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What's in it for the horse?

The article, ‘Traumatic Horse Training: Can You Spot Abuse?’ ( written by Christa Lesté-Lasserre was inspiring to read. Christa managed to capture so many points about horse training.

Abusive's a strange idea to some outside of the industry, of which my family all sit. When I talk to them about horse owners not knowing something is abusive, they find it ludicrous. "If that was happening to a dog, though, everyone would know it was abuse!"

Isn't that the truth. I'm not sure it would hold up if we justified a dog being whipped to go faster, with - 'the welt marks didn't hurt him, he was only whipped 5 times on the home straight'.

So why is unethical training still going strong in horse training?

I love these aspects the article highlights:

- Owners, competitors wanting to take shortcuts to the top

- A trainer feeling like they will lose clients if they don't produce the quick fix

- Ignorance in knowing a technique is abusive

- A lack of education and questioning old (familiar) style training

- Acceptance of situations that cause discomfort for horses

- The difficulty in policing ethical training away from the eyes of competition

It upsets me as a coach and trainer that I can't help every horse. Recently involved with a 'Coaches challenge' with Lisa Ashton, founder of EquiSci and, we discussed this as coaches. "People don't know, what they don't know" is a common phrase used by Lisa. She has hit the nail on the head. For me, reading this article really highlighted the lack of understanding about horses. The way we can recognise fear, confusion and pain is missing. I've seen young riders pour absolute love, time and money into their horses, wrap them in cotton wool in fact, in their everyday life - only to bash them senseless around a course of jumps. How does this happen? How is this ok?

I truly believe we have come to accept abusive measures in horse training as the norm. Horse owners just don't see a problem in giving them a smack with the whip, tightening the noseband so the mouth doesn't open, popping on the spurs, even constant kicking of the belly on a small pony. My family are right, if any of these things were done to a dog, there would be outrage.

Don't get me wrong, I am not an advocate for blurred boundaries. Horses are big, strong and fast. We need them to respond for our safety and those interacting with them. I would go as far as saying, not training a horse to be safe is also abuse. In Christa's article, Mette Uldahl states an untrained horse that hurts someone will likely be punished for its behaviour, which equals abuse.

Training your horse to be the calmest, most responsive it can be has to be a priority. We have to do more. As owners, we need to be asking the question, is this the best I can do for my horse? Can we even recognise stress or discomfort in horses? And when we do see it, what are we going to do about it?

I love the direction of any training system that observes, questions, educates and changes.

Can you truly look into your horses eyes and answer positively to, 'what's in it for you'? Perhaps that is the emotional epiphany that Busby is talking about.


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