Rolkur, bitless bridles, tom thumbs, herd reduction – come save the horse from the cruelty of others

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Friday’s Opinion

The big news these days seems to be focused on all the nasty devices and practices that need to be eliminated “if you care about horses.” Every day there seems to be another “crusade” launched to “stop the cruelty.”

How about rallying for horsemanship?

What if half the energy devoted to championing these causes went toward  instilling better horsemanship precepts on those who don’t know what they don’t know? Imagine a world where future generations of horses, equine handlers and riders blossomed from guidance and information that helped them make better choices from a position of awareness and knowledge coming from understanding and education vs. hoopla and hype. What if they had the tools to troubleshoot issues instead of spoon fed formula approaches rendering rote reactions? The resulting horses and riders could be amazing.

You’re the cruellest (or the kindest) tool

Here’s my take on the bit and device uproar – a tool is as caring or cruel as the hands that hold it (or the coach that suggests it). Hackamores can be an extremely severe contraption when used by a novice who doesn’t understand how they work. I love a tom thumb and use it to keep a very soft mouth on a horse (without the curb chain). In the same vein, one can hop on a horse with an elevator bit and make this a kinder solution than a snaffle in the right situation.

It makes me cringe to see some racehorse trainers adamant that every horse must be taught to pull against the bit to ensure a vigorous and proper workout. Then they curse out the horse (or rider) when the poor critter spends every stride rooting or locking his jaw to render the hands useless in his attempt to avoid anticipated pain.

Instructors who keep ratcheting up the severity of a bit because the rider can’t control his horse, then label the horse a problem, don’t get it.

Those who look first for tools or techniques to restrict or force their horse into a compliant or manageable state (often through pain or discomfort –whether they realize it or not) instead of first reflecting on what they are doing (or not doing) to cause certain behavior, will never be horsemen in the true sense.

How’s your mirror looking?

Some of the people screaming the loudest about the cruelty of others should take a look in the mirror. It strikes me as interesting that those who are most incensed seem to feel their horse handling, care and approaches are impeccable and their knowledge so vast they feel qualified to judge universally.

Horsemen are humble

The true horsemen I’ve met over the years are always learning. They admit they don’t know it all, learn the most from the mistakes they make and welcome other opinions and perspectives. You’ll rarely see a talented, accomplished and wise equine specialist claiming they have the only right answer. They get that all horses are different, there are people who can always enlighten them on new approaches and things are seldom as they appear. As is the case in most industries and realms, true leaders have strong opinions, but welcome input from others to improve their understanding and change their minds. Little minds know it all.

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