Every day is a school day
Every day is a school day. Or it should be! I am always learning and changing my approach to how I keep and train the horses in my care. For example this year Bartley had his first winter without a rug after I learnt more about thermoregulation in horses. I never once saw him shiver and left it up to him. A couple of times I tried to put a rug on but he turned and gave me ‘the look’ so I listened and didn’t. He came out of winter looking fantastic.
In the horse world a lot of what we do is based on tradition. We have been brought up to do x, y, z and so we do. But if we really want our horses to thrive and not just survive we need to constantly question why we are doing something. If we find that we need to make a change, don’t get caught up on it. Do an Elsa (Frozen) and LET IT GO!
Currently there are many practices commonly done to horses, which are, shall we say, less than ideal. Things are moving forward but to quicken the pace we should:
1) Constantly ask why am I doing this? Life is far too short to do things which don’t really matter. If it is not relevant to your horse’s happiness and health, don’t do it. For example; tying up your horse for an hour every day and grooming all the mud off. A lot of horses do not enjoy being groomed and it removes the oils from their coat which they need. You could use those 7 hours each week in a much better way I’m sure! If you think your horse enjoys being groomed fair enough, but if you groom them loose in their field then they can walk off when they have had enough and it’s their choice. Or else you could invest that time using acupressure with your horse so that your ‘grooming’ time is really benefiting them.
2) Use common sense. You don’t need to have studied horses to do what is best for them. Obviously, if we know better then we do better. However, at a fundamental level just use your common sense and your gut feeling of what feels right. For example take round pen training. People debate until they are blue in the face but trust your intuition. To me I feel “Chasing my horse friend is not kind”. Things become a lot simpler when you look at it this way, although it is difficult to start!
3) Put the horse first. When we take on the care of a horse we become their protector. We have to do what we can to protect them from whatever makes them fearful or anxious, and long-term change those negative emotions. From a physical perspective we should put their needs before convention e.g. horses need their whiskers for many reasons so we must put that before any judges expectations.
4) Trust your horse. Horses are honest. Respect their choices. For example, if they turn to the back of the stable when they see you coming with the saddle find out why they don’t want to be ridden. I’d bet my bottom dollar there is a valid reason. If someone you cared about said “No” you would sincerely ask them why not and want to find out their point of view. Sometimes we can’t be sure exactly why they don’t want to do something but it’s nice to give them the benefit of the doubt. I was going to ride Bart out for a hack, 5 steps after getting on he stopped and turned to go back. I didn’t know why but trusted him, as he usually likes to go out. The next day he had a hoof abscess and I was extremely happy I listened to him (as I’m sure he was). Also, don’t let people pressure you into things even if they are 'experts'. We’ve all been there but trust yourself and your horse and it will all work out.
5) Let your horse be a horse. Horses are wonderful just as they are. They are marvellous muddy, heavenly hairy, you get the point. Let them be themselves. We don’t need to control everything about them. Skye is 19 years old, she knows if she wants to be muddy or not (and I don’t care).
6) Create quality moments. Be attentive to your horse. Do you like meeting a friend who is constantly checking her phone? Nope. When we are with our horses we should be there 100% so that we can really notice what they are telling us. We don’t train horses only in discrete training sessions. We are shaping them every moment we are with them, just like with our children. The way they are is a sum of all our interactions with them. Make them positive for both of you.
So there you have it, 6 ways to make every day a school day and learn and adapt with horse. Although don’t listen to me (Step 1!) ask yourself why and come to your own conclusions. Good luck!