Riding Out- Make it Matter

The idea for this blog came about as we FINALLY had a break in our depressing rainy weather that has covered the Pacific Northwest for the past many months. I took out a young horse of mine along with another horse and of course four dogs in tow for a ride up in the mountains. As I rode along asking my horse to address the puddles, mud, bridges, water, etc. I thought about how many people could have ridden the same trail and had a really different outcome with their horse.

It was a nice break for me to get on one of my horses that was beyond the “starting” stage and I could enjoy the ride, but this did not mean that I was brainlessly sitting on him like a sack of potatoes. Somehow the words “trail ride” over the years have been interpreted as a “relaxing” form of riding for those people who are not looking to “train” their horse. The irony is that over the years some of the worst incidents and situations that I’ve witnessed or had to help “pick up the pieces afterwards” have occurred on these “relaxing” trail rides.

Many people whether they are competitive or not have finally after years of persuasion have come to realize that their horse needs more than just repetitive arena work. So mentally this can be great for variation for both horse and rider. The potential problem is if there is not intention and clarity from the rider towards the horse, it really doesn’t matter where you ride.

One of the fundamental “pieces of the puzzle” of riding that seems to be missing is the notion that just because you have bought or acquired your horse does not mean that he is currently in a place mentally, emotionally or physically that is appropriate for what you would like to do with him.

There seems to be three main categories of horse owners- and yes there are always exceptions, but generally as a professional, this is what I’ve encountered in the industry: those who are uneducated and are new owners- usually learning the hard way about the realities vs. the romanticized vision of being with the horses, the semi experienced horse owner who has enough experience to “know” better but is still hopeful that “it” (those small seemingly insignificant issues that manifest into dangerous and unwanted behavior over the long term) will all somehow work out with their horse, and then there are those people who are so focused on the final goal that their perspective and views of how their horse is behaving is limited due to their commitment that “at all costs” they are GOING to get the desired performance out of their horse.

I try to encourage people to use common sense when working with their horse- treat your horse as you would a child. You don’t just hope that a young child will figure things out in life; usually they require a lot of attention, effort and patience on your behalf in order to “educate” them with the tools to achieve independent success and confidence in life. The same goes for horses.

This brings up the second big issue. At one point in history we relied on horses as our mode of transportation, as our work animals to plow the fields to help us survive, and whatever other needs we might have living in rural America. These horses had thousands of hours of education and effort offered to them because people HAD to- as they relied on them for every aspect of life.

Today most riders in the United States are what I’d call pleasure riders, even if they compete at low levels. For the most part people do not have the time, energy or money to invest in their horses to create the “ideal” horse for their needs. So until the horse starts to become difficult or display dangerous behavior that the person realizes they need to enlist the help of a professional, (which usually becomes a long term situation because those “little issues” were let go for so long and the horse is now confirmed in how and what he thinks of people,) owners don’t seek help in advance. The irony is if the owner had initially put the time and effort into offering their horse a proper education from the start, they would have saved a lot of money and stress for both them and their horse in the long run.

Another issue is the current breeding trends (that in my opinion are reinforced by trainers, veterinarians and show judges,) we have basically taken the “horse out of the horse.” How many breedings does it take to produce that “one” ideal horse? And what happens to all of the remaining horses produced that are not up to that level of performance? Look at physical pictures of horse from 10, 20 and 40 years ago compared to those of the same breeds today and there is nothing similar within the breeds other than them having four legs, a head and tail! Never mind the physical, we never seem to realize what undesired traits mentally wise that we’ve passed on until we have a handful of horses all “suffering” from the same unwanted behavior.

As a result of our lack of standards towards looking at the entire picture of what we breed, rather than just the physical outward appearance or performance, we now have generations upon generations of horses that are mentally, emotionally and physically what I call “nut jobs.” As I tell people over and over, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. But somehow as a society, most people have lost any level of accountability for their actions and the sad part is it winds up being the horses and their offspring that pay the long term price for people’s “instant gratification” desires. The perfect example of that is the all too often backyard breeding scenario where one person has a stud and their neighbor has a mare and so they breed “to see what happens.”

If every person who owned a horse made the initial mental, physical and financial commitment to their horse with a “long term” outlook, I truly believe the horse industry would be a different place.

So what does any of the above have to do with heading out for a trail ride? Well stop for a moment and consider how many stories you might have told or heard about of that “eventful” ride. When people ask how a ride went, my goal is to be able to reply that it was “boring.” People laugh at this comment, but I say it with all seriousness.

Today it seems to be the rides that aren’t “boring” are the ones where both horse and rider are attempting to “survive the ride.” In most of these cases the foundation of clear communication, trust and respect, and educating the horse in baby steps has not been introduced. Therefore, as something unexpected (in this part of the country that could be anything from a range of encountering wild animals, to crossing rivers, bridges, severe ascending/descending of mountains, encountering off-road vehicles, traveling on very narrow trails, stepping over natural fallen obstacles, etc.)

I cannot imagine riding out without an array of established “tools” to help my horse throughout the ride for whatever may present itself along the way. But somehow many people and horses have survived many rides without clear communication and so they continue doing so. The problem is not “if,” but rather “when” something will arise that they will not be able to safely “survive” with their horse. These sort of events tend to trigger a lot of other concerns or issues that the horse has “emotionally stuffed” over a period of time, and then it all seems to “suddenly” all come out to the shock of the horse owner.

In what I do for a living I’ll admit I usually see the worst case scenarios and the “aftermath” caused by them. Which is why I’m so adamant that it is completely unnecessary to “wait and see” with horses. It’s not to scare riders into worrying about everything that could go wrong; rather it is to educate people that it is so unnecessary to “go” to those bad and scary places with a horse. Why not help you and your horse out from the start to help avoid all of the eventful riding “stories?”

By laying the proper foundation ahead of time, when things arise on the ride, which they always will, you’ll be able to expand your horse’s experience, increase his confidence and encourage his curiosity by presenting obstacles in a “fun” and quality manner with clear communication that will allow him to be able to mentally address, physically try, and emotionally relax as he encounters the “unknown.”

“Owning” a horse should not been seen as a “servant” type relationship. It requires a lot from both rider and horse. So take a moment and evaluate honestly you and your horse- you level of clear two-way communication, your levels of trust and respect, and your own efforts to help your horse through scenarios rather than challenging him to be successful. Your actions can make or break that ideal relationship with your horse!

To taking responsibility- and then the reins!

1 comment:

  1. Very well said, just don't know how to get people to listen or understand!


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