What is your goal as a trainer?
I have been having a bit of a personal battle lately. In the world of horses, we tend to go towards a common ground of wanting the "rideable" horse. However, what exactly defines "rideable"? Able to carry a saddle and rider? Responsive? Respectful? Willing? What about physically correct? Athletic? The list goes on as what we expect of our proper rideable horse.
Here is my dilema, I have taken classes and worked with numerous mentors to learn about the correct biomechanical function of the horse. True correct function goes against many of the training methods that horses are trained to respond to. Horses are simple to teach to respond off of pressure, and combining that quality with the fact that horses have to be 80-90% lame before showing signs makes the horse a recipe for disaster and ultimate physical failure as they will compromise their body terribly and repetitively, masking the problems, as a simple means to escape pressure.
On the other side of my life, I grew up doing everything from hunters to barrels to cattle work. I've seen the bond formed and tasks that can be accomplished between the horse and rider team with a job. I look at pictures on forums and for sale ads, as well as horses I see passing regularly, and see physical issues that one trainer I work with would label as an "unrideable horse" without proper rehabilitation, yet this horse is plodding along the trails or over fences daily. Through the horses obedience, I see a good relationship, yet also problems popping up with muscle soreness, foot soreness, joint problems, and other constant lameness issues. Often, I can look at a picture of a horse and see the physical issue that is causing their problems, and I have been successful in helping many of these problems, but here is the thing, it is boring, time consuming, kills my drive, and essentially you are starting a horse from scratch, as taking them out of their holding patterns puts them in a compromised place as their body is their main source of protection in their world.
The average rider wants to do whats right by their horse, but I also completely understand wanting some enjoyment out of riding them. At the same time, I know that I am a bit sore everyday as a result of my job, so is it completely wrong for the horse to be? Anything with a job is going to ultimately suffer some type of physical discomfort, right? Where is the happy medium in there? Where do we draw the line between what we need for function and what they need for function?
I see many people put a time limit on their training, and even through my personal experience, I know that setting your goals high for your horse and putting the work into it will get those goals achieved quickly, but I also know through my experiences that the body pays the price. Just to make it a little harder, I find that spending too much time on the body makes my horses that are bred to have a job become rather bored. With most behavioral problems that I've been approached with, I've found a physical issue to explain it. Its easy to train the behavior out without even thinking about the physical imbalance, but eventually one imbalance leads to another and you are left with a very obedient, lame horse. The truth is, it is one of those things that sometimes I think I was better off being blind to whats going on under the skin. Not because its the best thing for the horse, but because the time limit that people put on their horses makes it impossible to fix everything that they've done physically in a reasonable amount of time.
Its easy to do something to a horse when you can't see the long term affects, but what we've come to look for in a horse is the image, which can be terribly manipulated. The practicallity of going towards ultimate correct self carriage in every horse is pretty bazaar. So where does that leave the trainer? Are we serving the horse, or are we serving the rider?