horse id too heavy….you might want to rethink your conversation with your horse. Don’t just advance to the next biggest bit becuase “thats what the pro’s do”, or some lame excuse like that. Take a step back and go, wow if that guy can do it with next to nothing on and still have a light soft horse, what do I need to learn to progress in that direction. Who cares if you’ll never compete in a neck rope, the principles are whats important, not the tack.
My personal take
How I came to be the horsewoman I am today, is by taking in all sorts of opinions and methods and techniques, and really soaking them in, in some instances even applying them. Some, it takes a little longer than others but eventually I sort out what works from what doesn’t, and what is fair to the animal versus what isn’t. In my opinion, it’s the least we can do for our horses in a world where they already have little to no say over their lives, to not force more and more at them. At the same time, my goals are very specific and yet very broad : To keep learning and growing, to keep transforming into a more educated horsewoman than I was yesterday : To keep advancing my techniques and tools, so I can be efficient and effective in communicating to the horse : To always do whats right for the animal and to give them the chance to become a partner not a slave to my personal goals. If these sound like goals that interest you, then take my advice and make absolutely 110% sure that every time your working with your horse, you have their best interest at the top of the list and your methods are backing that up!Knowledge is power, what we know can change everything, so make sure what you know is accurate and fair, before you start trying to apply it.
What you can achieve from understanding the whole horse as opposed to not just bits and pieces, can mean literally a world of a difference. I love how these horses i’m riding are looking relaxed and content, and also soft and correct mechanically in their bodies. Language of the body and mind, is the universal language of the horse. Learn the language people! You will be glad you did 🙂