08 September 2008

Stuck in the dark ages

I once visited a yard to help someone with a horse who lacked manners, individually a lovely person and a fabulous horse, together a nightmare. As usual during the session I explained things from the horse’s point of view while showing the owner how to lead and progressing through various issues they were having.

At the end of the session I gratefully accepted the offer of a cup of tea and during our conversation I could see that the owner was gradually getting more and more bitter and angry. Thinking I had somehow inadvertently offended her, I apologised and made ready to leave. For the next 5 minutes I received an embarrassing string of compliments, including what a breath of fresh air my methods were and her amazement that within such a short space of time she felt capable of having a relationship with her horse rather than a fight etc etc.

It turned out that once our session with her horse had finished and the owner had had time to relax, she began to resent the wasted years and expense of hiring various highly qualified instructors who taught her from the human point of view and never the horses. She had believed from the outset that such a large organisation would do the right thing for both parties, horse and human, so she had never thought to question anything. Basic things had never been explained to her such as to why she was taught to lead from the horses shoulder or mount on the near side and numerous other things.

In the days of knights in shining armour (the dark ages) it was unacceptable to be left handed so they all wore their swords on their left side ready to be drawn with their right hand. Having the sword on the left side of their body meant they could only mount from the horses near side. Time progressed and Knights became cavalry with the same fixed ideas. Military horses were kept in lines and the army likes its soldiers to look the same and behave in the same manner so everyone led and mounted from the near side, held their reins in the same way etc.

Owning a horse for pleasure only became popular in the Victorian era and it was cavalry officers who taught the public, knowing no alternatives they used the methods taught to them. To this day novices are still being taught using these methods. If the reason for this is a “if it aint broke don’t fix it” mentality and we all lived by that rule we would still believe that the earth was flat, that women can’t do physical work etc etc. During their time these were common beliefs and they worked fine but have since been proven to be far from accurate.

Believe me, it is harder to un-teach than it is to teach. The novices of today are going to be tomorrows instructors, competitors, happy hackers and parents. If we can teach them now to lead correctly from both sides and to mount from both sides, and to think things through from a horse’s point of view it would be a great start. They will have a much better relationship with their equine partner and the horses will certainly be a lot more comfortable.

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