When Warwick Schiller Recommends an Article... I read it. - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 8 Old 10-07-2019, 06:37 PM Thread Starter
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When Warwick Schiller Recommends an Article... I read it.

Most excellent article on how horses are only as good as their rider/owner. This was an article Warwick Schiller recommended written by Kathleen Lindley Beckham.


An excerpt and this really caught my attention:


"Part of what makes horses so interesting and wondrous is this “plasticity” or “malleability” that they have. They aren’t stone, or diamond, or carbon steel, they’re A HORSE, and they are moldable and adaptable. And yes, horses are a mirror, but keep in mind that any horse that’s been touched or trained by others is not a “pure” mirror because he will likely have the fingerprints of the others on him. That makes a difference. Sometimes they’re helpful fingerprints, sometimes not. But the point is, this plasticity is part of what makes a horse a HORSE, if you see what I mean.

If we take this plasticity away through Learned Helplessness, or other techniques, what’s left is a horse, minus some of his most “horsey” attributes, his awareness of and responsiveness to what is happening in THIS MOMENT and his instincts as a herd and a prey animal. There is so much about a prey animal that is about sensing things in the moment and responding in the moment. Humans like things a bit more cut-and-dried than that, and I get that. That’s how HUMANS are.
All the great masters of horsemanship, across space and time and discipline say something like, “The horse never lies”. We love how mystical that sounds, but we hate it when it means that the horse is now our critic. We say he’s our best teacher, but then we tie his mouth shut. We make excuses, we create crazy fictions to protect our egos, we finagle it around so that only the horse’s positive feedback is valid."
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Last edited by QtrBel; 10-10-2019 at 10:56 AM. Reason: Remove Mention
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post #2 of 8 Old 10-07-2019, 10:19 PM
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Horses are like parrots in many ways. I have a friend with macaw parrots. They are not dogs or cats, so many people truly don't understand them. Like horses, the best way to approach interacting with them is by first understanding their behavior and what they are trying to 'say'. These birds are frequently adopted out through agencies, in which case the birds had prior owners. Adopt a macaw and you might end up with a bird that might behave or say something that you never expected. It's a mirror of previous ownership.

Psyching out our pets is something that fosters acceptance of personality and hence love and empathy for the quirks they come to us with. We feel we can ask their opinions, and give them the benefit of the doubt when their behavior is something other than what we desire. We ask "what are you seeing that I'm not? What's going on with you? What's wrong?" and those are very appropriate questions, when posed with sincerity.

Horses do have different personalities and self-esteem, given their dam, disposition, and their life experiences. (It's not nature vs nurture, it's nature AND nurture.) The most ironic thing is...a horse with a healthy self-esteem is almost seen as 'offensive' to a controlling human. The horse tries to say "This isn't working for me" - what kind of response should the human have? "Know horses, and know thy horse" first, and then ask "Is this a burr under my saddle, a sore ankle, or an anxiety attack?" That is...is it a minor annoyance that you can help your horse avoid, is it a physical limitation (temporary or permanent), or a mentally-based issue? If you can ask those three questions, you can discover whether the struggle you're experiencing is attributable to outside influences, or simply that your horse is trying to learn what you're trying to teach. More often than not, the horse is quite capable of doing what you ask - barring physical (muscle) development. But that happens over time.

What I love about horse ownership is that there's always more to learn. It's a relationship as well as a scientific (zoological/veterinarian) inquiry. One example: When I first got my mare, her bit didn't fit. It was too large. I didn't know that. In fact I knew very little about bits. Her behavior was a statement of this, but I thought she was avoiding contact by pulling and stretching her neck. I was wrong. She went fine in a halter, and (later) a properly sized and comfortable bit worked fine. "Should I go the extra mile and watch her ears to make sure she's not pinning them back, even with the new bit?" Of course I should. And fortunately, she didn't. She chewed and snoozed. There will always be more to learn, and that's why I love being a part of horseforum!

No diet, no hoof. No hoof, no horse. No horse is not an option!
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post #3 of 8 Old 10-07-2019, 11:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AtokaGhosthorse View Post
And yes, horses are a mirror, but keep in mind that any horse that’s been touched or trained by others is not a “pure” mirror because he will likely have the fingerprints of the others on him.
I think the above is very true!

People like to say that a horse is a reflection of it's owner, or a dog is a reflection of it's master, but I think that is wayyyyy oversimplifying things.

I've had a handful of horses over the years. Some were lazy, some were high energy. Some were dominant, some were meek.

They were all so different.........I really don't see how any of them were a reflection of me. A mirror of what I would (or would not) let them get away with.....perhaps. But all their personalities were completely unique. I guess logically the one I raised from a foal would be the closest reflection on my skills (or lack thereof) as a trainer. But still........I don't think I created his personality. He would be the same horse (just maybe with a different level of training) no matter who raised him.

I've had horses that made me look good.......like my Mustang. But that is more a reflection of him being a good horse rather than what I put into him. So yeah, I think people like to say the horse is a reflection of the owner because it's an easy thing to say. But the truth is, every horse is unique, even raised and trained by the same person.

I like this quote and think it's true. Maybe this is what people mean when they say a horse is reflection of it's owner:

A horse can’t do better than what we can do. He can’t surpass our ability. We are his limiting factor.

I think that is so true. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Because horses can also change for the better because of us. When you get a new horse, you are dealing with the baggage from the last owner. The horse's unique personality, and......then.....over time, they start to pick up the things we are trying to teach them. They try to please us and learn our habits. So we may be the limiting factor, but in a way, we are customizing that horse to our skill level. I don't think that's necessarily bad.


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post #4 of 8 Old 10-08-2019, 01:44 AM
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Great article and really good comments here.

Quote:
@trailhorse rider: They were all so different.........I really don't see how any of them were a reflection of me. A mirror of what I would (or would not) let them get away with.....perhaps. But all their personalities were completely unique. I guess logically the one I raised from a foal would be the closest reflection on my skills (or lack thereof) as a trainer. But still........I don't think I created his personality. He would be the same horse (just maybe with a different level of training) no matter who raised him.

I've had horses that made me look good.......like my Mustang. But that is more a reflection of him being a good horse rather than what I put into him. So yeah, I think people like to say the horse is a reflection of the owner because it's an easy thing to say. But the truth is, every horse is unique, even raised and trained by the same person.
I have to agree with this. I don't think a horse is as much a reflection or mirror of the person, but rather they react to what we offer. We can no more create their response than we can make another human calm or upset by our approach to them. Of course there are strategies that work for most people and situations, but there are no guarantees. Horses are more in tune to body language than humans. But body language or ability to communicate provide no guarantees. There are those who have thought using the right body language or approach would guarantee their safety with bears or lions, and ended up being injured or killed.

It is simplistic to think of a horse as simply a reflection of us, because different horses can react to us based on their own unique personalities in many ways. As @trailhorse rider pointed out. The way you are will not turn every horse into the same horse. And while you might affect a horse in a certain way, you can also change the way you approach that horse, and therefore change his responses to you. If he is reacting to you being overly pushy, you can become softer. If he is more timid because you are nervous, you can learn to be more bold.

I like the part where the article says horses have the fingerprints of others on them. This means that where one horse might respond to your clear and calm communication easily and calmly, another may react differently because of what others have done with them. Some horses don't have the fingerprints of others, they have depressions burned in from other peoples' strong grips.

Quote:
You knew that’s where I was going with this, didn’t you? A horse can’t do better than what we can do. He can’t surpass our ability. We are his limiting factor. I know that’s tough to swallow. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is.
Something the article doesn't get into is what I have found, which is that neither the horse or the human is static. It kind of makes it sound like you're stuck where you are, and so is the horse. But horses that have been beyond my skill level have elevated me, because I have needed to learn and grow in order to help them. Then when I have grown better, the horse has gotten better too. There are no limits to this process, other than physical ones, because horse and human can both expand and learn and grow together.
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post #5 of 8 Old 10-08-2019, 11:55 AM Thread Starter
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I never took that saying as a literal truth, tbh. BUT. Having watched a lot of people with their horses over the years, so much is explained by seeing what kind of person the owner/rider truly is. They will 'tell' on you and it is possible to learn a LOT about a person by watching their horse and how they interact with it.


I'm much more fond of "Show me your horse and I'll know who you are".
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post #6 of 8 Old 10-08-2019, 12:10 PM
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I don't think he meant we control who the horse becomes. He points out the mirror has fingerprints. I'd go further and say the mirror can be badly damaged. And not all mirrors are equal. Mia was going to react more than most horses. Period. Although if you put her i n a very open environment, there isn't much for her to react to - and she knows she can run away in any direction. Bandit will always be more alert and reactive than Trooper - but over time he can learn to react in more helpful ways and less so in harmful ways. I doubt Cowboy will ever fully trust humans again, but he is certainly more relaxed and more trusting than he was 6 years ago.

They are like kids. You influence outcomes but do not CONTROL outcomes. One of my three hasn't spoken to us for well over 2 years. Or her brother or sister. Darned if I know why. Don't think it really has much to do with me. We are part of the equation with horses and kids, but not the total equation.

Riders ask "How?" Horsemen ask "Why?"
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post #7 of 8 Old 10-08-2019, 12:55 PM
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Horses are always individuals. Some will be good horses no matter who owns them. Others won't. BUT it's very telling to see whose horses get better, and whose get worse. We all know that team roper or barrel racer who shows up each summer with a brand new expensive horse, then ends up having to get another the next year because the previous one is either blown up or sore, and we all know the folks who seem to make every horse they ride or work with better than he used to be, or who get good results from mediocre horses.
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post #8 of 8 Old 10-08-2019, 06:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AtokaGhosthorse View Post
I'm much more fond of "Show me your horse and I'll know who you are".
As @SilverMaple said, I think it is important to see if a horse gets better with a person or worse. But you can't look at a horse superfically, or in a moment in time and tell much about the owner/trainer.

Any horse can have a bad day. But also, seeing a very calm horse may not mean the trainer is confident and calm, but sometimes it can be that the horse has been made to shut down and internalize. Sometimes these horses will have bad behaviors for a time when finally allowed to express themselves, which might make someone think the horse is getting worse, when they are really just working through issues for the first time.

I might think "show me how you react to your horse, and I'll know who you are." Again, anyone can have a bad moment, but you can tell a lot by how a person responds when a horse is good and compliant or having issues.

Looking at the horse and person in the big picture, over time, the horse's body should look better and behaviors improve and training progress. With some horses this progress can take quite some time.
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