Every so often, you come across something so good online that it stops you in your tracks, forcing you to read and re-read again and again. @crazyredchestnut’s recent post on Instagram did just that. We can’t say it better, so here are Amy’s words, direct from her must-follow Instagram account @crazyredchesnut:
“In the equestrian industry, being soft is one of the bravest things you can do.
There is this odd stigma in the equestrian industry that in order to ‘produce’ good horses, a rider/handler must be firm, dominant, and ‘show who is boss’. Traditional training approaches often utilise escalating pressure, aversion to stimulus, discomfort, stress or pain to make a horse do something. Don’t be fooled by how harsh these words sound. You make think that I’m only taking about the people who very obviously do this and are generally called out for being abusers. In reality, these traditional concepts – based around harshness – are rampant through every discipline, level and country.
A compliant horse does not equal a happy horse. Horses that are labelled as the easiest and quietest are often extremely shut down BECAUSE of the traditional training approaches they have been subjected to. “They must be content because they just do what they are asked and never put up a fight”. These horses have learnt that it’s easiest to give in to the harshness than to fight in. Does this mean they are willingly doing what they are asked? No. It’s a survival response, not a choice.
In contrast, horses that are trained without harsh, traditional methods frequently express their distaste for something. Once you have given a horse a chance to say no, they will sometimes say no. It means that the horse has autonomy and only responds to a request – yes, a request, NOT a command – in a positive way if they choose to do so out of understanding their situation. People who engage in softer approaches that promote this autonomy and intricate understanding of horse behavioural signals of stress, discomfort and pain are often labelled negatively by the traditionalists. “You’re letting her get away with it”. “He’s taking advantage of you”. “You’ll never get what you want if you don’t make him do it now.”
Most people making an initial change in training won’t have any support from their current trainer/role model. They’ll be labelled as weak, ‘hippie’, weird etc but I’ll guarantee that their horse won’t think any of that…and it’s ACTUALLY about the horse. Being soft takes courage. Necessary courage.”