“If you are fond of a horse and wish to do him a real favour – train him well. Teach him good manners, good habits, both in the stable and under the saddle. You need never worry about the future of such a horse if for any reason you may have to part with him. You assure him of friends wherever he goes. Perhaps the greatest kindness you can do any horse is to educate him well.” – Tom Roberts, The Young Horse
I was struck by this quote the other day. It makes me think of all the riders that have passed through our barn. I’d like to think I instilled this way of thinking in them. We are all responsible for our horses’ training, behavior, wellbeing.
One of my favorite riding aphorisms is “For better or worse, you are always teaching your horse.” Every dealing we have with horses teaches them something. What behavior is okay? Should your horse stand still or wander about the cross-ties as you are tacking up? Should he stand still for mounting, or is it okay if he moves off as you put your foot in the iron? When you want to stand in the middle of the arena to talk to your instructor, does your horse stand patiently or not? Can he stand ring-side while you watch a couple of rounds, before it’s your turn to enter the ring?
You Can Be Too Soft…
I think the biggest transition in a rider is when they realize they impact the training of the horse they ride. Every ride. It’s so common for novice riders to assume that because the horse they are riding is experienced, that they (the rider) couldn’t possibly impact that training. It doesn’t occur to them that they could “untrain” a school horse. But they can. Have you ever witnessed a rider having a hard time getting an upwards transition to canter, who lets their horse trot halfway around the ring before getting said canter? If you know that horse can do better, then repeatedly allowing that to happen is untraining him. As the coach, the first thing that I have to do is ensure the rider understands the correct aids for canter. Once we have established that, then it becomes the rider’s responsibility to execute. To ask, then tell, then make. At a minimum, get a reaction. No reaction still means the horse is telling you something (“ask me better, stronger, in a more coordinated way or…. I can’t hear you.”)
Kind doesn’t mean Passive
A lot of riders think that if they are firm with their horse that they are being mean to them. Or that their horse won’t like them. I believe that the clear boundaries we create for our horse, and our willingness to reinforce those boundaries, IS the kindness. We keep their training up. We “assure him of friends wherever he goes.” What a blessing for the horse, always knowing what’s expected…and a responsibility for us.
The best results occur when you have the timing to fix an issue swiftly when needed. As a rider, you need to find a way to make your wishes known to the horse, and you have to develop the timing to make certain you release those aids immediately once the horse responds. In other words, you don’t keep spurring your horse once you’ve accomplished the upwards transition. Just like you don’t keep pulling once you’ve come to a stop. There’s a reason for the saying “Don’t keep beating a dead horse.” Have you ever nagged someone or felt nagged?
Your skills as a rider translate into your relationships with people. Show me your horse and I’ll show you how you let people treat you. Just as every interaction with a horse teaches them something, so do all your interactions with others. Are you passive, or are you an “in your face” kind of person? Are you a control freak? What are you showing to others? Kindness is important to be sure, but so are things like respect, trustworthiness, fairness, and reliability. We need to show those to others, and we need to expect it from others. That’s how we get along. I guarantee your horse knows what type of person you are, and he lets you know. For the most part, people will too, and as with horses, you just have to pay attention.