I have been embroiled in a fascinating talk over in my “other world” at mugwump chronicles for the past few days.
I think we’re struggling towards an understanding of what constitutes cruelty and what is simply necessary training to accomplish a task.
The hardest part of this conversation, for me anyway, is it forces me to define what I’m looking for in a horse, the goals I want to achieve on the horse and how I’m going to reach them.
I have always had a curious and slightly obsessive mind. I get onto something and by golly I’m going to find out how to achieve it come hell or high water.
If I latch on I can’t let go until I really have a handle on it.
I started training horses professionally because I was making more money at it than I was illustrating and my daughter could come to work with me. It was that simple. If my little girl hadn’t been as entranced in the horse world as I am I would have done something else.
I started to learn to train from professionals because I wanted to know how to train a horse.
I wasn’t happy simply learning a sport or how to better my horsemanship, I had to know how to train them. So I became a pro. It was the only way to get enough horses to ride to fuel my need to learn.
One of the first things I learned was how unintentionally cruel I had been in the past with my horses simply from ignorance.
Because I didn’t know how or why things were done I used equipment that did more harm than good, used feeding programs that wreaked havoc on my poor horse’s gut and rode the poor suckers into the ground without thought.
It took me a long time to forgive myself. I could only do this by deciding ignorance was forgivable as long as I decided to do something about it.
In order to obtain knowledge the first thing I learned was to shut up. I mean really shut my mouth and watch.
Trainers did not want to hear my naive little self passing judgment on how they did things. Neither did clinicians. I noticed neither breed were particularly forthcoming if they felt I was there to attack. Since most trainers and clinicians have egos as big as the sky and as fragile as a hummingbird egg, I was able to get them to open up by being polite, attentive and quiet. I never named names or denounced anyone.
I learned to ask questions about the mechanics of a technique, or the thought behind a concept. I never told a reining trainer what I had just heard at a Ray Hunt clinic, nor did I raise my hand and ask Richard Shrake why he didn’t teach us to use a twisted wire the way the pleasure horse trainer I was currently riding with did.
I resolved to watch, compare and analyze without an opinion until I completely understood what I was seeing. Sometimes it has been really difficult. Often my mind was blown by the world of possibility I had opening in front of me.
This got the people I rode with to open up and really tell me how to get things done. It earned me some respect. Not as the greatest rider, but one with some serious insight. I’m proud of that.
I also quietly made up my own mind. I know why I don’t use braided snaffles because I’ve used them. I know why I’ll use a half-breed bit but not a mechanical hackamore because I have worked hard to learn how they work. For me mind you.
I still won’t judge because someone else rides differently than me. Especially in a field I don’t understand.
I was able to quit training because I achieved my original goal. I know how to train a cowhorse. I may not be the best (not even close), but I sure know how it’s done. I can happily putter on my own and create a horse I want to ride. So I’m happy.
Now I’ve turned my sights on the written word. I’m learning a lot from this site. Thanks everybody. Laura Crum has been wonderful and truthful. She gets my “trainer brain” and is helping me shape it into a “writer’s brain”.
I’m watching, listening and asking questions. I feel the same excitement in my belly every morning as I did my first year on the NRCHA circuit.
I can’t wait.