As I was sitting there last week watching yet another facebook fight unfold about what is the right age to start a horse under saddle, I couldn’t help but chuckle. Equestrians are so funny, because I feel like most of us that have been riding/training/keeping horses long enough know that anytime you think you’re totally right about something, a horse will come along to prove you wrong. Never say never is a motto with many of us. And yet in the same breath we will staunchly defend our ideal of what is the “best way” to do anything, while ridiculing those who do something different. But what if… what if both sides are right?
I mean, I think we can all agree that riding a weanling falls well into DEFINITELY DO NOT DO, VERY BAD territory, and that waiting until they’re 8 is probably a tad unnecessary. There are always hard lines when it comes to cruelty or abuse (well… usually…), and extremes in the other direction. But dropping both extremes, there is a lot of territory that exists in between. What about starting a horse at 2? Or, on the other end of the spectrum, what about the people who wait until 5 or 6? They probably both have their reasons, and they’re probably both valid. If we know anything by now it’s that what’s right for one horse may not be right for another, and on the same note, what’s right for one person might not be right for another. There are people who choose to let their horses be relatively feral for their early years, and those who choose to do a lot of handling and ground work. People who bring horses up the levels quickly, and people who take a long time to develop them. Very different approaches, but again – maybe both are right.
I’ve seen a lot of these scenarios unfold. There are people that are exceptionally good at reading a horse, understanding when they can ask for more and when they can’t, when the horse needs a break mentally or physically, how to artfully add strength to a horse without adding wear and tear. I have no doubt that those people can and have successfully started many horses at 2 and not done any detriment to the horse’s long term soundness – in fact, some studies show that the horse may be better off because of it. You also see the people who don’t possess a lot of patience, or aren’t so good at knowing how to quit while they’re ahead, or are very workmanlike and more intense, or are just so skilled that they can get a horse properly trained up in a very short period of time, and those people are probably more successful waiting until a horse is older. Some people like to spend a long time just casually trail riding the babies, some like to go right into a structured work program. There are also the horses that are ready to work a bit earlier, and those that aren’t. It’s all different – sometimes VERY different. A lot of times what someone else does isn’t what we would do. But does that make it automatically wrong just because it’s not what we would do? What if it’s actually the very best thing for that particular person and that particular horse, given their circumstances, personalities, and skill sets?
At one point the facebook argument devolved into dithering over a difference of just a few months, what exact time growth plates close, etc etc. By the end I was just chuckling. I’ve probably been drawn into this same argument myself many times in the past, I’m sure. After all, I believe what I believe because it’s worked for me and it suits my views based on what I have observed and what I’m good at. But by this point I also have no doubt that someone else could have a very different approach and still be right. Many roads lead to Rome.
We see the same thing over and over with things like the will-never-die draw rein debate, or wool vs foam flocking debate, or blanketing, or fencing, or straight load vs slant load trailers, or whatever other thing everybody’s all riled up about this time. When it comes to training and horse management, there’s just a whooooole lot of gray area. Extremes are probably not good, but everything in the middle – and there’s a whole lot of it in the middle – might be very right, depending on the variables at hand. It’s tricky in the age of social media, where we’ve kind of been trained to constantly give our own opinion or feedback. I personally like the debates that social media invites, I think it’s helpful to hear and consider different opinions, but maybe not so much when it devolves into name calling or “everyone is wrong except for me”. Sometimes people are very convinced that their way is the only way. We’ve probably all been guilty of that at some point.
I’ve found this particularly amusing lately as I get people asking “why haven’t you started riding Presto yet?” and literally the same day from someone else “he definitely needs another year”. I’ve got people thinking I’m crippling him by lunging him w/t for 5 minutes twice a month, and people who think he should already be well on his way to broke and I’m doing him a disservice. Not joking, I’ve heard both. Because if there’s anything we horse people have, it’s opinions. I respect both sides, and, to be honest, maybe there’s validity in both. Maybe, based on those peoples’ own experiences, they’re right. At the same time, I’ve had my own experiences that have formed my own ideas about what’s right for ME and for how I start my horses, and I fully recognize that my way isn’t going to be viewed as The Right Way by many. Shoot, my own “right way” has varied even from horse to horse and over time.
The same concept is true for so many things when it comes to horses. No two people do everything exactly the same way, yet… their horses are still happy and healthy. Just because I think I’m right doesn’t automatically mean the other person is wrong, and vice versa. For so many things, “right” can take many different forms, depending. The horses seem to care a lot less about all these nitty gritty nuances than their humans do, and they definitely aren’t saying rude shit to each other on the internet. Maybe we can take a cue from them. Maybe, even though someone else’s way might look a lot different from ours, we can just look at their happy healthy horses and say “okay… maybe they’re right too“.
Or, ya know, we can just keep fighting about stuff on facebook. It’s entertaining, if nothing else.