I spent some time at a sanctioned/recognized horse show recently and was honestly appalled by some of the training techniques I saw being used by many of the trainers and riders. Draw reins were used to pull the horses’ heads in to their chests. Reins attached to shank bits with large ports were pulled and yanked upwards either to get the horse to raise his head if it was too low or to lower his head if it was too high. I didn’t understand how all this pulling was “training” let alone how the horse was supposed to know the difference between the cue for raise or lower his head! These techniques are accepted as “the way” to train horses for competition. Had I asked a rider why he or she was being so hard on the horse, I am sure the answer would have been “he deserves it”.
There were one or two quiet riders working their horses in snaffle bits with quiet, consistent contact and riding from their seat and legs rather than from their hands. But, quite honestly, these were the minority of what I witnessed.
We all learn what we are taught. There are methods I used when I was competing on the Hunter circuit that I am not proud of. These were techniques that the majority of trainers used and taught to their students. They had learned them from their trainers and were passing along what they knew. It was only when I met a horse that did not work well with these traditional methods that I looked for some more answers. That is when I went to my first Chris Irwin clinic and my eyes were opened to a better way of working with horses. That way that didn’t require me to be forceful or “tough”. That way made the experience good – even beneficial – for the horse and much more rewarding for me.
It’s a long, hard road to change “traditions” especially when the techniques – at least on the surface – appear to work. (If the training doesn’t work then, traditionally, the blame is put on the horse and the owner is encouraged to sell that horse and buy another one.) I would like to see that thought process changed so that the horse gets the training he needs to become the horse the owner wants. So, I will continue to show people that there is a better way to work with horses. These methods don’t cause mental or physical stress to the horse. In fact, they consider and improve the horses overall well being.
Which way do you choose to work with your horse? If you aren’t happy with what your trainer is doing with your horse, ask questions. Ask why? Ask if there is another way that might take longer, but will be better for you and your horse in the long run. Horses are extremely sensitive and intuitive animals. They deserve better from us. Give your horse what he needs and he will willingly give you what you want without compromise to his mental and physical well being.
When we know better, we do better.
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