I tend to be one that learns lessons the hard way. As I’ve grown older (not sure matured applies here) I’ve come to recognize the beauty of benefitting from mistakes others have made. It’s amazing how many dumb moves you can avoid with wisdom garnered from people who messed up and lived to tell about it. Below are some of the doozies I’ve made after more than four decades learning humility can be a great teacher – it keeps you open to what people and horses are trying to tell you. It’s all funny in retrospect, but sometimes these challenges aren’t much fun to live through. I hope you can save yourself some grief with the list provided below. Take care, Nanette
Ten biggest mistakes I’ve made in my journey with horses
- Failing to realize horses kick. I was five, her name was Popsie and it was the first time I fell (was dumped) off a horse. Indignant, I hopped to my feet and chased after her as fast as my little legs would carry me. I had the mark of a shoe on my cheek for weeks.
- Falling in love with the first horse I saw – and dismissing the aid of a qualified trainer to provide insight and a recommendation. I was ten, giddy with the fistful of paper route money I had earned, matched by $500 from my parents. His name was Mouse (short for Anonymous – the seller claimed they had no idea of his history or where he came from – right). Two years later he had not only be banned from Pony Club games but also from being ridden on the property where he was boarded. We wound up donating him to an elite riding school (hehe – bet those darlings had some dirty britches).
- Thinking I was smarter about training a horse than a horse. Discovering the beauty of engaging a pregnant mare in the schooling of a cocky colt was life-changing. Actually, this happened quite by accident. We had an in-tact two-year-old that dropped at Halcyon Acres® creating havoc on the property. After three months of frustration being unable to quell his dangerous horny expressions, I was so cross (we owned him – long story on why he wasn’t yet cut), I threw him out with a pregnant Midge (our Alpha mare coming in at a whopping 14.3hh) in a small paddock. After having enough of being the victim of his beatings, I wanted to see him get one. It didn’t take long (less than an hour) for Midge to transform his demeanor. In fact, he seemed to take a vow of celibacy after that brief encounter. Amazingly, what she taught him transferred to all future human handling (not to mention his libido when other horses were in the mix).
- Assuming my formula approach (or those designed by others) was the best way to reach each horse. What I’ve learned is every horse is different. If you don’t customize approaches to accommodate their learning styles, issues, processing needs, penchants and concerns, you’ll never reach a horse on a level that instills a love for training or human interaction.
- Believing arena work was the best way to start a horse under saddle. Over the years, I’ve found the best place to school young horses is on the trails. The hills, varied terrain, sights, sounds and challenges help bolster confidence (in you as a trusted leader and the horse as an accomplished achiever) in ways the confines of a ring can never do. Plus, it staves off boredom. Now, I go to the arena for finishing touches – not early lessons.
- Demanding compliance instead of asking for cooperation. Horses will often submit to your rule, but you can’t build a meaningful partnership with a horse if you don’t include him in the conversation. It’s amazing how quickly a horse will happily do what you want if you listen to what he is trying to tell you. Incorporating his expression into your decisions on how you’ll spend time together improves the experience for both dramatically.
- Operating with the conviction that given a choice, most horses would rather be free. We’ve been domesticating horses for millenniums. Whether we’ve genetically engineered them to seek out human interaction or there’s always been a species bond is a moot point today. Regardless, modern equines seemed to be wired to want a job that includes humans. A large majority of horses gravitate toward an engaging and cooperative life with humans in the mix – provided they’ve been offered early life experiences that don’t create fear, angst, overwhelm or resentment toward training requests. No matter how much land you have or how considerate you are in providing compatible herd groupings and food, domesticated horses usually get bored or stressed if they don’t have good human interactions.
- Letting another (human) dictate how long it should take for a horse to be ready for career demands. The only being that can tell you when a horse is ready is the horse. If you try to fit them into a human-designed schedule (and pertains to seasoned high-performance competitors too), you’re asking for trouble. Developing the skill that effectively interprets what the horse is trying to tell you can create exhilarating responses and performances. Conversely, trying to make the horse comply to your schedule usually brings disappointing results.
- Concluding the horse was the problem. Sure, once in a while you’ll encounter a horse where bloodlines or previous experiences make them crazy beyond reach, but most of the time, the response you get has more to do with what you’re doing. Learning to ask myself what I was doing to create an issue was a huge step in the right direction for getting better at reaching challenging horses.
- Neglecting an always-learning philosophy. When I was a kid, I thought I knew it all. When I was a young adult, I figured I was better than the rest because I could reach a horse others couldn’t, stick with an equine that deposited everyone else and would happily hop on a mount prior riders feared. Today, every horse I encounter causes me to reflect on how little I know. Sure, I’d love to put my wiser head atop the fearless and less-fragile body of my younger years, but am glad to have the opportunity to learn from equines who teach me something new every day. Owning the attitude and aptitude to see what they are trying to tell me is priceless.