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  • Writer's pictureLouise Stobbs

You can't know what you don't know

I want to talk about something all of us experience when we start to really learn about horse behaviour and start to explore kinder training methods. Guilt.

This is something I come across with most of my clients as they obviously want to do the best for their horse and end up berating themselves for not knowing better in the past, when in reality, they were doing what they thought was best. They sought professional advice and followed it, how were they to know the advice might not necessarily be in the horse’s best interests? It is completely normal to keep horses stabled 20+ hours a day, to keep them isolated, to rig them up in contraptions when they’re too “fresh” and to be rough with them to make them “safe” to handle. Much of the horse world is still very stuck in the past, it’s hard to find the right people to learn from as all of it can sound so convincing, especially if everyone is doing the same thing.

I look back at how I trained my horses and things that I used to do and I feel tremendous guilt, I wasn’t great at controlling my temper and I pushed too hard, it took me a long time to realise I had to train myself to regulate my emotions too. I was also surrounded by professionals who I was taking advice from and trying to emulate. It starts from being a child at the riding school where I was taught to kick and pull and smack and growl to get the pony to do what I want with no thought to how the pony was feeling or why they were being “stubborn”. This carried through as I got older, there was always a strong undercurrent that I was “being too soft” and it was just because I was nervous, horses need to be told. When I tentatively started to query whether a horse was in pain eyes would be rolled and I was made to feel stupid, so I carried on trying to fit in with and impress these professionals, after all who am I to question them?

I didn’t understand horse behaviour and the more I started to read, the more I started to question what was going on in front of me. I started getting into the more “alternative” horsemanship training as I was able to buy my first horse (and couldn’t handle him as I had no idea what I was doing and had no business buying a foal 🥲) and I don’t want to take anything away from that because, at the time, this training was life changing to me, I viewed horses in a completely different light and it sent me off down the path I’m now on all these years later. The best trainers are always keeping an open mind, seeking new information and evolving. It is not about flitting from one “method” to another, there are things I learned ten years ago that I still use today in one way or another, I have just refined things in a way that fits with the knowledge I have now.

In the last year or so I have really started to understand what healthy posture and movement is and how incorrect so much of what we have been taught is, we are so used to seeing horses working in dysfunction, even at high levels of competition, that we don’t see it for what it is 😕. It feels like the missing link for me, I cringe at the way I was working horses even two years ago because of the effect I now know it was having on their bodies, but you can’t know what you don’t know!

Sometimes people aren’t ready to address this, it is natural to be defensive over things we’ve done because nobody wants to feel like they’ve done something to cause their horse stress, discomfort or health issues, but unfortunately not wanting to acknowledge it doesn’t change things for the horse. There is also naturally a push back in your brain, if you love jumping your horse, you really don’t want to hear that maybe he’s not strong enough to be jumping right now, it’s much easier mentally to go to a different trainer who will tell you he’s fine and to crack on, there’s plenty of them out there because they don’t understand healthy movement either 😶.

It’s a very emotional topic and one to navigate with care but don’t let what you’ve done in the past hold you back from changing things now just because it feels difficult. There is so much information available online now about the detrimental effects of many management and training practices, the support is out there if you want it. Please feel free to message me if you want some recommendations for free resources on anything.

I still struggle with this all the time, I am constantly learning and spend a huge amount of my spare time researching as much as I can to find the best way forward. I have brilliant professionals around me who are an unending source of support and have also been through similar experiences to get where they are today. It is a work in progress to try and forgive myself for not knowing better for my horses before they were damaged by it.

Once we know better we can, and must, do better for our horses. That’s the best gift we could ever give them. ❤️

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