Despite their size and power, horses can be fragile animals…
Horses are quite amazing if you stop and think about it, they can be trained for an endless list of jobs. From a quiet children’s riding pony to a competition horse, they can also help control riots, plough fields, clear forests, pull cannons, tow barges, offer therapy, provide entertaining public displays, transport brides and coffins to churches, take part in royal ceremonial duties and even deliver beer. None of these are natural activities for the horse, yet they have the physical and mental attributes that enable humans to train them for a vast number of uses to enhance our lives.
Despite their amazing ability to adapt and be trained successfully for a variety of different tasks, there is sadly a huge amount of wastage amongst the equine population. Although people have the opportunity to train a horse to be useful and safe, they also have the ability to train a horse to be useless and dangerous. I expect every person reading this can think of at least one horse or pony (probably more) that expresses behaviour undesirable to humans. Rescue centres are full of horses labelled dangerous or unrideable and it’s not just psychological damage that can be caused but physical injury too. This can be a result of genetics, poor training, bad management or a combination of these but either way they are frequently man made problems.
I expect every person reading this can also think or a person who knows everything there is to know about training a horse! However, the high wastage rates of horses demonstrates that we still have a lot to learn about equine cognition and learning; whilst many people are doing a good job there are still too many people with insufficient understanding. Successful horse people of any age are those with an open mind and the willingness to learn from every horse they work with. Success doesn’t have to be defined by rosettes, it can also be measured by the ability to catch a difficult horse, by being able to feel tension beneath the saddle or by understanding what was meant by the flick of the horse’s ear. The real prize of success is working with a horse or pony in partnership, carrying out the chosen activity in harmony, safely and without force. If more people were willing to do this we would see less of the most amazing animals being wasted, more of them leading useful lives and it would be win-win for us and the horse.
(BSc (Hons), MSc (Equine Science)