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  • Writer's pictureLouise Stobbs

The shame of being soft

Many years ago I was hacking out on my newly backed 4yo just outside the yard. He was being extremely lovely and leading the ride. As we approached a tight bend, our neighbour came flying round the corner in her car and had to slam the breaks on to not hit my horse. My horse quite rightly spooked, then said no when I asked him to walk on. I immediately felt the pressure to make him go and started to kick him on, eventually he crept past despite being frightened and me being generally horrible to him. All of this occurred in about 30 seconds, but the neighbour still hung out of her car window and shouted “you need to get a stick on that bloody horse!” All because my 4yo horse had been frightened when she nearly crashed her car into us and then dared to say no when I asked him to go forward.

I felt so much shame about this and so conflicted. Shame that I knew I had been horrible to my horse and it didn’t feel right to me, but also shame that clearly I just wasn’t brave or firm enough and everyone thought I was too soft and ruining my horse. My confidence was in the gutter, I used to cry often when I was riding and I felt absolutely pathetic and useless. I was neither pathetic or useless, I was just trying to fit in with people who were not my people and didn’t understand horse behaviour. The only way they know how to train is by dominating and any query over pain/discomfort was met with eye rolls and comments of “bloody pony patters/tree huggers” etc. 🙄 They can’t help you.

If this situation were to occur now I would either get off my horse and safely take him past, or I would ask one of the other riders to give us a lead and I’d have a few choice words for the driver. But it is hard to get to the place mentally when you’re nervous and surrounded by people who shame you for being kind to your horse. As if your frightened horse not jumping to attention when you ask them to go forwards is some cardinal sin.

Its okay to get off, its okay to change the plan, its okay to wait and its okay to not do something at all. Don’t let people make you feel small just because they jump their horse bigger than you or do things you wouldn’t feel confident enough to do. Making horses do things by bullying them has absolutely nothing to do with good horsemanship, ethical training or welfare. If you want a good relationship with your horse keep following your gut and find your people. We’re out here I promise! 😎

“She’s ruining that horse/letting it walk all over her/needs someone to sort it out” anyone who speaks to you like this is not going to make good choices for you or your horse as the only way they know how to train is by bullying. There are much safer ways to train horses that don’t involve being horrible to them.

There is something very empowering in embracing that softness and letting those comments slide off your back. After all I really do love to hug a good tree. 🌳💁🏻‍♀️🐴

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