I tried to keep pace with the furore following the Horseman’s Calling and it made interesting reading. Epona TV got involved as did other well known and less well known personalities in the world of horsemanship. They blogged, they tweeted, they Facebooked… for a very short time the Internet was full of comment.
There was massive criticism of the event itself, it was undoubtedly an unusual and stressful situation for the horses involved. Was it more stressful than going to a show? I’m not sure. There was also massive criticism of the trainers who took part, in particular Jason Webb. Video clips of him putting a horse under pressure were circulated. Many asserted that the horses he dealt with would have been so traumatised that they’d never recover, they were ruined. The obvious insinuation was that there are trainers out there somewhere who would have done a better job without putting the horses under such horrible conditions. Some even said they could… but…
…they wouldn’t be involved in an event that put horses into such a fearful situation.
…they disapproved of the competitive element involved.
Certainly though, we were sure from what was said that there were people who could do so much better and who would treat horses ethically.
Oh, how I would like to see that, honestly I would, I’ve heard about these legendary people and I’d love to see them in action.
The thing is though, what would they do? Jason and his fellow participants in the competition spend their lives training horses to do what most horse owners require of them People want to ride their horses, they want to handle them safely, they want to take them out and about to competitions. Jason and Tom, Dan and Grant and Guy all help people to meet those aims. Like it or not, at the end of the day the horses don’t come out at the end of the process shut down and robotic, and they go on to happy and productive lives with their owners.
All I can say to the people who are accusing Jason and the others of traumatising horses is that this is not my experience. Even though I felt they could have done less and given an impressive insight into their abilities, even though I agree that some horses were probably pushed too far in the time available, I doubt very much that those horses were mentally destroyed by the experience. The reason I say that is because I have seen horses after they have stayed with Jason and similar trainers. They return home in a better situation, without losing their essential spirit.
Take Jason for example, because I know him a bit and I’ve seen him work with horses belonging to friends of mine. Jason helped with problems my friends had with their horses and showed care and dedication in his work. Maybe sometimes it didn’t look pretty, who knows? I didn’t see the process but I did see the end result. That was horses and owners who had a new understanding between them and who were both happier as a result. I suppose it was fair to say that they went from dangerous situations to being safer.
Before I say more I want to make one thing clear. Please do not accuse me of “labelling” horse being unsafe or even dangerous as if I’m applying some black mark to that horse’s report card that will stay with that horse for the rest of their life. A horse will generally become dangerous as a result of it’s experience in life, they aren’t somehow bad or evil. Some people seem to take offence at a horse being referred to as being dangerous and appear to leap to the conclusion that a nasty “personal” judgement is being made about the animal. I think that’s a big leap to make. I might say a horse is dangerous as a fact, but it’s a result of where they are mentally, not a character assassination.
My little horse Fin is a good example. He had awful mental problems when he came to live with me, he couldn’t live in or out comfortably. He spent the first two weeks hiding under a hedge. If something happened to upset him he panicked so much that he would run blind through or over anything, including me. This meant that he was dangerous. It didn’t change the fact that he was also the sweetest little horse you could want to be around, who loved to be with people and chatted to me as I approached, or sometimes even looked at him. His behaviour made him dangerous, but it didn’t make him bad.
I always think that inside most “problem horses” there is a small, scared and kind horse waiting to get out. That doesn’t change the fact that their behaviour can be dangerous to them or people around them. Luckily this doesn‘t have to be situation that stays with them for the rest of their lives, how sad would that be?
So what do trainers like Jason do with these sad and often dangerous horses? They change their behaviour so that they can move forward and live in our world. Apart from when he’s starting a horse, Jason is unlikely to be sent horses that are happy, relaxed and causing their people no problems. It’s not cheap to send a horse away to a trainer so they tend to arrive with him when their humans are stuck for ideas, frightened or at their wit’s end. If a horse bolts when approached by tractors, Jason is likely to be able to help it to change, bring their owner in to show them how, and send them home happier and safer. If a healthy horse bolts, rears or bucks, it’s likely that Jason can help with that. He’ll generally also be able to help in the case of a horse that attacks with teeth, hooves or both.
Can the trainers from the positive side of the fence offer similar help with ridden as well as handling behaviour problems? I don’t know. I’ve seen horses learn to be less fearful with these trainers, also to spin, bow, lay down, pick up objects and target on flags. This all looks like great fun and is pretty interesting. My question is – what next? Once the horse is happy to be handled, interested in what the trainer is doing, has learnt some diverting tricks, does anyone take them on to the saddle, the bridle, a rider and hacking out?
So here it is. Where is the more positive trainer who is prepared to show how they would take an un-started horse and develop it to the point where it is being ridden calmly under saddle? No pressure to take part in a competition. No requirement to do this in front of crowds. No urgency to meet a tight timescale. Please show us what you would do, people who love horses and have their interests at heart need to see you.
I would host this, as some know, hosting is what I do! I can find a venue where there would be an audience, but I suspect that wouldn’t be right. So I can find a venue that is private where just a few people can be invited to record on video. I could even provide a big field in a secluded spot and make it available for a couple of months. Just ask, I will make it happen.
This isn’t a challenge, it’s an invitation. It’s made in good faith because I believe that if you want to change what people do you have to show an alternative, you have to win hearts and minds, there is no other way. Attacking them from the sidelines and speculating on how things could be done better, without showing the alternative – it just isn’t going to do the job. Sorry and all that…