Last weekend a horse was brought to the clinic that was about 9 years old and had previously been trained for campdrafting and reining. The owner was an older gentleman who had been seriously hurt in a riding accident and was left with a brain injury. The horse was in training with a local reining trainer, but was brought to the clinic to help get the owner back in the saddle. The reining trainer also attended as a spectator.
During the riding lesson I pointed out how stiff and crooked the horse was through its body and coached the owner on getting the horse to bend to the inside rein and step its hindquarters under during the turns.
About mid-way through the process of encouraging the hindquarters to disengage the trainer interrupted by saying (paraphrasing), “We don’t do that in reining. We want the horse to use his hindquarters and not disengage during a rollback.”
I went onto to explain that I understood the demands of competition meant a horse is not to disengage the hindquarters, but that before a horse becomes a competition horse it should first learn to use its body correctly to develop straightness, balance and strength. This will ensure the horse remains sound through years of competition instead of breaking down in its mid teens because of long-term crookedness and incorrectness. I said that a horse should always learn to carry itself correctly first, before becoming a performance horse. They won’t run out of competitions if you take an extra 6 months or more to train correctness in your horse.
Of course the trainer was dismissive of this.
Over the years I have heard similar arguments from different parts of the horse world. It seems there are doctrines in every aspect of the industry.
Dressage: if you teach a horse to disengage his hindquarters he will never be able to engage them properly.
Dressage: if you teach the rein back too early, you will kill the forward button.
Showjumping: if you teach a horse to walk through water he will never learn to jump clear over a water jump.
Polo: never ride your horse with two reins because he will never learn to neck rein well.
Reining: if you teach a horse to bend in his step-overs he won’t be able to be straight in his spins.
Harness: if you don’t put blinkers on a horse he will always be prone to shying and unsafe.
Showing: if you get your Arab horse use to plastic bags you won’t be able to use them to get him excited for the judge.
Horsemanship: if you teach a horse to turn his hindquarters towards you, you are teaching it to be disrespectful.
The list is much longer, but I hope you get my drift.
In my view all these notions are dumb. They assume horses are dumb. Imagine arguing that if you teach a child to multiply numbers too early in life that they won’t be able to learn long division! Or that if you catch a ball with your right hand you will never be good at catching a ball with your left hand.
I had a discussion with a person a little while back that I mentioned in an earlier post. He said when he starts a horse under saddle he never uses both reins at the same time for at least 2 months. This puzzled me because I use one rein and two reins on the first ride and never seem to have problems later on. When I wrote to the person and asked why, he didn’t have an answer. He seemed to assume that by using 2 reins to direct a young horse, it made using one rein more difficult. This is not my experience, so I wonder what he is doing that creates the problem for him.
It appeared to me that the trainer had made up a golden rule based on something he heard or saw or tried at some point, but never really questioned it.
Horses respond to the input that is presented to them. What they do is a result of what we offer and their learned experience. When a rider applies a leg aid a horse might interpret that as a request to move forward. However, when the leg aid is applied in a slightly different fashion, it might be a signal to a horse to step backwards. And when used in a different way again, a horse might think he is to yield sideways. All those responses are possible and should be available. Just because a horse has learned one way to respond to pressure does not mean he hasn’t got the capacity to learn other ways to yield. It comes down to how clear we are when we present an idea to a horse. Clarity is the key to teaching a horse that he should engage his hindquarters one moment and then disengage them the next.
People love generalizations. I think it’s because they feel it gives them permission not to think for themselves. When I heard a dressage trainer tell a student they can’t do dressage in a western saddle, I knew they did not think for themselves. When a reining trainer told me that disengaging a horse’s hindquarters in a turn would damage the rollbacks, I knew they were not thinking for themselves.
I believe horses are much more capable of achieving than we are capable of inspiring them to achieve.
Wise words from Walt Whitman…