You Don’t Ride like The Trainer: Don’t be offended when your horse notices

I had a professor that used to say he learned to instruct college students by faking it until he figured it out. Horses are smarter than we are, though, so this doesn’t work with them.

And the horse is going to notice, I promise you, when you do not know and when you do, as Buck Brannaman has said (and I’ve learned).

Additionally, many people tend to overestimate their own skill while they diminish the abilities of others, and this puts their horse in a really difficult spot. I call it the Black Stallion Syndrome (read about it on that link).

I tend to spend a lot of my life observing horses working with all types of horse folk, from professional to beginners. I’ve seen the same horse move from interaction with one tier to another, and even slight changes in the horsemanship creates a dramatic difference in the horse.

I am not a trainer and ride infrequently. So, I am not writing this from my own “proverbial” high horse based on my own skill set in the saddle. But observation goes a long way, as does candor. I care about horses, equine professionals and the creation of better riders. Better riders mean better horses. Horses that stay sane and sound, and that is a goal we should all rally around.

Because a horse is often only as good as his rider/handler and most riders are not especially skilled, it means a lot of horses are out there misbehaving or, at least, not working near their potential. This doesn’t help the horse industry or horses.

And sadly, though we work hard to promote education, I frequently hear this:

“I don’t need that webinar or clinic. I already know how to (fill in the blank).”

– Says most horse folk on the internet

We, as a collective, do not realize that we all need to continue to learn and grow, even if we just want to casually trail ride a safe horse. In order to keep our horses safe and happy, our (and their) educations need to continue through our lives.

We hear from horse owners frequently who are either upset that the horse they have is not behaving the same as when a trainer worked with him or about new horse who was really nice and now suddenly overcome with bad habits he did not have 6 months ago. And the owners rarely come to the table asking the right questions, which are: “This is my fault, so what am I doing wrong?” and “How can I be a better rider for my horse?”

Instead, some folks complain, blame and often. . . just look for a new horse to start the cycle over. But a new horse is rarely a actual answer to the root of the problem (not usually). When someone buys too much horse and fails to improve their skill set, the horse has been undermined. The horse goes into a new situation when that one fails with less than he used to have. He is disadvantaged by that transaction. The trainer who originally had him going well is undermined, too. Everyone loses.

It isn’t very hard to UNdo a quality start on a horse, folks. And it happens all of the time. Unfortunately, horses – like humans – seem to remember the bad habits more easily than the great ones. This means we need to work hard to create better encounters every single time we handle or ride horses. it also means we have to admit, when someone who is better than us rides our horse, the horse knows.

Horses are intelligent animals able to reason and respond, but for the sake of an simple example, let’s pretend they are equipment (though, certainly, they are not only that).

You can give a brush, canvas and paint to the average person, then to a creative, gifted dabbler and lastly a professional artist. Ask them to create a portrait of the same scene. The results with the exact materials and equipment will vary so widely because of the skill set of the person holding the brush, there will scarcely be a similarity between each. What if the average person kept trading for different paints, brushes and paper – would that actually improve the results he had in that session? No.

What if he said the outcome was because of his poor material? The equipment was why he didn’t create a masterpiece. . . but on lookers would think: “That artist took the same things and made beautiful stuff. Why not just say you lacked the right skills to do the same?”

Thankfully with horses – you can become better and better and do not need to even lean on some “born” gift . . . you just need to realize you should want to and find the right information.

With this in mind, Horses and proper care are expensive enough, right? Who wants to spend money for lessons, clinics and furthering an education? But you should want to, and I wish the horse industry had originally focused the training of the person (then the horse), when equines transitioned from animals of labor to animals of our leisure and pastimes.

So. . . in parting . . .horsemanship does not come any more naturally than driving a semi-tractortrailer on the German Autobahn.

So if you have a new horse and are thinking you’ve been duped because he isn’t acting the same for you as he did for the previous owner / trainer / rescue agency / facility or program, please understand the blame almost always lies outside of the horse or the previous owner’s control.

But cheer up! You can fix it with horsemanship training, and believe me, there is a whole industry out there waiting to help you. You just need to ask.

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