Saturday, February 14, 2009

Why Do We Do It? By Janet Huntington

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.


Anonymous said...

Janet, I love your writing. And your trainer brain. Your mugwump chronicles blog is endlessly entertaining and insightful. If anyone deserves to get published, you do. I'll be happy if I'm some small bit of help.
I still think you might like a mechanical hackamore on a lazy trail horse. The horses like that bit in that application, and I, the lazy rider, find its most pleasant for both of us.
Just kidding...I know the mechanical hackamore is one of your pet peeves. Who am I to talk? I've got lots of pet peeves. I mean, I'm the one who won't wear proper riding boots any more. How weird is that?

mugwump said...

I loved my hackamore when I was a kid. It was where I first learned to leave my horse be.....I could probably be fine with one as a trail horse ride too.

HorseOfCourse said...

I am also of the curious, sometimes obsessive kind. I love to learn.
I also love well formulated thoughts. Here's a Saturday quote for you, from Charles de Kunffy:
“The wonders of riding are many, but perhaps the most important is an awareness of never-ending discovery”
The same man also said:
“Riders die ignorant”
How true.
So we might just as well enjoy the road, don’t you think?
Exchange thoughts. Learning more.
And do our best, whatever that is.
And give our horses the big four.

Anonymous said...

Laura, I had a horse as a kid who'd been broken to ride in a mechanical hack. That's shaped my attitude toward them ever since.

I'm with Janet on this one. I don't care for it, even on a trail ride. If I want to go bitless, I much prefer a bosal or a sidepull--in fact, when my horse had some mouth problems because of bearded stuff in our hay, I put her in a sidepull instead of a mechanical hack (not the sidepulls with bits, lariat nosepieces, or other BS--but a plain leather noseband).

I'm quite the fan of a nice leather sidepull. It's pretty mild, but a trained horse will respond nicely to the nose pressure without the leverage of a mechanical hack.

Anonymous said...

Joycemocha--I'm not defending the mechanical hackamore exactly--its a bit that has ruined a lot of horses. But for me, its the best bit to put on our trail horses, who are both lazy and relaxed. My son can get his horse's attention when Henry tries to jerk his head down and eat grass--which he couldn't do in a sidepull or bosal. Both our horses are totally comfortable in these hackamores, or I wouldn't use them. They are a great bit in the right application. I would not use them for anything other than this sort of relaxed trail riding. This is not a bit to train a horse in. I don't think it is a good bit to rope in, though ropers will sometimes use it. If I were dealing with a sensitive or hot horse I would never use it. My old rope horse, for instance, I ride in a loose shanked broken bit. The mechanical hack would be a disaster on him. It all depends--like most everything else with horses.

Jami Davenport said...

Janet, One think I like about dressage is that they do try to keep the tools we use somewhat mild, such as the bits and spurs. Believe me, there are questionable training practices in dressage, too.

Of course, the most cruel of bits can be mild in a master's hands. While a mild bit can be like a razor in a monkey's hand with an untactful or cruel rider.

I boarded with a man who used his hands to balance himself on the horse's back. He rode in a big rubber snaffle, yet the horse had permanent calouses from that bit and sometimes even the corners of his mouth would bleed.

Anonymous said...

Jami, you should read the discussion going on on Janet's mugwump chronicles blog right now about "questionable practices" in dressage. Its fascinating

Jami Davenport said...

I'll check it out.

KD said...

And we're excited right with you !