This is post should probably not be written – at least at the moment. This is because I am cranky and good sense dictates you should not write something for public consumption when you are mad. But bugger it. I’m tired of some of the nonsense I have to be polite about sometimes and there are times when stupidity and ignorance need to be called out for what they are.
Some articles written by different people about how horrible and anti-training it is to use a flag when working with horses has prompted this post. It seems there is a vendetta against flags among certain horse people who have trouble connecting two or more synapses together.
In brief, their argument goes that flags are used to create terror in a horse and therefore flags are bad. The fact that these same people use and promote the use of riding whips, lunging whips, spurs, bits, ropes etc leaves them scrambling for a dictionary to learn the meaning of the words “irony” and “hypocrisy”.
The element that is missing from the argument that flags are a problem is an understanding of the role the human plays in its use. A flag is an inanimate object that has no power to do evil or good on its own. Its function is completely controlled by the human holding it. It’s within the capacity of each person to apply the flag in a beneficial way or a harmful way. The flag itself has no say over that. This is equally true of whips and spurs and bits (provided they are a comfortable fit). Just because a trainer uses a flag to terrorize a horse into submission, does not make the flag the evil-doer.
One trainer that I read recently who espouses how evil flags are, even argued round yards are detrimental to training, but square yards are an excellent training tool. Their rationalization was that round yards encouraged horses to run more and square yards do not. It seems for this trainer blame for misuse of a round yard falls at the feet of the yard and not at the human chasing the horse in the yard.
I find it bizarre that an inanimate piece of equipment that has no innate power is criticized as the problem when it is clearly a problem with people not knowing how to use the equipment.
I see the flag not as a flag, but as a clarity stick. Like all equipment, its purpose is to bring clarity to our intent. A person should keep in mind that rather than scare a horse into doing something, it is intended to clear up any confusion for a horse. It is hard to see what is wrong with that.
The same can be said of whips, spurs, bits, ropes and whatever other gear that is under the control of a rider or handler.
There is some equipment that I believe is anti-training, such as side reins, tie downs, Pessoa etc. The reason why I feel this way is that they fall into the category of not being adjustable or controlled by a human. Once they are fitted the rider or handler can’t adjust them in a moment-to-moment manner as the horse’s thoughts and emotions alter. If a person cannot instantly influence the effect of an item of equipment to cater to the horse’s needs every moment, then I believe the value of such gear for creating softness and okay-ness rather than simple obedience, needs to be questioned.
I want to end by saying this article is about much more than whether a flag is a good or poor training tool. There is a much broader principle at stake that affects how we are as horse people.
It’s difficult for all of us to change our views regarding concepts that are strongly held. I truly believe that we should examine closely the things we believe and the things others believe. It’s only then are we justified in holding onto ideas with passion. If our efforts to understand and explore different ideas are weak, then the strength to which we hold onto our own ideas should also be weak.
Photo: This was taken at a clinic where Amanda was in the process of starting Cowboy. She is using the flag to support the feel of the lead rope to help Cowboy to not drop his shoulder toward her. Is the flag being used here to train the horse not to crowd the handler (obedience) or to provide clarity to the feel of the lead rope?