At the last count, I calculated that in 22 years of riding, I’ve worked with about 15 instructors and coaches. Each of them has imparted their wisdom, and some phrases have stuck with me more than others. One instructor insisted that “bad ponies aren’t born” in much the same way that I was encouraged to “treat others the way you’d like to be treated” as a child.
One of the most difficult aspects of riding isn’t the physical challenge of remaining on a constantly-moving object which, by the way, has a brain and can therefore choose to do as it pleases, but is actually the necessity of quickly building a positive and effective working relationship with a sentient being which doesn’t speak any human language. Many people arrive for a ride, scheduled into their busy lives and are unable to ride the same horse repeatedly, meaning that each time they must quickly adapt to a new way of speaking, a new set of idiosyncrasies and rules.
Think about how difficult it can be to communicate with someone you live or work with, how many times you may go back and forth with questions and answers regarding even simple tasks in order to accomplish something. Although we are, theoretically, taught to ride using the same instructions to each and every horse, all animals will interpret aids differently, and will work at their own pace with individual needs, just like humans. How the person before you, and the person before them has communicated their desires has a bearing on how the horse will understand your own request.
When I was growing up, natural horsemanship had a particularly long moment in the sun. Maybe it was down to the well-documented relationship between the Queen and Monty Roberts or perhaps Hollywood had something to do with it but either way, everyone suddenly seemed to want to learn how to “join up” with their horse. Some people are dismissive of these methods and prefer to take a more heavy-handed approach, referring to the common terminology that horses are to be “broken in”.
I don’t like to think of horses as being “broken”. Just as I’d like to be happy in what I do, I want those I work with to be happy – humans and animals alike. I find it sad, in a way, that we live in a world which needs to be told via books, demonstrations and therapy programmes that treating others how you’d like to be treated is the most effective way of achieving the result that you want.