We’ve all seen them. Someone who decides the warm-up ring at a show is the right place to drill lead changes, getting increasingly angry and liberal with the whip at every failed attempt. The person whose horse is mentally not prepared for the work they’re trying to do, so they end up yanking the horse to a stop repeatedly and seesawing on the mouth out of frustration. The rider whose spooky horse is hesitant about something and they yank the horse around, yelling and whaling away before the horse even knows what’s happening.
Unfortunately something I see a lot of on a pretty regular basis is people picking fights with horses while they’re riding. I don’t get up on my preachy soapbox very often on this blog, but this is one thing I just don’t get and it drives me nuts. Horses are very rarely obstinate under saddle just for the sake of being obstinate. It’s much more likely that they’re a) confused by what you’re asking b) not prepared for what you’re asking – either mentally or physically – or c) hurting. Trying to force them into doing something and letting our emotions take control creates a situation where no one wins. Either the human ends up frustrated or hurt, or the horse ends up frustrated, upset, and likely resentful.
Why buy trouble?
As humans, we have brains (well most of us). We can think logically, foresee how different scenarios could play out, and make intelligent decisions. Horses are creatures that are very much “in the now”. They react to the situations they’re put in, to their surroundings, what they’re being asked to do, and how they’re being asked to do it. We as humans can control a lot of that, and therefore can in essence choose to avoid situations that probably won’t turn out favorably. I’m not saying avoid situations as in “Snookums doesn’t want to go in that corner, so we’ll just avoid that half of the ring”. I’m saying that we take a moment to instead ask ourselves how we can, in a way, outsmart Snookums and get him into that corner without resorting to manhandling and frustrating both parties. Basically using your brains – not your brawn. It’s possible in almost every scenario if you set your emotions aside and think instead of react.
Remember that saying? It’s really true. For myself personally, when I encounter disobedience in a horse the first thing I ask myself is why. Was the horse properly prepared for what I asked? Did I ask correctly? Is there some outside factor – mental or physical – that is preventing the horse from responding appropriately? Nine times out of ten the resolution to the disobedience can be found within the answers to those questions (which is why I think a good trainer is so important – to help us mere mortals figure out where we’re making mistakes). Sometimes it’s as simple as us asking in a way that wasn’t understood very well. Other times it’s the horse saying “I’m so wigged out right now, I can’t handle this” in which case you can take a step back, find something to un-wig them, and ask again.
There’s also nothing in the world to be gained by yanking/kicking/beating/yelling. To the people that then try to justify their idiotic behavior by blaming their horses for being jerks: I’ll say it… you’re the jerk. Our hands and legs aren’t weapons, they’re aids. Same with a whip and spur. I can’t even imagine what people are expecting to accomplish when they take out their temper and lack of riding skill on their horse. There’s a difference between a firm “No, I said do this” reprimand and flat out abuse, and IMO I see the line blurred way too often when a human’s temper takes control. C’mon people, we’re better that. I don’t know about you but I’d rather be a thinking rider who sets the horse up for success, not the reacting rider who punishes and frustrates. If you regularly find yourself in fights with your horse, you’re doing something wrong, and maybe it’s time to seek professional help.
Of course – yes, sometimes horses are in fact just plain disobedient. But we can make a correction swiftly and succinctly then move on without holding a grudge or losing our temper, and subsequently reward them when they do it right. My real grumble here is the people that choose to start a fight where there never had to be one in the first place. It’s just not fair to the horse.
Take a look at this except from the USDF website: “its purpose is to develop the horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to work making him calm, supple and attentive to his rider.” We don’t get those things with force, hysterics, and emotion. We get it with tact, fairness, and intelligence.