Can you see the trees in the forest or just the forest?
Lately it seems more than usual I have been on a mission to try and have riders, horse owners, and anyone else I can find to look a lot deeper into what is going on with their horse.
Anytime there is a horse around, especially one being handled by a human, there is a great opportunity for us to try and look beyond the smoke and mirrors and see what the horse thinks of what is going on. Admittedly, it is much easier and requires much less skill to not care, ignore or be oblivious to where the horse is at mentally. It requires a greater level of awareness, skills, knowledge, feel and timing to keep a horse in a good place mentally and still get something done. This begs the question, what does “getting something done with our horses” mean?
Let me ask some questions. Are two different horses that are both being ridden, the same as far as what each horse knows or has been taught? What if it was a colt start and both horses were being ridden in the first session by two equally skilled trainers, do the two horses know, and demonstrate, the same amount of ability? Did the trainers achieve the same amount of skill with their horses in the equal time they were given? Did the two horses both enjoy what they learned, or how it was presented, and did it make sense to the horse? If both horses can canter right and left are the horses in the same place in their development? I could ask as many questions as I could think of and the answer would be the same. The answer is “possibly” the horses “could” be in the same place developmentally wise, but I have never seen it.
To add to the answer, many times two horses being ridden regardless if they both canter, trot, in the first session or whether they are ten years old. There can be huge differences in what each horse knows and where they are developmentally. How the horse got to where it is has a huge bearing on how far along the horse is and what he thinks of humans. Another question, and skill we have or not, is the human developing the trainability or lessening the trainability of the horse?
Let me give some examples: two horses both being ridden. Both will canter. One rider needs a stick or switch to get their horse to go, the other does not. The second horse has to be held back or it will gallop off, the other does not.
Or maybe in a colt starting competition on the third session both horses finish a course. One horse slings its head through the whole course, while the other does not. One horse’s eyes are glazed over, hard and anxious looking, staring, head high, lips pinched together. The other horse’s eyes are soft, relaxed, and blinking, ears still moving, head and neck down.
These are very different scenarios. One of those horses, I would not want to be.
When we work with horses and they are learning, there can be moments and times when their look is not one of relaxation and understanding. However, that is where it needs to be headed. The session with our horse should be filled with a horse that looks like it is learning, bright and trusting, not bored, eating grass and sniffing poop, or completely frustrated, scared, anxious and confused. If you were to keep track of the things a horse was being taught at a colt starting competition, or by your trainer, or by yourself, or count the things your horse cannot do well, it can help us begin to see the trees in the forest.
If two horses are asked to canter, one pins its ears the other willingly canters, ask the question “why?” If two horses are being lead; one on a tight lead line and the other walks along on a loose lead, ask the question, “why?” The tough part is answering “why” correctly.
Look for the many signs and all the differences going on. Ask yourself if the look on the horse is one you would want on yourself, if you were being taught something.
The list goes on and on and the difference is many times huge, but both horses are being ridden or lead so many assume the horses to be at the same place and went threw the same process.
There are many trees to make a forest, maybe one forest is made up of dead trees and the other is full of fresh, strong, vibrant, healthy trees. There is much more going on between horses and humans that we tend to see. The more I look, and pay attention and the more I see, the better things get.
If we see a tree in the forest that we don’t appreciate, it is not our job to criticize that tree. Instead, we need to make sure we are always taking care to improve our own forest.