Where did all the horse crazy girls go?

Go to a horse show...whips, spurs, and harsh bits are everywhere. Riders and trainers jerking on their horses'
mouths, working them to exhaustion and then getting mad when they can't perform. Look in tack catalogues or
at the local tack store...row upon row of bits and gadgets designed to place a horse into whatever pose we
desire though force and through pain.

At a recent horse show I witnessed a trainer on a young student's walk/trot dressage horse, jerking horribly on
the horse's mouth for some transgression it had made. Likely it just didn't want to hold its chin to its chest any
longer. The young owner and her parents watched as this went on. Before her classes her trainer and the
young student would give him a few sharp jerks on the reins before going in the ring. The poor horse was
grinding his teeth in complaint the entire ride. She won Champion of the division, but at what cost to her
understanding of compassion and to her poor horse?

If we could reverse the clock, I am sure we would go back in time to see a little girl who drew horses, combed
the hair on her plastic ponies, cantered around her back yard pretending to be a horse, and who would never
dream of being mean to a horse. I wonder what that little girl would have thought if she could have seen into
the future and the treatment of her horse?

I am sure we have all seen some brutal treatment of a horse with what appears to be an uncaring rider..but at
some point all these riders started working with horses presumably because they loved the animal.

So what happenned to these little girls? At what point do we change from wanting to be our horse's friend to
wanting to force it into submission through harsh and often counter productive methods?

In the beginning...

When I get a new young student, they typically have visions of Black Beauty and The Black Stallion dancing in
their heads...where all it takes is love to get the horse to listen to them. The reality is far different though;
horse's don't listen to you just because you are nice and love them. Suddenly these horse crazy girls realize that
these large animals could hurt them and their mindset shifts...instead of wanting to be the horse's friend, they
feel the need to make sure the horse is 100% in their control...only that isn't really possible with a living
creature! Parents and instructors do their best to ensure the young rider's safety, and sometimes the horse's or
pony's well being suffers as a result, and there is where it starts.

Suddenly once they are on the horse they are no longer concerned as much with the horse's well being, but
with being in control.

And so it continues.

Once the rider starts on this trend, it is hard to come back to the side of having compassion for their mount.
The rider sees that there are gadgets for any riding issue they have; how much easier it is to spend money than
to put in the time and effort to try to ride better  and to enjoy the process of learning! This is particularly an
issue when they see their trainer or the more advanced riders resorting to force and gimicks to control their
horses. Force becomes the norm and riders become blind to the physical and mental abuse they are inflicting
on their horse.

That is not to say that force is never needed with horses, but the current trend of "dominance" and
"submission" is going overboard and giving people the wrong ideas on how we should interact with our equine

Coming Back from the Dark Side.

At the top of our mind should always be compassion; how what we are trying to accomplish is interpreted by
the horse, and why they are reacting the way they do. We also need to be respectful of how horses learn and
communicate so that we can work with them in a way they understand and that is safe for both the horse and
the handler.

Instructors need to help students find the balance between being in control and being in partnership with their

The following series of articles are geared to helping riders become compassionate horse people and I hope
they help you revive the horse crazy girl within!

Karen Nelson
June 2007
How it all Starts... - June 2007
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