Each year, thousands of horses are bought, and later on sold by their disillusioned and disenchanted new owners and passed on to someone else as either "untrainable" or "just too much horse" for their owner. Quite often, they are taken to the killer plants where they are butchered for meat after every traditional method of "training" has proved to be ineffective and useless.
Each year, thousands of horses are unjustly blamed for countless tragedies, injuries and deaths that were not in any way their fault.
Each year, horse owners spend millions of dollars trying to find a way to control their horse and develop a harmonious partnership only to be disappointed in the results.
What a terrible tragedy. What a horrific waste. What a regretable shame that those owners never realized that to truly capture a horse’s mind and body, you must first win his heart. Perhaps the greatest misfortune of all, the mother of all ironies, is that the means to capture the equine heart without diminishing his spirit was right at their finger tips all along, hoping, begging, waiting for them to use it.
Each of us is an individual, and as such, we each have different learning curves throughout our lives. Perhaps some of our receptivity to learning new things (and ascertaining what is REALLY new and what isn’t) comes with age and the "time in the saddle" of life itself. As we try new and different things (with great success or great failure as the case may be) we develop different judgment factors and values as we move through the fabric of life. I know that, I for one, am not the same man now at 61 that I was at 21. And, like some of my peers not given to blissfully accepting the wisdom of our elders, was one those that had to sample and taste each and every thing along the way for myself. While there is a certain amount of liability to reaching out and testing the world alone, there are also rewards that can be attained no other way. I do not speak of the contrariness of those who rebel against every and any traditional value just for the sake asserting their petty individualism. I speak of the inner strength that allows one to simply stand and leave the room when others in it have gone astray. I speak of listening to that small inner voice that whispers, "Something does not seem right," and the internal fortitude required to respond to that personal whisper, at any given time and place. Perhaps the small boy who yelled out, "Look Mother! The Emperor wear no clothes!" was so genetically inclined.
Admittedly, there does seem to be varying degrees of apprehension in all of us that automatically surfaces whenever anything "new" bursts into one of our firmly established life patterns and beliefs.
It is most assuredly the case, to a very great degree, whenever anything new or different challenges a five thousand year old tradition of "handling and training" horses.
Youngsters, usually gravitate to the safety, sanctity and reassurance of "Doing it THAT way, because its always been done THAT way." And, "That’s the way the elders before us have always done it."
The elders in the horse world, having to protect their own image, self esteem and established patterns, are, at best, given to regarding anything "new" with guarded skepticism. But when a "new thing" completely contradicts their established traditions and beliefs, their defense mechanisms inevitably seem to overreact, preventing them from ever objectively analyzing it and determining if there was any real value to it.
A very wise man named Arthur Schopenhauer once said, "All truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Second it is violently opposed. Third it is accepted as self-evident. How true. And I can personally verify that the first two stages can be very frustrating as somehow, I seem to be the "Greek (or in this case German) messenger bearing bad news."
It is "good news" for horses, all horses, regardless of their breed, age or sex.
And it is "good news" for any horse owner that truly desires to understand the horse and work within his instincts, nature and understanding.
It is not such "good news" for anyone who feels they can "get the most out of their horse" by using fear, restriction, force and physical punishment. Those traditional "training" perceptions are completely counterproductive to creating any real level of confidence, trust, communication, understanding, friendship and true partnership between a human and a horse.
Anyone jumping up and flatly stating that our present day, traditional methods of "training" horses are completely counterproductive and that there is an alternative method of relationship building that cures the vast majority of problems that people experience with their horse (and drastically minimizes the few that do) is certain to incur a degree of disbelief (if not ridicule and opposition.)
Further stating that this alternative is a "one size fits all" regardless of the breed, age or sex of a horse, can only heighten the cynical incredulity. Yet I would implore you to pause and consider these facts for both your own sake, and that of your horse.
I have suffered the regret and unfulfilled disillusionment of the traditional training formats. And I have reaped the rewards of building an intimate relationship with horses. Having seen the results of both in depth, (both from the observation of others and personal experience) I am at a time and place in life where I feel someone should stand up and clarify the extreme difference between the two (as well as their rewards and consequences.)
As such, I am not given to tremble in the wake of intimidation from those who feel offended by a philosophy and format that is considered "new" or "different." I bear them no animosity, for sadly, I was once of the same vein. But I would beg them to at least pause, and consider the truth in an old saying (regardless of how many years they having been following a particular "training format.")
"Just because something has been done for a long time one way, does NOT make it the right way. It only makes it the way we used to do it…
until we found a better way."
Looking through the eyes of a new horse owner, or someone who seeks to gain more knowledge of the equine processes, can be quite an exasperating experience these days. What was once a small handful of individuals sharing their knowledge and experience with others in the horse world, seems to have become more of a corporate race to see who can assemble the best Public Relations team to promote a continually greater source of revenue. There is certainly nothing wrong with someone presenting their product or service in a manner that enlightens the general public to its specific attributes and qualities.
But the extremes our present day traditional "horse trainers" go to would confound even the most experienced horse person. Mystifying catch phrases of whispering, feel, gentleness and natural, coupled with magical wands and sticks that are sprinkled with an occasional dash of western lore and/or American Indian myths would definitely give PT Barnum pause to reflect and admire their efforts.
Trying to determine the true path to a harmonious relationship with a horse from the potpourri of experts all proclaiming to be the "right one," could be a very lengthy and complicated process (if not frustratingly debilitating.)
But if you research, balance, evaluate, weigh, study, judge and compare objectively for decades with sincere objectivity trying to find that true path, you will in all probability, come to the same conclusion many of us have, including myself. That conclusion is that all our present day, traditional training formats are varying perceptions of manipulating and controlling the horse that use the same basic format used six thousand years ago. None of them acknowledges the only real expert concerning horses, which is the horse himself. After a while, all of these "training formats" seem to take on the perception of being "the same salad with different dressings," each hoping to produce a taste that will entice one into thinking their method is best. This in turn, causes the newly acquired customer to buy more books and videos and go to more clinics ordained by "the right one."
If we step away from the millennium-old method of manipulating and controlling the horse by means of restriction, intimidation and force, we find that it opens a completely new perception of the human/equine relationship. Once we will shrug off the intimidation of daring to "think outside of the box," we find what the horse considers a truly natural path to creating a harmonious partnership with him.
Admittedly, this is sometimes easier said than done. "Stepping away" to question and reexamine a perception of equine manipulation commonly accepted for five thousand years, is comparable to (or worse then) attacking someone’s religious beliefs. And too, fighting the subtle indoctrination of tradition by acknowledging and responding to our intuitive common sense is not always easy. Resisting the intimidation of what sometimes seems to be everyone in the horse world, requires an extraordinary amount of internal fortitude and personal conviction.
Making that transition, seeing the horse as a living entity with emotions and feelings (as well as instincts far different from ours) instead of a simple beast of burden to be "trained," gives one a completely different insight into the horse and our relationship with him. Jealousy, envy, peer pressure, fear, hatred, frustration, betrayal, apprehension, anger, impatience, gratitude and friendship are all emotions he experiences with the same intensity as humans do. Only when we regard him as the true expert on horses, and work within his realm and sphere of understanding and instincts, can we gain the opportunity to capture his heart and spirit. Only then can we truly elicit anything natural to his thinking and "way of going." Only then can we experience that elusive "oneness" with him that so many seek, but never truly attain.
For the horse is the epitome, the very absolute of logic and fairness in every way. If he feels he has been betrayed, unfairly abused and punished when restricted, intimidated and brutally forced by other humans before you met him, there is no reason in the world that he should feel you are any different then the others of your species. Because YOU envision some intimate level of partnership and oneness with him is of no consequence. He is the one responsible for his survival so it is HIS judgment that will ultimately prevail, not your sincere, heartfelt intentions.
If your relationship with him is created in an environment he feels is confining or restrictive, he will be distracted by that resistance. If he is forced in that environment, he will feel intimidated, defensive and offer resistance (as would anyone in a similar situation.)
Sending your horse off to a stranger, a "trainer" in a strange place, may prove successful in "showing him who is Boss" and "getting him in line."
But it does absolutely nothing to create and nurture an intimate, responsive relationship of mutual trust, co-dependency, reciprocal communication or any cohesive understanding between the two of you.
Some of those well entrenched in the "old school" ask, "Why on earth would anyone want an intimate relationship with their horse?"
I would answer by asking, "My Lord, why NOT? Why on earth would anyone ever get up on a horse’s back and ask him to carry them around doing things that are completely contrary to his nature without FIRST establishing a very trusting, understanding relationship on the ground?
The plain truth is that no matter how supposedly gentle, natural or magical they presume to be, traditional "training formats" completely overlook the fact that cortical override is much stronger then any fear imprint this is permanently stored in the horse’s mind. They also underestimate the horse’s selective logic and his desperate need for freedom of movement. The ability to flee at a moment’s notice of his choosing is his very life force.
Any "training format" using restriction and force to any degree diminishes (if not eliminates) the possibility of creating any appreciable level of Funktionslust."
What is "Funktionslust?" Funktionslust is a German expression meaning a love of a specific motion, action or function. It means enjoying one’s "work" (or play) to the fullest possible extreme and loving to excel at it by "taking great pleasure in what one does best."
The Mahatma called it "desireless action." Activity done for the rightness and the pleasure of the doing, with no regard for the fruits of the labor. Divine play, the improvisatory fun of creating a world because it is possible and because it feels good. Funktionslust is the ornament of our lives.
Applied to the horse/human mounted relationship, it would mean creating an environment (and relationship) that causes the horse to actually enjoy and share a sense of accomplishment in any mounted activity you have chosen. This is a far cry from the philosophy and perception shared by those who are simply "training an animal."
Whether we desire to simply enjoy the safe, dependable reliability of a trusted friend while out trail riding, need the aggressive responsiveness and total commitment of a working partner in high levels of competition, or just feel that we do not have a harmonious relationship with our horse, one specific rule, one irrevocable law, remains constant.
"The mounted relationship is always directly proportionate to the initial relationship we have formed with him on the ground."
What is MOST ironical is that the human places the most importance on the mounted relationship, which holds the most liability. But the horse places the most importance on the ground relationship, which holds the least amount of liability for the human.
For five thousand years, we have used the same basic methods to "train" horses with little or no regard for the
By using same method of restriction and force that was used thousands of years ago, we continue to experience the same problems and complications our ancient forefathers encountered.
To eliminate whatever problems and difficulties we experience when riding, we must carefully reexamine not only the type of relationship we have created with our horse on the ground, but also how and where that relationship was formed.
The mounted relationship is always directly proportionate to the ground relationship. Thus, the horse must regard his owner as a trusted friend and partner on the ground long before any mounted interaction is ever attempted. To do otherwise, would open the door to limitless liabilities to both the rider, the horse, and their relationship.
The first question that may pop into one’s mind would be, "If I want to, how can I develop a friendship, a true partnership with a horse?"
Well first of all, it certainly couldn’t be a human perception of friendship. Humans perceive "friendships" on varying levels of intimacy and intensity. We also have a tendency to assume our perceptions and beliefs are synonymous with the horse’s, which is not always the case. As such, we tend to overlook the fact that a true friendship between two horses is a rather unique and special relationship that is not shared with any other horses in the herd. The benefits of a human establishing this intimate level of friendship with a horse before attempting to "mount up" are countless.
No matter what the discipline, activity or event, it would certainly be much safer riding a predictable, responsive, horse you could trust.
It would also be more enjoyable being carried by a trusted friend rather then one that was adversarial and/or unpredictable.
A combined partnership of two close friends competing in harmony toward a common goal would be markedly greater then a beast of burden simply responding to specific cues given by the human controller on his back.
If we see the logic of forming and nurturing this special relationship with a horse, it would have to be created and consummated in the same manner that one horse does with another horse. There is only one expert we could possibly seek out for advice in this area (and he certainly couldn’t be a human.) The one with the greatest insight, knowledge and expertise in the area of equine friendships would naturally have to be the horse. Thus we would have to study horses to learn how two horses reach this special level of trust and intimacy before we can we duplicate that same level and type of relationship.
The relationship training we call Foundation Training© is multifunctional by simultaneously teaching the horse all the verbal cue/responses he will need when being "ridden out," raising his awareness and recognition of verbal communication, creating cheerful responsiveness and establishing complete recognition of herd rank. But the primary goal, the very purpose of Foundation Training©, its heart and soul, is creating a true friendship with the horse in a manner he can easily understand and identify with because it is done in the same manner he would accept and consummate a friendship with another horse.
Only when he appreciates and enjoys any interaction with his owner on the ground can he truly enjoy their company and share mutual goals when mounted. Only then, can that enviable, often sought after, seldom attained ultimate level of horsemanship called Funktionslust, be attained.