It’s become a habit of late, to sit with a cuppa in the evening, after a couple of splendid hours riding or playing with my horses, watching our horses chew on a bit of hay and chewing the fat with my best friend, who also happens to be my husband. I look forward to it every evening. The combination of relaxing after a busy albeit fulfilling day, absorbing the peaceful rhythm of the horses eating, chuckling at the herd antics as my horse inevitably decides he wants ALL the hay (and lets the others know it), plus the opportunity to catch up with Shane and what I know will be some interesting and thought provoking conversation, makes this a very special time indeed.
Shane you see, is one of the most interesting and hilarious people I know. For all the many years we’ve been together, and it has been a lot of years now, we never get tired of spending time together and discussing anything and everything that effects the world as we know it. Many a time, we’ve found ourselves chatting into the wee small hours and joking about the fact that you’d think, after all these years, we would have run out of things to say. But we haven’t and the conversations have always been interesting, intriguing, challenging at times and invariably funny. Right from the first time we met, we’ve discussed everything from what it would be like to fly in a MiG on the verge of the stratosphere, to wondering if pirates would be a problem if we should decide to sail around the world, or just how long it’ll be before we bypass mobile phones and credit cards all together and instead just put chips straight into our heads. We’ve also talked about the difficulties of taking photos from the passenger seat of a stunt plane while the G Forces made it hard to get your face off the window long enough to not vomit all over yourself, and contemplated just how strong your neck muscles need to be to drive a Touring Car in a race, if just a few laps as a passenger left your head wobbling like one of those toy dogs you find in the back window of a car.
My point being in all this, is that the despite the wide range of topics discussed, in fact many of these chats together have been about horses. And more specifically, how conventional riding or handling, or call it what you will, revolves around either training the horse or teaching it tricks.
As a general rule, horse owners and trainers, generally tend to fall into one or both of these categories of people; who either try to train the horse or teach it tricks. Training is usually the most common and involves endless and mindless repetition of a pattern or a manoeuvre until the horse either gets it right or gives up. And usually when they do get it right, they then have to do it some more to get it more right. You see this in all horse sports; English, Western and everything in between, so it is non discriminatory however it is mind numbing and mental torture for the horse. The other thing you see is the teaching of tricks. Here again, the horse is taught that on a certain cue, it must give a particular response. This trick can then be incorporated into a routine for a sport, or used by the rider to entertain other humans. A lot of people like tricks. The world is full of people who pay money and go along to watch a person make an animal do all sorts of things it wouldn’t normally do. To display behaviors that show it’s obedience and subservience to the handler. Personally I find it degrading and disrespectful to have an animal act as a slave for human entertainment. Especially so when the animal is a magnificent and amenable creature like a horse. It always makes me wonder just what means were used to convince the horse to perform on cue?
One of Shane’s deep dislikes, is the human tendency to confuse tricks and training of horses with real education or communication. There is such a huge difference between the two and he (and I) have written many articles on this topics and delivered a great many presentations on it also. In a nutshell, true communication, safety and performance can only come if the horse is actively involved mentally, emotionally and physically. If his mind is switched off, if he is bored, or afraid, all the horse can do is repeat the behavior it believes the human desires. He certainly won’t put in his best effort in this case, nor does it make him any smarter or any safer to be around. And as a horseman it is easy to see by the way a horse moves and reacts to the prompts, just how he is feeling during his performance.
Sitting and enjoying my cuppa the other night, I got to thinking about what I do with horses. Why I know what I’m doing is not just training their bodies and dulling their minds, or repeating a behavior until my horse can repeat it at will. I know its not tricks or training but what exactly is it that makes the difference? I ride or work with my horses most days of the week, always striving to get things better. So to onlookers, what is it that distinguishes my desire to improve and to get out there and practise day after day, from just training my horse or teaching him tricks? Why can I do this year in, year out and yet my horses still enjoy our time together and actually seem to look for it? I’ve heard some people saying that working toward a goal with their horse or preparing for an event, just becomes a chore. That their horses get sick of the sight of them and both of them just end up going through the motions. And some of these people might even be doing similar tasks to those I’m doing with my horses.
Contemplating this with Shane the other night, it came to me. To me, my time with my horses is something I, and I believe they, look forward to just like my conversations with Shane. Or any of the fascinating people I am lucky enough to know. You can talk with them for hours and never get tired of it and even look forward to catching up again….and again. For me, this is what my time with my horses is like. It is never a chore. It’s never just about me and what I want. It genuinely is a two way conversation where we both get to express what we want to, we both listen to each other, we both take each others opinions on board and then we see just where the conversation will lead us. And next time we get together we continue on and see how far that takes us.
It really is like learning a new language. You try out a few words. If that gets understood, you try a few more, and then more, and more and so on. And just enjoy seeing where the conversation can take you. It is fascinating, provocative and enthralling.
I really think that if more people could see that spending time with their horse should be more about having interesting, two-way conversations, discussing the meaning of life and other important matters, we’d see a real increase in just what humans and horses could achieve together. Now that would be a conversation worth having.
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