“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”
When we start to look at horses through a different lens sometimes the advice given can feel drastic. If you’ve been going out competing every weekend, then someone new comes out and tells you that they advise you to go right back to groundwork until the horse is in a better place, its probably something you really don’t expect or want to hear.
Unfortunately there is no quick fix if your foundations are crumbling, despite what we hear to the contrary every day. It is incredibly frustrating when we have professionals posting videos of their perceived training success. Showing a hollow, weak horse that, with just two weeks of schooling, is now magically fixed, when all that has actually changed is that they’ve learned to duck their head behind the vertical to avoid bit pressure and they’re still weak and uncomfortable. We need to train our eyes better.
No amount of trotting round in an unhelpful posture is going to help the horse to develop a better one, especially when he can’t even walk well. Certainly no amount of being jammed into a tight rein contact until they give in is going to help with anything at all except compliance. The industry is rife with uncomfortable horses being ridden in ways which are damaging to their bodies right up to top level, so it can feel impossible to know which advice is correct.
The way I look at horses and training has changed so much as I have studied and learned more about behavioural science, posture, biomechanics, saddle fit, hoof balance etc. I did the best I could with what I knew at the time, but now I know more I cannot look away or go back to that. I realised my quiet/biddable horse was actually really quite shut down and didn’t feel he could have an opinion. I used to unintentionally ride him behind the vertical because I was taught to make him “soft” in the hand, so it felt good to me, I had no idea I was damaging him at the time.
This has been my first full summer with my horses for years and I pictured us having lessons and cantering about together. Instead we’re hacking at a walk and doing lots of gentle groundwork while we continue to try to get his body to a better place, am I disappointed? Honestly not really. At this point I just enjoy spending time with them and anything else is a bonus.
I could find 20 professionals tomorrow who would look at him and tell me he’s fine and to crack on and be happy to give me a jumping lesson, but I know they’d be wrong and that wouldn’t be ethical, I can see his discomfort. Just because something is normalised doesn’t mean its okay, my standards are different. I had the vet out to my lame, retired horse with a very weak back last year, I was so shocked when she asked me if I ride him. I sort of laughed and said “no? Have you seen him?“ She laughed with relief and said I’d be surprised at the horses people continue to ride.
I’m sure people look at what I’m doing with my horses and think they could “sort it out” much faster, but what they don’t realise is I’m not trying to achieve what they’re trying to achieve. I can get on horses and make them comply too, I just choose not to do it now I know better.
Change is uncomfortable, it takes a lot of personal work to be open enough to really do what’s best for the horse, I’m still working on it. Some people are just not ready to hear it yet. It is so much easier to just seek out a different professional who will tell you want you want to hear and then feel relief that you can carry on as you are.
It is much easier to talk the talk than it is to walk the walk. 🐴
Photo of a 4yo Dan and I in our past life out competing featuring the 729 plaits it took to tame his mane 💁🏻♀️