I’m going to stick my neck out and say the unpopular.
OK, here goes:
We live in a society where we are all too busy. Yet, we want horses. We don’t have the time it takes to develop the oneness with our horses yet we want that… Many of us, myself included, are the weekend warriors. We go out to work or ride our horses and we wonder why they aren’t as good as they were with the trainer, or why they aren’t as good as they were last week, or why the dang horse still isn’t getting whatever we are trying to teach. We get frustrated. Out of that frustration comes my topic for today.
RESORTING TO DEVICES TO FIX THE ISSUE
Resorting to devices to fix the issue really bugs me. In my humble opinion, there is no substitute for time on the ground and time in the saddle.
There, I said it. People who skip steps and then make the horse pay for it by wearing contraptions just burn my chaps. I’m not saying that we don’t have the right to have horses if we don’t have the proper time (because I have 12 and I know I don’t have that much time…). I am saying that if we don’t have the time, we shouldn’t make our horses suffer because of it. And today, I’d like to speak about devices.
WHAT WAS ONCE A TRAINING DEVICE IS NOW TACK
OK, I hear you… who has the time to work at this 5 times a week?! Trainers do that so I don’t have to… Or, the horse is good enough for what I do… And, I say, SURE to all of that. That’s fine. What I object to is the rider using correction devices so readily available everywhere that make your horse do it or else! These devices are so common, they are now accepted as tack. And some actual tack can be mismanaged very easily to become or else devices.
I’m speaking about tie-downs, certain bits (maybe all, for the purist), most spurs, nosebands and cavesons used improperly, curb chains used improperly, shank bits, standing martingales and bosals used improperly… and many more.
What is really frustrating to me is that many of these devices started as simple training steps which have now been eliminated in favor of just using the devices full time. And believe me, I totally want to save time and skip steps when it comes to riding, but it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to the horse and it isn’t fair to the rider. Neither are getting proper training and both feel they are justified in their behavior. The human feels like they are a pretty good rider and the horse feels, well, I don’t know how they feel but I have witnesses how I think they feel… and so have you.
I support my opinion with two arguments: Herd observation and the Indians vs the Cavalry.
Horses in herds are very cut and dry animals. They appreciate justice. They have an acute sense of right and wrong. The lead horse is usually a very fair animal. She insists the herd behaves to remain safe. But, she doesn’t dish up anything just to show who is boss. Her moves are all based on the concept of the right thing at the right time. And, all the other horses listen to her because she has earned that right based on a proven time of really great decisions. Having said that, it has also been observed in the wild (and here at home) that most herds have the “bully”. This bully stirs up stuff just because. Usually, it is a dominant horse related to the lead horse. But, do you know what happens to the bully in herds? Retaliation. Always. If the bully horse does something unfair, eventually, he/she will get his. This is documented. Horses follow a leader and remember a bully.
INDIANS VS. THE CAVALRY
I interviewed Dan Bates who has the largest collection of cavalry history and artifacts anywhere. I don’t know that he is THE authority, but he is a leading authority for sure.
Dan and I spoke for several hours. During that time, we were speaking of the McClellan saddle. I was asking why it was created. Dan smiled and said it was because “we couldn’t keep up with the Indians.” He was saying that it was decided that a new type of streamlined saddle had to be created to carry all the gear and still keep the horse sound. Then, Dan smiled again and said that we were never able to ride as fast as the Indians. Ever. Hmmmmm.
SO WHAT AM I SAYING?
So, this is my premise. If a horse feels bullied, eventually, he will retaliate. And, if you use a bunch of devices that skip training time, you aren’t becoming a partner to your horse and you aren’t commanding justified respect. In essence, you are being the bully who will eventually, most likely, be the brunt of a retaliation. And, instead of looking at the cause, we, as humans, go purchase another device.
HORSES ARE NOT RAISED IN OUR CULTURE
And that brings me full circle. What I want to say is that our horses are not brought in from the wild. They don’t know how to navigate hills or cross water. They are no longer part of our culture where they are trained from foals and ponied everywhere. They aren’t carrying packs before they carry people. They don’t have a rider who spends time learning how to balance without a saddle or bit… Our horses today often don’t get the benefit of a thorough education. We skip elementary school or take them out after junior high — you know what I mean. And, we expect them to know what we want. “Hey, they’re horses” (whatever that means). And, if they don’t know what we want, we’ll get a device to fix it.
So, what is the purpose of this post? I guess I am saying to perhaps think about all the stuff we put onto our horses to make them do what we want. Maybe part of our horse experience could be purposefully really thinking about what the horse might be reacting to when he/she does something that frustrates us. Maybe we ponder Leader vs Bully. Maybe spending a few good moments thinking about what makes a horse trust and follow us would save more time later. Time well spent vs time spent. Many of us are so quick to find the faster way… and maybe that isn’t the best way.
That’s all I’m saying…
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