Humans, Horses, and Common Sense- Don't ignore the horse's behavior

Humans, Horses, and Common Sense- Don't ignore the horse's behavior

People lack awareness.  We trip, we misstep, we are clumsy, we are slow, we forget, we get distracted, we are inconsistent, we are unaware, we are insensitive.  We have lost our ability to think, smell, taste, and breathe clearly and with intention.   We make decisions usually within different shades of "gray" rather than seeing things in either black or white. Because of this "gray" area in many aspects of our life, people tend to move in a physically crooked or tight manner.

Let's look at the horse for a moment.  We watch a foal born. Within minutes the newborn is "in tune" with its instinct to stand.  Within days it's running in the field.  At several months that young horse is doing beautiful flying lead changes, rollbacks, and sliding stops... Then we add the human factor and what happens to all that flowing, natural movement, balance, and grace?

Fast forward several years later in the young horse's life and suddenly the horse starts losing all of its "natural" abilities that had once come so easily to it.  It becomes slow in its movement, its curiosity and enthusiasm dwindle as the human "teaches" the horse things.  Scenarios that the young horse originally tolerated or tried with the human's urging "suddenly" cause the horse to become dangerously "reactive," aggressive, or even fearful.

Fast forward a few more years and (thanks to all the tack and "tools" on the market) we now are wondering why our horse is fighting the bit, heavy on our hands, doesn't really have a whoa, won't pick up his right lead, bucks after the jump and doesn't want to be caught.

So what happened?  Now first I know many people start a lot of young horses and don't have "bad" experiences.  The problem with my profession is that most people come to me AFTER things have gone really wrong.  Therefore, I tend to see the "worst of the worst" rather than a lot of quality human-horse relationships.  As with most things, people tend to either not be honest with themself or are unaware of just how fast and how "bad" things can get with their horse.  How many times have I overheard someone saying, "My horse... My horse... My horse..."

Let's make one thing clear, no matter how "nice" or how much you "love" your horse, your horse has two to three priorities in life- breakfast, dinner, and perhaps mating.  That's it.   There is NO horse that is going to lift his head from grazing to instead participate in being endlessly grilled on his 20-meter canter circle, or to long trot miles in miserable conditions to gather cattle, or to climb that steep switchback 3,000' mountain to "enjoy the view."  No matter how deep his stall shavings are, how green his pasture is, how many blankets you offer him on a cold winter day, your horse was not born with a "need" to work nor does he feel "guilty" about not working.  His priority is to survive.

There is no doubt horses offer humans more than we could ever offer them.  They can emotionally heal us, be a distraction from other aspects of our life, offer freedom with the magnificence of their movement, save us from danger, and so forth.  But what do we offer them?

Most horse enthusiasts I have met started riding as something to do "for themselves."  Whether it was stress-relieving, a distraction from "reality", etc. I've heard many times that novice horse people think that trail riding is going to be relaxing.  And it is- until it SUDDENLY isn't.  That is the day we realize our relationship with our horse has been based on "hoping" the horse will take care of us.  Without us offering anything to our horse except complaining if he doesn't just "go along" with what we want.

Now I'm not "picking" on trail riders, it's just a common scenario.  I schooled FEI level dressage horses, experienced international show jumpers, rode young racehorses, competed all over the US in Three Day Eventing, and not ONCE out of the hundreds of horses I rode did I EVER consider the horse.  I know it sounds kind of obvious but I didn't.  

I had been taught to have goals, certain expectations for performance, and achieve results.  I never noticed if the horse I was riding took a deep breath.  Or when he blew his nose and emotionally relaxed.  I noticed if he swished his tail, but didn't they all?  Yeah, this horse grinds his teeth, so we ought to change the bit.  Yeah, this horse needs someone to hold it so I can mount, but after 20 minutes of warm-up, he'll be fine.  Yeah, that horse I can't walk around the barn aisle on a long rein because he bolts if outside of the dressage arena.  Yeah, my cross-country horse has NO brakes, but hey we only had one bad fall last season, so let's move up to the next level.  Yeah, that horse is a bit hard to catch and you have to keep a cage on his face so that he doesn't bite you when he's loose in his stall.  Oh and that one needs to be sedated for the farrier.  And also to be trailered.  And when we compete we have to do x, y, and z to make sure he doesn't blow up... The list goes on and on.

And nobody asked "why" all of these horses were showing such dramatic and dangerous resistance.  These were accomplished horses competing at the international level.  So what if they had their little "quirks."  The professionals who showed the best way to "handle" these sorts of horses was to "work around them," were setting an example for everyone else to follow.  So what actually causes someone to "change" how they mentally and literally approach working with their horse?

It took a long time to "undo" everything I had spent years and thousands of dollars learning how to "do."  Nowadays I have to admit I can't even really remember how "bad" it all used to be.  The stuff I could ignore.  Now I walk up to a warm-up arena at a show, and I nearly have a meltdown trying to understand why these amazingly athletic and strong creatures tolerate all the crap people do to them.  So, here is what I ask of you- for your horse's sake- so that he doesn't end up being one of "those" that gets brought to a trainer like me...

Take a moment for a self-evaluation.  Why do you ride? What are your goals? What are your current "issues" with your horse? What would you change in your relationship with your horse? 
Then assess your answers with the following questions:
1) Are any of your answers appropriate or fair to "put on" your horse as his responsibility?
2) Does your horse "care" about any of your answers?
3) Why are your answers about what they are?
4) Based on both you and your horse's current abilities, is it fair to want your answers stated above?

So many of the troubled horses that arrive here at my facility for re-education could have been prevented had the owners quit trying to "do what everyone else was doing," and used a little more common sense along with staying aware of and trusting their gut instinct.

Good luck,

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