The “right” way

As I was sitting there last week watching yet another facebook fight unfold about what is the right age to start a horse under saddle, I couldn’t help but chuckle. Equestrians are so funny, because I feel like most of us that have been riding/training/keeping horses long enough know that anytime you think you’re totally right about something, a horse will come along to prove you wrong. Never say never is a motto with many of us. And yet in the same breath we will staunchly defend our ideal of what is the “best way” to do anything, while ridiculing those who do something different. But what if… what if both sides are right?

skeptical

I mean, I think we can all agree that riding a weanling falls well into DEFINITELY DO NOT DO, VERY BAD territory, and that waiting until they’re 8 is probably a tad unnecessary. There are always hard lines when it comes to cruelty or abuse (well… usually…), and extremes in the other direction. But dropping both extremes, there is a lot of territory that exists in between. What about starting a horse at 2? Or, on the other end of the spectrum, what about the people who wait until 5 or 6? They probably both have their reasons, and they’re probably both valid. If we know anything by now it’s that what’s right for one horse may not be right for another, and on the same note, what’s right for one person might not be right for another. There are people who choose to let their horses be relatively feral for their early years, and those who choose to do a lot of handling and ground work. People who bring horses up the levels quickly, and people who take a long time to develop them. Very different approaches, but again – maybe both are right.

I’ve seen a lot of these scenarios unfold. There are people that are exceptionally good at reading a horse, understanding when they can ask for more and when they can’t, when the horse needs a break mentally or physically, how to artfully add strength to a horse without adding wear and tear. I have no doubt that those people can and have successfully started many horses at 2 and not done any detriment to the horse’s long term soundness – in fact, some studies show that the horse may be better off because of it. You also see the people who don’t possess a lot of patience, or aren’t so good at knowing how to quit while they’re ahead, or are very workmanlike and more intense, or are just so skilled that they can get a horse properly trained up in a very short period of time, and those people are probably more successful waiting until a horse is older. Some people like to spend a long time just casually trail riding the babies, some like to go right into a structured work program. There are also the horses that are ready to work a bit earlier, and those that aren’t. It’s all different – sometimes VERY different. A lot of times what someone else does isn’t what we would do. But does that make it automatically wrong just because it’s not what we would do? What if it’s actually the very best thing for that particular person and that particular horse, given their circumstances, personalities, and skill sets?

is this a skill set?
how bout this?

At one point the facebook argument devolved into dithering over a difference of just a few months, what exact time growth plates close, etc etc. By the end I was just chuckling. I’ve probably been drawn into this same argument myself many times in the past, I’m sure. After all, I believe what I believe because it’s worked for me and it suits my views based on what I have observed and what I’m good at. But by this point I also have no doubt that someone else could have a very different approach and still be right. Many roads lead to Rome.

We see the same thing over and over with things like the will-never-die draw rein debate, or wool vs foam flocking debate, or blanketing, or fencing, or straight load vs slant load trailers, or whatever other thing everybody’s all riled up about this time. When it comes to training and horse management, there’s just a whooooole lot of gray area. Extremes are probably not good, but everything in the middle – and there’s a whole lot of it in the middle – might be very right, depending on the variables at hand. It’s tricky in the age of social media, where we’ve kind of been trained to constantly give our own opinion or feedback. I personally like the debates that social media invites, I think it’s helpful to hear and consider different opinions, but maybe not so much when it devolves into name calling or “everyone is wrong except for me”. Sometimes people are very convinced that their way is the only way. We’ve probably all been guilty of that at some point.

I’ve found this particularly amusing lately as I get people asking “why haven’t you started riding Presto yet?” and literally the same day from someone else “he definitely needs another year”. I’ve got people thinking I’m crippling him by lunging him w/t for 5 minutes twice a month, and people who think he should already be well on his way to broke and I’m doing him a disservice. Not joking, I’ve heard both. Because if there’s anything we horse people have, it’s opinions. I respect both sides, and, to be honest, maybe there’s validity in both. Maybe, based on those peoples’ own experiences, they’re right. At the same time, I’ve had my own experiences that have formed my own ideas about what’s right for ME and for how I start my horses, and I fully recognize that my way isn’t going to be viewed as The Right Way by many. Shoot, my own “right way” has varied even from horse to horse and over time.

The same concept is true for so many things when it comes to horses. No two people do everything exactly the same way, yet… their horses are still happy and healthy. Just because I think I’m right doesn’t automatically mean the other person is wrong, and vice versa. For so many things, “right” can take many different forms, depending. The horses seem to care a lot less about all these nitty gritty nuances than their humans do, and they definitely aren’t saying rude shit to each other on the internet. Maybe we can take a cue from them. Maybe, even though someone else’s way might look a lot different from ours, we can just look at their happy healthy horses  and say “okay… maybe they’re right too“.

Or, ya know, we can just keep fighting about stuff on facebook. It’s entertaining, if nothing else.

13 thoughts on “The “right” way

  1. Sometimes I hate to even mention I have horses because the crazies in the horse world are embarrassing. Horses are just like kids they are all different and what is right for one isn’t always going to be right for the other.

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  2. I’m with Emily above. We are ALL individuals. Horses and people. I love to share photos of my horse on Instagram/Facebook, but I very rarely show pictures of us doing anything because I don’t want the drama. I purchased a new horse about a month ago and have seriously debated doing the blog thing just to have a running account of our journey together, but I’m hesitant because a lot of people just suck.

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    1. That’s too bad, but I get it. When you’re more public you do open yourself up to more criticism. It’s unfortunate that a thicker skin is necessary. I hope you do it though, even if it’s just for you!

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  3. With the state of politics being what it is these days (insert vomit emoji here) is it really any wonder that people are losing their minds online over (personal opinions about) equestrian issues? It seems likely that the whole likes + followers = dopamine hits is responsible for a lot of the drama. How were we resolving these disagreements before the interwebs? I can’t remember lol… Also Presto really is a handsome horse – skepticism and ball obsession aside.

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    1. I’m “came of age” around the same time the internet did, but I don’t remember things really be discussed that much before. Like you did things how you were taught and that was it, and pretty much everyone around you did the same for the most part. Which, in that way I do really appreciate the internet, it’s widened my horizons a lot, but there’s the obvious downside too.

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  4. Well said.

    I think it comes down to “What Works for Me”. I think that the same horse can turn out to be just as good regardless of started under saddle at 2 or at 4, if that horse gets the training and development it needs. The horse may ride a bit differently depending on which program it came from, but does that really matter so much? Every horse is an individual, and we adjust to that as riders. There’s definitely room for more than one way of approaching things, imo.

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  5. I’m glad my internet circle is fairly small, as I’ve managed to avoid the trolls for the most part. Except a handful I actually know in real life. And it’s so nice to be able to block them on social! Haha!
    But I agree with you totally. I do certain things the barn owner hates. She thinks they’re wrong and doesn’t support me at all. But they’re stupid things! I like no bow wraps and don’t have bit guards on my three ring (because Rio and Jamp used to wind up with chapped faces from them, obviously if pinching was happening, I’d add the bit guards). Apparently these things make me a bad horse person. I just smile and nod and tell her each horse is different. And she reminds me daily about how dangerous these things are that I do. Eye roll. Anyway, every horse and every human are on their own path. As long as no one is in danger, and the horses are content, I think we’re all doing something right.

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  6. I did ask you once about when you were going to start him, but it was purely from an “I’ve followed Presto since he was a black dot” point of view.

    I totally agree with every horse is different and think that is how training should be tailored…to suit the individual horse. I recently got an OTTB that had been restarted and is doing fabulously, but I just felt he needed a little more time before we got serious about anything. He was very immature this past spring so he has pretty much had the winter off. What a difference just a few months has made!

    Bottom line- do what suits you and Presto best… but I still can’t wait to see him get going.

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  7. I, of course, agree with you. And would add that what works for one person with a horse may not work the same for another person and that same horse. I have had horses that were really good or really bad for me in one way or another go to a new owner and that person had the exact opposite experience than I had!
    No two horsepeople bring the same knowledge, experience and energy to a situation. My Dad worked with his horses SO different from how I did and we would literally have screaming matches about it (the joys of adolescence and being a know-it-all!), but at the end of the day we just couldn’t have the same methods because we were different people. As long as the horse isn’t getting hurt, what does it matter?!

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  8. Reminds me when I was in college taking Horse Production. The class was given 3 year olds in January and told your final is your horse needs to be a good citizen and able to W/T/C under saddle within the limits of what the horse was actually capable of. I was standing out grazing Joe (the gawky, silly, adorable chestnut Anglo Arab I was working with) when someone came by and asked what I was doing. Told her project class horse, he was 3, yada, yada. She sniffed at me and told me it was irresponsible for the school to be using 3 year olds for class they were way too young to be ridden. Yeah, honey, because I was the one that set up the class and decided which cohort of horses would be used for it.

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  9. What did we ever do before people on social media could tell us everything we are doing wrong? In my line of work, keyboard warriors are fierce, and EVERYONE has an opinion. Very frustrating.
    I think that we all figure out what works for us. And I don’t think there is anyone out there who hasn’t thought “I wish I had done it differently” at least once when doing something with a horse. But horses are forgiving, and malleable, and certainly not one size fits all. All we can do is try and do our best by them and they’ll hopefully do the same for us.

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  10. I agree with you 1000%.
    My life philosophically Lately has become. “You do you”
    It’s means to me that I’m going to keep working towards what works for me with a open mind and let others do what works for them.

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