Brains before brawn: a rant

We’ve all seen them. Someone who decides the warm-up ring at a show is the right place to drill lead changes, getting increasingly angry and liberal with the whip at every failed attempt. The person whose horse is mentally not prepared for the work they’re trying to do, so they end up yanking the horse to a stop repeatedly and seesawing on the mouth out of frustration. The rider whose spooky horse is hesitant about something and they yank the horse around, yelling and whaling away before the horse even knows what’s happening.

Unfortunately something I see a lot of on a pretty regular basis is people picking fights with horses while they’re riding. I don’t get up on my preachy soapbox very often on this blog, but this is one thing I just don’t get and it drives me nuts. Horses are very rarely obstinate under saddle just for the sake of being obstinate. It’s much more likely that they’re a) confused by what you’re asking b) not prepared for what you’re asking – either mentally or physically – or c) hurting. Trying to force them into doing something and letting our emotions take control creates a situation where no one wins. Either the human ends up frustrated or hurt, or the horse ends up frustrated, upset, and likely resentful.

Why buy trouble?

As humans, we have brains (well most of us). We can think logically, foresee how different scenarios could play out, and make intelligent decisions. Horses are creatures that are very much “in the now”. They react to the situations they’re put in, to their surroundings, what they’re being asked to do, and how they’re being asked to do it. We as humans can control a lot of that, and therefore can in essence choose to avoid situations that probably won’t turn out favorably. I’m not saying avoid situations as in “Snookums doesn’t want to go in that corner, so we’ll just avoid that half of the ring”. I’m saying that we take a moment to instead ask ourselves how we can, in a way, outsmart Snookums and get him into that corner without resorting to manhandling and frustrating both parties. Basically using your brains – not your brawn. It’s possible in almost every scenario if you set your emotions aside and think instead of react.

Remember that saying? It’s really true. For myself personally, when I encounter disobedience in a horse the first thing I ask myself is why. Was the horse properly prepared for what I asked? Did I ask correctly? Is there some outside factor – mental or physical – that is preventing the horse from responding appropriately? Nine times out of ten the resolution to the disobedience can be found within the answers to those questions (which is why I think a good trainer is so important – to help us mere mortals figure out where we’re making mistakes). Sometimes it’s as simple as us asking in a way that wasn’t understood very well. Other times it’s the horse saying “I’m so wigged out right now, I can’t handle this” in which case you can take a step back, find something to un-wig them, and ask again.

There’s also nothing in the world to be gained by yanking/kicking/beating/yelling. To the people that then try to justify their idiotic behavior by blaming their horses for being jerks: I’ll say it… you’re the jerk. Our hands and legs aren’t weapons, they’re aids. Same with a whip and spur. I can’t even imagine what people are expecting to accomplish when they take out their temper and lack of riding skill on their horse. There’s a difference between a firm “No, I said do this” reprimand and flat out abuse, and IMO I see the line blurred way too often when a human’s temper takes control. C’mon people, we’re better that. I don’t know about you but I’d rather be a thinking rider who sets the horse up for success, not the reacting rider who punishes and frustrates. If you regularly find yourself in fights with your horse, you’re doing something wrong, and maybe it’s time to seek professional help.

Of course – yes, sometimes horses are in fact just plain disobedient. But we can make a correction swiftly and succinctly then move on without holding a grudge or losing our temper, and subsequently reward them when they do it right. My real grumble here is the people that choose to start a fight where there never had to be one in the first place. It’s just not fair to the horse.

Take a look at this except from the USDF website: “its purpose is to develop the horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to work making him calm, supple and attentive to his rider.” We don’t get those things with force, hysterics, and emotion. We get it with tact, fairness, and intelligence.



Time to move along

It sucks to be writing this so soon after the new year with all those ambitious goals, but I’m at an impasse with my horse’s current facility. I’ve had several care issues in the past few months (mainly centered around how much hay has been fed lately) and unfortunately it has gotten to the point where I can’t keep waiting it out and giving chances in the hope that it will improve. The health and well-being of the horse comes first, so it’s time to pack our things and go.

I am the most important thing, and the most important thing is ME. And cookies.

On one hand it will remove me from current trainer’s “umbrella”, which isn’t ideal considering our goals for the year. But I will still have some access to her at the new facility, plus a really good dressage trainer. The care at the new place is EXCELLENT (basically exactly what I would do if I was taking care of my own horse), and it’s a really small place with several other eventers. I know a few of them already and we get along great. The facilities are not quite as vast, obviously, as the big barn I’m at now, but they’re absolutely more than adequate and the footing is good. Getting to shows could potentially be more difficult but hopefully I’ll be able to work it out. The drive is a little further, but the board is lower. There are some trade offs but I think we’ll both be really happy there so I’m excited for the change.

My once chubby horse is chubby no longer, so he will have to gain some weight back. I’m sad and extremely disappointed by the turn things took in the past few months, and to be frank I feel like I waited a month longer than I should have… I’m definitely carrying guilt about it. I was really hoping to find a way through this and resolve the problem but in retrospect that was pretty futile and naive. To be clear: he’s fine. He’s certainly not starving or anything, I’ve had him on rice bran for a month and I’ve been giving him as much extra hay as I can possibly sneak, but despite that he’s gotten thin and his coat looks dull and he doesn’t seem as happy in general as he did a few months ago. There are really several care issues I’ve had but the main one is that there is very little hay being fed, and that does not work for this horse. When the vet was out a couple weeks ago I asked him what he thought and he half-frowned and said “I liked him better with more weight”. Sigh. Me too, man. Me too. I really really don’t like my horse losing condition, physically or mentally.

I don’t care how many times you tell me this much hay twice a day is enough… it’s NOT.


This is extremely upsetting to me.

I debated about just how much to say about this here, but I feel like it’s important to speak my mind and tell the whole story. It makes me angry, if I’m being totally honest. It makes me even more angry when I present my concerns and they are brushed aside. But ultimately the deepest feeling is of extreme disappointment. As horse owners we put A LOT of trust into the people that care for our animals. They are the ones that see them all day every day. They are the ones in charge of their general well-being. When I sign that board contract and give you my board check every month, it’s me saying “I trust you to take care of something that is very very important to me. Irreplaceable even. Please take that as seriously as I do.”. And when that trust is violated, it really sucks. Because at the end of the day those horses rely on us – the people around it – to care for it properly, and when we don’t, the horses are the ones that suffer. That’s a very serious thing, and if you can’t care for them properly you shouldn’t offer to do it at all.

bareback noms – his favorite perk of the hackamore

There are a lot of things I like about the current barn, and I really appreciate the opportunities I have had there, but my horse’s health is a non-negotiable. I also ordered him a course of Omeprazole because I’m pretty suspicious of ulcers, especially with how little turnout and hay he’s gotten lately, and it sure can’t hurt. It’ll be interesting to see if that changes anything or not. He’s naturally kind of a tight tense creature so maybe he’s long overdue for some ulcer treatment anyway. I’ll ride him just enough to keep him loose and keep some condition, but for the most part he’s getting a really light next month or two until everything gets sorted out.

Counting down the days to a new beginning and a happier Henry, and looking forward to new opportunities with a great new group of people.