I hear this phrase used so much to excuse a horse struggling or any further thinking into conflict behaviour. As long as you just keep plugging away the horse will turn 7 years old and suddenly be relaxed and amicable in their work and it is purely just a young horse “trying it on” because that’s what young horses do, right? Nope. We need to change the narrative that you need to battle through with a young horse.
I have recently watched a YouTuber struggle along with their young horse, seeking professional help and doing the best they can with the advice they’re being given. This horse is constantly snatching, tail swishing, humps their back and grinds to a halt going into canter, stops at tiny fences and doesn’t look sound behind. What is the advice being given? “You just need to keep her head up and ride forward, she’s taking the mick out of you, she knows how to get out of work.” This horse couldn’t shout any louder, and that is the professional advice being given to someone seeking help.
What’s even sadder is nobody in the dozens of comments recognises the discomfort in this horse, they all think its amazing teaching, some say the horse just needs a “better” rider and its somehow the rider’s fault, or they just need to hang in there and ride through this rough patch. If this is what has been normalised how can people learn to be better? I would’ve thought the same in the past, thought the rider was brave for kicking on and the horse just needed to learn. Once you learn the science behind conflict behaviour you can’t unsee it.
When we’re asking horses to do things they’re physically not strong enough to do, its going to cause soreness, possible injury and distress. Imagine you were working out and you have been pushed to your limit, you’re really sore and fatigued but someone kept forcing you to keep going and called you lazy and stubborn. Then they make you do it again the next day when you’re still so sore. We can all empathise with this. People are doing this to horses every day. Horses cannot speak but they can communicate, we need to learn to listen.
A lot of training completely disregards the horse’s mental state, tolerating something is not the same as being okay with it and then you get these big explosions. This is not normal, training should not cause the horse this much stress, if you’re expecting a rodeo display the first time you put a saddle on or put a rider up you have under-prepared that horse. If your horse experiences high stress levels every time they go into the arena, the arena itself becomes a stressful place to the horse regardless of what’s happening. There are so many ways to train without causing a huge amount of stress. If we can introduce things gradually and in a way the horse understands you will build their confidence and increase positive associations with training. 🐎
This topic hits very close to home for me. When my own horse Lenny was 6 (he’s now 18), he was explosive and would deck me seemingly without cause almost every time I rode him. I got a vet out who watched him trot up once and used the phrase “I think he’s just a normal bolshy 6yo who knows he can get away with it because you’re too soft”, 2 weeks later I got a different vet and he was actually bi-laterally lame in front and behind and had stomach ulcers. Don’t let people fob you off just because they’re professionals.
If we take the time to learn about behaviour and healthy movement patterns, have patience, learn to regulate our own emotions and stop listening to people who think our horses are deliberately working against us we’ll all be better off and our horses will be too. 🐴
Here’s a photo of me trying to “work Lenny through it” on the vet’s advice, note the tail swishing, braced neck, falling in and strengthening nothing but his compensatory movement patterns and negative associations with training. ☹️