Today, in the year 2011, we live in a world in which we are constantly bombarded by an endless stream of information. Thanks to the development and explosion of the Internet, the world is literally at our fingertips. Have a question? Type it into the query box of an online search engine, and answers miraculously appear in milliseconds, conveniently sorted into links and stacked by relevancy and quality of content. The days of calling up experts, asking friends, or—of all things—spending long hours in a library scouring old references for a glimmer of pertinent information are long since over. We want—and expect—our demands to be met now, now, NOW.
How does this relate to the world of horses? Unfortunately, many have abandoned the old training methods (such as those of the Vaquero horsemen who did not consider a horse to be fully “broke” until he was at least seven or eight years old and had thus been under saddle for four or five years). Instead, the push is to put young, emotionally and mentally immature horses into training as soon as possible, sometimes starting them as young as 18 months, and then introducing hard riding and complicated maneuvers. This not only confuses the adolescent animals (thus leading to resistance, misunderstanding, and gaps in training), but it also takes a heavy physical toll on the horse’s still-growing body. Colts who were futuritied on in their three and four-year-old years are often completely used up and crippled by seven, the time when Vaquero horses would just be coming into their prime. These used-up athletes are then sent to an early retirement, the breeding farm, or a perhaps less pleasant fate if they are truly unusable. This makes way for the next year’s crop of young horses, and the cycle repeats itself in the race for instant gratification and the greed of competition.
This is the mindset and background of both the equine industry and the 21st century at large, and this is what riders unwittingly stumble into when they make the decision to start “taking lessons.” The quest for competition and its glory and thrill so fully permeates the industry that often the rider, once having established the most rudimentary basics of horsemanship, now believes that he or she is on the fast track to an Olympic show jumping career or to the National Finals Rodeo. “Taking lessons” quickly turns into wanting to go fast, wanting to jump, wanting to enter a week-long endurance ride without proper preparation or conditioning. People want to compete, to show, to win ribbons, to impress their friends, to own a champion horse of awe-inspiring proportions and a fiery temperament.
Not so fast. This scenario is particularly common with adult riders who reenter the sport later in life, perhaps recalling the carefree attitude and daredevil antics they enjoyed while mounted as children. Children, as the saying goes, are more apt to “bounce.” Adult riders—especially those who are not very fit—are and should be very concerned about and aware of their physical realities. Mostly they have traded in the child’s flexibility for, hopefully, adult wisdom and judgment.
The same goes for the deceptively difficult art of riding itself. Riding as an art form (and not as a casual weekend diversion) is a remarkably complex activity. Think of all the variables: the conformation, disposition, skill, fitness, and background of both horse and rider; the discipline; the tack; the surroundings, environment, and terrain; the weather; the various distractions....the list goes on and on. The very act of willed communication between man and beast is a phenomenon whose intricacy cannot be overstated.
In fact, thinking of riding as an art form can be incredibly helpful in understanding the learning curve of progression from novice, to intermediate, to good hand, to trainer or competitor or champion. Remember the quote from Michelangelo who, when asked about his magnificent sculpture, replied: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” This may be a tedious, painstaking process, but the rewards are great. The potential is there if only the individual is willing to work for it, putting in the necessary hours and yes, some blood, sweat, and tears. [Alas, our much-loved computer technology has little to offer to the mastery of riding and horsemanship. Chat rooms, DVD’s, and other media may provide helpful ideas, but they are a poor substitute for hands-on immersion in the riding process.]
Choosing a good instructor is key. You want someone who understands both the general problems of adult riders as well as your specific concerns. And listen to your instructor, as well as other experts in the field. There’s a reason that you are paying them for their advice—they know what they are talking about. If they give you an assignment that seems unnecessary or less than “fun,” there is probably a good reason for it. Remain humble and never over-exaggerate your skill level or physical fitness. Listen to your horse, as well. Your mount can tell you much about yourself that may be hidden from your human companions. Your horse is also a good indicator of whether or not your riding is effective and efficient. Horses respond directly to both the conscious and subconscious subtle cues that their riders give them. What can you do to become a better communicator to your horse? Be an attentive partner; listen. Be clear, consistent, and patient. Enjoy the learning process. Enjoy your interactions and friendship with your horse. Isn’t that what riding should be about, anyway?
Finally, keep in mind the old adage, which still rings true: Success is a journey, not a destination.
Very intersting thread, it certainly provokes thought. I really can't get my own thoughts together right now, but I hope to revisit this with something more to say than "good thread."
Okay - one thought..... how do you think that, let's say people ages 20 and up (when most grade school learning was pre-Google) compare to, say, under-20s as far as expectations go? Do you think the younger generations are more impatient, or less? Do you think there's any difference in expectations? How about compared with "older" (relatively speaking, of course!) generations?
As a 21-year-old, rather than having a foot in both worlds, I feel isolated from the two and can't really say. Some of the writing (a few sentences directed specifically at adult riders) were written by my now-deceased boss, who was a trainer who specialized in the unique needs of middle-aged, frequently fearful riders. Most were beginners or late-in-life re-riders.
That said, I definitely think kids want to go fast, but I wouldn't necessarily blame that mentality on the Internet. I imagine kids have always wanted to go fast. That's youth.
I think it's worse with adults nowadays. They're in fast-paced jobs, married to their computers, rushing around with a million deadlines. They don't have a lot of time for their horses, so when they do make it out to the barn, they want to maximize their time. I knew a 50-something woman (a student at my job) who, after taking two lessons for the first time in her life, declared that she would like to purchase a couple of young horses and train them herself.
And then there are the folks in the competitive world who will happily write a huge check for a prospect, drop it off at the big name trainer's for months on end, turn a blind eye to any abuse that may be occuring, and just show up to ride. Where's the fun or glory in that? Doesn't take a whole lot of skill. They expect someone else to do all the work for them.
Or how many posts are there on this forum? "My horse won't _____, what should I do?" Take a lesson, read a book, work through it yourself...but that's generally not the sort of advice people want to hear. Easier to just whine on the 'net. (Not saying that everyone who asks a question here is guilty of that mentality, but you know the type.)
In my experience of umpteen livery yards/boarding stables, the people most likely to be over-horsed are the middle aged adults who were finally able to fulfill their dreams of owning a horse. There is a certain sort of person who just leaps into it, buys a horse because it's pretty but not necessarily suited to beginners, and then realizes horses are a ton of work and require quite a lot of knowledge and skill.
I couldn't agree more. As I wrote just yesterday in another thread I believe that some of the professional training/competition industries are abhorrent in the 'normal' way they conduct their business.
When asked why they begin training at 2 I have always been told it's because that's usually when the knees set. Unfortunately however what they do not care about is the fact that the back sets last. Not until between 5 and 6 years of age on average!
A horses back is not designed to carry our weight, that is why riding in collection, and saddle fit etc is so important to minimise the impact. To therefore put such strain on backs that are not even yet set is disgraceful in these times when it is not necessary.
Add to this the incredible physical demands of some of the manoeuvres in sports such as reining, and the fact that typically these trainers are not lightweight jockeys...........
However, money is involved and so it is unlikely to change. It's a numbers game. The ruined horses are the price that is paid to find the one or two that succeed and make big bucks.
If anyone cares to dispute the permanent physical damage caused by starting these horses so young and training in such a way then I am happy to provide all the detail they need for discussion.
I believe that we both might have a great deal in common if we were both to sit down and talk horses for and afternoon after a quiet ride BUT you risk loosing your audience by your delivery in my opinion.
Yes many horses can be damaged and are with modern practices but there are many people that are fully aware of the risks and take them into account.
I understand your passion for the message but a horses need for collection is not the only thing that keeps it from snapping in half.
Yes people are in a hurry and want fast results.
Yes they are driven by ribbons and money BUT many are not at all.
An out of balance rider on an out of balance MATURE horse can cause just as much harm in my opinion.
It is not just the age of the start or the trainer that a person tries to emulate that causes the harm.
The loss of interest is more than likely the greatest harm that is done to the horse.
New people find out how much dedication that is needed and abandon the horse for other interests.
Mentors are needed to guide the process for success.
Here are a few pictures of a two year old being started under saddle to get you hot under the collar.
I am certain that we would have a lot in common, and I am sure there are many things I could learn from you, and hopefully vice versa. One of the difficulties with the Internet is that it is difficult for others to see my manner as I write.
I understand that there are many ways to start a horse. I too would definitely get a horse used to a saddle etc as soon as possible. I understand and accept that there are many who care and do things differently. That does not change the fact that I believe that training a horse for reining at 2 years of age is damaging to it's wellbeing. That is due to the sheer amount of saddle time required and the stresses placed upon a skeletal frame that is not yet matured.
I believe there are several groups of people.
There are those that don't know what they don't yet know. Many things we are taught as the just accepted methods. I like to ask the question why? If the answer is well because that's just how it's always been done, or people begin to get defensive, then I get suspicious. Many traditional ways make absolute sense, in which case it is easy to explain why they are best. Equally if there is a good reason for change, then that too can be explained. Hopefully we can discuss these things where questions are raised and then they can make their own decisions.
There are those like me who are always open to new thoughts and information and these I hope to engage in discussion with via a forum such as this so we can always learn and improve our lives and those of our horses.
Then there are the people that may suspect, but do not wish to know. Perhaps because they are concerned that in their heart of hearts if they were to face the facts they may have to change what they do. We are unlikely to agree and that is fine.
Then there are the people who know, but don't care. That is down to their own ethics and conscience. We will never agree and that is fine with me. Each to his own, that is their freedom as it stands.
I would just love for everyone involved with horses to have a better understanding even of just their anatomy. That alone could make a world of difference to our horses.
Lovely photos by the way are they you? (no hot collars I can assure you)
Mostly I agree with what has been said so far. I am definitely not the norm for my age. I do not like all the hustle, buzz, noise, and need for instant gratification of the technological age. Rather, I like to think things thoroughly through and decide on a course of action based on common sense and reason rather than what may be popular in society. Sometimes I feel that no one knows how to do the necessary research before committing to owning any animal, but especially horses.
My mentality is best summed up by this: Having just bought a new horse (6 yr old gelding) I fully expect to take years of consistent training for him to become a reliable and fully trained mount. Like all my animals, I plan on having this horse for the rest of his life, meaning I will have likely another 20+ years with him. So what's the rush? My main priorities right now are relaxation and rhythm under saddle, and building his muscles in such a way that they will be able to support healthy activity for the rest of his life. If only someone had been so considerate of my 26 yr old gelding who now has back issues and is mostly done his riding years because of the incorrect training he had in the past. No one ever bothered to teach him to use himself correctly. He always travelled with back hollow, neck up, and legs flying out the back. He has much in common conformationally and mentally with my new guy, but already the difference that good training makes is obvious.
This being said however, altough I do believe that the fast-paced show world and the countless "trainers" only interested in quick results have been tremendously detrimental to the horse, I am inclined to disagree that it was better in the past. I truly believe that as a society (in the US at least), humans are much more likely to treat horses as living creatures than beasts of burden. The fact that there are now more shelters than ever, that being an animal abuse/neglect cop is now a job, and even the more humane portrayal of animals in the media, leads me to this conclusion. I think that as a whole, the horse world would now frown upon the sharp spurs and whips that were commonplace in the old days, as well as the badly fitting tack and common "breaking" tactics of the horsepeople. I do not agree that horses were started any slower. Just because they weren't considered finished until age 7 or 8, does not mean that they weren't subjected to hours of hard work under saddle to "earn their keep."
Anyway, I could go on but I won't make this an essay ;) Overall though, I do wholeheartedly agree that the expectation of instant gratification is one of the worst aspects of the horse world.
Humans spend a great deal of time trying to find and define the differences between horse and human.
They get all caught up in the predator/prey thing and start describing all interaction based on this premise.
I believe that this help to create a climate of conflict and great expectations on the part of the handler.
Horses are described as lazy or mean or stupid on a regular basis.
So on one hand we look for how different we are and then we describe our interaction in very human terms and start accusing the horse of having human faults.
I do not believe the horses are lazy or mean or stupid at all.
Now I do believe that they can be made that way by the environment that they live in.
The expectations that humans bring to the total relationship is the primary factor in the mental and physical health of the animal and when we are in a hurry things get even worse.
I must point out that we as a species are a fight or flight creature also and that is how we survived the tyrannosaurus rex.
Its interesting I read this post today because yesturday after my lesson in a dressage clinic my friend asked me if I ever missed jumping, and that got me thinking, Why am I in dressage? Because I do miss jumping a little bit, but I love dressage because its always a challenge to train the horse more and improve our teamwork. Sometimes when I get caught up in competitions and clinics and everything I forget WHY I am in dressage, to enjoy and train the horse AND me. The last competition I went to I finally began to get over my fear of the ring and me and my horse got a little bit better, honestly, I finally felt the feeling and understood how that was a greater feeling then winning a red ribbon. I have finally figured out it is for fun, to improve me and the horse, and to me having a bond with my horse, and knowing I can trust my horse to be safe for me and to trust me is the best feeling I have ever felt.
I think the 'net is an amazing place to gain information and honestly, I think it has helped millions of people with lots of problems they may have, It definitely should not take the place of a good trainer, but it is a great aid I think and it opens up a whole new world of ideas for people. I get nervous when I go into the dressage ring in competitions, so I looked up sports phycologists, and I don't want to mention names, but I looked it up on google and found a fantastic website and read articles by the lady and looked all over her website, it helped me a LOT, the lady lives in the states, I would never have gotten that help if there wasn't the 'net to help me.
I think people need to ride for the joy of riding and being with horses, and know that the 'net is not a trainer, but just and aid to further your education and get many peoples different ideas to keep and open mind. Like most things, sometimes people just get to caught up.