I have been spending a significant amount of time traveling North America with my husband, while teaching clinics and lessons. I have worked with countless individuals of all skill and age ranges. I have also worked with more breeds of horses than I can remember and riders from all disciplines. Amongst all of these differences, one phrase (and now topic) continues to come up…”black and white.” Whether trying to solve a “problem” with a horse, teaching a horse a new maneuver, refining a maneuver, putting the first ride on a horse, or even helping a rider find their balance, we are hearing and seeing people pushing techniques that aren’t working, fighting the horse, irritating the horse, and not making any progress with the horse in a relaxed frame of mind. Because here’s the biggie: the terms “black and white” and “horsemanship” do not mix. Think of them as oil and water.
The best way to explain this might be through some examples. A common type of question that often comes to us would be, “My horse tosses his head when I am applying any contact to the rein. How can I fix this?” While that is a great question, the problem is that there are about 15 different reasons for this behavior that I can think of off the top of my head. Bit? Pain in the mouth? Poll issues? TMJ issues? Teeth issues? Back pain/soreness…yes, this can cause head tossing. The list could just keep going. I mean, how is a “black and white” answer supposed to be given without physically going through each option and determining what the reason is that there is now head tossing? Then, even after determining the root of the problem, there is not always one set way of fixing it if the problem turns out to solely be behavioral and not pain! The exact same goes for bucking, rearing, and more.
I must say, though, that this rings true even more so in regards to behavioral issues. Take bucking into a canter. Shake your head if you have been told to yield the hindquarters if your horse bucks? This is the absolute last technique we would use. See, proof that there are more ways to skin a cat! Now, shake your head again if you have ever heard that when a horse keeps wanting to take their rider to the gate, you should just work them harder at the gate? Again, something we never have to do nor do we believe that it actually fixes the root of the problem! There is NO “black and white!” Last but not least…..those scary tarps! Did you know that we have FIVE different exercises or techniques on the ground for helping horses to overcome their fears and anxiety with tarps, based on what the horse is showing/thinking/feeling? We have so many because not all techniques work on every horse!!!!! There is not ONE way to ask a horse to overcome their emotions with a scary tarp, their anxiety on the trail, or wanting to run back to the barn. If you try an exercise or technique and you don’t like what you are seeing or feeling, if there is no change, or if you are getting into a fight with your horse, then you need to try another technique! Be flexible in your methods!
Horsemen and horsewomen, be willing to change your path and plan for the session with your horse based on what they are saying to you! Be willing to change your exercises for each individual horse! Change your techniques and your bo