I was recently admiring a student of mine as she and her horse rode a round of jumps in a field, total joy on the rider’s face and I’m certain a smile to equal it on the face of the horse. He looked so relaxed and happy and was thoroughly enjoying himself. They were in total unison, both calm and having fun and at the end, she just sat back and they stopped…the horse lowering his head to enjoy the grass. Beautiful. And what was even more special about it was that there was nothing on the horse’s head at all, just a simple string around his neck. And yet he would turn, transition, steady up or go faster with no more effort needed on the rider’s part than a suggestion.
There is nothing unusual about any of this, at least not among people I ride with, as any number of QS students can do the same or similar with their horses. Some with nothing on their horse’s heads – not even a string! – some in a rope hackamore, some with a halter and one rein. Even some in a bridle!
And yet, there are still now huge numbers of people who think that we are unsafe, dangerous and downright crazy. I’ve had people say it to my face and to many of my students – that we’re mad and shouldn’t be allowed to ride like this.
There has been a lot of comment recently about a pair or contrasting photos doing the rounds of the internet. One is of a lady jumping her horse with just a neck string and the other is of a poor horse submitted to so much gadgetry on it’s head, it is heart breaking to even look at. The fear and anxiety shows on this poor creature’s face, as it is to reduced to this treatment that is nothing short of torture. By contrast, is the other horse, happily cruising over it’s jump, with not a piece of metal or leather in sight. And yet the stressed and tortured horse is allowed to compete like this, at the highest level of show jumping no less, but the other is not. Because it’s deemed unsafe….it’s crazy to ride like that! Where is the logic? You’re allowed to compete on a terrified, nervous horse as long as you have enough stuff on it’s head to cause untold physical and mental pain, but you’re not allowed to compete on a horse that is relaxed, happy and listening to it’s rider…with whom it obviously has a terrific partnership.
If you stop to think about it, it’s just more evidence of our ignorance when you see this kind of example. If someone wants to ride their horse in a rope halter, or hackamore, or with just a string around their horse’s neck, chances are they feel pretty safe, secure and confident that they have full communication and control of their horse. Why on earth would they want to ride or compete in such a way if they didn’t feel safe? So, telling someone else they aren’t safe when they do this, just says how unsafe you and your horse would be if the tables were reversed. It reflects a lot more on the accuser than the accused. Don’t you think?
The argument is, that at that level of competition, the riders need more control. So what does that mean? That so called ‘high level’ horses are crazy, terrified, right brained and reactionary? That without the use of pain, torture and cruelty they can’t be controlled? That the only way they can jump these huge jumps is if they are thinking more of their self preservation than anything else? And does that also then mean that the ends justifies the means? That it is okay to contain and use any force necessary on a horse, if it is giving high-end results? If this really is the case, why would anyone want to compete in such a sport? If that is what it takes, don’t do the sport. Easy. Just because it can be done doesn’t make it right.
Why would anyone want to ride a horse that is so emotional, reactionary and scared for it’s life that it’s only thought is self preservation. This is why they run away…this is why they buck, shy, rear and stop listening. I wouldn’t ride that horse. Now that would be crazy!
Pain causes fear and fear causes reaction. In horse riding terms a human on a horse that is fearful or reactionary is any thing but safe or in control. How is it in any way logical that a rider on an emotional horse is safe? No matter what type of gadgetry they have on the horse. It’s just another example of the illogical behaviour of humans when it comes to conventional riding. But they knock and disregard the rider of a calm, relaxed, thinking horse because she or he hasn’t resorted to entrapment as par for the course in their ‘training’. Instead they have worked on building a partnership of trust, communication and mutual respect.
I don’t want to focus on the level of cruelty to horses in some sports because this isn’t my point (but it will be in a later post). What I do want to focus on is just where the craziness lies.
We have progressed so much in recent years, with many aspects of our lives and yet people as a whole are still unbelievably ignorant about horses. We accept that horses are dangerous, unpredictable and crazy and that its okay to use force and pain to get them to do what we want. And worse, that even with all this accepted, it’s okay to get on and rider them like this! Yet all the while, there is evidence right in front of our noses that horses need be no such thing. There are many QS students and the like achieving incredible things on relaxed, confident, thinking horses.
‘They’ call us crazy! Because we often ride with no saddle, or bridle, or helmet, or gadgets or anything at all. And yet we have horses who like being with us, are easy to catch, we can and do take them just about anywhere, our horses are calm, relaxed, they have fun, they look after us. They are easy to get going and easy to stop. We can trim their feet without tying them up, led them without a rope, play with them with no fences, or ropes, or halters! We don’t need to give them treats, or punish them. We rarely get even a scratch when dealing with them let alone break a bone…..or worse, and yet all of these things are the stuff that ‘normal’ horse ownership is made of.
So who then are the crazy ones? Time to change!