When we have a horse we have certain expectations that reflect something about ourselves.
What do we expect when we have a horse? How are those expectations shaped?
I know a woman who is an extremely good rider and has a lot of years experience with training and competing. I also know that when she is taking her horse to a lesson or show she allows an extra 15 minutes to load her horse into the trailer. She knows it will take between 5 and 15 minutes to convince her horse it’s time to load up and that’s okay. She doesn’t expect it to be any different.
I also came across a rider who likes to trail ride with her friends, but she has to stay vigilant because her horse is prone to kicking at other horses. She knows her horse is like this and has worked a way around it that ensures she still has friends that are willing to ride with her.
A well known dressage rider that I know is careful that on the day of competition there is not one glitch to her horse’s preparation before her event. If the day is too windy, she knows her horse will give a poor performance. If there is a distraction or loud sound before the event she will forfeit the competition.
I have known people that expect their horse will misbehave in public because they are stallions or mares in season or they have been eating spring grass. They get away with it by using leads with chains, anti-rearing bits, whips and other paraphernalia design to force a semblance of control on a horse. As long as they are 100% confident they can control their horses with such devices, their expectations are low about their horse’s behaviour.
I know a World Cup show jump rider that can’t rein back his horses, but that’s okay because a horse doesn’t have to back up around a jumping course.
People live with low expectations of their horses about some things, but not others. For example, the show jumper rider doesn’t care that his horses don’t rein back, but they must know how to perform flying changes with accuracy. The rider have told me that teaching his horse to rein back is more trouble than it’s worth. I find this very puzzling considering what a very basic maneuver backing up is compared to lead changes.
I have wondered why people will live with such low expectations of their horses about some things and not other. The conclusion I’ve come to is about how important it is to a rider.
The dressage rider that requires 15 minutes to load her horse into a trailer lives with it happily because she is 100% confident that her horse will eventually load. She can live with taking 15 minutes to load as horse as long he will eventually go into the trailer. But if she was only 50% confident of her horse loading I believe she would take the time to ensure he loaded in 15 seconds 100% of the time. Her expectations of her horse will change if wants to make sure she gets to every competition or lesson.
The same would be true of the trail rider whose horse kicks. If people refused to ride with her ever again because of the kicking, her expectations of her horse would also change. Suddenly it would become very important to her to teach her horse not to kick.
In short, it’s only when something becomes important to us that we place new or higher expectations on our horses. If we can get by while living with poor or mediocre behaviours and performance, then we don’t expect any more from our horses.
I believe that good horsemanship is about relationships as well as performance. This is why in good horsemanship everything a horse does and feels is important. In good horsemanship our expectations should be very high – on our horses and on ourselves. This means that we try to take care of all the little resistances and emotional turmoil our horse experiences. In good horsemanship we don’t accept that its okay if our horse kicks or our stallion acts like a petulant teenager or our show jumper doesn’t rein back or our dressage horse can’t handle loud noises and windy days. We see these things as signs of how well or badly our horses are doing. They reflect how important our horse’s okay-ness is to us. They tell the world whether how much we care about the horses and our relationship with them.
This brings me to why good horsemanship is important to the entire world of horses. When you attend a dressage clinic or a cutting clinic or a pony club day, most of the attention is given to a horse’s performance. It’s rare that the things that don’t immediately relate to the discipline at hand get any attention. How many dressage clinics help people with trailer loading or chewing on the bit? How many reining clinics help people with water crossing issues or chewing on the bit? How many jumping clinics help with rein back or chewing on the bit? Yet all of those issues are related to the performance issues the clinic is intended to address. They are interconnected because they each tell you about the focus, clarity and softness of your horse and the relationship that has developed. Nothing is separate from anything else or stands alone as an isolated problem.
Our expectations of our horses tell the world something of our expectations of ourselves. Every horse and every rider has issues – that’s normal and it’s okay. But to be content to leave those issues inside our horse is not being a good horse person practicing good horsemanship.
Clearly the rider had high (forgive the pun) expectations of his horse.