An opportunity to study and teach equine behaviour and research in the classroom provided more insights into the way horses think and learn.
As a riding coach, I’m occasionally asked if I’ve perceived a “gender bias” in competitive riding, I chuckle – while I wouldn’t say that guys get more breaks than women, or vice versa, I do think “difficult” mares tend to get a bad rap!
Yep, the “As long as it’s not a chestnut mare” syndrome is alive and well.
Yet, I’ve worked with enough grumpy geldings and mild mannered mares to debunk the gender bias in horse training.
THUMP . You look back and see your horse knocked down two elements in the trail walkover obstacle in your pre-class warmup. You’d carefully set and measured the distance for success only to have your horse dismantle it… again. It’s a picture of our walk through this pandemic. A yearlong series of one hurdle after another…
How did western pleasure world get caught up in controversy? Slower lopes, lower heads, longer reins, stiller tails? Because of the specialization of the western pleasure horse and the process it takes to produce a winner, many of my amateur riders I coach have opted for the “all around” route. Classes offered at stock horse shows include western riding, trail, ranch riding and horsemanship. In pattern events, a horse which lacks the quality movement or compact stride of a pleasure horse can still be competitive.
The calmness and manners expected by competitors in the western horse show world is admired by other riding disciplines. This was one of the factors that attracted me years ago to the quarter horse horse show circuit. “Well-broke”, they stood still while mounted, ground tied and ALWAYS loaded. I’ve carried over the expectation of manners into the coaching and training I do with all horses and riders. So if calm and mannerly good…is MORE better?
In my travels teaching riding clinics, ‘“talking horse” with equestrians from various disciplines, the subject of western pleasure often comes up with the dressage and hunter/jumper riders I meet. NO discipline is without its fads and extremes. Dressage, show jumping, reiners and gaited horses have been called out for unethical practices and “unnatural” training techniques.
Once a horse learns how to escape the hands of a rider, he’ll tend to hide behind the bit even with a rider of educated hands, avoiding the annoyance before it begins. In equitation science, this is called “avoidance conditioning”. Thankfully, most horse show judges these days aren’t swayed by that horse with his nose tucked in – they’re looking past the head to analyze the balance, rhythm and relaxation of the whole picture.
One thing I love about speaking and coaching riders on the science of equine behavior is reviewing all sorts of studies to help sort through the fact and fiction of equine learning and horse welfare. Research ranging from trailering to horse training methods to tack – how what we do with horses, or neglect to do, affects a horse’s stress…