Horse training naysayers lose credibilty with attacks

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“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” –Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

There are two ways this quote could be interpreted and imagine both were considered by this philosopher.

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to cringe concerning the intensity and volume of flame throwing that’s going on in the horse industry. Sadly, most of the instigators encouraging the attacks call themselves professionals. In fact, they tend to call out people who don’t buy into their methods (literally – all are selling something) with rallying cries to view YouTube videos taped secretly in a way that fosters aghast responses to cruelty or stupidity and builds to public outcry. Yep, some of this stuff is a sad commentary on what others see as effective training approaches, but come on, “it was so painful, I couldn’t bear to finish watching” when a cowboy bumps a horse in the mouth  few times as she continues to flex under the bit prior to a major competition? Wrong thinking on the cowboy’s part, yes, but who hasn’t done something dumb with a horse when human emotions rob us of our communications’ sensibilities? Is this really a case for the HSUS? Probably will be. Careful what you wish for.

Getting back to Aristotle, there’s a difference between blindly accepting what others present as gospel (no matter how much media attention they get) and being humble enough to recognize that there’s a benefit to entertaining what others are doing or suggesting so you can learn from them (even if it’s what not to do) and about you. It’s OK to dismiss something you have taken the time to understand, but who gains when there’s a knee-jerk reaction to dish without time spent in understanding? Personally, when I see professed equine professionals spending more time calling out others for their bad than developing their skills, reach and impact, I shake my head. These are people with low self-esteem and suffering businesses.

If you really want to learn how to reach and teach horses, spend more time watching and wondering with your particular steed and less energy becoming disgusted and shouting about what others are doing with their project(s). You’ll learn more from watching a herd interact for a day, or including your horse in the conversation as you decide on the activities du jour than you will from taking target practice at one who has achieved acclaim (no matter how cruel their methods may be).

Frankly, while I do take issue with what some are putting out there to encourage formula approaches with horses (they’re all different in how they respond, react and learn), there’s something to be learned from the fame they’ve gained. Why not entertain how you might be able to help create a better future world for horse and human partnerships by studying their talent in reaching the masses? Seems like a better use of time and effort than chasing them with insults, accusations and a lynch mob.

What do you think? How can we better reach the uninitiated with a more positive approach? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

Nanette Levin


Nanette Levin is a writer, author and equestrian specializing in young horse training and horses with issues. Look for Horse Sense & Cents titles on Amazon, Audible and other major online retailers.

7 thoughts on “Horse training naysayers lose credibilty with attacks

  1. What’s that saying about “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”? It’s so easy to criticize others while ignoring your own faults. If you’ve been around horses for any length time, you’ll have been guilty of doing something stupid yourself. We’re only human, after all.

    First it was that business about Rollkur, now Craig warming up. Let’s stop all the finger pointing about “My way is better than your way” and agree that there are many ways to develop a partnership between you and your horse. We all need to band together as horsemen because there are a lot of animal right activists that would love to stop all of us from riding our horses.

  2. Oh, and so many more, Susan. Personally, I’m really starting to feel for the people in the limelight with so many laying in wait to pounce. Do I agree with everything they do? No. But, as you note, there’s that glass house thing. You’re so right about the perception being put out there that riding is cruel. I don’t know about you, but there’s not a horse here that doesn’t want to be first in the queue at training time. Funny how those who have never worked with a happy horse feel qualified to make life decisions for them. Thanks for commenting.

  3. I also feel for those people too. I remember that video that someone put out on Pat Parelli. I’m not a follower of his, but I felt sorry for the poor man. Another case of human error. With so many videocams out there, it’s getting scary. Even proper punishment for a dangerous infraction by the horse can be misconstrued by someone.

    My horses also are happy to be working. They can’t wait to get their halters on and be put in the cross-ties to be saddled. Each one has a training program tailored just for them and at the end of a work session, they’re just as calm & happy as when we started. And that, I think, is what a good training program is all about.

  4. Susan, of course, you make a great point in your earlier comment (meant to note it initially) about the bigger concerns for the horse industry being pushed by those that are far removed.

    So glad to hear you have a gang that loves to work too. It’s amazing how eager horses are to perform when handled with kindness and understanding (which sometimes means establishing limits). So many seem to forget in their quest to ‘follow the formulas’ that respect goes both ways.

  5. I love the idea of educating as many people as posable to kinder gentler training. I love the idea of education. I wish that everyone with a better way would share their thoughts. I hope that one day how I train is thought of as “One of those cruel old ideas”. Most likely, if it weren’t for someone saying that they think something is wrong to do we wouldn’t be doing things kinder/gentler in the first place. Its about growth and the evolution of horse training.

    You both may not agree with what I am about to say in its entirety but please consider it for a moment. With this video, the danger, for the horses, is that this warm up is allegedly of a highly awarded trainer in 4 different associations. It is dangerous for the horses because impressionable people would see him as a role model and emulate his behavior thus perpetuating this on horse after horse while thinking its ok because so and so does it and wins. The danger to us is not only for the horse industry but if we ignore it we become callus to it.

    I personally have no tolerance for what I saw in that video. I also don’t feel any mercy for the guy, he showed no mercy on this horse. How many other horses has he been merciless to? With great respect I must disagree on the finger pointing, first stone casting on this topic. I couldn’t care less about who he is in the first place. I would agree that they could have left his name off the video and used it as a “How Not Too” example. Excessive force is wrong, the horse was not behaving in a dangerous manor.

    With the fact that video taping is in the hands of just about every person who owns a cell phone, he should have been minding his Ps and Qs a little better if nothing else. He is worried about the video ruining his reputation to the extent of legal action, therefore there must be something wrong with what he did and he knows it. If there was nothing wrong with what he did why is he worried about his reputation?

    While there is the “Glass house” saying which I agree with to an extent there is also the situation of ignoring the pain of others and speaking out in defense of those who can not speak. This was one of those things I couldn’t keep my mouth shut on. I tend to have my moments 😉 Think about it like this; What if nobody said anything about soring TWHs? Somebody had to object so that the practice could stop being a secret. An article back in the early 80’s that I read brought it to my attention. Before that I thought the horses really did Big Lick on their own without tools. it was partly because of that article and subsequent research that I realized that there was a dark side of the horse industry and became angry about things like that. It’s people like him who make horse people look bad. Its not good for the industry which is also dangerous for the horses we love and respect.

    The “Riding horses is cruel” thing is ridiculous and uneducated as well. I’m not a PETA type, however I’ve yelled at a person excessively beating their crying kid who was strapped in a car seat and I’ve reamed my cousin out about learning to train her dog instead of using the shock collar every second the dog doesn’t do something she likes (She however refuses to learn, but she quit doing it in front of my kid at least). All those situations are unfair. I don’t want to see that, my kid shouldn’t have to see that and I don’t want to see riding like that either, not on any level. It goes for anyone, I hadn’t heard about this guy until this video either so I didn’t have any preconceived thoughts about him one way or another to begin with.

    We need both whistle blowers and people who pave the way for new progress. It is the symbiotic relationship for the growth of mankind. A great example is Upton Sinclair’s book “The Jungle”. If it weren’t for that book the working people of the industrial revolution would not have had safety measures in place – OSHA, the UDSA would not exist and it helped to pave the way for unions which were much needed at that time in history.

    Without discussion, nothing changes. How do we make it better? Observation like you said Nanette. Observation of horse, human and their interaction. Trial and error, sharing our stories and by example. With loosing Ego, with the perspective of relationship growth, striving to do better than we did yesterday and not from winning at all costs. With skill building and with not accepting anything less than perusing goodness and kindness. Then putting it in print, video and any other format that comes out.

    Thats my 2 cents. I’m not trying to offend, I just wanted to add my thoughts.

  6. No offense taken, Stacey. I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment.

    For what it’s worth, there was a time when I thought I could influence behavior by pointing out what others were doing wrong. What I’ve come to find, and firmly believe, is this does not change opinion or actions – it only makes people divisive and defensive (look at what happened with PNH). So, my point is, I think we can all do more good by working harder to put out good information in a way that makes it easy for novices (and others) to find. So the question remains, how do we best create a collective and resource that helps people find positive messages, kind solutions and ways to customize approaches for their horse challenges?

  7. I have an idea that I think is going to work nicely for this whole issue. It makes me giggle (almost in a psychotic way) every time I come up with a new add on to it. I will send you a private letter when more of it comes together in my head and when I have more of it down in writing. I’m thinking you might like it too tee hee.

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