When I began working with horses again, after a long break, I felt the need to look as though I was ‘doing’. Whether that was longing, riding, jumping etc. I felt the eyes of the riding center on me all of the time and the pressure that I placed upon myself from the weight of those eyes had a negative effect on my training.
There is a great deal of talk about horses having ‘manners’. Horses should respond to our every whim and do it willingly it seems. So if my horse refused to stand, or walk or trot or jump, this was my fault for not instilling manners into my horse. What would follow would be punishment, whether or not those eyes actually expected to see this, I do not know, but there was always talk of ‘mastering’ the horse.
By the end of my time there, I almost didn’t want to ride, and neither did my horse – who would run away when I approached and always seemed anxious.
In 2017 I went to an IAABC conference in the UK, hearing the speakers opened up a whole new world of training for me. I had never really understood positive reinforcement. It was usually referred to as a way to teach a horse to bite or get in your space looking for treats. Jokes would be made about positive reinforcement or clicker trainers.
When I began to try positive reinforcement, I probably did a horrible job of it! I was clumsy, there wasn’t as much guidance as there is today and pre-covid there was little in the way of online courses. It is wonderful to see so many trainers sharing their skills, the more we share and learn from one another, the better trainers we become.
Since I took a step back and allowed my horses to speak up, the very foundations of our relationship have changed. While we don’t do as much in the way of competitions, we have a relationship that means so much more.
There is still much talk of horses needing respect for humans, since I took a step back I have a new found respect for them.
It’s never too late to take a step back and wonder at the possibility that there is still more to learn and a new level of relationship to explore.