Guest Author - Susan Hopf
A wise young equestrian student of mine recently made such a stunningly enlightened comment regarding human viewpoints (with regard to equine schooling and the level of success) that I find it a must to share with all. The statement was the result of various recent observations she had made while watching people and their horses. “Once you realize that the horse is not [yours] things seem to improve with any training issues or troubles.”
When asked to explain, the true root of the matter evolved – and this is that horses (and all living sentient beings) are first and foremost their own selves and once all humans involved in their lives realize this, the relationship from both ends is deepened, communication becomes more productive, schooling becomes easier and all lives are enriched.
On the surface this seems a simple statement but it is far more than that. Recognition of animals, and more specifically horses for this discussion, as individuals with distinct personalities is at the core of all success and failure when we bring them into our world. A lack of this understanding is at the heart of inappropriate handling, training, restraint devices and all manner of supposed schooling gizmos and exercises – regardless of riding discipline. Attending competitions, lessons and clinics with little or no clear understanding about how one’s horse may feel about such things is at the core of fits of anger, inappropriate corrections, wrecks and disastrous trailer incidents. When the judges, clinicians or instructors also have no understanding (that each horse is an individual with distinct needs and learning capabilities) we fail our horses even more.
As we consider this amazing bit of insight we all must be ready to stand up for our horse. We must educate our selves about the horse’s nature – both as an individual and a species – and not impose human thought processes or extremes of physicality upon our beasts of flight. We must act as detective and chose only those instructors and trainers which seem to have a clear understanding of this aspect of equus caballus. We must shy away from those that succumb to fashionable methods and equipment. We must know the horse with which we share our lives first as horse and then learn how to talk with this big, generous and noble creature in the manner with which he/she can most clearly understand. To do less creates unnecessary impediments to our progress and diminishes the true soul of each animal that must submit to our will.
Horses speak in subtleties of form and position. The leader mares need only glance at some young upstart to put this foolish prankster in his place. So why do we feel the need to whack this same young joker in order to subdue his exploration of what was asked? If, from the beginning of our work with each individual horse, we could recognize and use this same exquisitely timed and barely visible cue we would have no use of bats, spurs, German martingales, rolkur, and a host of other assorted “behavior” modifiers and static physical aids.
Know the anatomy and biomechanics of your horse. The best place to do this is linked below – “Science of Motion”. As you get to know how your horse best functions physically pay attention to how they develop mentally, how they work through a question, how they assess something scary, something delicious and something new. Our equine friends have so much more to share and teach us – if only we allow them first to be themselves and then, quite simply, listen.