Musings on Horses

Take The Time It Takes


White pony standing in meadow looking aside. Backlit by sun.

In our modern world where nobody seems to have time anymore and things must happen and be done rather yesterday than tomorrow, we should consider re-learning to make time, to enjoy it and to value it – for our own benefit and wellbeing and for the benefit and wellbeing of the horses and everybody and everything around us.

Our overall lack of time and our urge to speed up progress and processes can also be witnessed in our interactions with horses. During the times I grew up in, I cannot recall horses having to be ready and being rushed as much as I see it happening today. It was a principle and a sign of good horsemanship to develop the horse slowly and according to his individual needs.

Like us, he needs time to mature physically and mentally. On a physical level, we may create health issues and damage if we push horses too quickly too soon, be it that they are too young or be it that they have been out of training and we do not invest the time to build them up gradually. On a mental level, we may take shortcuts by not allowing the time to learn but rather pushing and forcing them in a way that results in their submission and obedience. And while from the outside this may seem to work, it will not create the bond and harmony many of us are striving for which is based on deep trust developed through our reliability and consistency and the horse’s ability to try and learn. If we allow horses to make attempts including mistakes and to learn and to experience, we will be rewarded with a confident and willing partner who works with us but has not given up their own individual personality.

Often times, our need to rush and to get there quickly is not even reasonable or understandable and does not serve a particular purpose. Especially, if you are not making a living with horses. Any other competitive goals that tempt you to rush, you may or may not want to ask the question what is the driving factor behind this and which goal has greater weight long term – competitive/peer success or the wellbeing of the horse. We are not at a race, not at a competition and we usually do not receive anything of value for having achieved a certain goal fast (other than some satisfaction for our ego) and still there seems to be this desire to handle and turn around this ‘difficult’ or not so difficult horse quickly. And the better, i.e. the quicker, you can do this the more recognition and valuation you receive as a horse(wo)man.

Not only do I not agree with this approach, I seriously do not understand the reasoning behind it – the reasoning behind making time a measuring factor. And I believe that it makes our lives with horses more difficult because we are creating problems that were not there had we taken the time in the first place.

When we, for example, look to shape a certain behaviour there is no room for time in my agenda. If it works quickly. Great! If it takes longer. Equally great! The time it took tells only very little about the quality of the work. If it worked pretty fast for somebody, there is always the chance that maybe the horse was pushed a little too much and finally gave in – or maybe not and everything was really really fine(!) but we have to look closely. Every situation is different; every horse is different; every horse’s background and experiences are different; I, as a handler and/or rider, am different.

Certain ‘unwanted’ behaviours are behaviours that have been learned and manifested over quite a length of time. Why do we aim to get rid of them in just a few minutes? Why do we even want to fix a ‘problem’ that has been there for months or years in ultra-speed? Is (re-)learning not equally a process that needs time? Are we humble enough to step away – and come back at a later time – even though the achieved result appears to be tiny and almost not recogniseable in human terms?

Of course, we want to see results and there should be some measurable progress otherwise I have to question the approach being taken. But I have witnessed trainers who would talk about people not having and taking enough time and then present examples of their own work emphasising how little time it took them to turn the respective horse around. Isn’t this a contradiction in itself? While this is nice and commendable and shows that the trainer does a good job (assuming the training approach is ethical and not abusive) there is little value in such information altogether because we do not know how the horse has been handled previously. Maybe the people around him were pretty bad horse people and the horse was totally misunderstood. At the same time, such information can be discouraging and puts pressure on students and others, because it is in our nature to strive for the same to receive recognition. And if success means to do something very quickly, we will strive to do it very quickly. And I still have to find any benefit there is for the horse. I understand that there are times where we do have to push and to rush things for the sake of safety. But in a training situation we usually do have the luxury of being able to take all the time we want and we should make free use of it.

I am for giving ourselves and the horses a bit of a break. It is okay if we reach the goal or the result or any other outcome only tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or even later. As long as we keep going, this often will be the better and the more sustainable option because we are building our work on solid building blocks; a foundation that can no longer be taken away from us and that feeds and informs all future work. We have to allow ourselves to take the time it needs and to be proud of and enjoy the small steps.



Picture: (c) ysbrandcosijn #154969456 Fotolia