It is so normal for us to prepare properly when we decide to start a new sport. Take running; we decide that from now on, we plan to run twice a week. We go to the sport store and buy ourselves shoes that fit properly and maybe even a fancy watch that can monitor our distance, speed and heart rate. We ask the assistant in the store for advice and try out different shoes to find what fits us best. We all know that our training will be uncomfortable and more likely to fail if we go for the wrong shoes. We also know that we should follow a training schedule to gradually increase the distance we can run. If we have a physical problem, we will adjust our training schedule accordingly.
However, with horses, loads of owners seem so believe that meeting all the proper preconditions to successful training are not that relevant. Is it because when we run without the proper preconditions such as fitting shoes, we ourselves are the ones that suffer? And with our horses, as most of them suffer in silence, we can choose to ignore these preconditions with excuses such as 'limited funds' or 'he doesn't seem to mind'?
Imagine having to go to school each day with an empty stomach, or having to sit at your desk doing your work on a chair with nails sticking out of the seat into your delicate behind.. You would not be able to focus 100% on your work, would you? Same goes for our horses.
For me, before training starts, it is important that in my horses and with my students and their horses, all preconditions to successful training are met. These include: teeth care, hoof care, feeding, housing, social contact, regular vet checks and fitting tack. It basically means the horses should be free of any kind of stress. The Art of Riding is all about a 2-way communication, about building a relationship with your horse, about 2 bodies and 2 minds working together in harmony. How is harmony ever going to be reached with a horse that has stomach aches from chronic ulcers because he is never allowed outside his box and gets fed 5 kg of concentrated food each day? Or with a horse that has pain because of an ill fitting saddle or a jaw that can't move properly because his teeth are neglected? Therefore, I always engage in a conversation with my students about these preconditions when they come and train with me. I want to check the tack that they are using and sometimes, I have to advise them to change something. Instead of disappointment that something isn't right, most of my students are grateful to get this information so they can take action to improve their horses well-being and to optimise their training. You can't help not-knowing about things you haven't learned about before, so there is no personal blame to anyone who rides with an ill-fitting saddle or with neglected teeth on a horse if they believe (and often are told by their expert saddle-fitters and equine dentists) that everything is allright. But there is blame to put on those who know things aren't right and who continue in the same way anyways.
Often, I encounter people that have a horse, acknowledge the problem of bad teeth or a poorly fitting saddle, but then tell me the horse will have to deal with it, because it will be sold anyways, or because they have no more money in their bank account. Would you deal with bad fitting shoes and still run with them, even if they hurt your feet and give you blisters or ruin your knees? If you have the means, you will buy better shoes. If you can't afford that, you may have friends that can lend you another pair of shoes or in the worst case scenario, you would rather stop running than ruining your feet. Why not do the same with your tack, for instance? If you know that your saddle doesn't fit and hurts your horse while you ride, no matter what excuse, you simply don't use it anymore. Borrow another one, ride bareback or simply train your horse from the ground until your circumstances change. There are always solutions for those that look for them, and there will never seem to be a solution for those who are not really willing to change.
Here is the deal if you want to have a horse and train with it: you have to start addressing all of the preconditions first. When people ask me for advice about buying a horse, I always stress the point that buying the horse is not the biggest issue. The biggest thing is then to get it vet checked, to purchase proper fitting tack, arrange for a dentist and a good hoof trimmer and to find suitable housing for the horse with turn-out and social contact. The responsibility never stops. Training only starts after you have looked into all these preconditions and concluded that your horse is free of pain, stress and frustration.
Most of the times, the training horses that come to us because of behavioural problems improve simply by being housed in our Paddock Paradise, with the balanced, stable group of horses that we have here. They get educated in manners better then I could ever do in the same time, they get to move as much as they like and play and groom with other horses. People are amazed about how well-behaved their horses come home again. Well.. they will have to make sure to keep the preconditions like turn-out, social contact, movement and healthy food and the chances that their horses stay that nice increase tenfold. Good training is only the icing on the cake.
Make yourself known with not only the training aspect of horses, but with all related topics that can influence the welfare of your horse. A horse that is stressed, in pain, hungry or annoyed cannot learn! Proper feeding, feet, teeth and equipment are nescesary for proper training. Do not just trust the experts when they tell you something. Make sure you understand WHY and WHAT when you speak with experts and always ask for a 2nd opinion if your gut feeling tells you something isn't right. But most important, never make ANY excuses to justify the continuation of something that you know is bad for your horse. Change it! He is under your care, it is your responsibility. If you want him to work with and for you, make sure he can, optimally.
Is an accomplished rider, clinician and published author who combines her extensive knowledge in classical dressage, biomechanics, ethology, human anatomy and zen principles to guide riders on their journey to self-improvement. The goal: harmony & lightness in the cooperation between human and horse.