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  • Writer's pictureLouise Stobbs

Quicker is rarely better

We live in a world of instant gratification and this bleeds over into the horse industry. We want training with our horses to be wrapped up in nice little packages so when we pay our money we get the guaranteed results at the end of it. Unfortunately horses don’t work like this. Horses are sentient beings, they live on their own time, have their own needs and do not care about our ambitions or schedules. They care about how they feel, they want to feel safe, free from hunger/thirst and free from pain in their body.

Just like us, horses need time and appropriate conditioning to be able to perform well. You can’t have a healthy mind without a healthy body and vice versa. Unfortunately instead of quiet, progressive training methods, the norm in the industry seems to be the quicker the result the more successful the trainer, regardless of what is actually going on with the horse. We tend to see compliance as the only marker of success because we aren’t being given the right information about behaviour and biomechanics.

Quick-fix training is tempting. Dramatic transformations of horses that were too dangerous to handle to being ridden away in one day etc. I often watch these videos and see horses showing several behaviours from the pain ethogram and at times clear unsoundness, none of which is ever mentioned during the video. You then watch a horse being pushed way over threshold, lots of high stress behaviour shown and being drilled over and over way past the point of physical or mental fatigue until they comply. I think what disheartens me the most is the comments seeing something completely different, they see kindness, patience, great timing, trust and respect because that is what they are being told is happening.

There is a lot of talk around trust, respect and even “resetting their brains” as if some mystical connection is occurring 🙄, when actually its just using excessive pressure until the horse complies. If you apply enough pressure and drill for long enough the horse will give in, even if they’re in pain and even if they’re scared. You don’t need to be lashing a horse with a whip to be abusing them.

When you train with high stress and excessive pressure the horse will probably start to do what you want pretty quickly, they can even look calm about it after initially being explosive. But that isn’t the horse feeling better around you, that is him learning how to survive that situation, the only way to get you to stop is to comply, it has absolutely nothing to do with trust or respect. I used to do this to my horses thinking it was good training, now I know better I read those behaviours very differently.

There is such a huge blind spot in the industry around behavioural science, we know how horses show stress and pain, that information is there for anybody to consume, but we still hold on to these old ideas. Unfortunately “behaviourist” isn’t a protected term so I really encourage you to do your own research, you don’t have to look far to see how contradictory and misleading a lot of the stuff out there is. Anybody can say anything and make it sound convincing if you don’t have any knowledge to question it, empower yourself. 🐎

Good, more ethical training is generally uneventful or “boring”. I personally think we should aim to train in a way that causes the least stress possible to the horse, even if that means it takes longer to get to the end result. If you just want compliance then crack on, but have a think about what kind of relationship you want with your horse and what he is trying to communicate. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t feel great about someone who was on my case if I even dared to look at something.

We don’t do ourselves or our horses any favours by staying ignorant to information that is right in front of us, even if it is uncomfortable to look at. 🐴

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