Recently I was thinking about some of the horses I’ve known or had as partners over the years and how much I miss them. More importantly, I’ve been thinking about all the things I wish I had known then that I know now. An old German saying comes to mind my grandmother had hanging in her kitchen: “Too late we get smart.” Not to say that I think I know everything there is to know about horses; just the opposite is true. The realization that we are always learning and will never fully understand their thoughts, emotions and behaviors is never far from my mind.
The horses we’ve had - and two in particular, Lifeguard and Erik - will always have a special place in our hearts and memories. Years ago there was no Internet or information highway and it never would have occurred to us we could learn about riding from old books, so we basically did whatever we were told by trainers; we placed our trust in them, expecting that they knew more than we did. Unfortunately, this wasn’t always the case, as we found out later on. But at the time we thought we were doing right by our horses.
These days there is a lot more information out there, some good some bad. And there are also a lot more trainers out there, and access to their “expertise” is much easier to come by, for good or for ill. I’m of the opinion that the Internet and the information it makes available to the masses is a double-edged sword. On the positive side: A few actually know what they’re doing and care about the good of the horse, know how to deal with real training issues and don’t pressure people into believing their new and improved way is the only way. On the down side: There seems to be so many horse gurus or whisperers out there now and they are either selling themselves, their opinions, their egos, their products or all of the above. Some are making it up as they go along; others are scamming inexperienced horse people looking for a better/easier/more humane way of dealing with their horses; and absolutely none of them are responsible for the way in which their methods are understood or misunderstood, used or misused once they put it out there. This makes me furious because the ones who ultimately suffer are the horses.
Which sort of brings me to the purpose of this post. I’m wary of all the new methods of training that have cropped up in recent years. Some are cruel, some are totally incorrect and some are just stupid. Without going into all of these, because there are just too many to name, I’d like to recommend that if you’re not sure what you’re doing, how to do it, or what the end result should be, why not give reading some of the real experts a try? Not the experts that have reared their ugly microphoned heads at clinics and book signings, but the old trainers and authors; the classical masters who were champions of working horses with dignity and not making a circus act out of a riding partner.
There is much to learn from reading the classics; you may or may not agree with everything they say, I know I don’t. But at least it will give you access to a deep well of information gathered over hundreds of years of trial and error, failure and success. After you’ve done that, then maybe you can go back and read this or that guru’s new bible of horse training and see if it still holds up. If it still seems like the best way, go with it. Just don’t take any one person’s word on anything; investigate and research until you understand all the different philosophies on your own, turn a critical eye on all of them, then choose and apply what makes the most sense for your horses and yourself. This is what we did years ago (before the natural horsemanship holy men appeared) and it made us realize that we were on the wrong side of the horse, but we've learned to continually reevaluate everything we think we know; with education, research, and a willingness to question everything we see, hear and read, we’ve turned our thinking and training around.
In conclusion I’d like to thank Lifeguard and Erik, for putting up with my mistakes and getting it wrong a lot of the time. I wish they were here so I could make it up to them, but since they’re not I’ve made a commitment to do the best I can with the horses I have now.
Until next time
Quote for TodayGreat riders are not great because of their talent; they are great because of their passion.