When it comes to horsemanship, where do you draw the line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’? When does a method cross the line between being ‘firm’ or ‘strict’, into being ‘forceful’ or ‘abusive’? When you ride, train, or look after your horse, which practices would you deem acceptable or unacceptable? How far should we be allowed to go in our quest for obedience, for submission, for ‘leadership’?
It seems to me that everyone has their own idea of what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to horses. In the competition world there are many aspects that could be looked upon unfavourably – cranked nosebands, tight martingales and tie-downs, spurs worn by those yet to master a stable leg, whips wielded like weapons rather than aids of precision. … More Changing the Narrative: Your Horse, YOUR Problem
This ‘language of the aids’ can be as simple or complex as we make it, but as a means of communication it has one fatal flaw – it allows information to flow in one direction only. Imagine learning a foreign language that you can only understand, but are incapable of ever speaking. The only means you would have to communicate with anyone would be to respond to what they say or not. Because if you think about it, this is what we expect our horses to do. More often than not your horse is only left with two choices – to do what you ask, or to not do what you ask… and inevitably have to deal with the consequences of not ‘behaving’. … More The Language of Horsemanship: An Introduction
I’m often told that there are two types of riders – those that compete and those that don’t. To the competitive rider, those who don’t compete are often dismissed as lesser riders, or worse, not ‘real’ riders. Many non-competitive riders seem reduced to shamefully excusing themselves as a ‘happy hacker’ or trying to make it sound a bit better with the rather vague ‘oh, we do a bit of everything’. There are the stereotypes too – that competitive types put their horses at risk for the sake of a rosette or run them into the ground to ensure a ‘win’; or that those that choose not to compete do nothing ‘worthwhile’ with their horses. … More Your Horse Doesn’t Care About Winning
I’ve been working a lot with rescue horses recently and I’ve been struck by how much we, as humans, seem to fixate on the past. It’s interesting to me how so many owners begin to describe their horses by explaining their background, as if it is the single most important thing that defines their horse’s character. ‘He was so mistrusting of humans when I got him, because he was abused’, ‘He hates having his ears touched, because he was twitched as a youngster’, ‘He has separation anxiety because he was once left tied to a tree’, ‘He hates jumping because his last rider pushed him too fast’. Every horse seems to have a story and it is so rarely positive. … More Are you stuck in your horse’s past?
Perhaps it’s the overuse of the term by controversial animal trainers or maybe Fifty Shades of Grey has just made it impossible to say the word without the image of whips and restraints popping into our minds, but ‘dominance’ seems to me to be one of the most misunderstood and misused terms in horsemanship. Dominance training theories have been around since humans first started training horses, and while our understanding of herd dynamics and training techniques have evolved, the dominance theory still dominants (pun intended) modern-day training. But how do we define dominance and does dominance have a place in good horsemanship? … More Does Dominance Have a Place in Horsemanship?
What few trainers talk about is how subjective ‘feel’ can be. Timing is simple if you are looking only for a physical change – for your horse to take a step back, put his foot on a pedestal, or move up a gait. But what about when the thing you are looking for is more than just physical? What about when you are looking for your horse to soften mentally, rather than physically; to not just perform a movement, but to perform it with energy, calmness, or fluidity; when you want to affect a change in your horse’s thoughts, not just their physicality? … More The Subjectivity of Feel and Timing
One of my most hated mantras is: ‘Perfect practice makes perfect’. Not because I don’t agree with the theory behind it (that there is no point in practicing the wrong thing and expecting to improve) but because it leaves no room for mistakes. We shouldn’t be so limited by our desire to do something ‘right’ that we become afraid to do it wrong. We should never feel embarrassed, ashamed or stupid for trying, even if we fall flat on our faces. Nor should we ever feel constrained by what one person determines to be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
If the fear of making mistakes is greater than the desire to learn, then learning becomes impossible. … More Why You Shouldn’t be Afraid of Making Mistakes